ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 24, 1995
Sometimes I wish I’d been more than a toddler in 1960 so I could have appreciated tunes such as the Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run”, the Shadows’ “Man of Mystery”, and Duane Eddy’s “Shazam!” as soon as they were released. Nowadays I love nothing more than surrendering to the beguiling melodies and twangy rhythms of those dramatic instrumentals, which speak volumes without the benefit of words. And thanks to talented bands such as Huevos Rancheros, that nonvocal tradition is being carried on today.
Who needs singers anyway?
“There’s quite a few instrumental bands now,” says guitarist Brent J. Cooper, calling from the band’s hometown of Calgary. “It’s good because it makes [instrumental music] easier to be accepted, but it’s bad because most of them are purely retro—which is something we never really worried about. So many of these bands are just tryin’ to relive the heyday of the surfin’ ’60s, which is kinda wrong. We’re not trying to play a genre—we steal from every genre we can, whether it’s straight-ahead punk rock, or surf rock, or rockabilly, or grunge, or anything.”
Cooper’s trio tosses genres around like crazy on its new Mint Records release, Dig In!. Most of the material is indeed fresh and new, although the group did go back in time for a version of Link Wray’s “American Sunset”, which sports some nifty AceTone organ by cover artist Tom Bagley, alias Jackson Phibes of Calgary horror-rockers the Forbidden Dimension.
“We found a neat sorta Link Wray riff,” says Cooper, “so we rewrote it and rearranged it, and added keyboards. It was for a Link Wray compilation called Think Link, and we thought everybody was gonna do the real typical stuff like ‘Branded’ and ‘Rumble’, so we tried something different.”
Cooper formed Huevos Rancheros with bassist Graham Evans and drummer Richie Ranchero in the summer of ’90, and shortly afterward the group began its recording career with a self-funded, six-song cassette titled Huevosaurus. Cooper says Calgary is loaded with bands going that independent route these days.
“There’s billions and billions of bands,” he says, “and everybody’s crankin’ out CDs. It’s really burgeoning, and now when we’re outta town people are asking us about different bands from Calgary, whereas before they’d ask if there were any bands. Now they’ll say, ‘Well, how’s Chixdiggit?’, or ‘How’s Forbidden Dimension?’, or ‘How’s Red Autumn Fall?’ And that’s good. That’s real good.”
Sure is. But what are the chances of a band from Calgary—especially one without a singer—making it big in today’s music biz?
“Well, it depends what you mean by ‘make it big’,” says Cooper. “On our own terms I think we’re pretty successful. We got to tour Europe and have lots of friends all over the world now. But are we gonna be…uh…are we gonna be the next Sloan, even? I don’t know. Right now that’s not our concern. We’re going one step at a time.”
That next step for Huevos Rancheros is a gig at the Commodore on Thursday (August 31) opening for the Reverend Horton Heat, who’s been known to blast out the odd instrumental rave-up himself. It promises to be quite the musical wingding, vocals or no vocals.
“Some people might go, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t like it, they don’t have a singer,’ ” says Cooper, “but usually we can win ’em over if we can get ’em out.”