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San Diego Spotlight: POP MUSIC / THOMAS K. ARNOLD

Top 40 Anathema as Local Bands Play Original Music

July 27, 1988|THOMAS K. ARNOLD

If the code of the Old West were still viable today, Buddy Blue would put a bounty on the head of every local rock band that plays Top 40 covers instead of its own material.

"Top 40 bands should all be shot . . . because they prevent original musicians from making a decent living in this town," said Blue, the feisty leader of blue-eyed soulsters the Jacks. "It's sad, but most nightclubs will only book Top 40 bands because they're proven crowd pleasers.

"As a result, more creative bands that do their own music never even have a chance to prove that they, too, can draw. As long as there are bands willing to whore themselves out by being human jukeboxes, club owners will snap that stuff up. If there were no Top 40 bands, however, club owners would have no choice but to hire original bands. And that would solve the whole problem, once and for all."

But hey, this is 1988, not 1888. San Diego isn't Dodge City, and Blue is a far cry from Marshal Dillon. Indeed, he'd much rather gun for a six-pack than pack a six-gun. Wisely, then, Blue has decided to vent his frustrations in another way--by presenting the San Diego Original Music Festival this weekend at Rio's nightclub in Loma Portal.

The two-night event will showcase 20 local original rock bands, each playing a half-hour set. Ten groups will perform Friday and another 10 on Saturday. Both shows start at 6 p.m.

Highlighting Friday's line-up are the Outriders, whose gutsy roots-rock is a blend of old-time country and stripped-down rock 'n' roll, and Tom (Cat) Courtney and the Bluesdusters. Courtney is a veteran blues singer-guitarist who once toured and recorded with such legends as Lightnin' Hopkins and T-Bone Walker.

Also appearing Friday will be new wave folk-rockers the Landlords, psychedelic funksters Ethnic Imbalance,

power-poppers Cowboys and Indians, "world beat" bands Burning Bridges and Limbo Slam, and hard-driving rock 'n' rollers Spirits in Mesh, Pinky Slim, and the Moondogs.

Saturday night standouts promise to be the Jacks, whose debut album, "Jacks Are Wild," was released earlier this year by Rounder Records, and Skid Roper and the Whirlin' Spurs, a gritty country band fronted by the washboard-strummin' sidekick of talkin' bluesman (and spastic MTV cheerleader) Mojo Nixon.

Others on tap for Saturday are pop-rockers Four Eyes, blues group Len Rainey and the Midnight Players, rhythm-and-blues band Vamp, heavy metalists Britton, jazz-rock fusionists Colours, new wavers Nimbus Obi, and bump-and-grind rockers Long-in-Tooth and Usual Suspects.

Attending a Chuck Berry concert is like taking a crash course in the history of rock 'n' roll.

Lesson 1 is the songs. Riveting country-blues hybrids like "Maybellene," "Sweet Little Sixteen," and "Johnny B. Goode" were among the biggest and most influential rock hits of the late '50s. Many of Berry's tunes were included on early albums by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and, in 1976, a remake of "Rock and Roll Music" gave the Beach Boys their first Top 10 hit in a decade.

Lesson 2 is Berry's signature double-string guitar lick, forged at one time or another by every fledgling garage band worth its Fender Stratocaster.

Lesson 3 is his famous "duck walk," which aroused teen-age passions years before "The Ed Sullivan Show" censors declared Elvis's pelvis a public nuisance. Berry's salacious stride is immortalized in such classic teen films of the late 1950s as "Rock, Rock, Rock" and "Go, Johnny, Go."

The final lesson is more intrinsic: In rock 'n' roll, as in any art form, greatness is often, sadly, inspired by debasement.

As a young man, Berry spent three years in reform school for attempted robbery. In 1959, he was charged with violating the Mann Act for taking a 14-year-old Apache prostitute from Texas to his St. Louis nightclub, ostensibly to check hats, and he did two years in a federal prison. Convictions for tax evasion have put him back in prison since.

Berry, the subject of an award-winning 1987 documentary titled "Hail, Hail, Rock 'n Roll," will be appearing Friday at Humphrey's on Shelter Island. Classes in the History of Rock 'n' Roll, Lessons 1 Through 3, begin at 7 and 9 p.m.

FORGET ME NOT: In 1973, deejay Kenny Weissberg interviewed the late Gram Parsons for a Boulder, Colo., radio station. Sitting in on the interview was the country-rock pioneer's girlfriend, a young singer named Emmylou Harris.

Harris, now a country superstar herself, was in San Diego last Friday, headlining a pair of concerts at Humphrey's. And Weissberg, now the facility's promoter, told her how vividly he recalled that first encounter.

"I reminded her that while Gram was drinking Annie Greensprings from a bottle in a brown paper bag and screaming into the microphone, she was quietly knitting socks in a corner of the room."

Harris wasn't impressed. She, too, recalled the interview. "But I wasn't knitting," she corrected the surprised promoter. "I was crocheting ."

BITS AND PIECES: Backstage at the Civic Theater following Whoopi Goldberg's recent concert there were restaurant owner Judy Forman and various other old friends from the Big Kitchen on Golden Hill, where the singer-comedienne used to work, washing dishes . . . Tickets go on sale Saturday for two more upcoming local shows: pretty-boy rocker Richard Marx, Aug. 23 at San Diego State University's Open Air Theater, and electro-doodlers Tangerine Dream, Sept. 21 at the California Theatre downtown.

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