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OUT & ABOUT / VENTURA COUNTY | Pop Scene

Return of the Gardener

Spencer Barnitz, the former landscaper, has merged his two popular bands and, after long hiatus, plans to perform more and record again.

November 17, 2000|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Spencer Barnitz, the Spencer portion of Spencer the Gardener, will return to Ventura for the first time in ages when he brings his new and improved band to Nicholby's on Friday night.

Barnitz has pretty much been doing the rock 'n' roll thing since he graduated from Santa Barbara High School.

His first band was called All Night Longo, followed by those S.B. legends, the Tan. Next came the Wedding Band, followed by Spencer the Gardener (STG for short), which was inspired by the fact that Barnitz actually had a real job once as a landscaper.

Whether he can tell a poppy from a pansy is unclear, but he does know what a danceable song should sound like.

STG has released three CDs of mostly Barnitz originals so far, but it's been seven years since their last.

Sometimes it seems that music fans are more territorial than junkyard dogs, as they support local bands more readily than a band from somewhere else, even somewhere else close.

To illustrate, Ventura legends Raging Arb & the Redheads never really created a following 30 miles north, while S.B. faves such as the Upbeat and Tao Jonz never really caught on in Ventura. STG was the only band that was a hit in both towns, but it has been a few years.

Do they still have it?

"Well, we'll see," said Barnitz during a recent phone interview.

"I called Nicholby's because we decided to go out and start playing again, getting ready to record again and that kind of stuff. We've just been having a lot of fun playing, mostly in San Francisco, but it wasn't like we were just playing all the time, but more of a pick-and-choose kind of thing. Basically, I needed a break, and now I want to get back out there."

This is much more than just a STG reunion gig. There's also the matter of the Wedding Band.

The band started around 1984 with Barnitz and a few of his musical pals playing at a hole-in-the-wall bar on State Street in Santa Barbara.

The band had a vast repertoire of goofy cover songs--just like those requested at a real wedding. In short, the Wedding Band probably could play almost any classic rock song you could name.

"What happened is the Wedding Band and Spencer the Gardener have merged together," Barnitz said.

"We've never really gone away--we've just been playing parties, here and there, but not really much, even in Santa Barbara. So with the two of them mixed together, it's sort of like a rhythmic army.

"It's going to be a mixture of everything--some old songs, some new songs, some Wedding Band songs, that whole Latin Big Band surfy thing and a bunch of wacky covers--a trillion songs, at least."

For many years, STG was the hardest-working local band, touring relentlessly from San Diego to Chico, while selling their CDs at their gigs.

It was a lot like work, and the number of STG alumni who didn't want to tour is quite numerous, but familiar faces like Nate Birkey, Cougar Estrada and Gary Sanginitto are still in the band.

"The long-term plan is not to get on tour like we were," Barnitz said.

"We want to get everything together, record some stuff and try to sell stuff through the Internet like everyone else is doing. Our stuff is on MP3 right now, but I'm not sure how many people are downloading it. I'd like to try and get some songs in a film, and maybe play some festivals."

But how did it all get to this point?

"I guess it all goes back to when my dad died," he said. "I had a choice of two things--get a $2,000 inheritance or part of a nursery. I took the money and bought a guitar and an amp. That was the first big mistake of my life."

DETAILS

Spencer the Gardener at Nicholby's, 404 E. Main St., Ventura, 9 tonight; $7; 653-2320.

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Kansas is one of those progressive art rock bands that has been keeping classic rock stations in business for years.

The band will bring three decades of experience and plenty of hits to the Ventura Theatre tonight. And yup, they really are from Kansas, beginning their career when David Hope and Phil Ehart changed the name of their band from White Clover.

While the Sunflower State is in the heart of the Midwest, Kansas the band was influenced from the very beginning by British art rock bands such as Genesis, King Crimson and Yes.

But Kansas definitely had its own style, which featured monster guitar riffs, intricate keyboards and violins, plus all those great harmonies.

The seven longhaired members of Kansas made their debut at a dance club in Topeka in 1970.

Their first claim to fame came at the end of that year, when they got a gig opening for the Doors in New Orleans, and Jim Morrison invited some of the band members back on stage for an encore jam. A few months later, Morrison died in France and the band members realized they had played on the Doors' last song.

Signed by rock promoter Don Kirshner, Kansas released its self-titled debut album in 1974, which sold a respectable 100,000 copies. It was not until the band's fourth album, "Leftoverture," that the band finally had a big hit with the single "Carry On Wayward Son" which drove the album to double-platinum status.

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