Usually, whenever anyone brings up the subject of a local pop music community, apology, bitterness, rationalization, and skepticism filter through the conversation. Everyone hits the chestnuts: San Diego is a musical desert. San Diego is too diffuse to host a “scene.” Yes, yes, so we’ve heard. California mythology seems to designate anyplace south of Los Angeles as a gas stop en route to Mexico. Local chauvinism extends to the sky and the ocean, but apparently not to the bars, clubs, or rented halls.
It might be changing for the better. With the emergence of several jazz bars, and intermittent rock concerts at Balboa Bowl and Balboa Park Club, there is every indication that San Diego musicians are getting past the self-imposed stigma that has kept them from attaining strong followings in their own home town. Whatever standard one chooses, there are a lot of good rock and jazz bands here who have the competence and confidence to stand up against many famous “competitors.”
What I am attempting to do here is to make simple note of these bands and point a finger in their direction. The groups I have chosen for this “guide” are the ones I have heard and liked. The list is representative, not decisive. There are bands such as The Blitz Brothers, Eclipse, and the Steve O’Conner Group, who have received effusive praise from many people, but, who, through my own negligence, have eluded my eyes and ears. The guide is arbitrarily separated into four categories: hard rock, progressive rock, jazz, and commercial, an imposing title which is more or less the seventies equivalent to top 40.
Trix — This powerhouse trio has been steadily gaining notoriety in the last year. They have performed concerts with Horse-feathers, Orleans, and the Blitz Brothers. As I have pointed out before, they are an exciting and taut band with good original material that reveals their penchant for clever hooklines. Leader Mike Scheels is a performer with erratic flashes of brilliance. Presently they can be found performing occasional benefits and concerts around the county.
Jumbalayah — One of the most enduring and visible of the local hard rock bands. They seem to alternate between numerous club engagements. Their loud, wall-of-sound style is very much like vintage Mountain. In fact, they have a Homegrown Three entry called "Ocean Song" which is similar to Mountain's baroque-metal pieces like "Nantucket Sleighride" and "One Last Cold Kiss."
Doomsday Watermelon — This new group is composed of shreds from the underrated Uncle Fungus. Their stylistic precursors are Captain Beyond and Deep Purple. Like those groups, they lean towards intricately arranged heavy metal. They have been slated for various beach area parties, but guitarist Wendell Hamilton was recently invited to join a Capricorn Recording group called Hammerhead, so their schedule remains tentative.
Horsefeathers — This group is to San Diego what the Dead are to San Francisco and Little Feat are to L.A.: namely, survivors. They have lasted five years, stubbornly maintaining their own style — a unique blend of pyrotechnics and humorous pomposity. Like Gentle Giant, a band they obviously emulate, their material is slavishly arranged. Lead singer Mick Garris has an unusual stage presence: he looks like a Jim Dandy but performs like a Russ Mael. Drummer Andy Robinson is one of the finest, tightest rock percussionists in town. Strangely, when Queen's single "Killer Queen” first hit the air. a number of people commented on its remarkable similarity to Horsefeathers. The band's longevity has given them a bit of the hustler-spirit. They have taken to producing their own concerts, and are currently performing Sundays at Fat Fingers.
Harlequin — A new band that has been duly noted for their dynamic tension. The most apt comparison I could make is to the post-Fragile Yes: frenzy colliding with subtlety, and intensity defeating discipline. Hopefully, they'll be able to maintain that level of tension without wandering into the same impressionistic nether-world that Yes is now lost in.
Joe Marillo Sextet — Marillo is an eminent figure on the local jazz scene. Besides his stint as leader of the Society For The Preservation of Jazz, he also heads his own sextet. He is a superb tenor saxist. with a vigorous, tempestuous style that is much like Gato Barbieri in his most orgasmic moments. Marillo's band, by contrast, keeps things clean and cool. They play a thoroughly delightful brand of mainstream, and can be seen regularly at the Catamaran Hotel and at the Crossroads.
Mike Peed Trio — This young pianist has a graceful, symmetrical style that nones to clear articulation. The closest comparison would be to an austere stylist like Bob James. They make the rounds much like Marillo's band, whom Peed has played with.
Jazz Weather — Another verv young band that recently won noticeable attention when they played the Joe Pass Jazz Partv at UCSD. They nave played at the Royal Palms Restaurant in Carlsbad. Delicate, temperate, and tranquil are the best terms to describe this group.
Chameleon — Although they are a Tijuana bar band, this band has the most sophisticated blend of jazz and funk I've .heard in this vicinity. None of their arrangements are rote. They are all revitalized charts that add an original spirit to tried and trues like "First Light" and "Put It Where You Want It." They are the house band at Mike's-A-Go-Go.
Emergency Exit — Almost all bar bands have competent musicians who bemoan the compromises they must make to earn money. Emergency Exit is one of the few that can use those compromises in their favor. Tricks. melodic twists. and gimmicked flourishes abound in their dance-music adaptations. Keyboardist Mike Thompson is chiefly responsible for the incongruous insertions. He can add a Keith Emerson-like phrase to a mundane Doobie Brothers song, or a quote from Weather Report's "Mysterious Traveler" to "Compared To What." This band is clever and diverting enough to make the most repugnant radio rehash' fun to listen to. Right now they are playing weekends at Infinity.
Leroy Zeke — Another dance-oriented warhorse. This group, now heavily drenched with funk a la Average White Band, tackles copped material with the purpose of turning it into their own. They swagger and sway and act cocky on stage with every piece they perform, so one is always inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. They perform at various San Diego State dances, as well as Park Place Lounge on Monday and Tuesday evenings.
This rough approximation of the "scene” is obviously scant, superficial and incomplete. But until an engaging entrepreneur bestows fame and fortune upon at least one of these groups, a rough approximation of a scene is probably all we'll have to speak of.