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NIGHT LIFE

Barnyard Be-Bop : Spacey Rooster Ra Sound Reflects the Eclectic Trio's Diverse Influences

January 13, 1994|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Rooster Ra is nearly as hectic as a basic day in the barnyard with Foghorn Leghorn, the chicken hawk. The eclectic trio will be doing three gigs this weekend: Saturday at 2 p.m. at Java Heaven in Ojai; Saturday night with the improvisational Mahacuisinarte at Nicolby's in Ventura; then a Sunday night gig at the Midnight Hour in Ventura, where they'll be joined by the always trippy Ojai band Brilliant Daydream.

No lawyer is likely to call Rooster Ra and tell them that another band already has their name. And certainly, no other band sounds like this Ventura trio, so I wouldn't look for a Rooster Redux cover band anytime soon. Their spacey songs shift gears more times than a kid with his first car. This is stream-of-consciousness coffeehouse fare that Maynard G. Krebs would've dug.

"It's enchanted tribal lounge music," said singer-guitar player Ray Waggoner.

"Naw, it's Jimmy Page meets Ghandi," said drummer Mitch Velasquez.

"Our songs are a billion ways of saying the same thing; we are one," said bassist Sundance Erickson.

Rooster Ra began as a duo with Waggoner and Velasquez playing in coffeehouses. They were performing the occasional Gig From Hell while looking for that elusive bass player and their first dancing patron.

"A year ago, we opened for this punk band called Arch Enemy at the Mayfair Theatre," said Waggoner. "The place was totally packed, and there was the two of us on this big stage and the whole place is going 'Bleep you! Bleep you!' We played about 20 minutes then got off the stage. When Arch Enemy took the stage, the crowd was yelling the same thing at them, so I guess it wasn't just us."

The band went through about 10 bass players before settling on Erickson, who also plays flute, about six months ago. With staffing taken care of, there is just the problem of funds. They've got a new tape to sell, which is live recordings from a couple of local coffeehouses.

"If we sell three, then we make 10 more," said Erickson. "We'd like to make a new tape every two months or so because the songs are always changing, always evolving."

"We'd be willing to take donations from anyone who sees fit to support this enterprise," said Waggoner.

At a recent gig at the Midnight Hour, the first thing one noticed was the smell, which wasn't like lunchtime with the Colonel, either. This was sort of a cross between sweaty feet and eucalyptus. Actually, it was sage incense being burned to set that groovy tone before the band played. Sage is only groovy if you think Vick's smells good.

Anyway, the band cruised through a lengthy set with their usual herd of invisible dancers.

"The local scene is pretty limited for us, so we usually end up playing at 21-and-over places, like barrooms," said Erickson. "Our music actually goes over better in a coffeehouse where music is the thing, and not drinking. But even when we're playing at a total meat market, the crowd still absorbs something. Even some drunk guy at the bar will look up and hear something. I think it affects you more when music sneaks up on you rather than beats you over the head.

"We attract a really diverse crowd. We get some old people that are really clean-cut who like our classical side. But basically it's just people who want to be healed and hear something real."

Waggoner is the primary songwriter, but everyone participates in this democratic experiment with a beat. The experimental nature is clear from the band's diverse influences: Miles Davis, Peter Gabriel, King Crimson and the Grateful Dead.

"We do compositions classically, then approach it with be-bop standards," said Waggoner. "I bring in skeletons, then we all just take our turns with it. We have about 25 songs right now, and a lot more in the works. We never do the same song the same way twice, and there's always extended jams. We're a punk band in disguise."

*

Band members and clubs come and go. In Downtown Ventura, the Bermuda Triangle went away on New Year's Eve. Expect the Midnight Hour and Nicolby's Upstairs Pool Hall & Night Club to pick up the slack.

Nicolby's used to be Zenon West, then it was Mogz--both were under-age places--before it became an antique store. Now it's a state-of-the art pool place with a big stage, great sound system and all kinds of exotic brewskis.

Upcoming biggies here include those Ska Daddyz on Jan. 21 and ska madness from Carpinteria's Upbeat on Jan. 29.

The Midnight Hour has been open since June, has survived some financial difficulties and now seems on solid ground. They were the last venue to get pool tables and they always have local bands on the CD player.

Upcoming biggies include Mr. Ectomy, Cubensis and Constant Llama on Saturday night and Led Zepagain and Rude Mood on Jan. 22.

Bill Locey, who writes regularly on rock 'n' roll, has survived the mosh pit and the local music scene for many years.

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