The hardest working men in Tucson show business
Tucson is a music-friendly town, where it sometimes seems like everyone from your bartender to your Lyft driver has a band or a band idea or a bedroom recording project in the works. But most singer/songwriter/bandleader types are guitarists and keyboardists. Great supporting players are a little bit harder to find, especially bassists and drummers.
That's why it isn't much of a surprise that many Tucson bands share a "six degrees of separation" style network of shared members, sister bands, step-bands and bands-in-law, with a handful of talented, versatile and reliable rhythm players at its core.
You might not know their names, but odds are pretty good that you recognize some of these faces, at least if you're a regular at Tucson live music venues. They are the subliminal forces that control the dynamics and drive the back beat of your favorite local bands. They are the ones who decide if you're going to sway a little bit, dance your ass off, or pogo like a maniac.
This week, the "side men" step out of the shadows and take center stage at last as this column shines a spotlight on some of Tucson's hardest working rhythm players.
Tone and confidence: Bassist John Read
John Read is literally a stand-up guy. He plays upright bass in Latin/surf/soundtrack band Los Guapos, modified electric bass for garage/punk band Shit Knife and handles “all the low frequency duties” for newly formed local music project The Silver Compacts. Read is a bassist’s bassist, who prefers to focus his musical energies on improving his bass skills rather than dabbling much in other instruments.
“I try to play in a manner that doesn’t compete too much with the other instruments, so I tend to keep it relatively simple.” Read said.
In Los Guapos this means weaving in and out of a sonic landscape which features two soloists (one on guitar, one on keyboards & sax) as well as a drummer and a Latin percussionist. Playing in Los Guapos is the most fun, according to Read “when the whole rhythm section gels and you become something a lot bigger than yourself.”
“Seeing people dance and lose themselves is the ultimate reward,” he said.
Shit Knife, Read says, is all about loud fury.
“I try to play in a way that reflects that. Simple but confident (and loud) lines. A lot of pumped eighth notes and droning. I play a bass made by our drummer Rocco DiGrazia that has a really hot humbucker pickup in it. To say it cuts through the mix would be an understatement.”
Indie/dream pop project The Silver Compacts, still in its infancy, is very different from either of Read’s other musical endeavors. Since the band features a lot of effects and processed sound, he finds it’s even more important to have a clean tone and not overplay.
Although the bands he plays in are pretty diverse, Read finds his style has a certain consistency regardless of project.
“Tone, confidence, and feeling are most important. Relatively simple, confident lines with the best tone I can pull,” he said.
Though The Silver Compacts may not yet be ready to hit Tucson stages, you can catch Read regularly on Tucson stages in both Shit Knife and Los Guapos.
The professional: Bassist/guitarist Peter Gorritz
Peter Gorritz is of that rare breed that we call the working musician. A member of five bands, four of them local, as well as a “gun for hire” for a number of other freelance recording projects, live gigs and one-off shows, Gorritz finds that versatility is his key asset.
“I can adapt my playing & performing style as well as how I look and act on stage to different genres and the requirements of a given project, and I place a lot of value on being a team player,” he said.
Gorritz’s flair for adaptation and genre swapping are apparent in all his local projects,including bass duties in modern country band Blue Monsoon, metal-edged hard rock band Velocity, and especially his gigs with popular '80s retro/cover band Gigi & The Glow in which he adopts the character of a mohawked, cynical punk rock bassist who looks like a refugee from the cover of The Clash’s Sandinista album.
Though Gorritz makes a lot of his living reinterpreting other people’s songs in cover bands and as a hired hand, he also plays his share of original music, periodically reuniting with his longtime project The Last Dance, a Southern California-based band that has toured nationally and internationally.
Gorritz has also started exploring original ideas and novel takes on familiar covers with another local project, “alternative lounge” act For Love Or Absinthe, with Blue Monsoon band mate Deanna Cross. In For Love Or Absinthe, Gorritz has a chance to return to his first love, the guitar.
“A lot of musicians who start out on guitar as I did, tend to pick up a bass and play it like a guitar with fewer and fatter strings,” he said. “They're different instruments that play different roles in a band and I try to be very cognizant of that. When I play guitar, I'm a guitarist, when I play bass, I'm a bassist and everything from how I play the instrument to how I interact with the audience and other band members is affected by that.”
