Looking out over a roomful of cowboy hats, full-sleeve tattoos, and Ramones T-shirts, Jonny Whiteside — who's been promoting a once-a-month musical series called "The Messaround" at the Viva Cantina in Burbank for the last four-and-a-half years — says, "People always think 'The Messaround' is this rockabilly scene, but that's not true.
"It's a schizophrenic presentation, like the Grand Ole Opry meets Grand Guignol. It's punk, garage-rock, country and blues. It's old-timers and young kids, but they're all 'Messfits.'"
"The whole thing started," Whiteside continues, "when I asked some bands to play for my birthday party in the front room. One of them was the Peeks, led by Dewey Kinman — who's the son of Chip Kinman from [L.A. punk-rock pioneers] the Dils — and Chip came down and sang with them. It was the first time he'd been onstage in 10 years!
"That night was such a success, I decided to do it again the next month. Eventually the crowd got so big that we had to move the shows to this back room."
One of the reasons the event has managed to continue and thrive is that Whiteside — a longtime local journalist and the award-winning author of "Ramblin' Rose: The Life and Career of Rose Maddox" and "Cry: The Johnnie Ray Story" — has provided fans an opportunity to see performances by Freddy Cannon of "Palisades Park," and "Tallahassee Lassie" fame; legendary rockabilly bassist-singer Ray Campi; and drummer Charles Connor, whose explosive kickoff to Little Richard's hit "Keep A-Knockin'" was famously lifted by Led Zeppelin for the intro to their aptly-titled "Rock and Roll."
"When Pat Boone came down and sang with Charles Connor that night, you could hear the sound of jaws-dropping all the way out on Riverside Drive," says Whiteside, a Burbank resident who is also a frequent contributor to Marquee. "But some of my favorite shows have been when we've had L.A. people like Gil Bernal — the great Chicano saxophonist who played the solos on those pre-Coasters, Robins records like "Smokey Joe's Café" and "Riot in Cell Block No. 9" and Duane Eddy's "Rebel Rouser" — or Ruben Guevera, who was the lead singer of Ruben & the Jets, or Eddie "Ghetto Baby" Daniels, who's this great black rock 'n' roller from Watts. He wrote Eddie Cochran's "Little Lou" and made killer singles like "I Wanna Know" for Ebb Records."
"And Del Casher, who invented the wah-wah pedal, came down and did an all-instrumental set that was amazing," continues Whiteside. "And the shows with Jimmy Angel, who was a Mob-backed teen idol, and Troy Walker — who's this gender-bending, super-sarcastic performer with this huge voice who played the Crescendo on the Sunset Strip and later, the Palomino in North Hollywood, for years — are always great.
"As far as garage-rock goes, I'm proud to say we did the first reunion shows from the Yellow Payges with three of their original members — singer Daniel Hortter, bassist Michael Rummans, and drummer Danny Gorman — and the Sloths, which was Rummans' first band. They went over so well, they were invited to play [long-running, roots-rock festival] the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans last year.
"But the most amazing thing is that we've been able to do these really bizarre shows with all these people who nobody knows and nobody cares about and bring them to an audience that appreciates them," continues Whiteside. "It's like a cultural mission: You've got to lead all these different tribes to the trough. One night we did a show when the Lakers' playoff game and the Oscars were on TV — and we still had a room that was three-quarters full!"
Whiteside shakes his head at the memory, then he walks onstage, and with a stream of "trashy, nasty, dirty" adjectives, introduces the first act of the evening: the Mighty Mojo Prophets, a cheap-steak tough blues band from Long Beach whose core members — singer Big Son, guitarist Da' Switch, bassist Dave DeForest, and drummer Alex Shwartz — are augmented tonight by Tom Richman on harmonica and Mike Malone on keyboards. Their sound is classic Chicago and jump blues — none of that cat with a hat and a Strat showboating — and includes songs written by local blues heroes James Harman and the late William Clarke.
Next up are the Turbulent Hearts, fronted by singer-guitarist Suzie Moon, who previously made seven albums with all-female punk-rockers Civet. This new outfit just got back from several dates on the Warped Tour and the quartet crashes from one loud, hard, and fast song into another.
Then comes the Gypz. Led by former Gears bassist/vocalist Mike Manifold (nee Villalobos) and his guitarist/wife CinX, the trio rips through a set of covers that range from punk (the Gun Club and the Simpletones) to pop (the Nerves) to vintage rock (the Rolling Stones).
The evening concludes with 3 Balls Of Fire — who are actually a quartet — powered by guitarist Mike Vernon. Their all-instrumental set alternates surf and space-themed originals with versions of "My Little Red Book" and "Quiet Village" and the themes from "From Russia With Love," "Goldfinger," and the "Route 66" TV show, and goes down like a tropical cocktail.
It's not yet midnight, and as the crowd thins to a trickle, Whiteside says, "That's actually one of the best things about 'The Messaround.' It's an early show at an all-ages venue, so whether it's the performers' kids — or their parents — the whole family can come."
What: "The Messaround"
Where: Viva Cantina, 900 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank
When: Sunday, Aug. 17, 6 p.m. ('60s fuzztone master Davie Allan & the Arrows, former Skulls frontman Billy Bones, ex-Mau-Mau's guitarist Mike R. Livingston's the Livingstons, and Harvey Sid Fisher of Astrology Songs fame.
Cost: Free (and free parking in the Pickwick Bowl parking lot across the street)
More info: (818) 845-2425
DON WALLER is a veteran music journalist and a previous contributor to Marquee.