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Sat11172018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Longtime desert-rock fans are a breed all their own.

We were created from the desert sun and sand and raised up by Mario Lalli, who spoon-fed us so much off-the-wall crazy music that we thought the entire world was as hip as we were.

Alas, not everyone knows who Mario Lalli, Fatso Jetson, Kyuss or even Queens of the Stone Age are—but we cut our teeth on that stuff, so you have to dig pretty deep as an artist to get our attention. Here in the desert, genres are defied, and originality is not only common; it's expected!

Later in the mid-’90s, when the Lallis opened Rhythm and Brews in Indio, our musical world expanded, and our palette grew even more sophisticated. Black Flag, Fu Manchu, Agent Orange, Bad Brains, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Jello Biafra—so many shows live on in our memories and helped make our musical upbringing special. Today those same musicians are still creating music that pushes boundaries.

It was then that Greg Ginn's SST Records—the seminal punk label—signed Mario's Sort of Quartet and a slew of other Southern California bands, and a brotherhood formed that carries on today. Those shows introduced me to bands like multi-instrumentalist Vince Meghrouni's Brother Weasel and Bazooka, Mike Watt's Minutemen, and Saccharine Trust with Joe Baiza and Jack Brewer. When Baiza’s guitar genius joined forces with Watt, Dan McGuire and George Hurley in 2005 to form Unknown Instructors, I became deeply connected to improvisational music. There is an extreme sense of adventure and a sort of musical purity to the art form of improv, which usually starts with an idea—a riff, a feel that all players lock onto, and in those moments when fine players who speak the language of music just let it flow … it is magic.

Following Meghrouni and staying closely connected to desert-rock legends Mario Lalli and Gary Arce, among others, has continued to bring me close to bands and players who have made my life anything but ordinary. While experiencing Meghrouni with The Atomic Sherpas, I was introduced to the amazing musicianship of Marc Doten, Anthony Cossa (The Aliens, The Probe) and those Alvidrez brothers, Carlos and Michael. That, in turn, led me to discover Doten’s band Double Naught Spy Car and its new release, MOOF—a record I will be spinning again and again and again. There’s not a sleeper song in the bunch, and the guest artists make this a particularly exciting listening experience. 

Double Naught Spy Car features the electrifying Stratocaster magnificence of Marcus Watkins; the dark Telecaster timber and stunning steel of Paul Lacques; the unfaltering, innovative bass lines of Marc Doten; and the masterful drum work of Joe Berardi—all of whom dazzle!

And then there are the guest artists … in my circle, you would have to be dead not to know who Mike Watt, Nels Cline or Joe Baiza are. These fine players have had their hands in so many music pots over the past few decades that it’s crazy! They have influenced everyone within ear shot and helped shape the music scene along their way. Other contributing artists are Sylvia Juncosa, Joe Gore, Sara Aridizzoni, Elvis Kuehn, Ben Vaughn, Chris Lawrence, Woody Aplanalp, Danny McGough and, my personal mentors, Vince Meghrouni and Carlos Alvidrez. They each came to the studio dripping with fantastic ideas, resulting in 12 unforgettable compositions rooted in surf, rockabilly and space jazz.

Alas, no DNSC shows are slated for the desert, but don't give up hope. In any case, Joe Baiza has been playing out in our neck of the woods lately, and on Friday, Oct. 13, he will join forces at the Beatnik Lounge in Joshua Tree with comedian and drummer Larry Copcar for a live set of improvisational music. A $10 donation at the door is requested.

Read more at rminjtree.blogspot.com.

To tell the story of the Yawning Sons, you have to head across the pond and first tell the story of the Sons of Alpha Centauri.

The Sons of Alpha Centauri (pictured below) feature Marlon King on guitar, Nick Hannon on bass, Stevie B on drums and Blake on textures. They came up in Swale/Kent UK during the late 1990s and began exploring space and time with instrumental music that was expansive and conceptual. By 2004, the quartet had written 25 compositions.

Several years later, the band began reaching out beyond the boundaries of their own project by producing splits on vinyl—records featuring two bands, one on each side. They began collaborating with instrumental stoner-rock bands from America, including West Virginia’s Karma to Burn—and the desert’s very own Yawning Man.