As often is the case, Gorritz is a busy man this weekend, joining singer Lexa Raquel’s live band at Saint Charles Tavern on Saturday night and getting in character yet again for Gigi & The Glow at Five Palms Seafood and Steak on Friday night.
Gorritz's other bands play regular gigs around town, including For Love Or Absinthe, which has a recurring monthly slot at The Royal Sun Lounge on Stone.
Gigi & The Glow play Five Palms Steak and Seafood, 3500 E Sunrise Dr. (North Tucson) at 8:30 p.m. on Friday.
Lexa Raquel plays Saint Charles Tavern, 1632 S. 4th Ave. (just south Of Downtown) at 9 p.m. on Saturday.
Study in contrasts: Bassist/guitarist Geremy Cady
Geremy Cady loves being on stage, whether playing lead guitar and “screaming into microphones” as part of local punk/hard rock band Gaza Strip or as a more staid, professional rhythm player in eclectic ensemble band Little Cloud.
While the two projects couldn’t be more different musically, the spirit of each is similar, labors of love from groups of musicians who love playing live and love hanging out with each other. For Cady, this sense of friendship and family are as much a part of playing as the spotlight itself.
A member of Gaza Strip since 2006, Cady calls that band his “absolute passion.” The band is made up of good friends who bonded over a shared love of loud, energetic, fun music and stayed lifelong friends, from through marriages, mortgages and fatherhood.
“We all literally learned how to play our instruments together while writing our earliest stuff,” said Cady, adding that he loves that the band has “never tried to be what we thought people liked or what we thought people wanted to hear.”
In spite of this failure to kowtow to the expectations of the crowd, audiences have loved Gaza Strip from early on to their current incarnation. The band set small goals early on and accomplished them readily, including playing major venues like Club Congress and The Rialto, recording a couple of studio albums (another one is on the way) and eventually growing a loyal fan base, who often joins the band in their energetic, costume-themed live shows.
The more mellow, eclectic ensemble that is Little Cloud is a sharp contrast to the noise and chaos that is Gaza, but the energy is just as joyous.
“We are all friends outside of the music. All close. I love the other members," said Cady, adding that Little Cloud feels very professional compared to his other band. Cady plays both acoustic and electric bass in the ensemble which uses unusual instruments (including accordion and ukulele) and is much more vocally melodic and crowd-friendly when compared to the harder edge of Gaza Strip.
In the end, it’s probably the contrast of the two bands that Cady loves best.
“Gaza is kind of silly and Little Cloud is kind of serious,” he said, adding “ever seen 'Tango and Cash'? Little Cloud is Tango, Gaza Strip is Cash.”
Both Little Cloud and Gaza Strip play regularly around town and Gaza Strip is in the process of planning a new recording.
The bassist/drummer mind meld: Bryan Thomas Parker & Joseph Miller of Sucker For The Sour
Bryan Thomas Parker is another working musician, though mostly as a singer and guitarist, performing solo or with ensemble group Bryan Thomas Parker and Friends. A fixture at local venues like The Loudhouse, Sky Bar, La Cocina and The Screening Room, Parker often has several live gigs a week, not counting shows he puts together for other bands as part of Tres Rojas Collective.
When not playing front man, though, Parker is a damn good bassist,sharing rhythm duties with drummer Joseph Miller in pop punk band Sucker For The Sour and filling in with other local bands, including Gaza Strip. While he remains a guitarist at heart, Parker has always had a love of the low end as well, citing influences such as Matt Freeman, John Paul Jones, John Entwistle, Mike Dirnt, and Mark Hoppus, all of whom he credited with being “daring and provocative while remaining foundational.”
In Sucker For The Sour, Thomas gets to indulge his love of ska, punk and melodic “groove-driven” bass lines. It also gives him a chance to bond with Miller, who also serves as drummer in BTP & Friends.
“As a bassist, I really enjoy the trust and foundation that you build with your drummer.” Parker said. Bass guitar is a bridge between melody and rhythm, so when that groove between myself and the drummer locks in I get really jazzed.”
In Sucker For The Sour, the other half of that “bridge” is drummer Joseph Miller. Like many local drummers, Miller is a multi-instrumentalist, playing bass in the bands Nod and No Girls Allowed and sitting behind the drum kit for Curb Stop, in addition to his stints in SFTS and BTP & Friends.
