The Bombay Bar & Grill in Ventura, which seems to pride itself on having a limited quantity of original music--people there would dance to chain saws--is stepping out of character to have perhaps the best blues band on the West Coast, The Pontiax, play every Thursday until further notice. Maybe they can't spell, but for three bucks, such a deal. The band doesn't even start until 9 p.m., so there's plenty of time for The Simpsons.
The Pontiax have been around since 1982. They're busy-- definitely a working band. None of the five members have to have day jobs, a swell cure for the blues. They play about four nights a week all over California--they've toured the country several times, and recently toured Europe. They are the house band for the annual Ojai Bowlful of Blues Festival.
Clearly in step with rock 'n' roll and in step with Boston, the Weirdos and others, The Pontiax recently released their first tape, "100 Miles To Go." Founding member Mitch Kashmar sings, plays a mean harmonica and had this to say about the band in a recent telephone interview:
So the Pontiax are staying pretty busy?
Yeah, we played pretty much full time, four nights per week almost from the beginning when we started in 1982. We've played everywhere in Santa Barbara over the years. Also, we know a couple of promoters in L.A., so we play down there two or three times a month. We also play the Bay Area.
How did the band get started?
Well, just for basic reasons and, of course, we all love the blues. Jack Kennedy, the bass player, has been in the band for seven years. Bill Flores, who plays guitar and sax, has been in the band for six or seven years. I actually started the band with a guy named Buddy Smith--he's not in the band any longer, though.
Why the blues?
I don't know. We do a lot of different stuff-Motown, all sorts of soul music. We just all like the blues, I guess.
How's the tape doing?
The tape is doing great; we've sold 700 or 800 copies. Also, the same songs have been released in Europe, actually Belgium, on CD--the same songs, but supposedly it sounds better. I haven't heard it yet. The tape has seven originals on it. We recently toured Europe--Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and Holland. We played before 12,000 people at the Belgium Rhythm & Blues Festival.
Is there a basic Pontiax fan?
No, not really. There are a lot of people we see once in a while. We attract a broad base of people.
So the music biz is good for the Pontiax?
Well, nobody has a day job. It hasn't always been that way, maybe the last five years or so. We're all broke, but that's the way it goes. We don't have to rehearse too much because we all have a good general grip of what we're doing when we're onstage.
What's the best thing about being in the Pontiax?
The rewards you get from playing a good night, traveling to Europe and not having to hold down a day job.
Describe Pontiax music.
Man, I'm not sure. There's such a variety of stuff we can do; it's difficult to describe. Maybe the key is Bill Flores who plays guitar and sax. When he's on guitar, we can do Chicago blues and like that; and when he's on sax we can do Little Milton and Bobby Bland stuff. This band has a lot of variety--we know 400 songs. We try not to be too exclusive.
Who are some of your musical influences?
Chicago blues, Texas blues, Southern soul stuff, Motown. And currently I like Robert Cray, Stevie Ray Vaughan and the T-Birds.
Describe the local music scene.
Well, it's been pretty good to us, but it ain't easy. You have to spend time on the phone to keep it going. I'm on the phone all week. People are busy; you can't just wait around hoping for them to call. There's always more bands than there are places to play.
What was the band's strangest gig?
One time we were in Wichita, Kan., to play at this place--we'd already played there once before. Anyway, we get there, and some other band's name was up on the marquee. We just ended up sitting around that night, never did get to play. Needless to say, we were finished with that agent.
What's in store for the Pontiax?
We just want to get past the plateau we're on right now. Hopefully, we'll play more blues festivals, go back to Europe and make more good music.
How 'bout those Dodgers?
Dodgers? I hate baseball, but I'm ready for the Lakers.