Rock & Roll Memories: Remembering The Days And Nights Of The Pedestrians

click to enlarge Rock & Roll Memories: Remembering The Days And Nights Of The Pedestrians
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Editor’s note: This article is excerpt from the liner notes accompanying The Whole Enchilada, a three-album compilation of Tucson desert rock from 1978 to 1994. It's by singer-songwriter Billy Sedlmayr, who co-founded late-'70s band The Pedestrians.

Dave Segar and I grew up beneath Tucson’s Santa Catalinas. Went to school together, played sports, chased girls, but mainly we lived on rock & roll. When we was spose’d to be listening to the teacher about math, we was drawing pictures of guitars, drums, hi-heels. Dave, far back as I remember, had this white fender bass, man, we played and played, it just happened. The AM radio we grew up on had pop, soul, country, and later jazz, the fusion stuff. Van Christian’s father had an 8-track, Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters. As a drummer, I was putting all these genres together. Dave and me both had feet in all these camps. Tucson drummer great Fred Hays was teachin’ both Van and I, and we’d see these rock & rollers blow through the house, on and off tours. There was a lot of territory and we took it.

We had our first band, Dave, Van and me, played dances at our junior high. And once we played Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin’” twice. Spent our freshmen year in the tunnels beneath Tucson High, smokin’ grass and paring down the black widow population. We were M.I.A. and by the next fall we’d be entered into Canyon Del Oro high, where we met John Venet—a Detroit transplant with a Gibson SG, dirty but inspired, with a constantly burning Marlboro in his mouth. 

We practiced at my folks’ house mainly, a purple room overlooking the desert, down to the downtown federal building. We were mostly an anomaly of kids drawn to a six-minute jam of Thin Lizzy’s “Little Girl in Bloom,” and we’d hit a real gem like Styx’ “Madame Blue.” Ha-ha, man, ain’t no dispensation from uncool at 15.

We was a trio, we’d find space, and at that age you fill it. 

Only show I remember was round the time I had to move out of my folks’ house, pumping gas and back at Tucson High night school. Our first real barnburner, some Friday night in the desert north of town—a boonie party, drunk, loud, six kegs of beer—opening for some particularly snotty kids who’d developed a show ripped from some big bad road band. And on their first crashing power chord, everything blew, and you could smell wire burning. It was on.  

Later in ’78, we ran into Chris Cacavas again. Like the rest of us, he was eating rock & roll for breakfast—you come to recognize your own kind. We didn’t audition him, he just stayed on for the ride. His was a big personality. Smooth vocals, with a decided edge. He played the hell out of the funky red organ, the same one with the B12 stickers that would be the signature of Serfers/Green on Red’s early sound. We would trade song lines, building on the other in an early call-and-response dub-like thing, like on John Cale’s version of “Heartbreak Hotel,” which we’d play for the man himself a year and a half later. 

At first, the band, now called The Pedestrians, holed up in a little place off River Road. The scene itself was moving with us. Our friends, the B-Girls, would come around, really cool punk-rock girl gang. All sorts of people moving toward a beginning or an end—anything but “the middle.”

I remember Richard Hopkins had grown up in the same neighborhood, desert on all sides, subdivisions springing up like buffalo grass. Just another impression in them years, the un-victory of Vietnam, watching the Watergate hearings that summer.

Richard would come home from prep school and he had boxes and boxes of albums. We agreed on two words: Paul Kossoff—the kid guitarist from Free who died too young. (Years later, Seger incorporated that same tone, that prowess.) Life’s a strange thing but majesty like that, it’s inexplicable, like Tucson, with all those lonely summers and weird trips down to Nogales, Mexico. 

One night a friend banged on the door drunk with a large “Pedestrian” sign still connected to its post. He’d dug it out of the ground at a large intersection on Speedway. We followed with a wave of arty fliers to promote our first gig. This one was important to us, we were coming out for our friends. The show was at Chris’ mom’s house on Fifth Street. She’s a really sweet lady, all kids revered her, so it felt really comfortable there, and just before we played our first set, I remember being gathered in Chris’ old room with his records and I can still remember some of the titles and figuring Chris out through them: Stranglers, UK-Subs, 999, Squeeze, and, of course, The Velvet Underground. 

