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Pipefitters: A Diamond Is Their Ace in the Hole : Pop music: Actor Phillips admits his name's a draw but says that the merely curious will leave as fans of the band.

July 07, 1993|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

IRVINE — The marquee may read "The Pipefitters With Lou Diamond Phillips," but you don't have to be a promo whiz to figure out that fans are coming to see Lou Diamond Phillips and the Pipefitters.

But hey, what's a little limelight between ol' buddies from Texas?

"We were all friends. The band grew out of an already close relationship," the star of such movies as "La Bamba" and "Young Guns" I and II noted during a recent phone interview. "The guys have understood from the beginning that I'm going to tend to draw more attention.

"What's nice is that if people come out of curiosity to see what the heck I'm doing, they always go away fans of the band. Something's got to get them in the door, and I'm a good hook, if you will. But after the first and second song, they're going to lose interest. After that, we have to deliver."

Actually, the story of Phillips and the Pipefitters--who play tonight at Metropolis--is one of life imitating art.

In 1990, three actors--Chris Lindsey, Bill Allen and his brother Sherman--played blues musicians, members of a struggling band called the Pipefitters, in a play in West L.A. called "A Riff for Emily."

Phillips was in the audience, having known Bill Allen from acting classes in Dallas 11 years ago. "The play died a quick and merciful death," Phillips recounted, "but the band kept playing. I had a large living room with no furniture, so the guys would come rehearse. Whenever they'd do a standard, I'd sing along. Then I started getting up and singing my own songs. It was an evolution, from sometime backup singer to one of the lead singers."

*

The band now consists of Phillips, Allen on harmonica, Lindsey on vocals and bass guitar, Mitch Lijewski on lead guitar, Randy Boase on saxophone and Scott Kay on drums.

Phillips says he never sang on stage before joining the Pipefitters. Why had he been hiding his own pipes all those years? "I didn't know they were there," he answered. "I discovered them while jamming with my friends." The guy who played Richie Valens had no musical training? "Zero," he admitted. "Zilch."

"When I did 'La Bamba,' I had no aspirations to be a singer. It's a quirk of fate. Acting is my first love, but the band is a natural offshoot. It feeds the live performance energy an actor needs to stay plugged in.

"Name a subject, we probably have a song about it," Phillips said. "Whether we play it or not, we've written it."

The band thrives on what he calls "straight-ahead, in-your-face" rock 'n' roll but also plays ballads and enough country music to have appeared on the Nashville Network. "It's kind of a good-old-boy network," Phillips said. "They still put a glass booth around the drums so they won't be too loud." And later this month, the band will open five shows for country star/fellow Texan Billy Ray Cyrus.

Like Phillips, Allen came to California from Texas to be an actor, not a musician (he appeared in a bike racing film called "Rad" in 1986 and just finished "Dangerous Touch," which Phillips directed). Asked how serious the band really is, he answered, "If we got a serious record contract and some really stiff money behind it, we'd take four months off to tour to support the album.

"Most bands are on the road all the time, 350 days of the year. We don't do it enough to get sick of it. Hopefully, by the time we hate it, we'll be making enough money to like it."

* Lou Diamond Phillips and the Pipefitters play tonight at 10 at Metropolis, 4255 Campus Drive, Irvine. $7 to $10. (714) 725-0300.

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