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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.


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)