I arrived in Tucson in the fall of 1987 as an 18-year-old UA student excited by the possibility of being immersed in a great music scene—a college music scene, since most of what I listened to at the time was referred to as "college rock."
It was a lot tougher to seek out than I imagined. Maybe I just felt removed from the scene because I was a student, but the word underground seemed a lot more fitting back then. In other words, if you weren't someone who was buying the new Bon Jovi CD at Discount Records, you had to do a little poking around to find your niche.
Eventually, I found mine. I latched onto seminal Tucson acts like Rainer, the River Roses, The Host, Giant Sandworms, Naked Prey and, most of all, the Sidewinders, who quickly became my favorite local band. Armed with a succession of fake IDs—unless you were at a house party, underage shows then were almost nonexistent—I'd see them whenever I could. And I wasn't alone. Led by singer-guitarist David Slutes—who had great hair and a versatile rock 'n' roll voice—and guitarist Rich Hopkins—whose playing was understated when it needed to be and absolutely blazing when it was called for—the Sidewinders got really huge in popularity, really quickly. And why not? The band mixed straightforward rock with a bit of desert twang and pop hooks, and, as much as anyone, was responsible for the invention of the genre known as desert rock. I remember seeing them play to a packed house at the old Tucson Garden, a rather sizable venue, and thinking that they were the only local band at the time that could come close to filling the room.
An awful lot has happened since then. The Sidewinders released their debut album, ¡Cuacha!, in December 1987 (or February 1988, depending on who you ask), on Hopkins' own San Jacinto Records. Almost immediately, there was some bad voodoo, which would follow them throughout their career: The first batch of copies of ¡Cuacha! had a skip pressed into them.
After playing at SXSW in 1988, the group signed with Mammoth Records; those were the days when major labels started swallowing indies, and before they knew it, they were on RCA instead. That label released the next two Sidewinders albums, 1989's Witchdoctor and 1990's Auntie Ramos' Pool Hall; the years that followed constitute the Sidewinders' salad days. Apart from selling millions of albums (which they didn't), they pretty much lived out their rock-star dreams: touring with Pearl Jam and the Replacements, press in Rolling Stone, a video on MTV.
But then the voodoo caught up with them: They couldn't hang on to a rhythm section (Slutes estimates the group had featured 19 band members by 1990); they received a cease-and-desist order from a North Carolina band with a similar name, and the Sidewinders became the Sand Rubies; a manager convinced them to leave RCA, first for Ensign/Chrysalis, then later Atlas/PolyGram. Publishing lawsuits ensued. And, perhaps most important of all, the pressure of dealing with all the bad voodoo left Slutes and Hopkins at each others' throats.
By the time the Sand Rubies broke up in 1993, the pair had become so estranged that they didn't communicate for two years. But, as we all know from that tired old cliché, time heals all wounds.
In 1995, the Sand Rubies played their first reunion gig in Phoenix, and it was like old times all over again. They've been playing together ever since, even releasing new albums, most recently last year's excellent Mas Cuacha (San Jacinto). They were inducted into the Tucson Weekly's Tucson Music Hall of Fame in 2008. Hell, they've even had basically the same rhythm section—bassist Ken Andree and drummer Bruce Halper (and, sometimes, Winston Watson)—for longer than probably any other over their 25 years in existence.
That's right: 25 years.
To celebrate that milestone, the group has planned a pair of 25th Anniversary Shows: The first was last weekend in Phoenix, and this week, it's Tucson's turn.
On Friday, April 30, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., the Sand Rubies will be playing songs from every album they ever recorded, in reverse chronological order, starting with songs from Mas Cuacha and ending with the first tune Slutes and Hopkins wrote together. They've even put together a commemorative box set for the event. It should be a hell of a lot of fun—whether you're reliving your own salad days, or just want to see a great live rock band do what they do best.
The night gets rolling at 9 p.m. with opening sets from former Naked Prey frontman Van Christian and the new local act Silverbell. Admission is $5. Call 798-1298 for more information.
Assuming the state Legislature doesn't scurry off to draft new legislation making it illegal to commemorate Cinco de Mayo, celebrations will be in full swing this week (that's Wednesday, May 5, for all you 'Merican citizens). Here are a few promising options on the live-music front.
It wouldn't be Cinco de Mayo without a blowout bash at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., and this year is certainly no exception: the Cinco de Mayo Cock Fight, in which two bands—in this case The Jons and, ahem, Los Zsa Zsas—throw down in the musical equivalent of a cage match: Or, as Congress' website puts it: "Two bands enter, one band leaves. No Holds Barred."
The festivities get underway at 9 p.m., and cover is $5, despite what the posters say. Call 622-8848 for further details.
In recent months, Pearl nightclub owner Luke Cusack has opened several Congress Street businesses, and they'll all join forces for Cinco on Congress, a sort of roaming Cinco de Mayo celebration with perks at each stop. (Details are a bit sketchy at press time, so this info is to the best of our knowledge and may change.) A flat fee of $10 entitles you to one beverage at each of five locations from 4 to 9 p.m., as well as a build-your-own taco bar at one of the locations, and mini sushi rolls at On a Roll, 63 E. Congress St. (A $5 entry-only wristband will be available on the day of the event.) All five locations will also feature DJ sets, and here's what you can expect in the way of live music: Zen Rock, 125 E. Congress St. will feature Salvador Duran (6 to 7 p.m.), Duo Sonido (7 to 9 p.m.), Grite-Leon (9 to 10 p.m.), and Santo Diablo (10:30 to 11:30 p.m.); Sapphire, 61 E. Congress St., has Bajo Turbato from 6 to 7 p.m.; A Steak in the Neighborhood, 125 E. Congress St., has L.G. Latin Grooves from 10:30 to 11:30 p.m. Centro Lounge, 1 E. Congress St., is also participating, and the event is hosted by Alex Reymundo, one of the Original Latin Kings of Comedy. For more info, call Zen Rock at 624-3800.
Other downtown Cinco de Mayo options: Tito y Su Nuevo Son, Skitn and Brazen Stir will all play at The Hut, 305 N. Fourth Ave., starting at 8 p.m. Cover is $5, and the number to call for more details is 623-3200.
And The HangArt, 512 N. Echols Ave., will host an all-ages/no alcohol show featuring Minneapolis' International Espionage!, Boogie Nazis and others starting at 8 p.m. For more info, head to thehangart.org.
Tucson Folk Festival Kickoff and Fundraiser featuring the Determined Luddites and John Coinman at Old Town Artisans Courtyard on Friday, April 30; NOFX at the Rialto Theatre next Thursday, May 6; The Gourds at the Folk Fest After Party at Club Congress on Sunday, May 2; Growing and Neglect at Solar Culture Gallery on Tuesday, May 4; Mono and Balmorhea at Plush on Tuesday, May 4; Flobots at the Rialto Theatre on Saturday, May 1; Luke Doucet and Jeremy Cashman at the Red Room at Grill on Thursday, April 29; Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers at the Rialto Theatre on Friday, April 30; Spill Canvas, Tyler Hilton, AM Taxi and New Politics at The Rock on Monday, May 3; Zane Lamprey at the Rialto Theatre on Sunday, May 2; The Keys at Plush on Monday, May 3.
Be sure to check our club listings for a whole lot more good stuff we couldn't fit here.