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Steady Skipping Stone : Ripples of James Intveld Break the Mainstream Surface of O.C. Country


James Intveld is a versatile talent: Not only can he play the devil out of most instruments in the standard roots-rock repertoire, but he can play the devil, period.

At 37, Intveld is one of the most widely experienced, respected and busiest roots and country musicians in Southern California. His parallel, lower-profile career as an actor recently found him wrapping up a turn as Satan in an unreleased independent film called "Fis-mol."

The movie portrays "the devil as a human being. No horns. The horns are inside," Intveld said recently on the phone from his home in L.A.'s Echo Park section. "I steal this kid's soul. It's a graduate [student's] piece, but it might turn into something."

Intveld's musical career--which began 17 years ago when he was living in Garden Grove and emerging on the regional rockabilly-revival scene--is showing signs of turning into something too: something that could carry him beyond his sometimes frustrating status as a valued sideman and local bandleader.

He is keeping his creative soul intact and in his own full possession. Long one of those hard-to-pigeonhole figures, whose stylistic diversity makes them look risky to narrowly focused music industry marketeers, Intveld has stood pat and has seen signs that the record business is beginning to swing his way.

His booking Tuesday at the Crazy Horse Steak House in Santa Ana is one mark of the growing impact of his roots-rock/progressive country blend. One of the nation's flagship country music venues, the Crazy Horse has embarked on a new experiment, a series of Tuesday night shows by unsigned or independent-label acts playing styles that stand apart from the polished, commercial norms of country radio and mainstream Nashville labels.


Intveld's show will include songs from his debut album, "James Intveld," which he recorded two years ago for a German label, Bear Family Records. Intveld, who has toured Europe three times, is looking forward to the album's release in August on a small, American independent label, Innerworks Records.

The album--on which he plays all the instruments, including drums and steel guitar--reflects his mastery of traditional rockabilly and country music. It includes "Cryin' Over You," an unacknowledged honky-tonk classic he wrote in the 1980s for Rosie Flores' debut album.

His lovely ballads "Samantha" and "Wild Places" soar with the aching, brooding romanticism of a Roy Orbison, while "Kermit Vale" is a surprising folk-country narrative that invests philosophic meaning in the tale of two teenagers' erotic initiation in a graveyard.

"When I was younger, me and my friends would take a bunch of girls, go to graveyards and spook each other just for fun," Intveld recalled. In his song, a boy and girl stumble upon the grave of teen Kermit Vale and decide it's time to turn puppy-love pranks into something deeper.

"When you're young, you think you're going to live forever and everything's fine," he continued. "They're being very carefree, and then they run across the grave of this person only 17 years old. [They] go 'Wow, this could be me!' And they become desperate to live at that moment, realizing there is no time to be wasted."

It's a lesson that was driven home to Intveld in the hardest way: When Rick Nelson's plane went down on New Year's Eve 1985-86, Intveld's younger brother Rick was aboard as the drummer in Nelson's band.

Now Intveld lives as if there is no time to be wasted. He fronts a four-piece roots-rock band, billed under his name and playing his original songs (the group has a weekly gig at the Blue Cafe in Long Beach on Fridays).

He also has Jimmy & the Gigolos, a band that plays '40s and '50s R&B, jazz and swing music (the Gigolos play Thursday nights at the Derby in Hollywood). Intveld is Jimmy, decked out in a fedora and a colorful suit and tie, fronting a horn-driven, eight-man dance band through renditions of songs by the likes of Louis Prima, Louis Jordan, Big Joe Turner, Fats Domino and Frank Sinatra.

In between, he plays drums in an R&B band, Lester Butler & 13, led by the former Red Devils front man. Intveld's resume as a sideman also includes a 2 1/2-year stint in the mid-'90s as lead guitarist with the Blasters, one of California's leading roots-music exports.

What took him so long to do an album of his own?

"I was a singer and a songwriter who could do all these different things. Because of it, I neglected my own stuff. I got so involved with other people's projects that 15 years went by."

Actually, he acknowledged, disappointments in the early '90s made sidekick work more attractive. In 1990, he thought he was on his way to a recording career after he landed a high-profile credit as the singing voice in John Waters' '50s rock 'n' roll film spoof "Cry-Baby." Johnny Depp, who played the lead character, lip-synced to Intveld's intentionally Elvis Presley-like singing.

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