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Montezuma’s Revenge

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Montezuma’s Revenge was an original band with a long and successful run. They were based near Spring Valley in Casa de Oro, formed in 1973, and played a mix of genres and styles that defied categorization. They called their music bionic bluegrass, but the music industry had no idea what manner of marketing label to assign them. “One year,” says co-founder Rick Sparhawk, “we won first place for best rock, best country, and best bluegrass. It was our Trifecta.”

The band also included multi-instrumentalist Gary Francisco aka Farley the Fiddler, a music teacher in Chula Vista who had been in the Orchestra at Horace Mann and Crawford, switching from violin to fiddle when he finished school. Jim Soldi spent time in Nashville playing with Johnny Cash, and in the Ricky Skaggs band as well. Soldi's family has owned and operated Valley Music in El Cajon, and his dad was a well known country swing musician back in the day. Charlie and Malcolm Rosenberger had been part of the award winning Cameron Highland Scottish Band founded by their father.

Local fans loved Montezuma’s Revenge, but the music industry had no idea what sort of marketing label to assign them. So they remained pretty much a road band, with a run of better than a dozen years that saw them on the stages of the Calgary Stampede, the Grand Ole Opry, and at almost every state fair and grandstand show in between, including many stints at the Del Mar Fairground beer garden in the late 70s.

They held a residency at Mom's for several years, perfecting popular bar numbers such as "Lunatic," “Spring Valley Sally” and “Mountain Dew.” The back cover if their album First Run featured a drawing of a toilet, with the tracklist printed on twin rolls of toilet tissue.

As of 2012, Sparhawk was playing with Picus Maximus, formed with ex Revenge-mate Jim Soldi, himself a first-call guitarist who went on to perform with Ricky Scaggs and Johnny Cash. Picus Maximus is the scientific name for a bird long thought to be extinct: the ivory billed woodpecker.

“It was registered as extinct for 60 years but now it's making a comeback,” laughs Sparhawk. “Well, now I’m making a comeback too.”

Sparhawk discussed promoting Picus Maximus. “I got back in the thinking that I’d promote like it was 20 years ago, but that won't work today.” He realizes that he needs to create an image and market it, and the field is congested by musical apparitions and players alike. “Every band out there now has the marketing savvy to look like a real band. Even if they are not.”

Farley the Fiddler went on to become a beloved fixture at the Disneyland Saloon, up until his retirement in 2019.

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