CVIndependent

Mon07222019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Robin Linn

Test Site is a documentary by Jesper Wachtmeister focused on the unique—if not downright odd—life perspectives of 14 interesting characters, all living and creating in North America’s deserts.

The film is filled with breathtaking desert landscapes from Utah to our own backyards of the Coachella Valley and Morongo Basin. If the majestic imagery doesn't draw you in, the personal stories—offering intimate looks at characters who would fit in a new-age Mark Twain novel—will.

Wachtmeister visits with folksinger Katie Lee, James “Flaming Eagle” Mooney; archaeologist David Nichols; Karen “dezert nymph” Reynolds; ex-homicide detective Pat Dingle; writer William L. Fox; Area 51 expert Glenn Campbell; bar owner Pat Laudenklos; artist Bobby Furst; desert-rave organizer Willy (Electronarcosis); musicians Mario Lalli and Tony Tornay from Fatso Jetson; drummer Johnny ”Sticks” Hilliard; and poet Richard Corsano. Each story is extraordinary!

Jesper is on a quest to learn about what goes on in the outskirts of civilization, where people are free to express themselves in ways not permitted in the urban world. The film takes viewers to artists’ colonies, temporary shelters for transient desert visitors at The Slabs, Peyote trips in sweat lodges guided by a real-life native-American medicine man, and crazy desert rock shows in box canyons powered by generators.

The film was produced in 2010, but I only recently learned of its existence. It boasts some of the most beautiful images of the desert I have ever seen. I was shocked to see footage of a generator party that I had attended in 1999, in a box canyon of the Indio Hills called the Iron Gate; the footage was shot by Steve Esterly. My dear, departed dog was actually in a frame. Dear sweet Kobe, rest in peace. It made me feel that stumbling upon this gorgeous piece of art, inspired in part by things I value most, was no accident.

After viewing the entire 57-minute film, I had to learn more about the filmmaker. Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Jesper Wachtmeister has been making films and building light installations since his teens. It was his sense of adventure, and his love researching and exploring to find out more about a subject, that led him to creating documentary films. He prefers making films about the real world over make-believe scenarios, he said.

“I lived in and around L.A. in the early ’90s,” he said. “I studied filmmaking at Cal Arts. During that time, I took various kinds of adventurous and spiritual excursions in the desert. I was intrigued by the layers of mythology that are embedded in the desert landscapes—science fiction, old Westerns, the Swedish immigrants who died on their way west, the Las Vegas mob who brought people out in the desert to have them disappear, UFO-myths.

“It’s a place where, according to many beliefs, you are able to ‘find yourself.’ (It’s) a place for hallucinogenic rituals, ancient and modern. A place where people do what the hell they want, without having to think about their neighbors. And (it’s) a place to experience the awe of nature—where you feel both smaller and larger.  In the desert, we humans enter into a very different kind of proportion than what we are used to. Seemingly, the law seems to look the other way, allowing people to blow off some steam. Make-shift communities exist there, like Slab City.”

Wachtmeister said he listened to Kyuss back in the 1990s, but he didn’t know much about the desert-rock scene until he began researching Queens of the Stone Age for the film.

“I didn’t really know about their connection to the desert or about Mario Lalli, Rancho de La Luna and generator gigs,” he said. “They opened up the whole family tree of Masters of Reality, Desert Sessions, Mark Lanegan, Fatso Jetson for me.

“The people I met were very different, depending on what their relation to the desert was. What they all seemed to share were exceptionally strong emotions while being in the desert: Fear, love, awe, freedom and inspiration.”

Wachtmeister returned to the desert not long ago for another documentary.

“Most recently, I made another film that was filmed around the world, but that also brought me back to the U.S. deserts—to Texas and in the Joshua Tree area. It’s called Microtopia, and is about inventors, artists and architects who have chosen to downscale their or others’ living/houses—in order to put money, time and resources on other things in life.”

Learn more about or watch Microtopia at www.solarisfilm.se/portfolio/microtopia. Learn more about or watch Test Site at www.testsitemovie.com.

Read more from Robin Linn at rminjtree.blogspot.com.

