Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Big Hair Chronicles

The thriving modern music scene in Albuquerque started around 1979. The first wave of bands featured a handful of  glam metal groups,  most of which never made it out of the local bars.  That scene would peak in 1988 with the national success of Femme Fatale. A local band that went to Hollywood, got signed to a record deal, made it onto MTV and national radio before suddenly breaking up.  Gypsy Rose lead singer Billy Sunday (after changing his name to Billy Brooke) would make his mark on the Hollywood metal scene fronting metal rockers Tragic Romance. Local musician Michael Goodroe  would find success as the bass player for Martha Davis and The Motels. Drummer Randy Castillo, a veteran of the local scene earned  worldwide fame playing with Ozzy Osbourne, Lita Ford and Motley Crue.  
Alternative rock bands also started to pop up at this time.  The Refrigerators rolled out of Taos and took Albuquerque by storm, their 1981 album created a buzz as the local print and television media outlets picked up the story.  The band's brief fling with success quickly ended when lead singer Burton Jespersen left the group.  The remaining band members would then continue as The Magnetixs.  The Philisteens flirted with success at the national level, but somehow never managed to break through (that could apply to most  good bands from Albuquerque). In 1982 they recorded a single with producer Craig Leon at the helm (He had produced hit albums for Blondie and The Ramones).  That single was well received, making it onto the play list at LA rock station KROQ.  They parlayed that good fortune into a three year stint of touring as an opening act. The band then moved to Los Angeles, recorded tracks for an album that was never released. And then with a record deal on MCA Records seemingly on the horizon, they broke up.
 Across the nation rock music was changing, Albuquerque would soon be engulfed by this wave of change.  It was 1989 and Nirvana was leading the grunge stampede into the recording studios and unto the music charts.  Across the country the indie rock scene was spreading like wildfire, that combined with the ascent of grunge rock made this the most prolific of eras for rock music.  The age of genres was also upon us, metal, death metal, industrial, brit goth, punk, post punk, grunge, techno, house, rap, hip hop, classic rock, modern rock, alternative rock…ad nauseam.  Nothing was clear cut and simple anymore, the new bands were complicated, lead singers were the moody, angst ridden products of neglect and  poor parenting, all hell bent on self destruction (ok! so that part hadn’t changed much)  But the real difference was in the music, gone were the songs of debauchery and self indulgence that the hair farmers had hoisted up as anthems for the addle headed masses. Almost overnight the intelligence quota of American rock went up, along with the decibels.  Cherry Pie  had been replaced by dark brooding tales of woe from the outcasts of the popular cliques in high school.
As the metal bands were putting away their cans of White Rain and packing up their high tops and spandex, another wave of bands swept across the Dirt City.  The new kids on the block were musically sophisticated, without any of the rock star posturing of the hair bands. These new bands were evolving into a scene by playing and recording original music. The problem that bands faced, then and now, was the lack of venues.  Not that Albuquerque doesn't have plenty of bars and clubs, sadly most did not feature live music or chose to hire cover bands.  However cover bands were falling out of fashion, the musicians who once bragged "Dude, when we play Dust in the Wind, we sound just like Kansas" now found themselves at the bottom of the food chain.  Thanks to venues like The El Rey, The Golden West and The Sunshine Theater, bands playing original music,  could stay together and prosper long enough to develop their musical visions.