Album: Bar Guest
. . .
WARNING: This post contains a long personal narrative — I mean longer than most — prior to discussion of the actual song. If you feel that the personal narrative, or the fact that I am close friends with the songwriter responsible for the song, means that I have lost all objectivity, then you are entirely correct.
I first met Victor Sotelo because we needed a bass player. The “we” in question was The Bridesmaids, the band that Don Ramirez, Joe Reinartz and I formed in the wake of what was — for 25 years — the final implosion of Sedan Delivery. After everything with Sedan Delivery went south — as inevitable as it was frustrating — Don & I sat on my porch, got drunk, and wrote a song about our anger and sadness while vowing to carry on making music.
I don’t remember how we hooked up with Joe Reinartz, exactly, though Joe & I had tried to form a band with me as the lead singer in 1985 which went about as well as you can imagine, though it did spur a lyric-writing jag for me that went on for several years. Anyways, Joe was a helluva songwriter — I loved his song “I Will Never Let You Go” as performed by Western Chapter (a band that he wasn’t even in) — but I wasn’t a helluva singer. Or any kind of singer, so despite getting to sing “I Will Never Let You Go” a few times in rehearsal, our band (The Exploding Neon Kittens) dissolved even before we even played a gig.
Eventually, Joe was in the Sleestacks with future Sedan Delivery guitarist Ron “Doc” Morse at around the same time I was learning to play drums for the band that started out as Youngstown and ended up as Blackbird Stories. This would be the back half of 1987. Blackbird Stories started because bassist Shawn Miller and guitarist Ron Geiger (R.I.P.) both worked with me at Video Zone, and though I had a very limited profile as a drummer — I’d been part of a pick-up band that backed up The Cat Burglars during their live KFSR show — I had a very high profile as a DJ, and they figured my connections could get us gigs.
And besides, their previous drummer, Wade Krause, had left a kit in Shawn’s garage and I could learn to play on that. Which I did, until I was able to scrape up $300 to buy a kit from Ron Woods of The Miss Alans. We wrote a whole bunch of songs, including some really good ones by our first singer, Adam who also worked at Video Zone and was my roommate for a while. However that didn’t work out, and instead Sean Mahoney auditioned by singing along with “Driver 8,” so as the world ended on Dec 31, 1987, Blackbird Stories was ready to tackle 1988, looking for all the world like a great, classic rock ‘n’ roll band.
NARRATOR VOICE: Blackbird Stories was not a great, classic rock ‘n’ roll band.
We had our moments, but we were more likely to get drunk and try and steal the giant yellow “M” from the outside of the McDonalds at Shields & Blackstone, hurl beer bottles at the wall during a rehearsal at the infamous Belmont space, or drive to see the Miss Alans in Santa Barbara, and drive back to Fresno in the pouring rain in Ron’s little truck, where two people had to sit in the back while it rained and I did the one-eyed negotiation with the center stripe of the highway.
All of that was why Cindy Wathen dubbed us “social terrors,” and it goes without saying that I probably behaved worse while in that band than any other time in my life, which was in complete chaos on almost every level. Forget the 80s almost killing me: it was Blackbird Stories, specifically, that almost killed me. That said, we did come up with a couple of dozen songs, a few of which were actually pretty good, and none of which ever got properly recorded. And, of course, we used my connections to get a bunch of opening gigs.
ANYWAYS: Blackbird Stories led to Sedan Delivery, partially because my brother Joseph would occasionally play keyboards with us during our live shows, sometimes on the floor on the side of the tiny Oly stage because there was no room for his keyboards anywhere else. But of course, I’ve already told the Sedan Delivery story, so I’ll spare you.
As I detailed above, the demise of Sedan Delivery led to the Bridesmaids, who needed a bassist, having already gone through two in two months. And so Jay Fung of The Miss Alans suggested a guy he met at Soundstage, where Jay was working at the time. That guy was Victor Sotelo, who had just moved to Fresno, and walked in looking for someone to talk to about the music scene in Fresno. And at the time, there was probably nobody more plugged in than Jay Fung of The Miss Alans, who knew we were looking for a bass player, and brokered a meeting with Victor & I at Livingstones, which wasn’t all that difficult, since in April of 1992, I basically lived there. So they probably just walked in, found me at the bar with my whiskey & seven and said “meet your new bassist!”
Almost immediately, we got into a disagreement over Neal Peart, whom Victor insisted was the best drummer in rock, a statement I totally disagreed with — then as now, it’s either Keith Moon, Charlie Watts or John Bonham — though 30 years later I could see his point much better than I did at the time. In any event, I figured we’d give him a shot, and the Bridesmaids lineup was set, and given that we had four singer-songwriters — I even sang a couple of leads from behind the drums — we worked up about 20 originals plus a few covers and played about six gigs before we broke up four months later, after playing six gigs, only half them with the full band on electric instruments. Outside of a couple of songs, so far as I know, there are no extant recordings, though when we were on, we were pretty good. Though, not good enough, I guess.
