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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.

Desert summer is upon us, and it’s hotter than Haiti outside!

Many of our local music venues are on auto-pilot—but there are a lot of great live shows and music festivals not too far away that will allow you to escape the heat and get your live-show fix.

As for me … well, stoner rock and way-outside acid-jazz are in my immediate future.

I am escaping the desert heat and heading up the Sierra Nevadas into beautiful mountain surroundings for the Yosemite Music Festival, taking place Friday and Saturday, July 10 and 11. The Atomic Sherpas, Green Machine, 3 Leafs and others are scheduled to perform; a weekend pass is $40.

Past performers have included Hungry Bear, Fatso Jetson and Hawks. Also on the bill this year is San Francisco-based stoner rock band Golden Void. The band’s latest release on Thrill Jockey Records is firmly rooted in melody, and the band is not afraid of exploration. The hooks get stuck in your head, and the riffs transport you to the astral plane.

Regular readers know I am a big fan of the Atomic Sherpas, a psyched-out, funked-up groove-based sextet led by the masterful Vince Meghrouni (Fatso Jetson) on vocals/sax/flute/harmonica, and featuring guitarist Anthony Cossa (The Aliens), keyboardist Marc Doten (Double Naught Spy Car), bassist Michael Alvidrez, trombonist Carlos Alvidrez and drummer T. Alex Budrow. The band’s live show is high-energy, artful and guaranteed to put the boogie in your woogie. This summer, the Sherpas will be touring Southern California—and they’re one of the headliners at the Yosemite Music Festivalin Mariposa County for the eighth consecutive year.

Though Meghrouni is a Los Angeles-based musician, he has been a member of the desert’s music scene since the early ’90s. He is featured in the film Lo Sound Desert and has performed here with Fatso Jetson, Brother Weasel and Bazooka over the past couple of decades.

I asked him how he got involved with this annual event.

“The first time we played there, in 2008, I remember pulling up in our rag-tag caravan, looking at the bucolic setting, seeing the sturdy rural folk walking around, and talking to larger-than-life people like Cobra (security) and Hungry Bear,” he said. “As we got set up to the sound of the new bluegrass bands that usually start the proceedings on Friday afternoon, I thought that maybe these good, honest people surrounded by beautiful nature—people raised in a mountain culture of strength and survival—might have no use for our city-slicker fancy costumes, hyped-up stage characters, funny dancing and showy little jazzy fancy-isms. ‘Why don’t ya’ll just be yourselves?’ I imagined going through their minds.”

However, Meghrouni said his concerns were for naught.

“From the get-go, they went hog-wild nuts, and demanded encores—more than one!” he said. “They … streamed down the hill from their comfy camps and lawn chairs and danced like mad! It turns out that our music is rooted in joie de vivre, and that it cuts across. What I perceived as possible differences that wouldn’t enable our communing over the sacred spirit of music was just another veil of illusion manufactured by my own constant self-doubt mind-monkey.

Meghrouni said that today, he and his band mates consider the festival’s organizers and regulars to be family.

“Our pilgrimage every year is to nourish our souls—to dip into the well of our home, our spirit home, and to be among our people,” he said.

The Yosemite Music Festival takes place Friday and Saturday, July 10 and 11, at the Mariposa County Fairgrounds, located at 5007 Fairgrounds Road, in Mariposa. Admission is $40. For tickets or more information, visit www.yosemitemusicfestival.com. Read more from Robin Linn, including an expanded version of this story, at www.desertrockchronicles.com.

I discovered the depth of composer and multi-instrumentalist Vince Meghrouni when I heard him last year with the Rubber Snake Charmers, a side project involving him and Mario Lalli (Yawning Man, Fatso Jetson).

But it wasn’t until I heard him performing with Fatso Jetson that I realized what an absolutely incredible musician he is. His sexy sax lines and ultra-vibey harmonica solos brought new depth and layers of dimension to music I had experienced many times before.