Brian Smith, Lee Joseph and Cliff Green of The Suspects were there, Mosey and Mary Ordinary, lots of friends, it was a who’s-who. Glen, Luke, Jack Waterson, and Johnny Glue. The house was full of all the girls and guys who were in a band or putting one together. My girlfriend Andrea Curtis who later was in Ménage à Trois with Susie Wrenn and Jefferson Keating. 

It was very much like, if you had the idea, hell, the physical next steps, hauling equipment, practicing, getting a sound, paying to play, all that shit was checked in the blink of an eye—the next big thing, just like The Dictators had predicted three or four years earlier.

There was always idea-guys or gals that had rap for days, couldn’t play a lick. The posers were busy, they always are. Those were the cats, you know, the “dangerous” type, the first ones with wicked B.O., a mustache, a mini bike and a pack of mom’s Doral’s.

We played two sets and everybody was down but those few hippies holding onto that California Jam. But soon enough, even those time-indentured pyramids of rock & roll would begin to fall. There would always be boring people in the middle thrilled with the next 10-minute guitar solo, just the same old song-and-dance, and everybody knew it. It was played out. The essence of rock & roll went back to the blues: Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy, Elmore James, across the river to Jerry the Killer Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, all those Sun Records cats, Elvis. In the end, everything came down to a three-minute song, and if you could not fit it in, say what you needed to say, you might as well be dead.

In early ’79, two Italian cats from New York knocked on our door while we was practicing. “Impressed,” they said. They’d watched Max’s Kansas City and CBGB create a place for a culture to happen. Anyhow, within days they found a place for us to gig downtown, Pearl’s Hurricane Bar on 92 E. Broadway.

Owner Pearl was a gal well past her prime, running cut-rate booze for third-rate customers short on cash and long on being tossed out of The Manhattan or The Esquire. (In those days, a hard thing to do.) Just west of the flop house, stuck in the city’s strip of Kresge’s, the canary-yellow porn joint for stag films, dirty books and dirtier cushions, the Greyhound station with its pay-toilets for the tecatos waiting on a vein to rise. 

But for now, Michael and Mario had brokered a deal with four boys, just naive enough to believe in some kind of rock & roll heaven. So those first shows saw the crowds lined down the block and we was anointed in their spit and sweat, smoke that could choke an ashtray, as we screamed through that first summer.

The crowd in small waves, doing the “monkey the swim” dance or pogo-ing in convulsions on the floor, nothin’ was enough. The talent distributed into camps, The Suspects, Jeff Latowic bass guitar, leather jacket, switchblade and a heartbreak path to Hope Center. We’d be doing soundchecks and I’d watch him turn white as a sheet misplacing his methadone. Lee Joseph with a record collection for a brain. The Model Patients with Diane and Scabby—and poor old Scabby, one of those kids lost to the Pacific on a cold dark night, a botched Vision Quest babysitting job while commandeering the public’s unwanted children.

Z9, singer Ariel Bagby, all of 16, her red hair and freckles still bring me to a smile, of course dead by now, she and her sister lived sometimes underneath the freeway. Robin Johnson at 15 years old, a good guitarist with a bad palm reading. The dapper Rex Estell on drums.

But soon enough, something concrete was changing, if you saw the way crowds would act towards X at Tumbleweeds, The Talking Heads at Night Train.

So old Pearl enjoyed that summer when she’d make six times what she’d make in a season in one weekend with these comic-book kids and beautiful dope fiends, always dancin’ in and out of your life with cotton fever. Hector dressing up like James Dean and connecting all the dots before most anyone knew what time it was. Remember, this was Tucson in the early days when the TV tapped out at 1 a.m.

The Pedestrians opened for Ramones that winter, we played in the wood-floored auditorium at the UA, and Tucson Citizen rock critic Chuck Graham wrote: “I’d hate to take a cheap shot but the Pedestrians were just that.” And he was right.