When they announced they were breaking up back in 2006, I cried then too. I loved this band so much and they brought such pleasure to my life and the lives of others; how could they call it quits? The music industry is a tough place to work. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to get out there and tour, playing sometimes for pennies and almost no one listening. The lifestyle can take it's toll on relationships and on one's health. I understood that probably better than most, having worked with many bands over the course of their careers.
My heart broke when I got the news via Facebook that Steve Rodriguez, bass player for The Dragons, had passed away suddenly July 21, 2015. Disbelief, shock, questions...all flashed through my mind in an instant. And then the tears came. Only a few weeks prior I had cherished hopes that The Dragons might reform and play the Gearhead Anniversary party I was putting together for the fall. Now, I will never see them play again.
It takes a specific type of personality to be able to weather the stresses of band life, and Steve seemed to be that person. He was married to a lovely lady, Jamie, and had a cute kid, Jesse. He was so proud of his wife and son, and while I never got to meet his son, and only met his wife a couple of times, I knew that was one relationship that could withstand the rigors of the road. I was happy for them, and happy to see love thrive in the otherwise desolate landscape of constant touring. Being a woman in the music industry is rough. Many people think all you have to do is sleep with the band, and you're in the inner sanctum. I had the privilege of being one of the lucky few who got to work closely with the bands but never had to resort to sex to spend time with them. I had a strict rule: no sleeping with the bands! It allowed me to do my work, be the boss, but also be a friend and confident.
I went on tour with The Dragons and The Riverboat Gamblers in 2003. It was a blast, and really eye-opening. Much of touring is simply moving from one city to another, spending countless hours on the road discovering new ways to pass the time as you travel in cramped uncomfortable vehicles to the next show. It's the type of situation that can cause crankiness and frayed nerves to escalate into fights and disagreements but that never happened, at least while I was with them. In every picture of Steve, he is laughing, enjoying life, celebrating his friends and music and how much pleasure it gave him. And that is always how he was with me.
There was always time for a smile and a hug. He was especially good at the hugs. They were warm and deep and came from his very soul. He never held back, and there was never anything superficial in those hugs. I am a pretty shy person, although you might never guess that. During one stop on the tour, we were at a house party in Boston, and I felt very out of place. I didn't know anyone except the bands I was traveling with. I'm not really a drinker or a partier, and all I wanted was to go to sleep. Steve seemed to sense how uncomfortable I was and stuck close by my side talking and laughing, making sure I was ok. It meant so much to me, tears come to my eyes now as I remember how relieved I was to have him there with me, making me feel safe.
He became my guardian angel that night, and for the rest of the tour, he always made sure I was ok, feeling safe and comfortable, had food to eat or a beer if I wanted. He was thoughtful and kind, and there was no rock-star bullshit. He could have very easily pulled attitude with me, but he never did, and I never saw him pull it with anyone. H just seemed to thrive on being a nice, sweet kind guy, the kind of guy his wife and son would be proud of. Steve was a rock star in the truest sense of the word. He shone so bright when he was rocking!
His signature song was Joan Jett's Bad Reputation. As soon as Steve stepped up to that mike, you knew what was coming next. He rocked and sang with passion and enthusiasm and fun every single time I saw him perform it. And no one could have done it like Steve. It was just his song!
It's hard to put into words how much someone can touch your life without you really even knowing it. As I sift through the pictures and the memories, I wonder if he ever knew how deeply his kindness and love touched me. I don't think I ever told him. It makes me want to be a better person, more loving and more open and vulnerable, telling those I love how much they mean to me. Telling the bands that have touched my life how grateful I am to have worked with them, learned from them, shared with them.
To those of us left to honor his memory, I think that is one of the best ways we can do it. Be grateful for the close bonds of friendship and love that surround you. We all have them, even if you're not in a romantic relationship with someone. As we walk through our lives, we touch those around us, even if we're not aware of it. Little acts of kindness and generosity are what it's all about after all. Leaving the world a little bit better than how you found it. Many blessings and prayers to those touched by Steve's life, especially his brothers Mario, Kenny and Jarrod from The Dragons, and his wife Jamie and son Jesse. He has passed out of our lives physically, but emotionally, he is there, always reminding us to smile, to love, to be genuine and authentic, and most of all to make those around you feel loved and special. Rock with the angels my friend. I know they will enjoy you as much as we did.