Now we can finally get to the story of Yawning Sons. It’s a joint project of SOAC and desert-rock guitarist Gary Arce of Yawning Man. In 2008, Arce flew to London to record at what is arguably the most famous recording studio in the world—Abbey Road. There, they laid the seven-track foundation for what would later become the full length record Ceremony to the Sunset, before sendingthe tracks to America, where vocals and additional sounds were added by Abby Travis (The Go-Gos), Mario Lalli, Scott Reeder and Wendy Fowler. By the time the record was complete, it had been in the hands of Harper Hug at Thunder Underground, Mathias Schneeberger at Donner and Blitzen Studio, and Reeder at The Sanctuary

The collaborations didn’t stop there.

“In 2010 SOAC, started a major project to release six vinyls over five years,” Hannon explained. “This was the next project following the two collaboration albums with Karma to Burn and Yawning Man that we took on. The vinyl series was a major commitment and was principally driven by myself as opposed to the rest of the band; I’m grateful to them for letting me pursue it.

“… The vinyls consisted of two splits, a 7-inch with Yawning Sons and WaterWays, a 12-inch with WaterWays and SOAC, and re-release Ceremony to the Sunset. In Late April 2015, we will conclude the trilogy of the 7” with Karma to Burn.”

About WaterWays: It’s a conceptual project deeply rooted in the desert sand. It features dark, thunderous soundscapes and vibey lap steel by Gary Arce; Mario Lalli’s thick, liquid guitar lines laced with nuances of surf, punk and jazz; drummer Tony Tornay’s deep, penetrating rhythms; and Abby Travis’ bittersweet melodies. Travis writes haunting lyrics that draw from her perception of the nü-west, with its drug labs, endless dreamy horizons, suburban legends and endearing characters.

WaterWays is a perfect project for vinyl. Hannon explained why he continues to love the format.

“The decline in physical music is not bad thing, but there should be a physical format that survives, particularly as compressed digital music is not, to me, a sonic evolutionary step forward.”

Learn more at www.sonsofalphacentauri.co.uk.

Read more from Robin Linn, including an expanded version of this story, at rminjtree.blogspot.com.

The music of Mario Lalli and Gary Arce has inspired and moved me since the mid-’80s, when I first discovered the desert’s underground music scene.

Mario Lalli, with his band Fatso Jetson, is loved and respected as a leader in the worldwide music community that has more than embraced desert (stoner) rock. He is world-famous for hosting the generator parties at which the very first desert rock shows took place—in box canyons, empty swimming pools and abandoned nudist colonies.

“I left for L.A. after high school and moved to Culver City for a year,” he said. “While I was there, I met David Travis and many other people who are still dear to me today. When I returned to the desert, David and I began hosting the generator parties.”

Those legendary parties began getting busted by local law enforcement and eventually wound down and largely disappeared. Today, they still exist—very underground, and as rare treats. They also live on in many of our minds. I will never forget seeing Fatso Jetson in a canyon on a cardboard stage and being blown away—almost literally—along with hundreds of other Fatso Jetson fans.

Since Dead Issue, the first band Lalli formed in 1981, he has attracted other musicians who were fearless and like-minded in the way they thought about creating music, in bands including Fatso Jetson and Yawning Man. Players like Arce, Scott Reeder, Alfredo Hernandez, Larry Lalli (Mario’s cousin), Rob Peterson, Tony Tornay and Brant Bjork have been in and out of many music projects together over the years. Today, these musicians attract tens of thousands of music fans when they tour Europe each year with their various bands, and are widely regarded as movers and shakers who helped define a genre: desert rock.

As a songwriter, Mario seems to be a bottomless pit of innovation. As a guitarist, he is a tone master who has a passion for the surfed-out guitar tones of the 1960s. He pulls from a wide range of styles and nuances of jazz, punk, acid rock and blues, which can all be experienced within the realms of Fatso Jetson. As a bassist, he has an identifiable style that is riff-driven with a deep sense of exploration. Listening to his contributions to Yawning Man, you feel you are riding a great wave with a torrid rip current looming beneath.

