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LIMITED RECALL : Pontiac Brothers Ride Again, for a One-Shot Recording Project

August 06, 1992|MIKE BOEHM | Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition.

As rock band reunions go, the regrouping of the Pontiac Brothers figures to be a low-key one that won't send legions of fans into a nostalgic tizzy.

For one thing, the Pontiac Brothers never had legions of fans. Platoons, maybe. Squadrons, more likely.

But the foursome from Fullerton was pretty fab in its day, which ran from 1984 through 1988. During that span, the Pontiacs put out three very good American albums and one European release that has vanished, toured the country four times, and were, on balance, one of the four or five best alternative rock bands ever to come out of Orange County.

Singer Matt Simon, guitarist Ward Dotson, drummer D. A. Valdez and bassist Kurt Bauman bashed away with the gritty enthusiasm of the early Rolling Stones, and the main songwriting team of Dotson and Simon took the sort of sensitive but defiant mixed-up outsider's stance that defined the Replacements. The Pontiacs played it loose and catchy, captured the desperation and the freedom of growing up without much sense of direction, and found fun and release in the simple pleasures of rocking out.

"We never took it very seriously," Valdez said in a recent interview. In fact, no band ever had a less serious origin than the Pontiacs. In the beginning, they were just buddies drinking at the Commonwealth Pub, a now-defunct rockers' hangout in Fullerton. Rather than pay for their beers, they reasoned, why not start a band and play for free drinks?

Hence was born the Gall Stones, a band devoted to bashing out Rolling Stones covers: not because anyone in the group was particularly a Stones fanatic, but because a Stones repertoire, being easy to master quickly, seemed the fastest route to the members' goal of freebies at the bar.

From there, things developed. They began to write their own songs, and they acquired a less comical name, nicking Pontiac Brothers from a political poster belonging to Dotson's roommate that proclaimed "free the Pontiac Brothers" in solidarity with a group of '70s black militants. Dotson's cachet as the original guitarist of L.A. underground favorites the Gun Club helped the new band attract interest from a small French label, Lolita Records, which put out the Pontiacs' 1985 debut album, "Big Black River." The Pontiacs then signed with Los Angeles independent label Frontier. "Doll Hut" (1985) established the band's credentials while hewing close to a Stones-derived style; "Fiesta en la Biblioteca" (1986) branched out with country influences and less blatantly Jaggeresque singing from Simon, and "Johnson" (1988) featured more quality material, plus piano banging from guest musician Ian McLagan. Deserving as they all were, none of those records sold more than 10,000 copies, according to Frontier's Lisa Fancher, and the Pontiacs, finding more career pressure than they had bargained for when they originally banded, decided to give up (with the recent release of "Doll Hut" and "Fiesta" on a single CD, the Pontiacs' entire Frontier catalogue remains available).

Bauman and Simon have stuck together since the breakup of Extravaganza, a trio that had taken a low-key approach on the local scene. Valdez and Dotson played together in the Liquor Giants until Dotson moved to Manhattan three years ago, where he has continued to pursue a rock career under the Liquor Giants moniker (the band's first album is due out soon on Seattle-based Lucky Records).

The current reunion came about after an Australian label enlisted Dotson to write liner notes for a Pontiac Brothers' retrospective CD. Listening to the music again and thinking back on the old days, the guitarist got nostalgic, placed a few calls, and found his old band mates willing to get together again for a one-shot recording project.

Frontier, whose label boss, Fancher, always was fond of the Pontiacs, fronted them some money, and the regrouped Pontiacs recently went in the studio to record an album of new material tentatively titled "Fuzzy Little Piece of the World."

The band will play shows Friday at Club Lingerie in Hollywood and Saturday at the Fullerton Hofbrau before Dotson returns to New York. They may play some more dates when the album is released in the fall, but all four members see the album and shows as just a fling for old times' sake, rather than the start of a second chapter for the band.

Who: Pontiac Brothers.

When: Saturday, Aug. 8, at 10 p.m. With Too Many Joes.

Where: Fullerton Hofbrau, 323 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton.

Whereabouts: Orange (57) Freeway to Chapman Avenue exit. Go west on Chapman, then south on State College Boulevard. Fullerton Hofbrau is on the right, between Chapman and Commonwealth.

Wherewithal: $4.

Where to call: (714) 870-7400.

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