The Darktown Rounders pull the plug on a MoCo musical career.
Thursday, May 31, 2001
Tell music people not from here where you live and they''ll be highly impressed. Monterey is known worldwide as an original musical Mecca. We have the legacy of the Monterey International Pop Festival, the Monterey Jazz Festival and now the Monterey Blues Festival to our credit. Pavarotti''s manager has an office here. The people who handle the live appearances for Aerosmith, Dave Matthews, Paula Cole and Bonnie Raitt have their headquarters in Monterey. Movie soundtracks are written and recorded in these parts. We even have a slew of musicians who have, or have had, houses on the Peninsula--Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Al Jardine (Beach Boys), Michael Nesmith, Joan Baez and Peter Gabriel are just some of the names that come to mind.
Tourists come here expecting to be able to go out on the town and see some fabulous live entertainment. What a disappointment we must be. It''s not that we''ve never had a thriving live music scene, and it''s not as if local promoters and venue owners haven''t tried to maintain one or even build one from scratch.
Believe it or not, the Peninsula is crawling with capable and, for the most part, pretty good "unknown" musicians, spoken word and performance artists. However, as the apathy grows, the doors close at venues willing to let these people perform. They''ve tried to build it and you won''t come.
What''s an artist to do? Well, if you''re the Darktown Rounders, you make the decision to pull up stakes and move to Austin, Texas--which is exactly what they are going to do following a smattering of gigs this weekend and next.
I first encountered the Rounders about a year ago at a concert thrown at the Dream Theater (which met its demise not so long ago--but that''s another soapbox). It was their first show. Tickets were sold out before the doors opened due entirely to the efforts of the musicians who organized the show. Popular local (and recently deceased bands) Lesser Known Gods and the Infrareds were heading the bill.
The Rounders opened with Jason Smiley on rhythm guitar and lead vocals, Adam Roach on lead guitar and vocals, and Jessica Roach on vocals. This grassroots lineup featured no bass player, no harmonica player and no drummer. Their sound was akin to something one might hear at an Appalachian barn dance. It was fun, fresh and upbeat music with a washboard vibe to it. The crowd loved it.
After the Dream Theater show, some area club owners were so excited at the thought of new talent on the landscape that they immediately booked the Darktown Rounders. Shortly thereafter, Smiley and Adam Roach had a chance encounter on the street with local musician Willie Dietz, which netted the band a bass player. Roach and Dietz both had gone to Pacific Grove High School, where Dietz played electric bass in the Jazz Band. After breaking his wrist, Dietz switched to the upright bass and had perfected his playing in Boston with Berklee School jazz musicians.
Since the Rounders had added a bass player, they knew that they needed to find a drummer right away. Salinas resident James Moore fit the bill. Adam Roach and Smiley had met Moore--a former member of several local bands, including STUB and Lengua--at a local tattoo parlor. Moore was the merrier to join the gang. Something else great came out of the Dream Theater show. The boys had met harmonica player Cole Holliday, once of Lovers and Strangers. At that time, Holliday was a member of the Infrareds and had loaned the Rounders his amplifier for a performance.
During the week that followed, Smiley and Roach ran into Holliday and held an impromptu jam at a local eatery. They told the harmonica player about their upcoming shows and let it be known that he would be welcome to jam. During the excitement of their next show, Holliday hopped up on the stage for a few tunes and ended up becoming a permanent addition to the Darktown Rounders.
Jessica Roach realized that the band wasn''t a priority and shuffled offstage and into semi-retirement. The group''s lineup was finally set.
Co-founder Smiley is the songwriting force behind the Rounders. He studied classical guitar for one college semester and credits a teacher with introducing him to the music of "all the blind blues guitarists from the 1920s and ''30s," which inspired his current self-taught, finger-style guitar playing. Roach began playing guitar at the age of 12 and writing music at 16. He credits AC/DC and Chuck Berry as his greatest musical influences. Between the two styles, there is no lack of original catchy songs for the band to perform.
Moore began playing the drums at the age of 12. He had wanted to play guitar but his school only offered drums. He has played every type of music from punk to reggae and cites Led Zeppelin and Johnny Cash as influences. Holliday taught himself the harmonica at age 16 when he realized that he "wanted to play music but didn''t have the patience to learn the guitar." He spent hours listening to Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. For his part, Dietz calls Dave Holland his major musical influence.
With the eclectic musical background of Darktown''s members, a new sound emerged. When asked to describe their music, the boys use phrases like "Americana," "1940s and ''50s boom-chucka rhythms with walking jazz bass lines," and "roadhouse blues." I myself refer to it as "Bluegrass Punk"--an entirely new genre (although the punk is more in the attitude than in the music).
The attraction of Austin is, of course, the "killer music scene and the fact that people there really appreciate music," says Roach. Right now, the boys are in Austin looking for a band house.
The band will be moving to Austin with a CD recorded at a local tattoo parlor by the band and mixed at Laundry Werx. It''s an incredibly fun CD that makes you want to get up, go out and party. Roach says, "If people who come and see our shows have half as much fun at them as we do, then we''re doing something right."
The last few Rounders shows that I caught have featured an audience packed with twirling, nubile, flat-tummied girls and fun-loving party boys pressed against the stage dancing the night away. They have what it takes to be a success in this day and age--musical ability, danceable original music, drive, determination, dedication and most importantly (to the current music-buying public), they look like rock stars. Our loss is Austin''s gain.
The Darktown Rounders play this weekend at Viva Monterey on Friday (9:30pm, 646-1415) and Britannia Arms on Saturday (9:30pm, 656-9543), and Friday, June 8, at Fernwood in Big Sur (9pm, 667-2422). The band will be having a big final Monterey "blow-out," but the details have not been finalized.