A Go Fund Me account has been set up to help with expenses and to create a college fund for his son. Please donate what you can! A lovely video has been put together honoring Steve. You can watch it here. Also, a memorial show has been set up for Sunday Aug. 2, 2015 at The Casbah in San Diego. For more information go here.
The Return of The White Barons
The San Francisco foursome known as The White Barons have made their triumphant return with the stunning rock and roll slammer Electric Revenge.
Fronted by the force of nature known affectionately as Eva Von Slut, the band once again barrels through songs about love, drugs, loss, and taking charge of one's life and the decisions one makes.
I first fell in love with this band, especially Ms. Slut when they opened for The Thunder Boys at a show in Davis, CA back in 2007. I was contemplating signing the TBs and don't really remember how the Barons got on the bill. I'm pretty sure we had been talking and she offered to drive up to play for me. Of course I signed them.
That's how this band is. They have a take-no-prisoners approach to rock and roll that I absolutely love. Their first record, Up All Night With The White Barons was a punk n' roll Misfits inspired sing along down a back alley complete with brass knuckles, and an 8 ball of blow. This new one is way more rock n' roll nodding to the classic 70s rock that I grew up with. Ms. Slut's vocals are still balls to the wall, but her voice is so much better suited to this pure style of classic rock. The brothers Nate and Johnny back her up so admirably, both instrumentally as well as vocally. They lay a great foundation for her to jump off of. They even got the The Dwarves' Blag Dahlia singing on a couple of tracks "Black Rider" and "You're Mine Tonight". Topping it all off is the eye-popping cover art by Vince Ruarus. Grab this limited edition slab o' wax fast; there are only 500 copies and each comes with a free digital download coupon. Of course you can also pick this baby up on Itunes!
Its finally happening; Gearhead® is heading to Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend! The fine folks at Cock Grease have invited Gearhead to share the booth, which is an honor! Vending at this show has been a dream of mine for many years, almost as long as it's been going on. This will be their 18th year if you can believe that!
Unlike so many other "hip" events that have gotten co-opted by the media, Viva Las Vegas has kept its cool street cred with the underground, and has stayed pretty true to it's roots, probably because it continues to be run and organized by the original main man himself Tom Ingram. He didn't sell out for money like so many other events and because of that, it continues to inspire and attract awesome bands, killer cars and a fan base from around the world! Way to go Tom!
So stop by the booth and say hi, get a free sticker or two, and enjoy the fabulous events that are all part of the Viva Las Vegas Experience! For more information or tickets, please visit their website. See you there!
SXSW, Then and Now
I first started going to South By Southwest (SXSW) in 1999, just as a music fan. To find a collection of some of the most exciting new independent music collected all in one place, set in one of the coolest cities around was a dream come true.
Garage punk, rock n' roll, alternative country and americana, killer thrift stores, to die for bbq and all around nice folks made up those first few years of my annual excursions to Austin, TX. I was lucky enough to have friends living there so I crashed on their floor. I slept like a log despite the uncomfortable conditions because we'd been out rockin' and drinkin' till the wee hours of the morning, and that kind of activity can only lead to a slumber so deep, no amount of cat hair or hard floors could keep me from the rest I so badly needed.
Breakfast was always at the Magnolia Cafe, recharging the batteries with a steaming plate of Huevos Rancheros and a Bloody Mary chaser, then we were ready to hit the free afternoon parties and BBQs that made so much of the early days at SXSW memorable.
Fast forward a few years. Gearhead was already an established record label, hosting our own afternoon parties at cool places like South Austin Speed Shop (now owned by the infamous Jesse James), put on by our good friend and Gearhead enthusiast Mike Adair (he now lives in Washington and owns Electric Boogaloo Tattoo) and putting on night time showcases that became the talk of the town.
Gearhead found and signed a number of bands during those years, most notably Japanese bands Gitogito Hustler, Electric Eel Shock and The Spunks. It was a festival that brought bands from all over the world and was created with the intent of connecting artists and labels. The creators achieved that goal so admirably that the festival became the "go to" place for bands hoping to take that next step in their dreams of becoming rock stars.
