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No Days Off

Cadillac Angels take a rare break from the road for a local gig.


In what is virtually a home game for those raucous road dogs named after a car, the Cadillac Angels will be throwing an all-ages CD release party tonight at Rocket Fuel in Ventura. One of the few working bands in the area that actually survives by playing music, the Santa Barbara-based Angels, formerly the Roadhouse Rockers, have been around a long time. Their latest album is "Playing With Fire."

The Angels are the danceable result of the long-term partnership between front man-singer-guitar player Tony Balbinot and upright bass player Micky Rae. The band used to play retro rockabilly, but the Angels have broadened their horizons over time to become a sort of roots rock-hillbilly-surf band, having been influenced by the likes of the Beatles, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Duane Eddy and one of Balbinot's idols, legendary guitarist Link Wray.

The band tours incessantly, but when at home, the group has sponsored the Rockabilly Roundup, which this year became the American Music Bash. It's been one of Santa Barbara's most successful charity fund-raisers for a dozen years.

As to the venue, Rocket Fuel is a retro coffee shop that seems time-warped out of 1958. Located in a mall on Johnson Drive in Ventura, the place is small, and because any live band can get mighty loud, the fans inevitably end up standing out on the sidewalk.

Balbinot discussed the gig and more during a recent interview.

Your new album "Playing With Fire" has a 1999 date on it; what's up with that?

That's when it was recorded, but it's just now being released in your neck of the woods. That's our newest release, and I believe, that's No. 7, and we have No. 8 in the can. We're negotiating with an independent label in Phoenix, Hayden's Ferry Records.

How long has the band been together?

Micky Rae and I have been playing together for 15 years now, and the drummer, Cowboy Bob, has been with us for two years. We don't even talk about the other band much anymore. That was a whole different group. It was a four-piece that did a lot of covers. We do a couple of covers now, but we pretty much do all originals. We've put out five albums as the Cadillac Angels, and at last count, I've written about 340 songs.

So why are you the Cadillac Angels and not the Rambler or Yugo Angels?

Because a lady almost killed me in a Cadillac. I was riding my bicycle after a band rehearsal and this old lady who could barely see over the top of her steering wheel ran me off the road. So there I was sitting on the curb, and all I see are these angels with bobbing heads in the back of her car as she drove off. It was like a rolling shrine. She had four or five Virgin Marys, a bunch of plastic Jesuses on the dash and all those angels. She didn't even see me. We were looking for a new name anyway. We had found 12 other bands with the name Roadhouse Rockers, so you can sort of say I stumbled or fell into that name.

What do you think the band sounds like?

Well, Hayden's Ferry is an Americana label and some DJs seem to think of Americana as more country-sounding, but Dave Alvin tends to think any American music is Americana. When we fill out applications for festivals to describe our music, they'll list all these categories for the style of music you play but there's always one category that's not there--rock 'n' roll. So I just call what we do rock 'n' roll.

So is the Americana category a good thing, or have people just run out of adjectives?

Well, I think Americana is a good thing if they stay at it. You can go into some of the bigger record stores, or I should say hip record stores, and there's an Americana section. You'll see any number of bands we've shared the bill with before--everyone from Trish Munoz to Dave Alvin. I mean, how do you classify someone like Link Wray?

I remember his song "Jack the Ripper" from a long time ago.

We played with him twice and I managed to get a private sitting with him backstage after a gig in San Francisco. He was very nice, and he asked me how long I'd been listening to his music, and I told him that actually my mom got me hooked on electric guitar. I told him she had come all the way up here too. He said, "Get her in here, I like moms." So he sent the security guys out there to get her. After they introduced themselves, my mom told him, "Well, you keep practicing and one of these days, you'll be as good as my son." He turned to me and said, "See, that's why I like moms--they're always in your corner." He got the biggest kick out of that while I was feeling about 2 inches tall.

Along with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and very few others, your band is one of the few successful groups from this area I can think of--how have you managed to survive?

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