It takes guts for a country act to call itself Weed in the Road Band at a time when many groups are trying to lose the cow pie image. But this Simi Valley-based band has enough talent and versatility to play on both sides of the barnyard fence.
Last month at a K-Hay radio event, they filled the parking lot with fun, electrified country line dance tunes. But their dinner-hour gig at Rube's Bar-B-Q favors traditional country swing-shuffles and ballads. And it perfectly suits the effortless vocal style of Gary Allen Hartman, who described his sound as "progressive, new country with a flavor of the traditional."
On Sunday they will bring their new/old brand of country to Simi Valley for the Eighth Annual Christmas for Children benefit.
Hartman (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) formed the band two years ago with his composing buddy and bass player, Greg Montana. And their delicate vocal harmonies on songs such as "Silver Wings" make you appreciate dancing to the old romantic cowboy buckle-buffer's.
The band owes its strong swing style to drummer Steve Paddock, whose musical background is Dixieland and Big Band tunes. Meanwhile, John Darst, on lead guitar, and Colin Kyffin, on pedal steel guitar, lay down the rich chording associated with country-Western music of decades past.
Despite his resistance to such comparisons, Hartman's clean, Randy Travis good looks and mellow country voice centers the band. "I've been in music all my life and was raised in classical," he said. "Then I started listening to KHJ in the '70s when it went country. I took up the guitar at 16 and I found I had a natural ability to sing."
Besides crooning like George Strait or Clint Black, Hartman has written songs including the shuffle, "I Already Know," and the upbeat "She's Always Against Me." But a social consciousness inspired Hartman and Montana to write a song called, "It's So Bad," during the Los Angeles riots.
"It's a strong, different song," Montana said. "We've got a lot of fans who request it."
A desire to make a difference has motivated the group in the past two months to donate its talents to the Make a Wish Foundation and the Leukemia Society, and now to the Christmas for Children benefit in Simi Valley.
Founding sponsors Lee Donabedian, owner of Rube's Bar-B-Q, and Dan Pastorini, former NFL quarterback, hope the day's activities will collect toys and raise $100,000 to benefit several children's social service agencies in the county, including Retarded Children's Home, Camarillo State Hospital, Ahead with Horses, Interface Children's Family Service and D.A.R.E.
Dance fans can brush up their skills at a "West Coast Swing and Country Two-Step Workshop" from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday with West Coast Swing champions, Jamie and Gail Arias, who teach at the Borderline in Thousand Oaks. Lessons are at four levels. Advance registration is $35 per person, $59 per couple and slightly more at the door; California Dance Theatre, 5863 Kanan Road, Agoura Hills, 494-6418 or (310) 535-5969.
If you're feeling more ambitious, John Sperry Reynolds' Santa Barbara Boot Camp '93 will offer 16 hours of two-step, West Coast swing and clogging classes and open dancing at the Red Dog Saloon on Saturday, Dec. 11. Instructors Tyonia Busch and John Wheaton will host basic to intermediate workshops from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with emphasis on basics. No partner is needed and dancers will rotate. This is followed by an optional dinner and dancing 'til 1:30 a.m. Preregistration cost before Dec. 4: all-day pass, $25, and workshop videotape, $15. Passes and tapes purchased at the door are $5 more. A half-day pass is $20. The workshop and dinner for $6.95 will be held at the Red Dog Saloon, 110 Santa Barbara St., Santa Barbara. To register, call 969-3130. Special room rates starting at $48 are available at El Prado Motor Inn, 1-800-669-8979.
* WHAT: The Eighth Annual Christmas for Children
* WHEN: Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
* WHERE: First Interstate Bank Processing Center, Los Angeles Avenue and Tapo Canyon Street, Simi Valley, (818) 352-8721
* WHY: Benefit for social service agencies helping children in Ventura County
* COST: $3 or an unwrapped new toy, children ages 12 and under admitted free.
* FYI: Weed in the Road band will perform at the following locations: Friday, Saturday and also Dec. 10, 11, 31, Jan. 7, 8, 14 and 15 at Rube's Valley House of Bar-B-Q, 1115 E. Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley; Dec. 17 and 18, Moose Lodge 1902, 4860 E. Alamo St., Simi Valley; for more Weed in the Road band play dates or to receive their newsletter, call the hot line, 581-3270.
* TWO STEPPIN': Your guide to area country entertainment. Page 14