Local rockers Durango 95 have been around so long, they used to be somebody else. Formerly The Strangers, the quartet has been doing the local club scene for about eight years and three releases, leaving a horde of tired dancers in their wake.
If swell-sounding pop rock is your bag, then Durango 95 may be your personal soundtrack. With harmonies sweeter than Christina Applegate in the Hershey factory and more hooks than the pier in August, Durango 95 plays your basic, perfect three-minute pop songs. If Buddy Holly, Marshall Crenshaw (the new Buddy Holly) and The Beatles and all those mid-'60s pop groups--The Leaves, The Turtles, The Electric Prunes, Paul Revere and the Raiders--defined pop rock, then Durango 95 is the local equivalent of that sound.
Most bands have a high turnover rate, and Durango is no exception, having gone through its fair share of musicians. But the basis of the band is two cousins, singer-guitarist Frank Barajas and drummer Chuck Herrera, a pair of Ventura High School locals.
"I used to play sax when I was in junior high school; I thought guitar was too hard," said Barajas in a recent interview. "But once I heard The Beatles, I had to play guitar.
"I helped form the original Strangers back in 1981 or so," said Herrera. "It was guitarist Matt Muldoon, Jeff Lewis on bass and myself. Lewis plays with Spencer the Gardener now. Before that, we had a punk band, The Explosive Broom Handles. Anyway, members come and go, and eventually Frank joined The Strangers."
"We used to get gigs at parties. Then in 1984, we started to play at Andy's down on Santa Clara in Ventura. Then one time, we opened for Elvin Bishop at La Casa de la Raza in Santa Barbara and this guy introduced us to producer Earl Mankey, who lives in Thousand Oaks. So we recorded our first album, "Dreams & Trains." The record label was small, Stonegarden, but they sent our record to all these college radio stations, and they stated playing it.
"So we took all the money we had and went on tour to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and we ended up in Little Rock, Ark. When we got back, we had this . . . article in BAM magazine, and then we won the Battle of the Bands down at The Fairgrounds. We came in first; the I-Rails were second, and Raging Arb and the Redheads were third."
"Things were going great," said Herrera. "We had this tour all lined up for the East Coast--New York, all the big places--but we sort of all mentally chickened out. Different things were going on in the band personnel-wise. We spent the money we made off the tour on our second release, a tape entitled, 'Psychotic Pinata.' We never released that one; we only made a few copies, we meant to shop it to the record companies. But then Matt left the group and moved to Germany in 1987. Then we met Gary Barnes, who plays bass, and Rob Sullivan who plays lead--they've been with us a couple of years now."
Like most local bands, Durango 95 usually plays about once a week. They've played about everywhere there is to play--Charlie's, The Ventura Theatre, Eric Ericsson's, The Bombay Bar & Grill, Club Soda, all over Santa Barbara and even stranger venues.
"Man, one time we played this place up on Highway 33, almost to Pine Mountain, called The Halfway House or something like that," said Barajas. "When we got there, about a million motorcycles were in the parking lot--everyone had a Harley, but us. Anyway, it went OK. I guess they dug us--they didn't try to kill us or anything. But we try to play the more traditional places now."
The band, named for a car in the film "A Clockwork Orange," cites The Beatles, Los Lobos, Buddy Holly and The Sir Douglas Quintet as influences.
"We'd like to play our music to the point where we don't have to have a day job any more," says Barajas. "We've been doing this for a long time now, and if it takes a little longer to make it, hopefully we'll learn quite a bit and stick around a little longer."
Durango 95's third release is the tape "River Roses Sessions" and will be available at their gigs. It'll be worth the drive to Charlie's on Saturday night.