“Playing no-holds-barred punk music is a lot different than doing a country ballad,” Miller said, and his playing reflects this, infused with youthful energy and drive, but very much tempered to the project at hand.
When not playing in bands, Miller teaches and helps run local music school The Schoolhouse of Rock.
“I teach privately music lessons full time. So if I'm not playing, I feel like my credibility is nil if I'm not speaking from a place of experience,” he said.
Miller’s goals as a musician are simply and admirably “to be on as many albums” as he can be and to try to play with everyone he can. Whether on drums or bass, he feels the true challenge in each group is to sound authentic to the band’s core style.
You can watch Parker and Miller show off the magic of the bonded bassist/drummer pair this Saturday in Sucker For The Sour at The Loudhouse.
Sucker For The Sour plays The Loudhouse, 915 W. Prince Rd. (North Tucson) at 8 p.m. on Saturday with The Touchies and Honeychain.
The drummer/bassist: Mark Mason
Mark Mason is often described by friends as “an angel” or “maybe the real Batman” because of his tendency to always have a solution for any dilemma, whether it be a spare instrument part, a hard to find technical answer or a helping hand for a friend stranded in traffic. As a rhythm player, Mason is just as reliable and stalwart, but a bit more edgy than you might expect judging from his nice guy reputation.
On drums Mason balances complex, jazz and prog rock rhythms with a joyful punk energy, keeping up with the King Crimson meets Yes style rhythms of long-time band alt prog rockers Still Life Telescope and leaning into the groovy, riff-centric jazzy weirdness of psychedelic fusion quartet Peppermint Hippo, but all the while looking like he'd be just as much at home backing a band like Minor Threat or Fugazi.
A lifelong music nerd who cut his teeth on bands like The Velvet Underground, Husker Du, The Cult, P.I.L. and Sisters Of Mercy, as well as Fugazi and Gang Of Four. Mason lets his melodic post punk roots show as a bassist in the three piece band The Minds.
A self-taught drummer, bassist and guitarist who’s been active in local bands for decades, Mason is also a bit of a walking encyclopedia of rock and roll history, both world wide and locally. It’s a trait that makes him a joy to talk to and even better to listen to as a musician. When asked who his biggest influences are, however, Mason’s nice guy tendencies win out.
“Of course, all of my bandmates are a big influence on me. What they bring to the practice space determines what I’ll put under it,” he said.
You can catch Still Life Telescope, The Minds and Peppermint Hippo playing regularly at Tucson venues.
The classic punk rock drummer: Jeffrey Locke
“I've always loved rhythm,” said Jeffrey Locke. “From tribal rhythms to electronic beats. I just enjoy the beat that powers the music.”
A self-taught drummer, he fell in love with punk as a kid, starting with the music of bands like The Misfits and The Ramones and expanding his horizons to include The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Pretenders among others. Locke keeps a busy calendar with local bands In Good Cause and The Gunrunners, a band in which he also handles backing vocals.
The Gunrunners and In Good Cause play live regularly in the Tucson music scene. Stay tuned to this column for upcoming live listings.
The rhythm of life: Drummer Bryn Jones
Bryn Jones is a veteran of many Tucson area bands, currently serving as drummer for B4Skin and filling in as temporary drummer for Burning Palms.
In B4Skin, Jones often plays along to drum tracks, which resents rhythmic challenges and forces good listening skills when drumming along live. The band is full of a sense of love and family, according to Jones, and it always “feels good to be there.”
Although newer to Burning Palms’ music, he says it’s a pleasure to play their songs. The band is highly influenced by the same post punk and psychedelic influences and the rhythms are complex and full of dynamic changes and interesting vocal cues.
“I really love when the songs you have been working on start to materialize into themselves,” said Jones. “They acquire an identity that's all their own, and you're creating all the cells of that reality as a musician; it's a good feeling. Keeping the rhythm moving is part of the life of that piece of music, it drives it and compels it, pushes it and pulls it back. At that point it becomes more than just a song, it becomes music. That is what inspires me.”
You can catch Jones this Saturday with Burning Palms at Owls Club, 236 S. Scott Ave. (Downtown) at 8 p.m. on Saturday with Mute Swan.
