By Eddie Jorgensen
Jello Biafra fronted the Dead Kennedys and released some of the most ferocious, vitriol-fueled punk ever. He plays the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma this Friday.
Unlike much of the punk rock diaspora that didn’t have the education or wherewithal to tackle topics like politics, organized religion and everything in between, Biafra was an anomaly. His current band features some impressive Sonoma County brethren including guitarist Ralph Spight and bassist Larry Boothroyd, both of punk trio, Victims Family. Dead Kennedys’ sound, a blend of surf, rock, punk, avant-garde songs arrangements, is still alive in well but resides with Biafra rather than the members who now make a mockery of the moniker. His band today gets much more respect for remaining loyal to its mission of steering clear of corporate-sponsorship.
Dubbed by Jello himself now as “the world’s greediest karaoke band” band, today’s Dead Kennedys have seemingly done everything wrong since breaking up the original band. Jello, on the other hand, has been doing everything right. From his on-the-spot spoken word to his Lard project to appearances with Nomeansno, The Melvins, D.O.A. , and countless others, it would seem he can do no wrong. His band plays the DK classics along with material from their own records and are a sight and sound for sore eyes and ears. Come see for yourself.
Jello Biafra And The Guantanamo School Of Medicine play with The Vibrating Antennas and Acrylics at the Phoenix Theatre. Doors open at 7pm doors, 8pm start. Tickets are $16 advance and $18 at the door. All ages are welcome. 201 Washington St. Petaluma. 707.762.3565.
By Eddie Jorgensen
Slide blues guitar player Markus James let’s his fingers do the talking on his latest album for Firenze Records, the fabulous ‘Head To The Hills.’ A resident of an unincorporated area of Sonoma Country James calls “between Graton and Occidental,” he says the title of his album was no mistake.
“Head To The Hills” was a conscious effort to break tradition in the recording business and make records wherever the mood fits. After traveling to Mississippi and joining some of the most intimidating players in the blues world, his finished batch of songs received national acclaim immediately upon release.
Locally, he’s been getting a nice rotation on Sonoma County’s KRSH radio station which are also sponsoring his upcoming HopMonk Tavern show May 8 in Sebastopol.
Fans of world music, roots, and sweat-soaked blues steeped in the rich cultural surroundings of the south will enjoy the shuffle of the album’s lead track “Just Say Yes” along with solo slide-guitar-laden anecdotes like “For Blind Willie.” If you’re into back-and-forth guitar work, check out the stellar “Sleepyhead” which sounds as if it could have been an outtake from 1996’s ‘Slingblade’ soundtrack.
The album ‘Head For The Hills’ was largely recorded in the hills of Mississippi. How did your surroundings effect the overall song?
The recording process for this album was the culmination of a lot of great experiences during many visits to North Mississippi over several years. When I started recording in Sherman Cooper’s potato barn in Como, Miss. I felt right at home. Drummer Kinney Kimbrough’s open-air carport, next to a train track, on a windy day when a storm was coming in ended up also sounding great. My favorite setting was on Calvin Jackson’s porch in Luxahoma with the birds. Sometimes we would stop for a minute when a car came past there on Yellow Dog Road. The sound of his feet on that porch was really something as well.
What was it like playing with the many other talented drummers and musicians you recorded with?
You know, one thing has just led to another. It wasn’t like I had a plan or anything. I’m a songwriter and have been hooked on recording for most of my life going back to suitcase recorders which, ironically, I’ve started using again. I just wanted to stand next to the flame, you know? Also, playing with Ali Farka Toure’s calabash player, Hamma Sankare, was a dream come true for me.
You played with drummer Calvin Jackson (of RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough fame). How did that come about?
During one trip to Como, Sherman Cooper (whose barn I was staying in and recording in) said “how about playing with (drummer) Calvin Jackson?.” I couldn’t believe it. That was quite an experience. The mics were hanging on cables from the barn rafters, there was the most amazing lightning storm going on outside complete with flickering power on the inside, and he was polishing off a bottle in a brown bag.
What instruments do you play outside of the guitar are we hearing on the new record?
On ‘Head For The Hills’ I play numerous instruments. I play both acoustic and electric guitars, slide, cigar box guitar (3-string), gourd banjo (West African instrument), dulcimer, 1-string Diddley Bow, harp, and beat box.
