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MUSIC: Ventura County | ROCKTALK

Strummin' the Funny Bone

Duo's 'mongrel folk' act promises some good laughs.


The Seattle-based duo of Mark Graham and Orville Johnson isn't quite what one expects from the scene that gave us Nirvana and Soundgarden.

Graham and Johnson--the Prozac to grunge-depression rock--are more in the vein of twangy goofball rockers like Pinkard & Bowden, the Rev. Billy C. Wirtz or Mojo Nixon. These self-styled "Kings of Mongrel Folk" will try to incite some serious grinning when they make their 805-area-code debut Tuesday evening at the Ojai Valley Woman's Club.

Graham, with 20 years' experience on harmonica, and Johnson with equal experience on guitar and other string things, are much quieter than most of their Seattle musical brethren.

And they're still together.

"Soundgarden is gone--they're pushing up daisies--but we're still around doing our thing," said Graham during a recent phoner. "Mongrel folk is basically a blend of blues and country music and old-time string-band music, but it ends up being whatever Orville and I feel like playing."

Usually they feel like playing something funny. For example, their take on ambient New Age weirdness comes out as the song "I Can See Your Aura and It's Ugly." Jumping on the dinosaur bandwagon, their Jurassic jingle is "Their Brains Were Small When They Died."

And the song "Monkey With a Typewriter" is an exploration of that old brain teaser about how if millions of monkeys pounded away on typewriters with endless supplies of paper, would they eventually write great works of literature?

Maybe. Maybe not. But Graham thinks they've been busy in the meantime.

"I think most of the stuff on the radio is already being written by monkeys," he said.

While Graham and Johnson are survivors of such noteworthy gigs as the wedding between the operator of the Wild Hurricane ride and Pamela the Ticket Taker at the King County Fair, the duo can usually be found at more mundane venues such as the small club or coffeehouse.

"Usually at a bar, there's such a thing as the Third Drink Barrier, and once they go beyond that, they get happier," Graham said. "I think it's exactly the opposite with coffee drinkers at a coffeehouse."

Graham and Johnson don't seem distracted by grandiose MTV rock star dreams and seem quite satisfied with the story so far. They play nearly every weekend and sell their stuff at their shows. That'll work.

"I think we'll probably just continue to bubble beneath the radar of the music business. We do OK selling our stuff at our gigs, and we can record pretty quick and pretty cheap. We know our business. Hey, man, we're rich now; we have a house up on the hill right next door to Courtney (Love) and Bill Gates."

* Mark Graham and Orville Johnson at the Ojai Valley Woman's Club, 441 E. Ojai Ave. Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. $9 advance, $11 at the door. (805) 646-5163.


Another two-dude operation, Spyder Blue, has broken into the tough-to-crack Blue Monday lineup at Cafe Voltaire. A bluesy country rock duo from the Valley, Spyder Blue is Bruce Gaims on guitar and vocals and David Fortin on stand-up bass and vocals. Everyone knows there are no slackers in a two-man band.

"You can't hide many mistakes when you're a duo," said Fortin, "but we don't make a lot of mistakes. We're just concerned with having a good time and making people happy. We have over 100 tunes that we can play. It's rhythm and blues-based that sometimes turns into country. We have so many songs that I can't remember all of them until after a few notes."

Spyder Blue has been around for several years after the principals met in a park in the Valley. No CDs yet, but the duo has a couple of tapes that will be available at the show.

"If you're true to your roots, then you can't lose. Someone out there may see us, but I don't think you can make anything happen in this business. It's all about being in the right place at the right time."

Cafe Voltaire was the right place at the right time on New Year's Eve, by the way, when a combination of stellar musicianship and alcohol resulted in a packed dance floor when Southern Cross covered "Angel From Montgomery," a John Prine song that has never been mistaken as a booty shaker. Southern Cross will chill out for the next few months while singer Troy Dixon hangs out in Colorado.

* Spyder Blue, Cafe Voltaire, 34 N. Palm St., Ventura. Mon., 7:30 p.m. $3. (805) 641-1743.


Considerably less mellow than the above bands is the Santa Barbara group Snot. Appropriate for the flu season, it will bring its loud, crunchy, hard rock to the Ventura Theatre tonight. Snot started playing Los Angeles showcase gigs and got signed to Geffen Records in 1996 despite its name. Its debut disc is "Get Some."

According to singer Lynn Strait, there is a difference between Up Here and Down There: "All these L.A. bands have causes. If we have a message, it's not to take yourself too seriously. All we are is politically incorrect. We like eatin' steaks."

Speaking of food, the kitchen at the Ventura Theatre is nearly completed; and Roy Gandy, of the Santa Barbara restaurant Roy, will be doing some serious cooking soon. In the meantime, also on the bill are Sevendust and Human Waste Project, who will open the 8 p.m. show.

It should be more fun than the New Year's Eve gig wherein headliner Taj Mahal called in sick with asthma at 20 minutes to 11 p.m. "Ouch," said the management. The general feeling of the 500 or so in attendance is unprintable in a family newspaper. Refunds are being given and Taj Mahal figures to reschedule.

* Snot, Sevendust and Human Waste Project at the Ventura Theatre, 26 Chestnut St. Tonight at 8, $10. (805) 653-0721.

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