The busiest drummer in town? Julius Schlosburg
Of all the artists featured in this week's column, Julius Schlosburg is the one you are most likely to have run into at a gig or around town. Active in a record six bands, including his own solo project, jpop, when he isn't playing music, he's often behind a camera lens as a professional photographer and videographer specializing in music projects and local landscape shots.
The variety of projects Schlosburg plays in are also pretty remarkable, ranging from the smart and edgy folk pop of Leila Lopez Band, the sophisticated jazz pop of Jillian And The Giants, the alt-country groove of West Texas Intermediate and the improvisational ambiance of Trees Speak to the melodic rock of Copper and Congress, the band that Schlosburg says shaped him as a musician.
Playing in Copper and Congress taught Schlosburg the importance of communicating with band members on a deep, almost subconscious level, not to mention sharing that feeling with audience members.
“I think what makes me "tick" are those moments when something happens musically that makes me feel dreamy and I look out and see not only my bandmates, but the audience feeling that same emotion," he said. “In those moments it's like sharing your mind with someone else. Music can connect these deep parts of our minds to each other and those are the best moments of my life.”
You can catch Julius Schlosburg behind the kit yet again this weekend as Jillian and the Giants play Johnny Gibson's Market Downtown.
Jillian and The Giants play Johnny Gibson's Downtown Market, 11 S. 6th Ave. (Downtown) at 7 p.m. on Friday.
Other music updates this week
Zen Mother w/ Lenguas Largas and Vatican Ratlines
One of Tucson’s most epic bands, the multi drummer force of nature that is Lenguas Largas, returns to the live music scene this weekend on a bill with Vatican Ratlines and French inspired experimental Seattle electronic rock band Zen Mother at Club Congress this week. Go thou and behold the waves of sonic weirdness!
Zen Mother w/ Lenguas Largas and Vatican Ratlines. 7 p.m. Saturday, Club Congress (Downtown)
WTF AF Zine Release w/ Shovel, Chezale, Fawn Bones and Cool Funeral
The monthly W/T/F and queer friendly music and art showcase WTF AF presents a zine release party for the first edition of local publication “Not Just A Pretty Face” featuring live music by some epic live local music, including new to the scene band Cool Funeral.
WTF AF Zine Release w/ Shovel, Chezale, Fawn Bones and Cool Funeral. 8 p.m. Sunday, Club Congress
Friday, August 4
- Is This Thing On? Emo Night w/ Never Let This Go, Taking Back Harambe, Tucson is the Reason, Dirt Friends, and Versus The Mirror. 10 p.m. The Flycatcher Lounge, 340 E. 6th St. (Downtown)
- Jimmy Carr & The Awkward Moments. 10 p.m. Bar Passe, 415 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)
- Jared & The Mill, Kolars. 7 p.m. Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. (Downtown)
- Lowlife. 8 p.m. Crooked Tooth Brewery, 228 E. 6th St. (Downtown)
- The Jim Howell Band. 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern, 1632 S. 4th Ave. (Downtown)
- The Xception. 10 p.m. The Hut, 305 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)
- American Grim w/ The Sindicate. 8 p.m. The Loudhouse, 15 W. Prince Rd. (North Tucson)
- Natasha Noir Presents: Birthday Bash Burlesque. 10 p.m. The Surly Wench, 424 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)
- Annie Hawkins w Emy Sukenaga. 8 p.m. Zpizza, 11165 N. La Cañada Dr. (Oro Valley)
Saturday, August 5
- The International Mighty Mushroom w/ El Diablito. 9 p.m. 191 E Toole (Downtown)
- Snake Oil Gypsy. 8 p.m. Fini's Landing, 5689 N. Swan Rd. (North Tucson)
- Muffulettas. 8:30 p.m. House Of Bards, 4915 E. Speedway (Central Tucson)
- Shooda Shook It and Inifinite Beauties. 9:30 p.m. Sky Bar, 536 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)
- Alternate Frequencies. 9:30 p.m. Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave. (Downtown)
- Half Broke Town (Lounge Show.) 5 p.m. The Flycatcher (Downtown)
- SKITN. 10 p.m. The Hut (Downtown)
Sunday, August 6
- Andey Hersey 5 p.m. The Parish, 6453 N. Oracle Rd. (North Tucson)
- Sunday Matinée at Bar Passe with Jacob Acosta.12 p.m. Bar Passe (Downtown)
- Wonderbitch, Love Boat 8 p.m. The Flycatcher (Downtown)