How difficult is it to get that stinky groove only R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough can play?
That’s why I wanted to play with their drummers Kinney Kimbrough and Calvin Jackson. They are just plain bad ass. The drummer I’ve been playing live with, Marlon Green, toured with the great John Lee Hooker for the last year of his life. If I had to guess what is the common thread (between the drummers), they all three played in church. There is something undefinable about what they call the “Hill Country Stomp.”
Markus James celebrates his ‘Head For The Hills’ CD release Friday, May 8 at HopMonk Tavern in Sebastopol, with HowellDevine opening. 9pm. Tickets are $12 advance and $15 at the door. 230 Petaluma Ave, Sebastopol, 707.829.7300. He also plays Saturday, May 9th at Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley with Gurrumul opening. 8pm. Tickets are $25 advance and $27 at the door. 19 Corte Madera Ave, Mill Valley, 415.388.3850. For more info, visit Facebook.com/markusjamesmusic.
By Eddie Jorgensen
It’s been 33 years since Sonoma County’s longest running band, Skitzo, started its reign of sickening, barf-encrusted, thrash metal terror and vocalist/guitarist Lance Ozanix shows no signs of slowing down. Ozanix’s annual side project, Sweet Leaf, an Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath tribute act, will be celebrating their 20th anniversary together and will play one last show in the area before they reconvene again in December.
Sweet Leaf features a veritable who’s who of the metal scene. Guitarist Steve Smyth has done countless national and international tours playing with the likes of Testament, Nevermore, Vicious Rumours, Forbidden, Dragonlord, and currently lives in England with his wife and dog where he teaches guitar to over 60 students. Drummer Chris Newman played with Intense, one of the largest drawing speed / thrash metal bands in the late 80’s and also played with local hard rock outfit, Ariah. The group is rounded out by the ultra-talented bassist, Steven Hoffman, from the defunct Esseness Project.
“Nowadays it’s just one practice and go” said Ozanix in a recent phone interview. “This year because of the 10 year anniversary of Dimebag Darrell’s death, we have added some some Pantera songs into the set. Of course, when we run out of material during shows, we will throw in some Accept, Judas Priest, Dio, or even some AC/DC tunes.”
“I tried in 1989 to get Sweet Leaf going but I couldn’t get my shit together,” said Ozanix of the band’s humble beginnings. “People were in the band for only a couple of months at a time. All the current guys came together in 1994.”
“This will actually be an interesting return to Spancky’s in Cotati, as it’s the first time in nearly twelve years since we’ve been back to play there,” said guitarist Steve Smyth. “The last time we were there, the power surged onstage and blew out Steve Hoffman’s amp so we couldn’t continue from there. We managed to get through nearly an hour set though, so that was a great thing.”
Although Ozanix’s loves the annual Sweet Leaf shows, he made certain to mention the status of Skitzo, his main band. “We just finished our 19th album, ‘Dementia Praecox,’ but have not planned a release date since we don’t have a drummer.”
And while Skitzo may be a bigger name in Sonoma County, Sweet Leaf has quite the following of its own and plays shows in the Bay Area, Sacramento, Fresno, and anywhere else in between.
“We just played Livermore (Pine Street Bar and Grill), Sacramento (On The Y), as well as our hometown area shows in Rohnert Park (Quincy’s Pub) and Santa Rosa (Sprenger’s Taproom). We did our second annual acoustic show there at Sprenger’s. It was a lot of fun!” said Steve. “ We average a handful of shows per year with Sweet Leaf due to the fact I live out of the country now, but we still can manage around eight shows a year.”
Metalheads who love Ozzy Osbourne’s body of work along with the entire heavy metal genre will be thrilled with Saturday’s show however unrehearsed it may be. “ Expect surprise, I would say!” said Steve. “Of course, there are the usual fan favorites one can expect and the songs we love to play as well, but there are songs in those band’s back catalogs that seem to get called out a little more.”
Sweet Leaf (Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath tribute band) play Saturday, January 10th at Spancky’s in Cotati, with Lord Mountain opening. 9:30pm. No cover charge but donations accepted. 8201 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati. 707.664.0169.