In 1968, when Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple hit the world stage, there was a local group called Snail. Jamming at Harvey West Park, bandleader Bob O’Neill recalls not being the most hardened musicians: “We were like, ‘Would you like to use our equipment?’ We were very young and very nice.” Though not as renowned as their British brothers, Snail is infamous in Santa Cruz. “Our biggest influences were Jeff Beck, Jimi Page and Eric Clapton. We weren’t heavy metal exactly. We had the lyrical side of it with harmonies, so it was kind of a hybrid,” says guitarist Ken Kraft. With a division of harmonies and arrangements, Snail was more like Cream, rocking blues with a psychedelic twist. In 1970, Snail took out a loan, bought Marshall amplifiers and began playing major venues. Selling out the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium and Selland Arena in Fresno with Santana, Snail became an arena band, still true to their roots. “We played a concert on the beach in Capitola, thousands showed up, but the police never did,” says Kraft, crediting huge turnouts in the ’70s to lack of TiVo. “There weren’t as many distractions back then—there were only three TV stations.” Forty years later, Kraft and O’Neill remain bandmates and friends. As songwriters, the Lennon/McCartney of the band, it’s no surprise that Kraft is currently the White Album Ensemble guitarist, singer and musical director.
Hauschka adds ping-pong balls and beautiful chaos to the piano
It’s a rare sight, but at a Hauschka concert, hipsters and classical enthusiasts really do collide. So do ping-pong balls, beer bottle caps, marbles, vibrators, tape, and anything else the German musician—whose real name is Volker Bertelmann—thinks will dutifully accessorize his piano strings.
“Normal classical pianists use the piano as a tempered instrument, but I don’t like the attitude that that’s the only thing you can do with it and nothing else,” the 44-year-old says from his home in Dusseldorf.
Like a good wine, J. Mascis gets better with age
In some ways, Several Shades of Why sounds like the kind of record J. Mascis should have been making all along. The laid-back acoustic strumming, lazy guitar slides and general folk lethargy of the album seem to be a better fit than the music Mascis became famous for crafting during the ’90s.
Back then, the founder and front man of Dinosaur Jr. was busy constructing massive squalls of feedback, jangling, overdriven guitar and fuzzed-out bass lines that were barely held together by propulsive and highly compressed drums.
Santa Cruz is indubitably a town that takes to a certain thread of fusion jam bands. Whether they be local products or artists coming through on tour, head out to any given Santa Cruz venue on any given night, and there’s a good chance you’re going to cross something funky, something danceable and (perhaps) something reggae-derived. Matt Masih and The Messengers is a band which easily falls into this category upon first inspection, but the six-piece’s frontman insists there’s much more to the equation. “There’s definitely a singer-songwriter background,” explains multi-instrumentalist Matt Masih. “The lyrics are involved with the shape and outline of the song,” more than most jam bands. Indeed, the project began about two years ago as the sort-of bedroom songs of Masih, who retains most of the creative control in the band. Though there’s room for the rest of the group to inject its own funky flavor—particularly the relatively new horn section—Masih’s songwriting process clearly keeps The Messengers grounded in pop sensibilities.
Rock duo Tartufi spreads DIY expertise
We all know that sharing is caring. Though if you’re a starving musician with little to share but your inherent melodic gifts, it’s easy to turn into a hoarder squirreling away any post-success wealth and industry wisdom. But for the two members of San Francisco’s exporters of dynamic angular rock, Tartufi, it’s always been about imparting lessons learned. According to Lynne Angel, vocalist, guitarist and looping maestro, there is no competition.
“I think a lot of people can get pretty selfish when it comes to music and can have kind of an ‘In It to Win It’ attitude,” the singer says. “We just like playing music with our friends and helping other people play music.”
Though it’s not a local band per se, the Jazz Society of Santa Cruz, as an institution, has served as an incubator for many local swing, big band, ragtime and cool jazz outfits since it was established in 2000. The nonprofit hosts a four-hour open jam session for local jazz musicians every Sunday at Bocci’s Cellar and has spawned many local bands by bringing together professionals and weekend warriors—giving people who might not otherwise meet, the opportunity to play in front of a relaxed, fun-loving crowd. Local jazz musician Stella D’Oro—who mesmerizes with Italian “Meglio Stasera”—says that the atmosphere on Sundays at Bocci’s Cellar—a 100-year-old former Italian restaurant at 140 Encinal St.—helped her hone her craft. “People there are very supportive,” D’Oro says, referring to both the musicians and patrons. “They’re great for supporting new musicians and people learning how to get started.” Steve Newman, president of the Jazz Society and master saxophonist, has been with the organization since the beginning. He describes the venue as a “time warp”—a modern day speakeasy where people go once a week to swing dance and get lost in the sounds. “It’s not just the musicians,” Newman says.
