CVIndependent

Tue09252018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Local band Dali’s Llama is celebrating 25 years of existence—and the members are celebrating in a big way.

The group is playing a Silver Anniversary Show on Friday, March 9, at The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert. The Hellions, Decon, Sean Wheeler (performing as Zezo Zece Zadfraq and the Dune Buggy Attack Battalion) and Mario Lalli (of Fatso Jetson) with the Rubber Snake Charmers will all take the stage.

When frontman Zach Huskey showed up to our meeting, he explained that he came alone because his wife, Dali’s Llama bassist Erica Huskey, was out of town handling family business, while drummer Craig Brown had a “hot date.”

The band recently parted ways with guitarist Joseph Wangler, and brought back guitarist Joe Dillon. I asked Huskey whether the band has ever gone through any painful transitions as members have come and gone.

“Painful transitions? None!” Huskey said with a laugh. “The core of the band is me and Erica. We try to just get people who play well, and people who we’re friends with, because it’s no fun to be in a band with someone you can’t get along with, no matter how good of a player they might be. I always enjoy playing with Joe Dillon, and he’s been in and out of the band for at least 10 years. He’s always fun, because I’ve known him for 36 years. We’re friends, and we have all our inside jokes and can talk about people who are no longer here. He’s also a really underrated guitar player and songwriter, as well as a lead vocalist.”

Dali’s Llama last year released a three-song EP, which headed in a more bluesy direction—a bit of a departure from the band’s regular desert-rock sound.

“We recorded most of that at Mikael Jacobson’s studio here in the desert,” Huskey said. “One of the songs, ‘Bacteria,’ the acoustic one, I did it at Scott Reeder’s place. That one was a little delicate, because it was all about microphone placement. That was done in one take. The other ones just kinda had a groove, and I wanted to get a little more of a Zeppelin groove going.”

Huskey said Dali’s Llama has deep personal connections to all the bands playing at the show.

“Those are people who when I was 13 or 14 years old, I was in bands with,” he said. “We got Herb (Lienau) and Decon; Mario (Lalli); Sean Wheeler, who I was in a band with back in 1982; and we got The Hellions, because they’re the “new” old friends, even though they’ve been around for a while.

“The Hellions are kind of the slowest songwriters in the world,” he added with a laugh. “Whatever their process is, it either has to fit them right or something. I don’t know.”

In the years before Dali’s Llama, Huskey said, he played in several bands that came and went.

“I was playing in a band with Sean back in the later years that was ’60s garage stuff, and I was really into that—original, but really influenced by the old ’60s stuff,” he said. “It all fit, because the scene was just a bunch of dysfunctional, pissed-off kids doing it ourselves. Mario did bands like Across the River, which led to more of a metal side, especially in songs like ‘N.O.’ that people go all over the Internet to find. … We all played in different bands, and I was trying to find my songwriting and get that after playing with Sean for a couple of years. Everybody was also trying to figure out their vocal range and how they should sing until it came naturally.”

There have been periods when Dali’s Llama has been inactive.

“We have done little breaks,” he said. “We have two boys. One is 20, and one is 16. I did three solo acoustic albums for a while. But we would take the kids when they were really little off to Phoenix to play. I’d also do the Phoenix folk festival every year, and songwriting things where they’d have me show people how to write songs. When Erica was ready again, and the kids were old enough to have a baby sitter who was a family member, we’d do another project or start the band back up.”

While Huskey spoke proudly about the desert music scene, he mentioned there’s one thing he despises: battle-of-the-bands competitions.

“I fucking hate those things. I hated them then, and I hate them now. You want to criticize me as a songwriter? Especially now? Fuck you!” he said. “Look at the panels of those things. No, ain’t gonna happen. Even when I was a kid, I learned you have to have that sort of ‘Fuck you!’ attitude in order to protect yourself and develop on your own. I don’t want criticism. OK, maybe I’ll take it from my wife or another band member, but even from another band? I don’t want to hear it. There’s constructive criticism, too, but I’ve never been good with either one. Believe in yourself. So a band had a better performance and gets a trophy? They even had that shit back when we were kids. We always stayed clear of those as kids. We were out in the desert playing with T.S.O.L., so fuck you. You could be going in the right direction, and someone’s words might be, ‘You can’t sing.’ Well, maybe your voice is unique, and just because this person didn’t like it, or four people sitting at a table in agreement didn’t like it, fuck them. Most of the backyard bands in the scene today like Panzram, Terror Cult, or Facelift—they don’t care what anyone thinks about them. That’s the similarity to how it was back then.”

Huskey also said he wished his wife and band mate, Erica, got the credit she deserves.

“Name another woman who has been here for 25 years playing in a band,” he said. “She’s a solid bass-player. There was a time when we were recording Raw Is Real, and we found out she had breast cancer. We recorded the basic tracks of that album one day before she went in for surgery, having a full mastectomy and hysterectomy, and then she continued with radiation and chemotherapy while we recorded that fucking album. That chick is badass! The only equivalent is a guy saying, ‘We were there for a couple days, and then the next day, I went and had to have my nuts cut off.’ She’s really something.”

Zach and Erica Huskey decided not to take part in the recent documentary Desert Age, in part due to their feelings about drug use.

“I had a drinking problem and stopped when I was 24. When we moved back to the desert, we were clean. We had already been through that shit. There’s not anything exciting about meth anymore,” Zach said. “By the time we started this band, that wasn’t an option—it was about music. I don’t like the whole feel of, ‘Drugs and alcohol go hand and in hand with music.’ That’s a bunch of bullshit, because they don’t. Sean and I had a talk about that when he was getting clean years ago, for the last time, and I told him, ‘You have to get that out of your head,’ because we grew up thinking that—you can go, drink, get fucked up and play music. Whether it’s weed, frying on meth, drinking or thinking we’re Keith Richards and looking cool—you grow up with that mentality that it goes together. No, it doesn’t go together.”

Dali’s Llama will perform with The Hellions, Sean Wheeler, Mario Lalli and the Rubber Snake Charmers, and Decon at 9 p.m., Friday, March 9, at The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. Admission is $5. For more information tickets, visit the event’s Facebook page.

Published in Previews

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.

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.

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..