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Tucson sounds

The Whole Enchilada... minus a side of nuts

Desert rock reunion at Congress to benefit Casa Maria

Imagine yourself in Tucson circa the late 1970s.

A good couple of decades have passed since the dawn of rock and roll. The FM dial blasts the likes of Zeppelin, Floyd and Blue Oyster Cult, while AM radio stations like KTKT slip the occasional Fleetwood Mac or Supertramp song into the bizarre-in-retrospect blend of light disco, early powerpop and country-rock that dominated radio charts at the time, with Tucson's most famous native daughter Linda Ronstadt being a highly marketable blend of most of the above.

The local dive bars host live sets by lots of mediocre rock dudes with long hair and sunglasses or country-fried musicians with neatly trimmed beards and fancy leather vests. Girls with perms and Farrah Fawcett hairdos sway to the music while Levi-clad lotharios offer to buy them drinks. Meanwhile, out in the desert on the edges of town, students in flannel shirts gather around bonfires pass around a joint or two and slam back cold beers they bought with fake ID at Circle K and wonder when there's going to finally be something to do in this town.

The time is ripe and the sounds of punk and new wave and early indie/college/alt rock are beginning to filter in from the fringes, and things are about to change.

Some of those desert party guests are into records and others play instruments and still others make friends with interesting West Coast roommates until boredom and one-horse college-town ennui give way to inspiration and invention and restless creativity. A bunch of new bands are born and some of them suck, but others are really good. And, as with most of the punk/post punk landscape of the '70s and '80s, local bands eventually reject the philosophy of pure musical rebellion and start incorporating elements of the music they loved as kids. 

Psych-rock, folk rock, Flying Burrito Brothers, a little AC/DC and Cheap Trick and Beatles/Stones/Who/Floyd/Zep reverence filter through to the local sound. Some of the bands (especially the punk and eventually hardcore punk outfits) play gyms and warehouses and YMCAs and house parties while others book a lot of weird double-bills sharing stages with the old guard of classic rock and country stompers. Some of the rhythm section guys actually play in both kind of bands (drummers sometimes being a scarce commodity in a local music scene.) 

Sounds meld, minds meet, a couple of the more commercially viable groups make their way to L.A. to almost make it big, those bands begat even more bands, and the rest is history. 

That history is recounted in the hour long desert rock documentary "The Whole Enchilada" and its accompanying book and triple LP vinyl soundtrack as produced by desert rock elder statesmen Rich Hopkins of Sidewinders/Sand Rubies, Luminarios and San Jacinto Records fame and directed by Maggie Rawlings Smith, wife of local writer and former Pills/Gentleman After Dark rocker Brian Smith. And the film hits Tucson yet again this Saturday night at Club Congress, serving as the center piece of a Tucson desert rock reunion of sorts for the benefit of Casa Maria soup kitchen.

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Featuring many of the usual suspects — including Giant Sand, the Sidewinders, the River Roses, Naked Prey, Gila Bend, Billy Sedlmayr, Caitlin von Schmidt and Terry "Fish Karma" Owen — the "Whole Enchilada" show is guaranteed to draw at least a few of the old desert party crowd out of their suburban dens and into Downtown for the evening. But it could be argued that the more interesting story is who won't be playing that night. 

Originally, the band Chuck Wagon and the Wheels, a relic of Tucson's country-rock days, and one of the acts featured in the soundtrack of the film, were set to play the show as well. The band was a late '70s/early '80s dive-bar fixture whose one claim to fame was performing a song called "Disco Sucks" and whose local popularity always far exceeded their talent. In fact, the band's inclusion seemed puzzling from the outset, since they pretty much represent the boring cow-town bar-band doldrums to which the desert rock scene emerged as an alternative all those years ago. 

Still, including a band like the Wheels in this showcase might have been OK if it weren't for some complicating factors.  After all, every worthwhile music festival ought to include at least one band you don't want to see so that you have a chance  to catch up with friends, grab something from the bar and excuse yourself for a second or two while you "respect the building's historic plumbing." But while booking a bad/boring band isn't an unforgivable sin, booking a racist musician is a whole other ball game. Band leader Chuck "Wagon" Maultsby isn't just your garden variety Fox News-watching xenophobic uncle type of racist, but a fully fledged Holocaust-denying Nazi sympathizer.

Disco may or may not have sucked and the Wheels most certainly sucked, but you know what sucks more than anything? Nazis.

Thankfully, when called out by the Sentinel's own fearless editor Dylan Smith, the event's organizers and Hotel Congress entertainment director (and Sidewinders co-frontman) David Slutes summarily yanked Chuck and the Wheels from the event. But why this band was booked in the first place is still a bit of a mystery.

It's not as if Maultsby keeps his racist proclivities a secret. The man proudly hosts a website plastered with Holocaust denials, bonkers 911 "Truther" conspiracy rants, outright celebrations of Hitler and Josef Mengele and links to three self-published "alternative history" books which blame America's "downfall" on a mythical global Jewish cabal. Any one who has every been in a band with the man, or spent any time with the guy, or simply interacted with him online in some capacity in recent years has gotten a sickening earful about the "real reasons for America's downfall" and other such racist claptrap. 

I guess it only proves that as much as Gen X and the Boomer generation are prone to complain about the younger generation's purported enthusiasm for "cancel culture," we could stand to do more canceling of our own.

"It would've been horrible for the presence of this.... individual to stain what should be a celebratory event, for a worthy cause," the Sentinel editor said after Maultsby was pulled from the bill.

Also, in case I didn't mention it emphatically enough before, Nazis suck. 

Check Your Local Listings...

There's a lot of  local music related stuff to do this weekend (including Spiritualized, also at Hotel Congress, this Sunday and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard at Rialto on Wednesday night!) and definitely most, but hopefully all of it will be refreshingly Nazi-free.

Thanks to our donors and sponsors for their support of local independent reporting. Join Lucy Del Giorgio , Marquita Hill, and Jennalyn Tellman and contribute today!

So where ever you're heading to, be safe, be kind, mask up if you're asked to and imbibe responsibly. I'll catch you next week with some rock and roll memorial fodder, another documentary recap to tug at your heartstrings and yet another batch of local music reviews.

Sincerely, your friendly local music scribe.

Friday, April 15

  • Febbo Fuentes - 8 pm Saint Charles Tavern
  • The Bennu - 7 pm Hotel Congress Plaza
  • Morani Sanders Quartet - 9 pm Century Room at Hotel Congress
  • El Tambo - 10 pm Hotel Congress Plaza

Saturday, April 16

  • Santa Pachita - 1pm AZ Hops and VInes
  • The Whole Enchilada - 7pm Hotel Congress Plaza
  • Heathers Dance Party - 9pm Surly Wench Pub
  • Matt Mitchell Trio - 9pm Century Room at Hotel Congress
  • Gangstagrass - 8pm 191 Toole

Sunday, April 17

  • Golden Boots Easter Show - 5 pm Che's Lounge
  • Spiritualized - 7pm Hotel Congress Plaza

Monday, April 18

  • Al1ce w/ Pyrotechnica - 7pm House of Bards

Tuesday, April 19

  • The Mastersons w/ The Whitmore Sisters - 7pm Hotel Congress Plaza

Wednesday, April 20

  • King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - 8pm Rialto

Thursday, April 21

  • Electric Six - 7:30pm Club Congress
  • Weekend Lovers w/ Nelene DeGuzman - 8pm Tap &  Bottle
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Terry "Fish Karma" Owen

Blogger and Fish Karma fan Kay Sather holds up a copy of the Whole Enchilada LP

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