Sweet Honey in the Rock voices its opposition to racial profiling
The all-female, all-African-American vocal group Sweet Honey in the Rock has never shied away from tackling social and political issues. In the four decades since the D.C.-based ensemble’s inception, its members have used blues, reggae, African chanting, jazz improv and gospel styles as a platform for their views on everything from civil rights to domestic violence.
It was no surprise then, that when the controversial anti-illegal immigration act known as Arizona Senate Bill 1070 passed last year, Sweet Honey responded not only by joining the international Sound Strike boycott of Arizona, but also by releasing the song and video “Are We a Nation?” (Sample lyrics: “Does the color of your skin determine how and when you can be stopped and booked for the way that you look? Racial profile—this is not freedom’s style.”)
While most people were fighting fax machines at 9-5 jobs, Birdhand spent the first week of April destroying an abandoned church in Monterey. Shooting a music video to promote their new self-titled EP, produced by Darryl Jenifer of Bad Brains, the Santa Cruz rockers were armed with 10-foot poles and told to go wild. What should have been a dream come true, turned into a strange experience. “There were 15 uncomfortable film students watching us the whole time without saying anything,” says bassist Mason Rothschild. “It was the most awkward thing ever!” But according to singer/songwriter/guitarist Joey Weed, awkward moments make the band tick. “Before each show, we huddle up and get really weird—we talk about normal stuff, like how my stomach hurts or who didn’t take out the trash,” says Weed. Once the lights come on, though, the foursome delivers hard-hitting rock ‘n’ roll, with Queens of the Stone Age-like punk riffs and occasional violin and pan flute solos.
Titus Andronicus’ Patrick Stickles discusses consumption of music and housing
In a couple months I’ll be making the cross country move to New York City, so when Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles tells me he’s currently walking down a Brooklyn sidewalk, of course I have to take the opportunity to ask for advice on living in the borough which may well soon be my home.
“The smartest thing would be to avoid what my girlfriend calls ‘residential tourism,’” says the singer and guitarist. “Sometimes these young people are kind of like a disease that moves from place to place and consumes all the resources, and then moves on once they’ve had their fill of it.”
The axe is falling on music education in public schools. The star of James Durbin is rising on American Idol. Put those two trends together, and the purpose behind the Young Performers Showcase (Durbin is an alum of the event) becomes potently clear. Now in its third year, the fundraiser this Saturday, April 9, at The Rio Theatre, presents a full lineup of local youth strutting disparate skills to raise awareness and moolah to continue music programs in Santa Cruz City schools. It all started when Rick Linzer saw how the economic downturn was threatening music lessons. The veteran jazz saxophonist, who says that music “really saved my life in a lot of ways; it gave me a sense of purpose and camaraderie,” has gone on to coordinate an annual concert that provides family entertainment while ensuring that school bands can be armed with instruments and kids can be exposed to the nurturing and healing nature of music. As a music major in college, Linzer learned how effective music is in a child’s cognitive, social and emotional development. “Numerous studies show that [music] gives kids a sense of connection to school and helps with self-esteem, creative and analytical thinking, coordination, problem solving and team building,” he says.
There’s no sibling rivalry in indie folk-rock supergroup Middle Brother
Ego clashes and battles for control are inevitable in almost every band, but when you put three leaders of established acts together in one group, you’re just begging for trouble. Yet Middle Brother—the new band comprised of Matt Vasquez, Taylor Goldsmith and John J. McCauley III, frontmen for the indie folk-rock outfits Delta Spirit, Dawes and Deer Tick, respectively—seems to have avoided such pitfalls so far. According to Vasquez, the members of the group don’t mind taking turns hanging back, playing guitar and singing harmony.
“There’s zero ego when it comes to backing somebody up, because you believe in them, and you just want it to be as good as it can be,” the musician states. “We’re all fans of each other’s music so much. I love ‘Mom and Dad,’ I love ‘Daydreaming’ I love ‘Blood and Guts’—I begged Taylor to put ‘Blood and Guts’ on the record.”