Cain Motter has been living off the grid here and there since childhood, when his mother and father escaped a religious cult that didn’t allow members to leave.

The family was advised to head for California—which they did. Motter’s father, a blind Vaudeville performer, earned a living by performing at Muscle Beach in Venice, and eventually bought a piece of land near Pioneertown. There, he began working with the infamous UFOlogist George Van Tassel, the man responsible for the Integratron, to build a geodesic dome.

When Motter was 14, his mother whisked him and his sister off to Oklahoma. During his years of teenage angst, the strapping young man began a punk band and started challenging the social norms of the day. For example: While performing, he’d wear a pink tutu and Army boots, blowing fireballs with his mouth and belting out lyrics that challenged the limited views of the locals. Motter would book gigs in what could only be described as “Okie bars,” and then distribute disposable cameras to audience members. When people would come after him, audience members would begin snapping photos of them wrestling around on the dance floor—pictures which became unique art in and of themselves.

“The locals there were all such homophobes and racists, and I just wanted to throw it in their faces that they had limited views on what the world was all about,” Motter said.

Motter later returned to L.A. and began taking art classes at a community college. Challenging the system and the values of the day has always been a thread running through his work. An image of a naked woman wearing an American-flag necktie once got him arrested for obscenity; it took the American Civil Liberties Union to get him off the hook.

Today, he is best known at Venice Beach, where he displays his art—made from melted credit cards from all the major financial institutions, which he manipulates into melted faces and other haunting images, and then places in beautiful custom frames.

Much like his father, Motter is a performer through and through—and that brings us to what he’s doing in the Pioneertown area with his Domeland experience.

In the late 1990s, he returned to the land and dome structure left to him by his father. Some family members had been living on the property and collecting what Motter describes as junk—items picked up at thrift stores during the many years he had been away. Eventually, the county ordered him to clean up the land, so he began a cleanup operation—yet was failing to meet the county’s deadline.

Then in the summer of 2006 came the Sawtooth fire. It burned 61,700 acres, destroyed 58 homes and 179 outbuildings, and took a life. However, it also cleared Motter’s the property of all the garbage.

“It was a horrible and devastating event,” Motter said about the fire. “My family and friends were on the property helping me clear the land of all the rubbish. When the fires broke out, we headed for the national park to be safe. I sent everyone home the next day, and when I returned to the land … all of the junk had been burned. Thankfully, the dome was not charred, and it ended up being a weird kind of miracle.”

Since then, Motter has created something truly special at what he now calls Domeland. It’s a private venue, an artists’ colony and a refuge for filmmakers, writers and musicians who need a base while they pursue their own unique art. The property is located in the rocky terrain of the pristine high desert. The land boasts an array of upside-down Joshua trees, all part of an art installation, a collaboration by artists Steve Shigley and Jeff Frost. They created an enchanted forest that is otherworldly and was used in Jeff’s award winning Kickstarter-funded film, Circle of Abstract Ritual. The film is an audio and visual masterpiece, utilizing more than 300,000 still photographs and his own abstract paintings. He used images of abandoned houses, shots taken during the L.A. riots, time-lapse footage of wildfires and pictures of the Milky Way to create a film that has earned him international recognition.

Frost is just one of many artists who have taken shelter in tents, buses or vehicles at Domeland while they’ve embarked upon uniquely creative endeavors. For example, on a recent visit, I met Bill Johnson, a photographer and documentary filmmaker who pitched a tent there while passing through. Bill lives in Los Angeles and has been working on a documentary about rodeos in Northern Colorado.

I recently attended my first live show at Domeland, featuring Atala, Whereas, Sorxe and A’rk, and the experience was amazing. The dome seemed to change from an art studio into a giant speaker as the deep and heavy sounds of the hard-pounding rock music created inside bellowed out over the property. An acre away from the building, I could hear every note being played while roasting my toes over a campfire.

Bands from all over the world come to play there and create their own art. In recent years, many desert-rock bands have explored their own art and shot music videos at Domeland, including Waxy and Gene Evaro Jr.

