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Rock-a-Bye-Bye : The last gig for Raging Arb and the Redheads, Ventura County's preeminent garage band, will mark the end of a wild and unpredictable era.

December 19, 1991|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In eight years of playing music in and around Ventura, Raging Arb and the Redheads have won attention for many things. Predictability is not one of them.

They do start every show with the old Muddy Waters tune "I'm a Man." And they follow with the same smallish repertoire of three dozen other tunes, either original or adopted from the early years of American rock 'n' roll.

But they may start repeating songs as the night wears on. The audience may or may not behave itself. And the evening might end with an encore or a demand for quiet from the police, or arrests.

Redheads guitarist Billy McGraw summarizes the group's philosophy this way: "Just get a lot of liquor and have a really good time."

At a Christmas party a few years ago, Redhead Toby Emery expressed his dismay with the band's payment by dumping a noodle salad on the manager of a local restaurant. Another gig ended early when the bartender was unresponsive to the band's requests for beer. The Redheads stormed out and took their audience with them.

This kind of thing can be either amusing or just plain menacing, depending on where you sit, and it has made the Redheads the most-feared, longest-running bar band in Ventura.

The musicians wear this distinction like a badge, having held the band together through marriages, surfing safaris, the arrival of children, the resistance of damage-wary club owners and the demands of various day jobs.

"They can bring in 600, 700 people," said Tom Welton, general manager of the Ventura Concert Theatre. "It's their 'I-don't-give-a-damn' attitude that people seem to like."

But now drab probability hangs over the Redheads. Outside responsibilities and the tight economy have pushed the group into an uncomfortable, grown-up decision: They're breaking up. Band members say their free holiday show at the Ventura Theatre on Saturday night will probably be their last in Ventura County.

An outsider might view the occasion as the end of a rare local tradition in rootless Southern California, or as a clue to the breadth and depth of the recession, or as a belated end to six spectacularly arrested adolescences. The Redheads aren't sure yet what it means.

"It just kind of materialized, and, like, wow," marveled Toby Emery recently. "We're all just tripping out."

John Drury insists that the breakup has nothing to do with his 30th birthday, which arrived Nov. 29. But Drury, the lean and freckled singer who is the band's most prominent personality, will concede that there is something inevitable about the direction things are moving.

"It's gravity," he says.

By day, Drury is a salesman. He ran a surf shop for a while and more recently was selling used cars at Barber Ford. It's not easy, but he can be equally convincing in his delivery of the lines: "If you ever need a Ford, let me know" and "Well, I don't know what you're thinking/ But I really don't give a damn."

"Even though he may not be too competent of a singer, he's got the charisma," explained Toby Emery. "He just has a presence."

Drury's greatest ambition, however, is neither to sell cars nor sing blues, but to market his own clothing line. For several years, Drury has had a logo, and more recently he has acquired a copyright lawyer and a few thousand dollars' worth of hats, T-shirts and sweat shirts emblazoned with a defiant freckled face and the words "Red Head." To raise the money to pay the manufacturer, Drury sold his car.

Naturally, the shirts and hats are popular among the Raging Arb faithful. But the operation has never brought in enough money to support Drury, his wife, Annie; their 3-year-old son, Jason, and their 17-month-old son, Ryan.

The used-car job wasn't making up the difference. Nor, needless to say, were Drury's twice-monthly gigs with the Redheads, whose peak financial performance was a Halloween party a few years ago that netted a collective $1,100.

Drury and his wife thought about these and other things, and in mid-November resolved they would move to Eugene, Ore., where Annie Drury has family.

The relocation would come in January. Drury would market the hats and shirts in both Ventura County and Oregon, but ultimately the move would mean farewell to the old neighborhood.

"It was just an idea," said Drury, "and it just kind of started to become reality."

The Redheads decided that it wouldn't be the same to go on without him.

Ross Emery, the drummer and Toby's brother, would tend to his auto-detailing business and his family.

John House, the bass player, would stick with his work in the produce department at Vons and maybe join another band.

Glen Ansberry would keep up with his job in the laundry room at Ventura County Medical Center.

Guitarist McGraw would keep on "looking for a career" and probably join the same band as House.

Toby Emery was also unemployed, but had plenty to occupy him. His girlfriend was due to deliver in the spring, and he was planning to push for the name Otis, "whether it's a boy or girl."

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