photo by Geoff Cordner
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, NOV. 28, 1991
By Steve Newton
Nowadays, the words “L.A. rockers” bring to mind frightful visions of leather, make-up, dyed hair, and half-assed musicianship. But according to Cadillac Tramps lead singer Mike “Gabby” Gaborno, the L.A. glam-rock vision is something of a myth.
“MTV kind of messed up a lot of the perception of what L.A. is like,” says Gabby, a native of the Los Angeles suburb of Orange County. “The Nelson kinda guys, the he/she things: that’s not the real scene in California. I mean, if you look at the pictures of us on our album, that’s your standard Californian.”
The Cadillac Tramps do not look like Nelson. Or Motley Crüe, for that matter, despite their superfluity of tattoos. With their ’50s hair, goatees, and shades, they look more like grease-monkey Sha Na Na rejects than anything else. But their scintillating brand of roots rock—which borrows strongly from rockabilly and punk—packs people in on the home front, where BAM magazine once named them the area’s biggest club draw.
The band—which opens for San Diego’s illustrious Beat Farmers at 86 Street on Friday and Saturday (November 29 and 30)—got its cool-sounding moniker from the band’s guitarist, Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham, whose own name was given him when, at one low point in his life, he would carry his worldly belongings around in a couple of Safeway bags.
“We all kinda met from shady pasts,” confesses Gaborno. “And when Jonny was tryin’ to shake a couple of bad habits, these old wino guys would say, ‘Oh, here comes the Cadillac tramp.’ He had, like, one pair of trousers, but he would do his best to keep ’em clean and pressed.
“So, basically, the name is about bein’ down and out, but still keepin’ that pride and not lettin’ everything go.”
No strangers to desperation, the Tramps now use their past experiences to relay the folly of drug abuse, as in the tune “Medicine Man”: “Pushin’ poison on the streets you cannot hide…be his slave, that’s his plan, poison dagger in his hand.”
“There’s a place in Orange County where you see a lot of guys drive up to a certain person to try to pick up some drugs, and this guy has no remorse for what he does—people literally come up beggin’. And maybe if somebody that’s goin’ through what we’ve been through in the past would listen to that song, then they might make a change.”
The Cadillac Tramps’ noble intentions and party-hearty sounds have been a part of the Beat Farmers’ shows for six weeks already, but Gaborno claims he’s still unaware of the penchant of some fans—particularly those in Vancouver—to affectionately douse singer Country Dick Montana with beer. But he could think of worse rituals to befall a frontman.
“All right!” enthuses the 26-year-old rocker. “I’ll be playin’ with my mouth open!”