Meghrouni’s name recently came up was when I was prodding drummer-percussionist Rob Peterson (Sort of Quartet, The Pedestrians) about his next musical project. I have been a huge fan of Rob since his early days with Groovalopocus, and I would follow The Pedestrians to the ends of the Earth! Rob filled me in that he had just signed on with The Atomic Sherpas … a Vince Meghrouni-led project.

I immediately looked into the matter—and learned that Vince is a complete and utter musical badass.

His strength as a songwriter benefits from his experience in many projects over the years (including Axis, The Firemen, El Grupo Sexo and Bazooka; current projects include Fatso Jetson, jazz-band the DownBeats, prog-punk band HellBat!, and free-improv group Brainchildren of Xenog). His sax work is purposeful; he has a uniquely relevant approach to the harmonica and flute; and his earthy, raspy vocals are unforgettable … as are his lyrics and song ideas.

Listening to The Atomic Sherpas is like taking a sonic ride in a first rate amusement park! There’s a horn-player clad in white; a keyboard-player in a Melvins-style wig; beautiful suits; and impeccable musicianship that entices debauchery to break out within the first song. “Funky freak-out deep-fried blue bebop rock” is the band’s self acclaimed genre. Call it what you want, but Vince and the boys take audiences far beyond the perimeters of jazz, rock, funk or fusion to a place where everything is crazy and beautiful. They take jazz, put it to a groove, and rock your freakin’ socks off!

This sextet has a stellar lineup of acclaimed and accomplished musicians: Carlos Alvidrez on trombone and percussion; Michael Alvidrez on bass; Anthony Cossa on guitar; Marc Doten on keyboards; Meghrouni on sax, flute, harp and vocals; and the desert’s own Rob Peterson on drums, the newest member.

“Rob’s virtuosity does not take a backseat to groove, inventiveness, balls-out rocking, deep-in-the-pocket funkiness or grease,” Meghrouni said about his new drummer. “I have loved every single member of this band, (and have) loved every incarnation. … But Rob has gelled this thing into the greatest gestalt yet, and I think Anthony (bassist) had a lot to do with that, too. The playing is stellar, but you can’t undervalue the enthusiasm and spirit, either.”

The band has two full-length records under its belt (Blowin’ It at Ya and Lit Up), with a new one in the can. My favorite Atomic Sherpas record to date is the newest recording—awaiting final mixing and pressing. I was fortunate to befriend Vince and was entrusted with a copy I will never, ever part with. It’s burn-a-bowl, pour-yourself-a-glass-of-wine, dance-around-in-your-underwear fun! The banter in between songs employs skit-style commentary; the music moves and grooves in a dozen different directions. One song explores the notion of guitarist John Scofield discovering that his recent love participates in a coven; the only lyric is: “Sco’s chick’s a Wiccan.” Then there is a “horny” War Pigs cover that is just over-the-top fun.

The Atomic Sherpaswill be playing in the high desert at assemblage artist Bobby Furst’s private venue, the Furst Wurld Theatre, on Sunday, Aug. 31, along with the Inner Planetary Monks, featuring guitar alchemist Bobby Nichols (full disclosure: he’s my honey), jazz/rock drum-wizard Nathaniel Scott, and the legendary jam-band bassist Bob Gross. This is a must-see event, and I hope all my desert friends will join me in welcoming this Los Angeles-based band with open arms. Seeing any show at Furst Wurld is like taking a page out of a rock ’n’ roll fairy tale; this show may be like taking an entire chapter!

There is a suggested donation of at least $10. Get more information at the Facebook events page.

Learn more about The Atomic Sherpas at www.reverbnation.com/theatomicsherpas. To read an expanded version of this article, visit Desert Rock Chronicles at rminjtree.blogspot.com. Below: The Atomic Sherpas’ Vince Meghrouni. Photo by Andy Garza.