MUSIC : King of the Road : Roadhouse Rockers always sound off on weekends. They’ll be playing in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Oxnard.
If the Roadhouse Rockers aren’t already the hardest-working band in the 805 area code, the trio will be after playing a bunch of times this weekend to promote its first CD, “Feel Like Rockin’.”
On Saturday, the Santa Barbara-based rockers will play for free at Cymbaline Records in their hometown, then head south to Ventura for a gig at Nicholby’s Upstairs. Sunday, they’ll be at the Whale’s Tail in Oxnard.
In addition to the CD, they have three 45s on Rock-A-Billy Records, one song on a compilation CD, and a cassette. Lifetime friends of humorist Tom Bodette, the players are Tony Balbinot (guitar, vocals), Micky Rae (upright bass, vocals) and John Palmer (drums).
The dozen-year-old band has had some cool gigs, such as the recent Elvis Birthday Bash at L.A.'s House of Blues and the 35th anniversary tribute to Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and Big Bopper in Clear Lake, Iowa. Plus, they’ve played with some of their idols: Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Crickets. In Santa Barbara, Balbinot has promoted an annual charity gig, the Rockabilly Roundup.
The band plays roots music from a time when Brylcreem was on every greasy head and even your parents were cool. Balbinot recently discussed his favorite band.
What’s up with the Cymbaline Records gig?
It’s a free show that starts at 7:30 p.m. They’re going to dim the lights and have a moonlight sale where every CD is on sale, even ours. I think these in-store things are really cool. More stores are going back to that.
Two weekends off in eight years, is that right?
Yeah, pretty much. We usually play three, sometimes four times a week. We try to play a lot since this is how we make our living. We don’t drive new cars and we shop at the thrift stores. At least I can say “I had a good time at work,” and most people can’t say that. When we travel, we always carry our own PA system because we’d rather play than be stuck in a motel on a Wednesday night.
How was the Elvis Birthday Bash gig?
Oh man, it was great. It was by invitation only, and I was standing backstage with Cesar Rosas, Dave Edmunds, Johnny Rivers, and Dwight Yoakam was there, too, with his whole band. It was a revelation for me because most of these big stars came offstage saying stuff like, “Well, we got through that one” liked they sucked or something. I thought everyone was awesome. It just goes to show you the insecurity of it all, and how that is such an intricate part of our makeup.
How about the Clear Lake gig?
We did it last year and it was cool because it was the 35th anniversary gig. It was also 35 below back there and we drove, and there was ice four inches thick in the alley when we unloaded our stuff. We got to meet Buddy Holly’s widow and also “Peggy Sue” and “Donna.” We didn’t have any other gigs but we picked one up in Omaha on the way back and it got up to 25 below.
You also played in Ventura with Carl Perkins?
Yeah, he was real accessible. We spent six hours talking about everything from catfish bait to guitars. That guy reeks of cool.
Describe Roadhouse music.
I remember when I first started playing, I’d see other bands take other people’s songs and interpret them in their own style while I’d try to do them the same as the originals. Then once in a while there would be this little TV in my brain and the picture would come in clear, then it would fade out again. Now, it’s coming in clear. I’ve only been playing for about 12 years, but I’ve been listening for 30 years. Get a paper bag and throw in Elvis, Buddy Holly, Duane Eddy, Link Wray and Chuck Berry. Shake it up, and that’s my style.
But you guys are more than just a rockabilly band?
Yeah, we don’t really fit into that niche. We have rockabilly influences and we play some rockabilly songs, but we’ve kind of wandered into our own thing, finally.
Why do you write so many songs about girls?
I never dated in high school because I was real, real shy. I was too scared to even ask a girl out. “Little Eileen” is my favorite tune. Anyway, I lived in this little town in Illinois, and across the street were the meanest kids in town, the Dunbar brothers, Maynard, Lester and Daniel. If you even looked at one of them, they’d punch you. I remember one time Lester was throwing knives at Daniel to see how close he could get to him before he moved. Their mom came out and said, “Time for dinner.” No “Stop that!” Just “Time for dinner.” Anyway, down the road every morning the bus would stop to pick up this girl, and even the Dunbar brothers noticed her. So here I am writing about a girl from third grade.
How’s the local scene?
I think SOhO (in Santa Barbara) is saving a lot of us. Then in the summer, the Dolphin Tavern is one of the few places we can call our home base. Bill at Barnacle Bill’s in Oxnard is really nice, and we like playing at Nicholby’s--they have a nice stage and a good dance floor. We try to play plenty of fast songs to keep the swing dancers from taking over. They can get pretty intimidating on the dance floor, then everyone else sits down.
How many Rockers songs are there?
Well, we can play for 5 1/2 hours without repeating a song. As far as originals, we probably have an hour’s worth.
The Rockabilly Roundup lives?
Yeah, there’s been five so far. The next one’s going to be in March. We’re hoping it’ll be at the Arlington Theater with some big names, but I have to keep it a secret for a while longer.
* WHO: The Roadhouse Rockers.
* WHEN: Saturday: 7:30 p.m. in Santa Barbara, then 9:30-ish in Ventura.
* WHERE: Cymbaline Records, 1035 State St., Santa Barbara and Nicholby’s, 404 E. Main St., Ventura.
* HOW MUCH: Free or five bucks.
* CALL: Cymbaline, 963-1993, Nicholby’s, 653-2320. (Also Sunday at The Whale’s Tail in Oxnard, 985-2511).