The feeling that I took away from the Domeland experience was one of freedom. Nomads creating art on their own terms enjoy the communal lifestyle Motter has so humbly offered them. While there, I became part of a family of free-thinkers and was invited to stay anytime I need a place to check out of society and into my own art as a writer.

Come spring, I may do just that.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/desertdomeland or www.facebook.com/cain.motter. Read more from Robin Linn at rminjtree.blogspot.com. Below: Cain Motter’s Domeland is a haven for artists from around the world. Photo courtesy of Jeff Frost.

The desert environment that has shaped and colored the music created here has similarly affected High Desert resident and author Steve Rieman—a fact which his new novel, The Searching Three, beautifully illustrates.

Rieman moved to Joshua Tree with his family when he was 5. Pappy and Harriet’s was his home away from home; he remembers sitting on Pappy’s knee as a child.

In his youth, Rieman became a skate rat, listening to punk rock and metal. He was part of the desert subculture that attended generator parties at places like the Nude Bowl, outside of Desert Hot Springs, where bands like Decon, Unsound and Crackpot played. He was there in 1995 when the surrounding hills caught fire.

“Brian Maloney was playing with Herb Lineau, Brant Bjork and Billy Cordell … and an orange glow appeared in the hills right behind them. Within minutes, bands were throwing gear into their cars, and people were running to safety. Charlie Ellis had a Ford Ranger that burnt to a crisp!” he remembers.

Rieman recalls the first time he heard the music of Kyuss.

“I was in a rock house off Sunfair (Road) in Joshua Tree, and they blew me away,” he says. “Every now and then, you hear a band, and you know they are meant for something great … and Kyuss was that band. When Josh Homme went on to form Queens of the Stone Age, I loved the music.

“It had been awhile since I had checked into the music they were making. Recently, I have loaded six QOTSA albums into my truck’s CD player, and they have been on constant rotation for more than three weeks. I still haven’t begun to tire of them. Josh is amazing, and when it comes to his vocals, he has no inhibitions. Everything he does is just beautiful.”

Rieman’s first works as a writer were poems, an art form he continues to pursue today. He has accumulated a collection of poems spanning 20 years, going back to a time when his head was in a very different place. He’s working on publishing a poetry collection, and has enlisted the help of photographer Samantha Schwenck, another child of our desert-rock music scene.

“She is going to create photographic art to go with each poem,” Rieman says. “It will be a beautiful collection of pictures and poems that reflect some of the darker periods of my life, as well as transformations that took place as I made important life changes.”

As a writer, Rieman was greatly influenced by the literature of Carlos Castaneda and the teachings of Yaqui sorcerer Don Juan. As an aspiring novelist, Rieman set out to explore the controversial notion that we are spiritual beings capable of tapping into universal energy—and that when our perception is altered by psychoactive drugs, the secrets of the universe can be made available to us.

“My first passion was poetry. A friend of mine knew a movie producer and told him about me. He suggested that I write a screenplay, which I did. Then I decided to turn it into a novel, based on real-life experiences. I love the film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Oliver Stone’s film The Doors. Who doesn’t love that scene (in which) they are tripping in the sand dunes of the desert? Those stories are relevant, because they are drawn from real life.”

The resulting novel, The Searching Three, focuses on the reunion of three longtime friends who have drifted apart thanks to the growing demands of adulthood. Brad travels to New Mexico for work—and when he sees the raw desert landscape, he feels its intense energy. He suddenly longs for a spiritual awakening, so Brad contacts his two best friends, Jason and Nick, and talks them into taking a weekend trip to the New Mexico desert.

The main character eventually reveals his connection to the desert’s real music scene. Through detailed recollections of shows gone by, he celebrates the creative talents and unique venues that have made our desert a landmark. Rieman boldly reveals the paths many of us like-minded “searchers” have embarked upon in secret desert spots, far away from reality. He takes readers on a mind-bending adventure, offering a look into the hallucinogenic effects of a peyote-induced trip. Even without the peyote, the read brings about a feeling of euphoria.

The Searching Three is available on Amazon.com. Expand your mind and open your heart to a beautiful author straight out of our desert.

Read more from Robin Linn—and view pictures from shows at the Nude Bowl—at rminjtree.blogspot.com.