I fondly remember when I discovered Gitogito Hustler. I was rushing from an afternoon party back to my hotel to get dolled up for the Gearhead showcase that night. It was 2004, at the height of success for the label. We had a killer showcase planned (The Turbo A.C.'s, "Demons", Dragons, The Lashes, Riverboat Gamblers and The Wildhearts, (you can read more about it here), and had been chosen by the Austin Chronicle as a "must see" event that night. People were already lining up outside of Emo's for our showcase which featured the infamous Wildhearts in their debut performance at SXSW. I had spent the afternoon ushering the band around to various interviews, the most notable of which was a chat with Spin Magazine editor Doug Brod. I was smitten. He was so charming and enthusiastic and had a genuine appreciationfor the garage rock Gearhead was championing. Needless to say, my head was all abuzz as I made a beeline through the back alley ways to the hotel. But cutting through the din and the hazy BBQ smoke filling the air was a sound so exciting, I stopped dead in my tracks and listened for a moment or two before deciding I had to see who the band was that was making that glorious noise.
There they were, four diminutive dollies, all dressed in matching plaid bondage pants, rockin' out like there was no tomorrow. I wrote about this moment in the liner notes of their debut full-length Love and Roll. I still remember how awestruck I was. Despite the fact that they spoke no English, I was able to get across how much I loved what they were doing. With the help of their then tour-manager, Hajime (who's own band The Spunks would also later be signed to Gearhead), we exchanged information with a promise of further exploring the possiblility of working together.
Fast forward a few more years to 2007. SXSW had changed so much from those early days. Gone was the preferential treatment of getting to choose what venue and day I wanted to host the Gearhead showcase. The streets were filled with movie cameras from national TV shows. Hip hop artists and limousines clogged the streets, all posing for pictures with anyone who thought they might be someone. There had been some drama earlier, with someone getting shot I think, so the streets were cordoned off with plastic yellow crime scene tape.
I knew right then, that would be my last trip to Austin for SXSW. It had reached the mainstream media, and it was now time to find a new path to tapping into the interesting, but unknown music bubbling underneath the glitz and glamour. I started hosting the Gearhead® Showcases at the annual Lady Luck Tattoo Convention in Reno, NV, but that's food for another story.
SXSW continues to thrive today, but it is such a different world. It's like watching the Grammies, where I know it's about the music industry, but such a foreign world from the one I live in that it holds little interest for me. I've never been interested in following trends. I can watch with mild amusement and detachment as things evolve, and be grateful that I got to experience it in it's infancy, when it was raw, exciting, passionate, and sometimes a little chaotic, but so real.
The music industry continues to evolve, just like the custom car industry and all the other niche areas that have started to attract national attention. It's the nature of life. I love being at the beginning of things and am excited for what might be right around the corner.
Rock 'n' Roll Royalty Laid to Rest
The legendary Kim Fowley was laid to rest Thursday at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Paying respects were Joan Jett, and Michael De Barres among many other music industry notables. The L.A. Times wrote a very good article on the ceremony which I encourage you all to read.
I've been playing through all my old records, thanking this fellow for his visionary tactics, despite the fact they raised hackles on many. He had a unique way of getting peoples' attention and ears, and while it's not a way most would choose, it was effective. Rock on Mr. Fowley!
RIP Kim Fowley
To say Kim Fowley changed the course of my life would be a gross understatement. I never met the man, but his influence and talent helped make me who I am today.
Outrageous, demented, and with an ear for pop music that I would die for, this man shaped the course of rock 'n' roll in so many ways, it's difficult to pick which one was more influential.
Discovering the talent that formed the Runaways, one of my all-time favorite bands and inspirations was just the beginning of how my life would be changed by a man I never knew. Kiss, Alice Cooper, Blue Cheer, The Seeds...the list is long and impressive, and all of these bands were part of my musical education and growth.
RIP Kim, may you shake things up in heaven and send us some more incredible talent here on earth. The music industry is a bit stale right now and could use some excitement.
--Rev. Michelle Haunold, C.E.O/President, Gearhead®
Rock 'n' Roll/Automotive Journalist, Influencer, Editor and Publisher of Gearhead Magazine,