Sunday, December 02, 2012

Sidewinding with the Sand Rubies, twenty-three years later

A tale of discovery in the digital age

The late '80s through the mid '90s was the period I'd consider my music heyday, when I was buying CDs by the dozens, reading the magazines, going to concerts and shows, and keeping up with the goings-on of the business more than at any other point in my life. It wasn't an obsession, by any means, but it was where a good portion of my disposable income went at the time. However, we didn't have the internet back then, so finding out things about more obscure bands did take some digging, and in many cases the way I learned a band I liked had a new album was to see it in the bins while at a store. There was no checking Wikipedia for their discography.

Anyway, enough of the you-kids-don't-appreciate-how-good-you-have-it-these-days. I mention all that merely to identify that even as into music as I could claim to be, there was still plenty I didn't know, even about bands I'd discovered and liked, often because the bands I discovered were ones that got played on L.A. radio three times and then disappeared from the local airwaves.

I remember back in (it must have been) 1989 listening to a station that was going with the moniker "Pirate Radio" and was attempting an eclectic mix. It was the only time I recall hearing fIREHOSE on a non-college station, to give you some idea. That's also probably why the station didn't stick with that format very long.

Anyway, during that brief period a song I heard that did catch my ear was a track named "Witchdoctor" by a band called (at the time) Sidewinders. They were from Tucson, and to give you some idea of their sound I'd say they were a bit like another Arizona band that came a bit later and hit it bigger, the Gin Blossoms, but imagine that less polished, with more growly vocals and with Neil Young playing lead guitar. Better yet, listen for yourself, thanks to the ubiquity of YouTube (pardon the production values, kids; it was the '80s):

I found their album of the same name, and enjoyed the rest of the tracks very much. I never heard another song by them on the radio, and I never noticed them touring L.A. (although, not to beat the horse, in those days it involved scouring the weekly papers for the tiny ads for all the clubs, not just going to some website) so I never saw them live. In 1990 I did come across another album by them, Auntie Ramos' Pool Hall, which I bought immediately and also enjoyed; it wasn't quite as good as Witchdoctor, but it still was very enjoyable. I never came across another album of theirs in my trips to the CD stores.

Then in,1992, a friend turned me on to an album he liked by a band called Sand Rubies. It reminded me a lot of the Sidewinders, and looking at the band members listed in the CD booklet I knew why: The singer, David Slutes, and the guitarist, Rich Hopkins, were the same guys from the Sidewinders. (The rhythm section was different players, however.) Some years later I'd learn that the band had been forced to change their name due to legal disputes from another band. In any case, that album was another great one, probably even better than Witchdoctor. However, that was the last I heard from Slutes/Hopkins.

In the time since the internet became commonplace in the early 21st century I vaguely recall looking up the band but not finding much, and in the period of the past several years where I download rather than go to stores I hadn't found any material online for them. Admittedly, I hadn't looked that hard, but I think at least at some point I typed a name in the search field of a music site and got nothing.

Then recently I was on eMusic and something made me think about searching again. (It actually started with another relatively obscure band, Les Thugs—who had two albums available I didn't already have.) I typed "Sand Rubies" in the field and hit Enter and not only was their self-titled album (which I'd owned for nearly 20 years) but another one, Cuacha. I didn't even know that existed prior to that moment, and there it was. The write-up below noted it was apparently from the same year as Witchdoctor (and had originally been put out under the Sidewinders name, but clearly re-released with the name they ended with), the album that came out before that major label debut. So not only was it an album I never knew about, it was an album from that era, not something the re-formed and recorded to attempt to recapture the old days; it was from the old days.

Obviously I downloaded the entire album, without even listening to any of the previews; there was no doubt I'd want it. I loaded it on my iPod and this morning when I started listening I experienced a little shiver on the back of my neck as the opening chords hit my ears.

The good new days allowed me to sit in my living room (without spending hours bent over bins of CDs) and find this piece of the good ol' days, all because someone at some label figured it was time to get this material back out there.

Much as the internet is phenomenal for contemporary bands trying to make it these days, it also should serve to cast light on the never-quite-got-the-recognition-they-deserved acts of days when the only way to know about such things was to know about such things.

(Cuacha is not quite Witchdoctor, but it's certainly worth the money I spent on it. Which is less than I paid for their albums on CD decades ago. It does have early versions of two songs that would be redone on the Sidewinders later albums, both of which are some of my favorites--such as this one--so it had a bit of nostalgia mixed in with the new.)

Would I have rather discovered it twenty years ago? Sure, but then I wouldn't have gotten the thrill of hearing it today, and these days I have less moments of being excited about hearing something than I did back in that heyday.

Sometimes the wait makes it worth it.

(And eventually I'll see what else there is out there to be found. At this age I don't need to overdo it.)


  1. I haven't listened yet, but your post makes me think about how much I wimp out on going to see live music these days. There are still plenty of good singers and bands playing at the Echo, the Bootleg, and at School Night at the Bardot. All I've gotta do is..... GO!

  2. Speaking of never-quite-got-the-recognition-they-deserved acts, has anyone heard from Lothar and the Hand People lately?


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