Scott Reeder is one of the early pioneers of desert rock. In fact, no one man has been more pivotal to the sounds that have gone on to shape the core of our desert's music scene than this drummer, bassist, producer and sound engineer.

Reeder has enjoyed a brilliant music career—as a bassist in some of the most noteworthy bands in metal, doom and stoner rock, and on the other side of the soundboard as a producer. He’s sometimes referred to as “The Magic Man,” because bands travel across the globe to seek his technical prowess in the studio; he’s worked with Karma to Burn, The Freeks, Black Math Horseman, Low Fly Incline and Atala, just to name a few bands. Reeder is known for reinventing the wheel, revamping vintage gear and drawing on fresh technology to achieve unique recordings.

Reeder has been at the heart of the desert’s music scene since its earliest hints of existence. His first bands were Subservice and Dead Issue, which formed in 1981. He actually started out on drums, but he switched when Dead Issue lost its bass player. He relinquished the throne to Alfredo Hernandez and picked up the bass … never to put it down again.

He later went on to form another desert music project, Target 13, and then in the mid-’80s teamed up with Mario Lalli (Fatso Jetson) to form what may have been the first authentic stoner-rock jam band, Across the River.

Reeder recently went through the painstaking process of transferring some of those old Across the River recordings from tape to digital format. Listening to the almost-50-minute recording on YouTube, I was taken aback: The free-form heavy jams were quite sophisticated for players so young and so new to music, and the music was quite reflective of the desert environment where it was created.

In 1991, Reeder signed with doom-metal band The Obsessed, led by Scott (Wino) Weinrich, the first band of many groups with which he would tour overseas. That gig may have gone on forever if not for a twist in fate—a call to replace bassist Nick Oliveri in what may be the most influential band to come out of our desert, Kyuss.

That worldwide influence of Kyuss can’t be overstated. Herba Mate in Italy, Low Fly Incline in Australia, Truckfighters in Sweden, Black Mastiff in Canada, Steak in London—all of these groups call themselves “desert rock” bands. These bands have one thing in common: their love of Kyuss and the music that has come out of our region. Dave Grohl, Chris Goss and some of the heaviest hitters in rock sing Kyuss’ praises again and again. When Josh Homme left the group to form Queens of the Stone Age, that marked the end of Kyuss’ live shows, but the music lived on, and every member of that project has gone on to enjoy fantastic careers.

For many Kyuss fans, the two records that Reeder recorded with the group, Welcome to Sky Valley and … And the Circus Leaves Town, reflect some of the band’s most in-depth work. Reeder seems to lend a darker musical atmosphere to the jams and brings a real vintage desert-rock vibe to the mix.

"Scott is one of the best bassists on the planet, yet (he’s) such a humble man, you would never know it being in his presence,” said guitarist Kyle Stratton, of Atala and Rise of the Willing, who recently recorded at Reeder's studio, The Sanctuary. “His work with Across the River really started the desert sound. Kyuss is one of the most legendary bands of all time. This man has played in some of the heaviest underground bands ever while walking on the cusp of the mainstream.

“As a producer, he is amazing. He really understands how to capture and sculpt an underground band into something listenable.”

Reeder recorded and performed with bands such as Nebula, Goatsnake, Tool, Unida, Sun and Sail Club, and Fireball Ministry; he also pursued his own solo career.

Reeder this year returned to bass-maker Warwick’s Bass Camp in Europe, where he was alongside greats such as Victor Wooten, Dave Ellefson, Gary Willis and Bobby Vega. Reeder has been endorsed by Warwick for some years now, a relationship that has proved to be beneficial to both parties. Reeder reports that the trip was amazing—other than a brush with death when the driver of the bus filled with talent fell asleep at the wheel.

I asked Reeder what he had coming up.

“I have a completely refurbished 2-inch-tape machine arriving at The Sanctuary,” he said. “It will be a big turning point, going back to the way we worked in the late ’80s when I really started out. Hopefully, more great bands will be coming in to work together, and hopefully, I'll be getting to play on more records, maybe with Fireball Ministry and Sun and Sail Club.”

“As in my music, in life it all seems to work out just fine with no plan!"

