Guitarist/songwriter Steve Hufsteter's announcement that he was leaving Cruzados a mere three weeks before a national tour is just the latest thorn in the beleaguered but resilient band's side. Last year, the Los Angeles-based group (which headlines the Palace on Friday) finished recording an album for a company that never released it.
Hufsteter's decision, prompted by his aversion to touring, might have thrown a group with fewer battle scars off the track. But for the Cruzados, whose members have toughed it out on the local club scene for eight years, it was business as usual.
"We thought, 'Oh no, here we go again,' " lead singer and founding member Tito Larriva said during an interview in their manager's Hollywood office. "Everyone flipped out when Stevie left. . . . But we were prepared: We were already in the process of recruiting a second guitarist, Marshall Rohner" (formerly of Jimmy & the Mustangs and Chris D's Divine Horsemen).
The departure of Hufsteter ended another chapter for a band whose history has been riddled with false starts. Cruzados' previous incarnation, the punk-rock Plugz, was started eight years ago by Mexico-born Larriva and a pal from El Paso, Tex., drummer Charlie Quintana. The Plugz released two albums, 1979's "Electrify Me" and 1981's "Better Luck," while falling in and out of record deals.
After changing its name last year and streamlining its sound--which now draws more on Tom Petty-esque rock than the Plugz' Tex-Mex roots--Cruzados recorded an album for Enigma Records, which then had a distribution deal with EMI-America.
But when the band's major supporters at EMI left the label late last year, the Cruzados, who had yet to sign the deal, looked elsewhere for big-label distribution.
Armed with what Cruzados bassist Tony Marsico describes as "the most expensive demo tape in the world"--i.e., the completed album--the band landed a deal with Arista in April. But there was one hitch: Arista's president, Clive Davis, wanted the band to re-record the album, which it did with .38 Special producer Rodney Mills.
"Initially, we couldn't believe we were going to record it again," said Marsico. "But with all the enthusiasm that Clive gave us and his promise that the record would be out soon, we didn't sweat it at all. It got to be a lot of fun in the studio, it all came together so fast."
"Cruzados" was finally released in late September and made a decent showing in the album charts. Then the band was faced with filling the gap left by Hufsteter, the local pop-scene veteran (the Quick, the Falcons) responsible for the spaghetti-Western guitar licks and the most compelling songs on the album, including the new single "Hangin' Out in California."
With Rohner in tow, the group flew to Dallas to rehearse for the tour near the set of David Byrne's film "True Stories," in which Larriva plays the part of Ramone, a singer who works in a computer plant.
"Marshall's given the band a shot in the arm," said Larriva of the new member. "When you go on the road with someone who wants to be on the road, it makes a big difference. All of a sudden you don't want to come home. It would have been a drag being on the road with someone who didn't like it.
"Stevie's not completely out of the band," said Larriva of Hufsteter. "We're talking about getting together and working on some stuff. He left a bad taste in my mouth, there's no doubt about it. He's a very interesting person, very creative. We like his writing."