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MUSIC / LITTLE JONNY & THE GIANTS : Big Bad Blues : He may be called 'Little,' but his music's anything but. You can catch him and his band, the Giants, in Santa Barbara this weekend.

August 13, 1992|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

All the little UCSB weirdos in black, who look like the poster kids for Death and spend every waking hour practicing that tortured look in the mirror--what's their problem? Is there someone ahead of them in line before they can use Daddy's credit card at the ATM? How else can they explain having the blues in Santa Barbara? Maybe they are getting them from local musicians.

Little Jonny & the Giants have the blues bad, and they give it to you good when they play. If more blues bands sounded like these five guys, more people would like the blues.

The band begins each set with a lengthy instrumental wherein everyone gets to show off, then they do the "Wang Dang Doodle" rockin' blues thing. They have been around for a couple of years now, basically doing the Santa Barbara scene.

Jonny's band will be playing a couple of shows this week in a pair of Santa Barbara's more colorful hangouts--Art's Bar on Saturday and Joseppi's on Monday.

Art's is fun so long as you don't cross Art, who it seems has kicked half of Santa Barbara out of his place over the years. According to local musicians, he's even eighty-sixed guys from bands that were playing there.

"I don't like loud," Art said, over the phone. "You're playing for the people in here, and not for the neighbors. You either turn it down or get the hell out. And when I kick someone out, it's not for an hour, a day or a week--it's forever."

One group that is on the Eternity Tour as far as Art is concerned is the Pontiax, the band that used to include guitarist-singer Little Jonny (Lawton) and guitarist-sax player Bill Flores. Art threw them out for good, it seems, when he disagreed with leader Mitch Kashmar's decision to dismiss Lawton and Flores. That was two years ago.

Lawton didn't want to discuss the event other than to say that he had already put together his current band before the Pontiax kicked him out. Lawton first joined the Pontiax about a decade ago when he moved from Nebraska to Santa Barbara with a girlfriend and quickly fell in with the band. That didn't make a lot of the local guitarists happy--they thought he should pay his dues first.

"They were a four-piece then, just starting out and pretty wild," said Lawton. "I didn't know how big a deal it was being in the Pontiax until the other guitar players around town started to vibe me out."

Things were fine for about eight years, and then suddenly Lawton and Flores found themselves out of work. That's when they got serious about Little Jonny & the Giants.

One thing should be made perfectly clear. Although he's in no danger of becoming Big Jon, Little Jonny isn't so little--he's an average size guy who plays big.

The band is like five really good session dudes just showing off. Band members include Bill Flores, a Ventura local who recently relocated to Santa Ynez, and who used to be in the local band the Bombers; and Gary Sangenitto, who has played bass for Giant Eden and a bunch of other past-tense S.B. bands, and still plucks for the Wedding Band on Tuesday nights.

Jim Caliere, out of Ojai, plays keyboards and sax and sings, and has been in about every band in Ventura. He records with the band, but due to excessive commitments doesn't make every Little Jonny gig. Jody Eulitz hits the drums.

"We have about 10 or 15 originals, which is really a lot for a blues band," says Lawton. "We play blues, sorta--we all like the groove. We also do a little zydeco, country and Little Richard-rock. There's really a good chemistry in the band and everyone is a great improvisational player."

Nonetheless, it is tough for a blues band to make it in Santa Barbara.

"The Pontiax were after it for 10 years," Lawton said. "There's a lot of good players up here, but also a lot of day jobs and a lot of laissez-faire stuff. It's hard to get into Ventura, too, but maybe we have a foothold with Bill, who lived there so long."

Little Jonny & the Giants are working on a tape, and although they're moving a little faster than Boston--who made an album once every 10 years or so--they're in no big hurry. They have half a dozen originals, and sometimes they even sound like Fleetwood Mac when they were a blues band.

So they're worth checking out. And if you do it this week, you won't go broke; Art's is free and the Joseppi's gig will set you back a whole two bucks--throw in another buck and you get a plate of Joseppi's spaghetti.

So if rockin' blues is your thing, here they are.

* WHERE AND WHEN

Little Jonny & the Giants; 9 p.m. Saturday at Art's Bar, 2611 De La Vina St., Santa Barbara. No charge. 569-0052. Also, 9 p.m. Monday at Joseppi's, 434 State St., Santa Barbara. Two dollars. 962-5516.

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