For more information on Reeder, visit scottreeder.com. Read more from Robin Linn at rminjtree.blogspot.com.

Robbie Waldman’s WAXY may be the next great American rock band to come out of our California desert.

Waldman has a lengthy local history, but he has used this project to truly hone his skills as a writer and performer. In its earliest incarnation, the ever-evolving band had a different feel and vibe: A group with a softer underbelly fueled by acoustic instruments has evolved into a full-blown desert stoner-rock band with a heavy rhythmic infrastructure, poetic lyrics and gorgeous hard-rock vocals offered up by Waldman.

With a collection of memorable, melodic, heavy psych-rock songs under their belts, the members of WAXY have worked their way to the top of the Coachella Valley's original rock-music scene—which is no easy accomplishment. In fact, the band is about to embark on tours to Australia and then Europe.

The band's most recent record, Without Any Explanation Why, is a true stoner-rock classic that features guest performances by some of the most pivotal artists to come out of this music mecca we call home: John Garcia (Kyuss, Vista Chino), Mario Lalli (Yawning Man, Fatso Jetson), Gary Arce (Sort of Quartet, Yawning Man), Jesse Hughes (Eagles of Death Metal), Brandon Henderson (Pedestrians vs. War Party, Parosella), Ed Mundell (Monster Magnet, Ultra Electric Mega Galactic) and Alfredo Hernandez (Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, Brave Black Sea) all contribute their unique sounds to the recording.

Meanwhile, Robbie has been back in his studio (Unit A Recording and Art in Palm Springs; www.unit-a.com) banging out the next record, anticipated to be released in November 2014.

“I’m of the philosophy that a recorded version of a song should be a complete vision for that song, and if you're making an album, one piece of a larger puzzle,” Waldman said about the recording process. “I think it's OK to double the vocals, even though that can't really be done live. I think it's OK to layer instruments and have small intricate parts that would require 10 people to pull off live.

“In other words, my mindset when it comes to making records is: This is a timeless piece of art. … Splash all the color and shapes you can at the canvas, and see what you get. Sometimes, you get magic; sometimes, you get mush, but the process is what's key—trying to get what’s in your head out on the tape.”

I heard five new tunes from the upcoming record at a live show at Furst Wurld Theatre in Joshua Tree recently, and I was blown away. The show also included the premiere of WAXY's new video for “Over Before It Began,” a first-rate production by Bon Nielsen and Blanton Ross. Robbie said more videos, to support the upcoming record, are coming in the near future.

Waldman has used a revolving cast of musicians to help him live out his musical fantasies within the framework of WAXY, including drummers Sean Landerra Carrillo (Lakota) and Mike “Pygmie” Johnson (Mondo Generator, You Know Who, John Garcia); bassist/guitarist Damian Lautiero (a huge part of the live WAXY sound); and keyboardist Jack Kohler (War Drum).

In September, WAXY will take off for Australia as a supporting act on the John Garcia solo tour. John's latest self titled debut solo album (available on Napalm Records) is getting rave reviews from the press and fans alike.

While Waldman sees the recording process as making art, he views live shows differently.

“Playing shows is about the moment—different song orders, new songs mixed with old ones, etc.,” Waldman said. “Playing live also has the unique ability to move air: The sound actually hits you! There's nothing like it when the kick drum is thumping you right in the chest. It's like the difference between seeing a movie versus going to the theater and seeing actors onstage. One is a deliberate, enormous and repeatable act, while the other is different every time simply by its very nature. … When we play live, it's always an adventure!”

Before John Garcia and WAXY leave for the land down under, desert fans will be treated to a live show by them at The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, in Palm Desert, at 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 5. Also on the bill is space-rock jam-band Fever Dog. Admission is $15, and this show WILL sell out. It has been a good long while since Garcia fans have been able to see a live set here at home, and we will be out in droves to hear his long-awaited desert performance—and to say a temporary goodbye to what could be the desert's next great band.

For more information on WAXY, visit www.facebook.com/WAXYOfficial and www.waxy-music.com. Read more from Robin Linn at rminjtree.blogspot.com. Photos by Samantha Schwenck.

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.

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..

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