Last Aug. 6 was to be the day Ronny Jones realized the lifelong dream of seeing an album of his music on record store shelves. But summer, then fall, came and went, and the only thing that got shelved was the original release date for the debut of the former San Diegan's hard-rock quartet, Black Bambi.
Although the "suits" at Atlantic Records liked the recording, they didn't hear the hit single that is a new group's traditional wedge into a crowded marketplace. Their hesitancy initiated a series of delays that nearly unhinged Jones, who relocated to Los Angeles in 1987 after years of playing guitar in the local band Aircraft.
"In some ways, the postponements have been a real nightmare," Jones related in a phone interview last week. "But we seem to be back on track."
A new year and a few cosmetic alterations of their project have provided fresh momentum for Jones, singer Steven Ray, bassist John Grimmett, and drummer David Casey. A chart-targeted single, "Never Say Forever" has been added to the album, whose tracks have been re-mastered and their order on the album re-sequenced. "Black Bambi" should be released in the next few weeks.
For Jones, the event couldn't come too soon. Aircraft spent parts of the '70s and '80s working the local circuit (including a long stint as house band at Straightahead Sound) without attracting much attention from the Hollywood music brokers. While Jones's guitar-playing brother Rusty was enjoying success with the San Diego-based Monroes (their single "What Do All the People Know" charted nationally in 1982), Aircraft was gigging at Camp Pendleton and at such now-defunct venues as My Rich Uncle's and the Roxy Theatre in Pacific Beach. But Jones doesn't hold the fates any more accountable than the band itself for their frustrations.
"Every time MTV changed its format, Aircraft changed accordingly," he said. "There was no continuity; we were always chasing the dog's tail." Jones and his Aircraft co-pilot, Rob Lamothe, eventually tired of the pattern, disbanded Aircraft, and moved to the Big Orange, but after a while the two parted company. Lamothe hooked up with the band Riverdogs, who released their debut album on the Epic label last year.
"It's really ironic," Jones said. "Rob and I worked together for eight years and couldn't get signed. Then we split up and each of us lands a major-label deal."
Aside from securing the elusive recording contract, Jones' primary purpose in forming Black Bambi was to achieve a balanced fusion of rock's dark and light humors, as represented in the band's name. Judging from an advance copy of the record, he's succeeded splendidly on that count.
The material on "Black Bambi" proffers a metal-ish edge, but it is obvious that time and effort were expended to avoid many of the well-worn ruts of that genre. Catchy guitar riffs and vocal hooks elevate such songs as "Broken Mirror," "In the Meantime," and "Lay Me Down" above the derivative crunch of the average hard-rock lineup. But Jones is proudest of two other cuts on the upcoming album.
" 'Cry Blackbird Cry," which is really 'out there,' and 'Dancing with the Shadows,' our show-closer, come closest to what I wanted to achieve with this band," he said. "I come from the old school of blues-based rock, so our music naturally reflects that. But I also wanted to put the mystery back into lyrics, so that different people would get different meanings from the words to our songs."
Jones's inspiration in that regard comes from a surprising source. "I was strongly influenced by Carl Sandburg, especially his 'Rootabaga Stories' for children," he said. "He created these magical characterizations that I find similar to those of Cat Stevens, and I've tried to put some of that kind of imagery into our lyrics."
Jones realizes that Black Bambi's tough sound might result in their being pigeonholed, but he feels the band is up to the challenge. "We all like a lot of different kinds of music," he said, "so one of our goals is to get our music appreciated by more than just the rock audience. I'm confident that will come with time."
Yet another beacon of the local concert scene has a new letterhead in the L.A. music industry. On Jan. 2, Larry Weintraub, who was the concert chairman at UCSD for the past 2 1/2 years, was named Executive Assistant to the President of Marketing and Development at A&M Records. Weintraub's new duties include coordinating tour production for the label's newest acts. He's directly involved in setting up the tour itineraries, press interviews, and other logistics of life on the road for such groups as Kitchens of Distinction, one of A&M's latest signees.
Weintraub, 22, graduated from UCSD on Dec. 17 with a degree in economics, but he says it is the experience he gained both as concert chairman and as manager of the on-campus record store, Assorted Vinyl, and not his academic achievements, that prepared him for his new post.