If you’re on the look-out for local rock bands, you may as well forget about the Sports Arena and the Civic Center right off the bat. You’re going to have to go to the bars. Local talent hardly ever plays concerts until they’re too well known to count as local anymore. When they’re starting out, rock bands play dancing music, and bars pay better and more often then high school gymnasiums, so you’d better brace yourself for a bout of good old fashioned pub crawling.
It’s not just a matter of hunting for the home-grown talent, either. You’ll do a lot better if you have some kind of idea what kind of band you want to find. There are half a dozen or more well-known groups in town and dozens more that appear and disappear without any pattern at all. You have to know where to look. Some play only in the rowdy places, some aren’t particular as long as it pays, and some stick to the “high class” joints. You’ve got to define your bars as well as your music.
O. D. Corral is one of San Diego’s most popular bands, judging by the number of people who follow them from place to place. They are constantly showing up at some new place or other, when they aren’t out of town for a gig (the mark of a rising band). The places they play seem generally to qualify for the upper echelon of bars. They are frequently found at the Aspen Public House, for example, a place which occasionally requires a cover charge and caters to a well-groomed, well-heeled crowd (even the men have styled hair). The O. D. Corral plays a pretty good brand of country-rock, ranging from Loggins and Messina to Doug Kershaw, with an occasional side-trip to a traditional fiddle tune. They’re good, and their fiddle player is even better, but it’s hard to dance anything but bobbing barn dance style to those square dance rhythms. That can be a major problem with a good band. If you’d rather listen to them than dance to them, they may have- to find new places to play. Anyway, O. D. Corral plays all the way from La Jolla out to La Mesa, giving you a better than even chance to catch them somewhere not too far from home.
The places they play are a little raunchier than the Aspen Public House, which goes in for decor. Ledbetter’s or the Den in El Cajon area more like the bars you used to visualize from black and white fifties movies; dark, lively and not the kind of place your mother would like you to go. That’s Homeboy’s proper environment. They’re loud. Not just raucous, the way every good rock band was supposed to be in that heyday of permanent hearing damage, the sixties; they’re earsplitting. They can even drown out the screeches of the drive-it-yourself race car game in the far corner, and that’s going some. But if you like what they do (Creedence Clearwater, for example), you’ve got it made, because they play long sets and the dancing could go on forever. You’re only in trouble if they start in on the social protest stuff, like Neil Young’s “Ohio.” Social relevance does not belong on the dance floor, the same way feminist consciousness isn’t supposed to exist in bars. There’s no place for it.
For dancing, you can hardly beat Emergency Exit. They’ve been playing together for a long time, and have a relaxed sound that’s a blessing to a dedicated dancer. They play bars like Ledbetter’s too, where there’s a little more than average room for dancing. Their music is middle-of-the-road rock, Blood, Sweat and Tears/Chicago, but it’s just right to dance to, and you can even understand the lyrics if you’re listening for them. It’s better just to go by the rhythms. Bands in bars are for dancing to more than listening to.
The most mobile local band is Jumbalayah. They play all over the county, one-night stands or longer engagements, from Poway to Ocean Beach, in well-known clubs and places you can’t find in the phone book. They’re always busy, and they’re very good about making their whereabouts known. Easy to find, if you’re looking. Their music is good old hard rock a la Jagger and the Stones; rowdy and not too interested in clarity. Not the place to learn the lyrics to your favorite rock song, but a good solid beat to dance to, and enough variation to keep you from getting bored. So what if you pick up the beat from the vibrations through the soles of your feet. Rock music is supposed to be loud.
One more option in the galaxy of local bands is the kind you might be able to dance to but never get the chance; the bars they play eschew dance floors. Thunderbolt the Wondercolt is a prime example. When they play at the Iron Horse in La Mesa, or at Boom Trenchard’s, the immediate impression gained is one of a night club act, which I guess is basically what it is. They’re a pleasant quartet, hip in leather pants and styled hair; they’re low-key, very polished, with a well-rehearsed line of snappy patter. Another faction of the San Diego Rock Scene represented. Interesting, but not utterly fascinating.
It all depends on what you’re looking for. If you want to dance, you’ve got to look for your band in a bar with a dance floor. If, on the other hand, you’re into watching the floor show rather than being one, you have to look in a totally different place. Good luck.