It's hard to believe that three-quarters of the members of Medicine Man grew up along the same quiet suburban street in central Fullerton.
Why? First, the group's recently released debut album, " . . . 'tween the Dark and the Moon," kicks off with all the full-throttle energy of a runaway locomotive.
Second, while the quartet's explosive, blues-infused rock sounds like it was honed through years of gigs in Texas bars, the lyric perspective is often that of a young kid yearning to leave the small town for the big city.
Music like this doesn't spell Fullerton.
"I've always wanted to be from somewhere else," lead singer and songwriter Robert Lohayza, 25, said during a recent interview at drummer Pat Gallagher's Fullerton residence, which also serves as the band's headquarters.
"I love places like Bakersfield and Barstow," Lohayza said. "Really. I don't care for the city that much. I would like to live someplace like (Bakersfield) . . . but I don't know how long I would like it."
While Lohayza, Gallagher and bassist John Cartledge all hail from Fullerton, lead guitarist Rick Moreno came to Medicine Man from wild and woolly reaches of Montebello through an ad in the Recycler.
But regardless of the band's geographical origins, its auspicious debut is an unusually self-assured and focused first effort, reflecting such influences as Neil Young & Crazy Horse and the Rolling Stones.
"This was the sound we started out with and the way I always wanted it to be," Lohayza said. "We might take a pop at something more soul sounding some time, but we all have roots in rock, blues, country and soul.
Medicine Man is also fortunate to have a solid songwriter in Lohayza.
In "Country Boy," for instance, he captures the big dreams of a couple of aspiring rock 'n' rollers:
Grey wants to meet me in the morning at the circle
Make plans at the parking lot of Sears
We'll talk about L.A. just like we know it
We know it just like we know ourselves
Too blind to feel the fears .
The record's closing track, "Share the Pain," is a ballad with spiritual overtones, which Lohayza says "I hope Kenny Rogers will record and make me some money."
Are you gonna carry that cross alone
Gee, that kinda makes me sad . ...
I've been down that path before,
Tripped on stones covered with sand.
I can show you the way, let me help you share the pain
"That's where I'd like to make my name--as a songwriter," Lohayza said. "But I also like to play in a good rock 'n' roll band, and so this way I get to do both."
The band members credit much of their satisfaction with the way the record sounds to producer Dan Koenig, lead singer of Blue Trapeze and increasingly in demand as a record producer. "He's the man to ask to get answers," Gallagher said. "We didn't know what we were doing in the studio."
Although it's taken two years for the band to get its first record together, Lohayza said he wanted to wait rather than release a rushed effort.
"I just wanted to do something that didn't feel like I cheated myself," he said. "I felt all the songs were really good. I knew the lyrics on the first one had to be good," he said, adding with a laugh, "because it's all downhill from here."
Lohayza has been handling all the songwriting so far, with the other band members contributing to the arrangements. But future collaborations are not out of the question.
"It's a matter of getting to know each other and learning to compromise," Moreno said. "You can't go into a band and not compromise. I thought it was possible once. But the roles we have are pretty much defined."
The campaign to get the album distributed has been getting in gear. Since it was pressed in September, the record has been available only at Tower Records in Brea and the Wherehouse in Placentia. ("I've got a friend who works there," Lohayza explained.)
Earlier this month, however, the band contracted with Important Records, a small distributor that services independent record stores in Orange County and Los Angeles and other Tower outlets.
"We're terrible promoters, there's no doubt about it," Lohayza said with a laugh, recalling that he had even forgotten to bring copies of the record to sell at the band's last two performances. "That's why we're trying to get somebody to do it for us."
Medicine Man will play next with the Kingbees on Dec. 20 at Night Moves in Huntington Beach. While many bands perform as often as possible, Lohayza said his group is trying to be selective even at this early stage in its career.
"We're trying to only take dates that are meaningful," he said. "I mean, there are some shows you do that just aren't worth it."
The group's general strategy is to "keep working on shows, get more press and get our live act together," Lohayza said. "But that's getting really hard. Things are really drying up out here."
Despite the dwindling number of opportunities in Orange County for local original music bands to perform--critical to building a following and subsequently attracting record company attention--the members of Medicine Man remain optimistic about getting a major label deal.
"You have to be positive about it," Lohayza said. "I think we are capable. All we ride on is optimism . . . and a little ego."
LIVE ACTION: Bonnie Raitt will play the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Dec. 7. . . . The Joneses will be at Night Moves in Huntington Beach on Dec. 6. . . . April Danielle will perform Dec. 5 at the Old Time Cafe in Dana Point. . . . Jeff Pearson returns to the Crazy Horse Steak House in Santa Ana on Dec. 22.