Meanwhile, guitarist and composer Gary Arce could be called the Frank Zappa of the desert. He is a true artist who has never allowed musical knowledge to trump pure imagination. He fearlessly explores complex times, mood-altering motifs and intricate ideas through unique instrumentation ranging from knee-benders mounted on vintage guitars, to vintage amps that produce specific tones. Gary can pick up any instrument, whether or not he has ever played it, and find his way to the sounds he envisions in his mind’s eye. Examples of this can be heard in the music of early Fatso Jetson, Yawning Man, Ten East and most definitely in the work of the late, lamented Sort of Quartet.

Yawning Man

It all started on what had been a very long day for Mario Lalli.

“Alfredo (Hernandez) and I were living at Mario’s, and neither of us had jobs,” Arce remembered. “Mario would go off to work each day, and Fredo and I would get up, start drinking beer and writing music.

“One day, Mario came home after what must have been a brutal day of work. He walked into the room where we were loudly jamming and asked if we minded cooling it. … He seemed sort of bummed and went into his bedroom to lay down. When he left the room, Alfredo said, ‘Maybe he wants to jam with us?’ I walked back to his room and asked if he wanted to jam, and I swear, he sprung up from the bed wide-eyed and bushy-tailed.

“Yawning Man was born.”

In its earliest version in the 1980s, Yawning Man included Arce (guitar), Lalli (bass), Larry Lalli (second guitar) and Hernandez (drums). Yawning Man created deep sonic landscapes, and explored textures and moods with expansive jams fueled by the imagination and guitar genius of Gary. Today, Yawning Man continues to influence bands and cultivate a following as a cult favorite. The band slipped apart for awhile, but over the years, the members would regroup and go on to create new music. It wasn’t until 2005 that the band finally recorded a full length record, Rock Formations, which was followed by Vista Point (2007) and Nomadic Pursuits (2010). There are also several EPs out there including a Fatso Jetson/Yawning Man split in 2013.

Gary continues to breathe new life into Yawning Man, and today, the band features Bill Stinson on drums, Jennifer Irvine on Cello, Arce on guitar, and Mario Lalli on bass.

Fatso Jetson

When Fatso Jetson formed in 1995, Gary Arce was part of the mix—but not for long.

“I was flaking out and not showing up to rehearsals. Levi, my first son was born, and I needed to get my shit together. So, I told them to go on without me.

“Some of the records have actually featured Yawning Man songs written by me and Mario. Looking back, it was the right thing to do. When you have a family, you have to make sacrifices … even with your music. My family is everything to me, and my kids will always come first. I am fortunate to get to tour every year with Yawning Man in the states and in Europe and share the stage with Fatso Jetson.”

The live Fatso Jetson experience of today is not one of an underground cult favorite. The band delivers a blistering set that would awaken the senses of even the most discerning music fan.

Since those early days, Fatso Jetson has recorded an impressive catalog filled with expressionistic, expansive and highly imaginative compositions that pull from a wide array of genres, including jazz, acid rock, surf, punk and more. The roster today includes Mario Lalli on guitar and vocals; Larry Lalli on bass; Tony Tornay on drums; Vince Meghrouni on sax, harmonica and vocals; and Mario’s son, Dino Von Lalli, on second guitar.

Both Fatso Jetson and Yawning Man have been working together for decades. Between the two bands, they have recorded 11 full-length records and several splits.

And more music is coming soon: Mario Lalli said that both bands are currently recording new albums at Rancho de la Luna, and that both bands will be playing at the Yosemite Music Festival, on Friday and Saturday, July 11 and 12.

“We have just been offered a festival in Holland and a week of club dates while we are there,” Lalli said. “Then, in November, we will all be headed back to Europe for a full tour including Poland and Czech Republic, Sweden and the Netherlands. My son, Dino, just graduated from high school, and I have freed my time for the next six months to focus on a push in the music for both bands. Both records will feature the awesome creative talents of some very special guests, and we are really excited about the music.”

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/fatsojetson and www.facebook.com/yawningmanofficial. For more information on the Yosemite Music Festival, visit www.yosemitemusicfestival.com. To read an expanded version of this article with a video tour of the music, visit Desert Rock Chronicles at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..