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A Naked Green Hurricane

17 Apr

THE PEDESTRIANS – “Tropicana” (from An Evening at “Pearl’s” Hurricane, San Jacinto Records, 2000) A few years after Nicky Cacavas regaled me with the story behind Tucson’s first punk show, I finally get around to hearing the recorded evidence. And lemme tell ya: I am blown away by the sheer depth of this 31 year old cassette recording. At this point (July 7, 1979) this sweaty, stringy-haired group – made up of guys who’d go on to form bands like GREEN ON RED, GIANT SANDWORMS, NAKED PREY – were still honing skills, finding voices, and sticking primarily to cover tunes. But the teen spirit at work here is fucking powerfully indeed! The rage fuelling their versions of CLASH and STOOGES songs is barely containable, and the moxie it took to make TALKING HEADS and DEVO tunage their own shows just how inspiring kids playing their first real gig can actually be.

Listening closer: Billy Sedlmayr’s histrionically modern vocals remind me of Fritz Fox from SF’s THE MUTANTS, while still sounding totally his own. John Venet’s gtr leads are damn near as powerful as they would be 15 years later in NAKED PREY, and Dave Seger ain’t too shy to push his bass up front ‘n’ center when called for. Chris Cacavas can already toss off DOORSian keyboard cascades with the effortless ease of a natural born musician. And self-penned songs like “Tropicana” display that burning gnarl we all came to love about great 80’s Tucson rock bands, albeit without the roots/Americana moves many later groups traded in. Ultimately, I agree with ex-SUSPECT Brian Smith in his liners: THE PEDESTRIANS weren’t so much Tuscon’s first punk band as they were the first group ballsy enough to incorporate punk influences into an identifiably-regional rock form. Little wonder, then, that decades of beautiful AZ rock and roll can trace its origins back to this heated moment.

By The Time I Get To Arizona

9 Apr

Spring has finally arrived here in Londontown, and with it comes warmer weather, sunnier skies, drier air. Heck if I shut my eyes tight enough, I can almost imagine I’m back in the American Southwest, soaking up the heat like a scaly lizard belly up in the hot sand. At such times I’m drawn to sounds born in deserts I grew up criss-crossing on long drives back and forth between California and Texas: the original ALICE COOPER group, MEAT PUPPETS, and perennial faves GIANT SAND. Lately though, it’s Tucson’s once mighty NAKED PREY that have captivated me most.

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1st-generation GREEN ON RED connections (NP singer Van Christian was the original GOR drummer) meant NAKED PREY would forever be pigeonholed as Gram Parsons revivalists retooled for the 80’s college rock set. But NP were tougher, darker, & stranger than any Cosmic American Music tag suggested. The chord progressions these guys favored were often minor key, consistently harsh, and willfully monochromatic, refusing to provide the kinda cozy solace more genteel jangle rock types demanded. David K. Seger’s gtr was Neil Young by way of paint-peeling Metallic KO, and woulda been completely foreign to your average pansyass new waver. Hell I imagine it probably ruffled the feathers of any number of trad HC punkers around at the time, too. Tom Larkin’s drumming wasn’t flashy but always got the job done, no matter what his state of inebriation. And Van’s voice! Oh shit. If his mullet didn’t scare away all the good-looking gals, his strangled singing sure as shit woulda freaked the hell out of the rest of them. No, NP weren’t paisley underground dwellers, nohow. If I had to compare em to anybody I’d say they sounded like a roadrage-fueled highway collision between THE PONTIAC BROTHERS and THE SEA HAGS, stripped of all glam trappings such a pileup might imply.

In the 80’s, they put out three great LPs, each improving and building on the last (Naked Prey on Down There, Under the Blue Marlin and 40 Miles From Nowhere on Frontier). None of these have seen CD reissues, but all are worth hearing. They then discovered a European fanbase, switched to Fundamental Records, and released a gnarly live EP (Live in Tucson) along with the full-length Kill the Messenger LP that I’m ashamed to say I’ve not actually heard yet. But come the 90’s, the metal began flaking.

David Seger left and his departure was a major loss, indeed – even Van has since acknowledged this. Sure alotta of what made NAKED PREY compelling was Van’s jaundiced worldview and desperate howl which continued on until the very end, perhaps in even more refined form as the years past. But with the metal solos gone, so was some of what made them so uniquely great.

I saw em live in the mid-90’s at Austin’s SXSW music festival, with enlisted support of a couple soon-to-be CALEXICO heads. These younger fellas gave the proceedings a decidedly more folky, less feral sound, even when Van shredded his vocal cords to intend otherwise. While such manners mighta suited Howe Gelb in his GIANT SAND to a T, here it only undercut the misanthropic power that we’d all come to expect from NAKED PREY. Their final CD (And Then I Shot Everyone) is a charred but still glowing coal of record, but I can’t help thinking how much more powerful it might’ve sounded with some of David’s deformed gtr ripping new earholes in my head.

Screw the conjecturing: if you ever wanted to dig GREEN ON RED but found their records less than compelling, then you owe it to yourself to take a bite out of NAKED PREY. You’ll be spittin’ blood for weeks, I tell ya.

NAKED PREY – “Little Lucy” (Naked Prey, Down There/Enigma Records, 1984)
NAKED PREY – “The Carnival” (40 Miles From Nowhere, Frontier Records, 1987)
NAKED PREY – “Love Me To Death” (And Then I Shot Everyone, Epiphany!, 1995)