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Out & About / Ventura County | pop scene

Holding Down the House

With A&M's future in doubt, owner's band enlivens present with classic rock.

March 31, 2000|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Art Trujillo has been in numerous bands since he graduated from Oxnard High School in the mid-1970s, and he has finally solved one of the ongoing traumas for musicians--getting gigs. His Beer Belly Blues Band plays at his bar, A&M's Roadhouse in Oxnard, two or three nights each week, including a gig tonight--in addition to its usual Tuesday and Thursday appearances.

A&M's Roadhouse is just off the Ventura Freeway at Rice Road, right across from all the instant commerce that replaced all the farms. Formerly a redneck bar called Bojangles, A&M's is now a rock 'n' roll bar--and mostly classic rock, at that. There are a zillion 45s on the wall and photos of famous musicians all over the place, including several of the Jacksons and at least two autographed glossies of Tito himself. Another wall is covered with Polaroids of patrons in varying stages of bliss and/or embarrassment.

Then there's the jukebox, with selections from the good old days of rock by the likes of Roy Orbison, Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard and Lynyrd Skynyrd, plus a lot of Mexican bands. Sheryl Crow and Bush are the only jukebox acts that have made an album in the '90s. A&M's has three pool tables and is one of the few bars in memory to have a Pepsi machine. There's a large stage and an adequate dance floor. And where else this side of your couch can you check out "Adam-12" on TV Land?

Behind the bar, a prominent sign reads "This establishment is videotaped at all times for your comfort." And perhaps the videotaping has worked, since there has been zero trouble at A&M's during the years that Art and his mom, Marie, have owned the place.

"We get all different kinds of people here--all makes and models," Art Trujillo said. "We never had a fight here in three years, although I did have to throw one guy out a month or so after I opened. Also, we don't serve hard liquor. Tequila makes people really stupid and we try to keep it mellow here."

Which brings us to the house band, the Beer Belly Blues Band.

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One day in 1983, Trujillo was working at a boatyard in the Channel Islands Harbor when a guy with an armload of fishing poles came strolling up. It was Tito Jackson, and the pair have been best friends ever since.

The band members include Trujillo on guitar, Jackson on guitar and vocals, Damian Bujanda on keyboards, Ruben Duarte on drums and Oly Larios on bass.

"We've been together for about a year, but Oly and Damian just joined a few months ago," Trujillo said. "They both sub for Iron Butterfly, and Damian also plays with El Chicano and a lot of other people. He's the pro. Altogether, we know about 2 million songs, but right now, we're just trying to work things out."

In their two or three weekly gigs, the band plays a bunch of classic rock and blues songs such as "Hoochie Coochie Man," "Low Rider" and "Cisco Kid," with Jackson on vocals. All in all, they're a solid blues band.

"Basically, what we're doing is a lot of old blues, plus a few originals that Tito and I wrote," Trujillo said. "We also do a couple of Jacksons songs, although we're not riding on Michael's coattails--we're going in a whole different direction."

While playing at your own club is one thing, Jackson was able to land the band a memorably higher profile gig.

"Last summer, we played a gig at Michael's place, Neverland," Trujillo said. "Tito was really nervous--he's the only one that hasn't put out his own album, and basically, this was the first time he played without his brothers. I've got to tell you, I was nervous, too--my mom and Tito's mom were sitting next to each other in the front row. But it was a trip playing for a bunch of celebrities. Rosie O'Donnell and David Letterman each wanted us to appear on their show, so we have a lot of possibilities."

A&M's will be happening for at least another year, but the clock, actually Caltrans' clock, is ticking. The adventure and terror of getting off and on the freeway at Rice Road will be replaced at some point by a new offramp to be constructed where several businesses now operate. A notice to vacate is expected sometime in the summer with construction expected to begin in 2002, leaving plenty of time for the blues.

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DETAILS

Beer Belly Blues Band at 7 tonight, Tuesday and Thursday nights at A&M's Roadhouse, 2515 Ventura Blvd., Oxnard; free; 983-2787.

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Fat Mike, the frantic frontman for punk legends NOFX, made good use of his spare time and started his own label, Fat Wreck Chords, now one of the nation's most successful independent labels. Four of the most popular bands on the roster--No Use For A Name, Bracket, the Mad Caddies and Good Riddance--will make a stop at the Ventura Theatre tonight for a punk and ska showcase, not to mention affordable T-shirts.

The testosterone should be thick as hordes of youthful skinheads, finheads and skateheads bring to life the boys-will-be-boys theory, as they jam together to exchange a few good-natured elbows during the mosh pit.

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