The Zappa family moved to San Diego in 1954, where 13 year-old Frank began buying used records in a retail nook in the Maryland Hotel. One day, he spotted a record sale sign at a La Mesa shop, and ended up scoring a copy of The Complete Works of Edgard Varese, which became his favorite record and a lifelong inspiration. While attending Mission Bay high school, his band director turned him on to composer Anton Webern and 12-tone music (an influence heard in 1967’s “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It”). He also drummed for the Mission Bay High R&B band The Ramblers, but was booted for using too much cymbal. The Zappas moved to Lancaster California in 1955, but Frank returned in 1966, when the Mothers of Invention opened for Little Richard at downtown’s Jazzville club, and the Mothers were back in June 1968 to play Happenings #10 at the Community Concourse. A new documentary produced with the Zappa family called Zappa - directed by the blonde half of Bill & Ted, Alex Winter – premiers this week, featuring interviews with local Zappa sideman Mike Keneally, as well as Zappa associates Ian Underwood, Steve Vai, Ray White, and celebrity groupie-turned-author Pamela Des Barres, whose novelty band the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously) recorded on Zappa’s label.
Christopher Hoffee, aka Cady Truckee of the Truckee Brothers, is also known from local bands such as the Makeup Sex, Mystery Lights, Blacksmith Union, and Fivecrown. His solo project Atom Orr features his own songs and production, occasionally backed by friends and various bandmates. The new Atom Orr album Afterimage was tracked at his own Chaos Recorders studio. “Having released As If Tomorrow a few months back,” he says, “my writing sponge has been squeezed dry. So I thought since I have had too much time on my hands during the Covid-19 live performer lockdown, I have recorded 12 cover songs. It was quite a journey.” One highlight for Hoffee was performing “Sea of Heartbreak” by Don Gibson, a hit for Johnny Cash. “Definitely a great song, and one that my childhood is all tangled up in, lots of fun doing that one. And deceptively tricky, the Don Gibson version, the acoustic rhythm is tricky. The feel is specific and unrelenting. Singing another’s song is very illuminating for me in many ways, finding my own way while still showing the threads of what came before.” The album also includes a track by famous former neighbor Tom Waits (“Suzanne”), as well as covering Frank Zappa’s onetime partner Captain Beefheart, John Denver, Bruce Springsteen, Kris Kristofferson, Big Star, the Kinks, Leonard Cohen, Neutral Milk Hotel, Bob Dylan, and Tim Buckley.
Steam Powered Giraffe
Cyber-pop rockers Steam Powered Giraffe began as a musical pantomime troupe featuring cosplayers made up as steampunk robot creations who landed regular gigs at the San Diego Zoo. Now a full-fledged original band, their sound is a blend of electronic, pop, disco, barbershop quartet, and musical comedy, with songs such as “I’ll Rust with You,” “Wired Wrong,” “Ghost Grinder,” and “Roller Skate King.” They released a debut full-length in 2009, followed by a live album, The 2 Cent Show, MK III, and others. There’s also a SPG comic book, and the band produced the soundtrack to the SteamWorld Heist videogame, as well as appearing in the game scenario itself. The band’s just-released sixth studio album is called 1896, referencing the supposed year of their characters’ robotic creation by Colonel P. A. Walter I (and presumably Taylor Swift’s album 1989). The first single “Hot On the Trail” is full of engaging CSN-style vocal harmonies, with a theatrical mimed video on YouTube that has already garnered over a half million views, while “Bad Days on the Horizon” is an unexpected cowboy crooner. The newest single “Olly & the Equinox Band” features a Saturday morning cartoon-style alter-ego version of the group, and a video for their acoustic rendition of “Hot On the Trail” debuted this week.
Formed in the early ‘80s, Manual Scan features singer-guitarists Bart Mendoza and Kevin Ring (both also of the Shambles). Throughout several lineups, they’ve remained one of the premiere mod bands of the U.S., as well as an arena-headlining act in Spain, where tours by popular demand were common until this year. Releasing a string of singles and albums beginning in 1981, performers who’ve covered their songs include the Eddies (“Jungle Beat”), Afterglow (“Of Heart & Soul”), Mod Fun (“Nothing Can Be Everything”), Anna Troy (“31968”), the Kingpins (“Plan of Action”), Anthony Meynell & Sugarplum (“Confidence & Love”), and locals Static Halo (“American Way”). The band’s seminal Plan of Action EP is being reissued by Spain’s SNAP! Records on December 1, on black vinyl, blue vinyl, and as a picture disc. It’s the first in a planned 7-inch reissue series from the label, consisting of classic out of print North American mod, power-pop, garage, punk, and rock ‘n’ roll releases from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Others in the first batch are New Jersey’s Mod Fun and two bands from Sacramento, the Decibels and the E-Types.
Founded as a costumed local group a la the Locust, noise rock/thrash band Holy Molar’s schtick includes performing in dentist gear. Featuring Justin Pearson and Gabe Serbian of the Locust, Mark McCoy (Charles Bronson), Ron Avila (Antioch Arrow, Heroin), and Bobby Bray (INUS, Innerds), members also did time with area groups such as Cattle Decapitation, the Crimson Curse, Glass Candy, Get Hustle, Swing Kids, Das Oath, Struggle, and Some Girls. Among Holy Molar’s mandible metal releases are Cavity Search, The Whole Tooth and Nothing But the Tooth, Live at the San Diego Metropolitan Correctional Center, and a split 7-inch EP with New York noise rock outfit Ex Models. Back in 2010, the defunct group released their DVD Dentist the Menace, featuring live footage, fan interviews, and behind-the-scenes clips shot by Matt Driscoll (The Pizza Series) on the band’s 2003 tour. Driscoll has been unearthing unseen footage from over the years, and the BrooklynVegan website is helping him debut ten videos from the 2003 Holy Molar tour, including footage that didn’t make it onto the DVD.