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The Pontiax: Blues Travelers

The members have changed over the years and the regional influences are always in flux, but you can bank on Marcia Clark showing up.


The Pontiax--the best local blues band named for a misspelled car--will preside over the end of the party at Joe Daddy's in Ventura on Saturday night. Different venue, same old story: Owner Sandy Smith says the joint is losing money on band nights, which is enough to give any promoter those blues. The venue will continue as a restaurant, but as far as the Rocktalk column is concerned, we totter on the verge of indifference.

The Pontiax have been around a lot longer than many cars, if not Pontiacs themselves. Founded in 1982 by the late, great guitarist Buddy Smith and singer Mitch Kashmar, the band has changed personnel aplenty. As of this week, it is a quintet composed of Kashmar on vocals, Jimmy Shane on guitar, Tom Lackner on drums, Tom Etchart on bass and Jim Calire on keyboards.

In addition to the rockin' blues emanating from the stage, there's often a stir in the crowd as Kashmar's famous girlfriend, Marcia Clark, frequently shows up at the weekend gigs--she's that small brunet who was really mad at the Heisman Trophy-winning running back from USC.

Speaking from his L.A. residence, Kashmar discussed his favorite band and related matters.

How has the Pontiax sound changed over the years?

Buddy and I started the band in 1982, but when you change personnel, the band will change because new people change the whole balance. I guess the band is pretty much my trip for the simple reason that I'm the one on the phone getting the gigs.


What do the Pontiax sound like?

I think we're mutts. We have a little bit of everything. There's a little bit of Texas, some jazzy blues and a lot of Chicago. It seems to me that's what the West Coast blues is--all those sounds that came from some other place and ended up here. We just keep messing around with different stuff. And it's party music--it all comes down to that.


How has the Santa Barbara scene changed over the years?

It's changed a lot for us. There used to be more places for us to play. Now it's SOhO and El Paseo, but before, we might've oversaturated the market. We play about three times a week somewhere between San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles, and we've been to Europe three times, the last time in 1994.


Tell me a European tour story.

The first time we went to Europe, we didn't know what to expect. We didn't realize that they see American music as some sort of museum piece, an exhibit. So the anchor gig of our last tour was this big festival in Belgium. There were 13,000 people there and none of them were dancing, but just standing there, not moving, like they were frozen. They were ready to applaud and we got encored a couple of times, but they just stood there.


How do you handle the drunks that want to hear "Freebird"?

We try to do songs that hardly anybody knows. We try to keep it light. We have enough material for a week's worth of gigs without repeating any songs, plus we have two sets of originals. You've got to have fun onstage, otherwise you'll be drudged out.


How did you meet that famous lawyer?

I met her at one of my gigs. A friend of hers married a friend of mine in Santa Barbara and she came to the gig a year ago August. She goes to a lot of the gigs. She dances, but not in the clubs.


What does Marcia like about the Pontiax?

Let me ask her--she's right here. Certainly she likes the inescapable sexual magnetism of the singer. (He hands the phone to Clark.)


Marcia, what do you like about the Pontiax?

Well, there's that, but I've liked the blues all my life and the Pontiax really have an original blues sound. They don't play the mundane stuff.


All right, thanks, Marcia. So Mitch, what's the plan for the band?

Right now we've got a 12-song demo tape we're shopping around to the labels. We want to put out a record that gets some distribution. That way, we can go out and about and maybe buy a good pair of Air Jordans. We just want to keep making good music. I'm having the most fun I've ever had in my life.

* The Pontiax at Joe Daddy's, 211 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura; 9:30 p.m. Saturday. The gig costs $5. For more information, call 643-3264.


If I had a faster car, a richer girlfriend or both, here's where I'd be rockin' this week:

Tonight: Teresa Russell (Hungry Hunter, Thousand Oaks), Urban Dread (The Stage, Camarillo), Todd Rundgren (Ventura Theatre), Papa-Nata (Bombay, Ventura), Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (Nicholby's, Ventura).

Friday: Randy Rich & the Ravens (Hungry Hunter), Zelig (Caffe Aroma, Newbury Park), Teresa Russell (China Sea, Ventura), Suzanne Vega, Jason Falkner (Ventura Theatre), Ska Daddyz (Bombay), the James Harman Band (Nicholby's), the Guy Martin Group (Joe Daddy's, Ventura).

Saturday: Blue Stew (Hi Cees, Ventura), Ska Daddyz (Bombay), the Upbeat, Lawsuit (Nicholby's), the Pontiax (Joe Daddy's).

Sunday: Teresa Russell (the Lobster Trap restaurant, Oxnard), Blue Stew (Hi Cees), Ska Daddyz, the Uninvited (Ban-Dar, Ventura), Rick Reeves & the Future Blues Band (Deer Lodge, Meiners Oaks).

Monday: Bob Jones (Cafe Voltaire, Ventura).

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