And because it was 1992, one of the worst years of my life, the other guys in the Bridesmaids almost instantly reformed as Kenneth, What’s The Frequency (a couple of years before Monster) with a different drummer — Damian Prandini, who had been part of that aborted Neon Kittens project, as well the drummer with the Sleestacks — plus Bill Harvey on violin, and some of the same songs, if I recall correctly. It made me sad, but compared to everything else that was going in during the summer 0f 1992, sad was actually an improvement.
In any event, after an aborted attempt to reunite the Bridesmaids in 1994 — aborted because I packed up and moved to the Bay Area that summer, leaving my drums in my mom’s garage, eventually giving the nod for her to sell them (one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done, and that’s a pretty long list!) — Victor formed Sparklejet with a fantastic guitarist named Rich McCulley (who had been my upstairs neighbor for the three years before I’d moved), bassist Mike Mendoza, and Wade Krause on drums. The same Wade Krause whose kit I’d learned on a decade prior.
This lineup released two fine, rootsy records, 1997’s Soap, and 1998’s This Years Model — I remember enjoying them at the Hotel Utah in San Francisco — but disagreements on where to go next caused McCulley to leave the band, embarking on a solo career (my favorite of his records is 2005’s Far From My Angel) as well as several other projects, the most recent of which is a band called Stash, who just put out an album earlier this year.
And so, after replacing Rich with another guitarist, they decided — at Wade’s suggestion — to go the power trio route again, and that’s mostly how their third album, Bar Guest, was recorded. That said, it had three different bass players, as well as a couple of guest guitarists, including my old Sedan Delivery running mate, Ron “Doc” Morse, who played some searing guitar on my favorite song on the album, “4×60 A/C.”
As it turns out, “4×60 A/C” — which would have fit in nicely on any of the Twin/Tone Replacements albums — was inspired by Victor’s time with the Bridesmaids. While we all lived in the Tower District — because of course we did — we rehearsed out in Clovis, at Rapid Print, where Don worked. So every time we practiced, we’d load everything up in the back of Don’s old yellow truck and head out to Rapid Print.
Heavy, humid heat
This is summertime
A warm silken breeze, your friend
This window to the real California
Is thrusting up for miles into the wind
Now, of course, Don’s truck didn’t have any air conditioning, and you might remember that it can get very hot in Fresno. So during one of the trips back from practice, Don and I started talking about the methodology of cooling off your car we grew up with: rolling down all four windows and going 60 miles per hour.
Running 4×60 A/C
Running 4×60 A/C
We got 4×60 A/C
Sucking in a little San Joaquin
As befits a song about speeding down the freeway with all of the windows open in order to cool off even a little, “4×60 A/C” absolutely jets — more like 4×180 honestly — as Wade pushes the song with a speedily roaring punk rock drum part which seems to continually gain momentum without actually speeding up.
Both Victor & Wade remember the arrangement being described as “a lot of right turns in order to make a left,” kinda like driving on Market Street, which I never drove 60MPH on, but I did once drive on it after a Miss Alans show with brakes so fucked up that they screeched every time I applied them, and then drove home to Fresno with Manny Diez of the Miss Alans in the passenger seat who just wanted to get home after a long tour no matter how late it was and how many drinks I’d had.
Victor says that Bar Guest was originally conceived as a Fresno-based concept album about the kind of fuckups who liked to get high and speed down Highway 99 while throwing peeled fruit at the signs. As you do. Sounds very much like the kind of thing Blackbird Stories got up to.
Pesticide hangs in the air
It sticks to the skin, you peel off the outer layer
Now roll the windows down
It’s all four windows down
Aim at the signs, aim at the signs
Searing up the 99
Meanwhile, Victor and Doc are making all kinds of ugly, fuzzy guitar noise: apparently Doc’s Les Paul was cranked up to 11, though it sounds like more like 47.
All of this is matched by one of the most joyfully intense vocals Victor has ever sung: his voice sounds condensed, buried in the mix — they used something they called “The Elvis Mic,” old and funky and taped together — like he’s trying to have a conversation with the folks in the backseat while all the windows are down and the wind is roaring cooling everybody and of course the music is turned up loud loud loud to compensate for the noisy wind, but goddamnit, Victor has something say, and yeah you have to really listen to discern what he’s yelling but all you know for sure is that he’s having a helluva time doing it.
In 4×60 A/C
We got 4×60 A/C
We got 4×60 A/C
We got 4×60 A/C
Speeding up, cooling down
I love the extra yelp every time he lands on “SIX-ty” and the holding out of “aa-ceeeeeeeee.”
By the end of the song, Doc’s Silvertone amp was smoking like a set of tires in a desperate skid trying not to hit an exit sign, but “4×60 a/c” ends with that crash — everybody screaming in terror and joy — because that’s pretty much the only way it could have.
It all adds up to what I think is — objectively — one of the dozen or maybe half-dozen greatest songs ever released by any Fresno-based artist. And out of those songs — and no, I’m not making a list! — it just might be the only one that well and truly captures at least part of the ineffable essence of living there. Turn it up!
“4×60 A/C” Music Video
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