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Provostian Moments Vol. XI: The Denver Mexicans

7 May

What did DAVIE ALLAN & THE ARROWS, THE DWIGHT TWILLEY BAND and THE DREAM SYNDICATE and all have in common? Bassist Dave Provost, that’s who. Who has played in musical aggregations with the likes of AL GREEN, SKY SAXON, and KATHY VALENTINE? Dave Provost has.

Dave is a kind of rock n roll Zelig, somehow popping up at all the crucial turns and twists in LA rock history during the past 4+ decades. Over the years his formidable musical & rhythmic chops got him seats next to some seriously world-class musicians, while his gregarious, outgoing nature had all the rest inviting him to their after-gig parties. And now, he’s now spilling the beans about it all, starting with this post.

This is really, really good news to those of us who appreciate just where this man’s walked and rocked in his lifetime. So please: do take a seat at the feet of Mr Dave Provost for a spell, and follow him in his search for lost rock n roll time.

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The Denver Mexicans

eep Portland Weird. Its the official city slogan of Portland, Oregon, and I had seen the same bumper sticker slogan pertaining to Austin, Texas when I lived there. But that’s not how we roll in my hometown of Los Angeles. Los Angelenos would be standing naked in the street trying to convince their neighbors that they are normal. Even Charles Manson maintained that he was not weird, just normal like the rest of us.

You can recognize a true LA rocker by how conservative an image they try to convey when they’re not on stage. Even The Cramps’ Lux and Ivy often dressed like parents at a PTA meeting off stage. Many wannabe rock stars flock to the City of Angels from middle America every year, just to be disappointed.

Between 1986 and 1988 I hosted a weekly jam night at what was perhaps the the most decadent club in Hollywood, known as the Soundcheck. The Soundcheck was located at the corner of Sunset and Vine. The other employees were Pleasant Gehman and Laura Bennett from the Screamin’ Sirens, Texacala Jones of the Horseheads, and our doorman was El Duce from The Mentors. With fine upstanding citizens like these running the joint, it’s probably not very believable when I tell you that we were girl scouts compared to our clientele.

The club’s manager Baba was a slightly less cartoonish version of Mae West. No inventory was ever kept of our booze so the drinks were often free and when I questioned this practice, Baba told me not to stand in the way of progress, and that the club was a money laundering front for the mob. I would often have to mop club regulars like Courtney Love off the floor, and my friend Top Jimmy was surprised to find that I’d driven him home over a dozen times.

Every Sunday night the club was packed with losers in leather and stained Motley Crue T-shirts; I feel that the ultimate fashion faux pas is wearing clothing that says Harley Davidson on public transportation. The free admission was certainly an attraction, and the TV evangelist that claimed that AIDS started in our club, only helped to boost attendance.

Every band in town came to jam at the Soundcheck. A typical Sunday night would start with me doing fifteen minutes of stand up comedy, followed by a gaggle of whiny housewives singing bad folk music, and then local bands like the Vandals or the Fuzztones would play a showcase set. The evening would conclude with the best jam in town. Since the club provided drums and amps, many outstanding musicians would come from near and far. The club had one problem though: it needed a house band to back singers who could not accompany themselves.

Guitarist Aaron Price and I were playing with the Hollywood Hillbillies. When Fur Dixon left the Hillbillies to join the Cramps, we drafted the Hillbilly’s drummer Steve Bidrowski, and changed the band’s name to the Denver Mexicans.  Steve had previously been a member of Sire Records’ seminal psychobilly band The Unknowns, and the trio was now the Soundcheck’s house band. The Denver Mexicans’ name was based on characters from Jack Kerouac’s book On the Road.

Aaron is what we call a musician’s musician. His dazzling yet emotional skills garnered the respect of a legion of Pro players, including Rockpile’s Billy Bremner who produced our first album. We were musical acrobats, and we saw no borderline between Ernest Tubb and Ornette Coleman. Aaron would sing a little bit too. His voice sounds like a country version of Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen.

During my two years with the Denver Mexicans we backed our club’s guest vocalists, including Peter Case, Charlie Sexton, Rosie Flores, and Lucinda Williams. An old homeless looking gent asked to sit in one night, and after he shredded the PA with his voice, we realized that he was Bob Seger.

El Duce was one of those LA people who thought he was normal, and after Aaron joked that the Mexicans wanted to play our farm-jazz on a bill with the Mentors, El Duce bit the bait. The joint was jumpin’ as the Denver Mexicans opened for the Mentors, but meanwhile El Duce’s joint was also jumping as he exposed himself to Baba’s 12 year old daughter. Upon hearing the news, Baba lured El Duce into the club’s kitchen where she repeatedly beat him over his saved head with a cast iron skillet. Just before our lovable sociopath fell to the floor, he muttered the words: “Baba, pretty soon I’m not going to enjoy this anymore.” The crowd was not upset with the Mentors sudden cancelation. They were happy just to lead a parade procession through the kitchen, to see El Duce collapsed on the bloody concrete floor.

I left the band when the Health Department closed down the Soundcheck. The group continued with jazz bassist Marco Fox as my replacement, and released a second album on the French label New Rose. Aaron now plays pedal steel guitar in Portland, and is still a good friend. Steve latter joined my band the Droogs, and played on two European tours. Steve is now happily married to Baba, but he still hides the skillet. El Duce was sentenced to eternal damnation, and is serving his time in Heaven.

– Dave Provost

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