On the surface, Orange roots-rock quartet Poor Man's Change has all the makings of a classic SoCal stoner-bro band. Front man and primary songwriter Rob "Red" Page, with his burly build and bushy ginger locks in a ponytail and stashed under a knit cap, sings in a half-croon/half-rap; his rhymes about feel-good elements ranging from whisky rivers to bong rips sometimes take on a more activist vibe with their get-up-stand-up musings.
When they set up in an acoustic format, Poor Man's Change are squarely in Everlast territory, with Red supplying down-on-your-luck minor blues progressions and drummer Cory Anderson's deft cajon work adding unexpected accents and flairs. They'll wander onto Rebelution's turf while chopping out a filtered reggae lilt. But much of the time, especially as of late in club shows at the Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen, it's pure blues-based barroom rock & roll, allowing their country-rock side to shine above all.
All said, when you try to paint their sound, it's a smudge of everything, and that's how Red likes it. "We look at it like this: How many presets do you have in your car? For most people," he explains, "every preset is a specific sound, whether that's rock, reggae, hip-hop, country. We have an expansive demographic–you may not like all of our songs, but you will find something that butters your bread. I think Sturgill Simpson said it best: 'I'm tired of y'all playing dress up an' trying to sing them old country songs.'"
Surely this is a West Coast jam-band ethos. Just as the Grateful Dead mixed down-home folk and blues with psychedelic wanderlust and later disco-rock grooves; and just as Sublime threw together reggae, hip-hop and punk rock; Poor Man's Change casts a wide net. And while the band list the Dead, Phish and other jam-scene notables among their influences, they're careful to not apply the label. "We do not consider ourselves a jam band," Red insists. "The stigma of long guitar solos, Birkenstocks and free-spirited hippy love often scares people away."
The band are currently recording a follow-up single, "Born to Lose," and experimenting with their approach in the studio, taking a page from their fuzz-rocking local contemporaries here in OC, "recording to tape, rather than digital, to help showcase the warmth of our music and further trademark our sound," Red says.
Especially in Orange County, where jam bands feel about as hip as Mom's Franzia party.
Whatever you call it–the guys like to say, "no genres, just music"–it's working. Playing LA/OC area clubs a few times a month, they've filled the floor at the House of Blues, and they've had audiences spilling out through the doors of smaller clubs, most notably at the release party for their debut LP, Firewater, in October. "Support was in full effect," Red remembers. "Detroit Bar eventually became a second home to the band. Eric Keilman and Amanda Anderson always kept the doors open and beers cold."
Poor Man's Change get out on the road whenever they can, though it's in fits and spurts–10 days up the Coast, a weekend run to the desert. And Red and the guys dream of taking the next step to making their music a livelihood, if the opportunity presents itself. "Hell, yeah," he says when asked if he'd drop everything for a career on the road. "We are all blue-collared gentleman trying to stay out of cuffs."