"Cadillac Tramps: Life on the Edge," Jamie Sims Coakley's documentary about Orange County punk-rock band Cadillac Tramps, opens with a soft-spoken and somewhat frail-looking middle-aged man walking into an outpatient dialysis center for his thrice-weekly treatment. The appearance and demeanor of Tramps front man Mike "Gabby" Gaborno is a stark contrast from the burly and wildly energetic singer seen later in the live concert scenes.
The film chronicles both the band's history through the '90s and early aughts and Gaborno's battles with addiction and, ultimately, a failing liver and kidneys. The band, formed in the late 1980s when Gaborno and guitarist Jonny "2 Bags" Wickersham met in rehab, recruited other recovering addicts and became one of the most popular live acts on the West Coast club scene playing a mix of Latino-tinged rockabilly and punk. (The Times highlighted the band in Calendar's Faces to Watch in 1994.)
But the energy that made the band such a successful live act never quite translated to their studio albums. Though esteemed by their peers as evidenced by Sims Coakley's interviews with members of TSOL, Foo Fighters, No Doubt, Rancid and others, mainstream success proved elusive for the band as they watched more radio-friendly Orange County contemporaries such as Offspring and Sublime break through.
The doc is a solid first effort for Sims Coakley, who is married to Tramps' guitarist Brian Coakley. The film will obviously appeal to Tramps fans as well as those who've never heard of the band but are interested in punk history, especially the 1990s Orange County punk-ska-rockabilly era.
The film is surprisingly upbeat given the double heartbreak of the two through lines. Much of that can be attributed to Gaborno's infectious stage presence and his storied sense of humor, which comes through even in the interviews at the dialysis center. And of course the music.
‘Cadillac Tramps: Life on the Edge’
Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes
Playing: Starts Oct. 10 at the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles