ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 17, 2000
A few years back Calgary instro-rockers Huevos Rancheros made my Top 10 with their CD Dig In!, a veritable smorgasbord of guitar-bass-drums delights. Now their new disc, Muerte del Toro, is a serious contender for my best-of-2000 list. Coproduced by Dave Alcock of Chixdiggit fame, it’s crammed with the kind of brash, we-don’t-need-no-stinkin’-singer noise that guitarist Brent J. Cooper, bassist Cantankerous Tom, and drummer Richie Ranchero are noted for. The trio won me over in a jiffy with their wicked cover of the old Ventures hit “Diamond Head”, which kicks off the CD.
“We picked that up about a year ago,” notes a vacationing Cooper, calling from a sun-drenched deck overlooking Lake Winnipeg. “We actually wrote an entire new middle section for it that wasn’t in the original, but it’s just a good song. It’s kinda hard to screw up if you start with a good song.”
Surprisingly, the legendary Ventures were not a dominant influence on Huevos Rancheros when the band formed in the summer of ’90. Neither was Dick Dale, believe it or not. “Actually,” Cooper says, “way back when, I think it was Evan Johns and the H-Bombs, if anyone remembers them. When we first started I think our heroes were them, the Replacements, the Beat Farmers, and the Tail Gators. We never set out to be a surf group, and we’ll still say ‘We ain’t no surf group!’ But there’s links to it; we can’t escape that.”
Cooper and his mates have good reason to shun the surf-rock classification, because they dash plenty of other flavours into their zesty musical stew. For example, “Bring Me the Beard of Billy Gibbons”, which you’d instantly take as a nod to ZZ Top’s furry-faced stringbender, actually owes more to instro-rock legend Link Wray. And the opening riff of “Beach Blanket Blackout” brings to mind the British Invasion, in particular “You Really Got Me”–era Kinks.
“It’s extremely Kinks-y,” admits Cooper. “I think I’ve been told a couple of times which Kinks song has that riff. But actually, we share our rehearsal space with the Von Zippers, and they have lotsa great riff songs, so I think that one probably leaked through the walls to us.”
While they’re apt to absorb song ideas from any band within earshot, there’s no denying Huevos Rancheros’ own riff-building skills. Check out Cooper’s exquisitely tasty guitar lines in “El Toro Muerto Con Queso”, or the high-lonesome twang of “Ride, Cowboy”, which brings the group as close to the spaghetti-western form as it’s ever been. “In fact,” says Cooper, “it was kinda conceived with a trumpet solo, which would have made it very spaghetti-esque. But we didn’t know any trumpet players, so I did it on a baritone guitar instead.”
Huevos Rancheros have always been good at choosing offbeat song titles—the 1995 single and video “Gump Worsley’s Lament” being a prime example—and the closing track on Muerte del Toro is no exception. Actually, “Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump” might go over quite well with visitors to the historic site in southern Alberta that it’s named after. “I was worried when we first recorded it that we just kinda droned on and on,” notes Cooper, “and one man’s psychedelic number is another man’s boring opus. But I like it now.”
If you haven’t yet experienced the vitalizing glory of Huevos Rancheros, now’s your chance, as the trio is set to perform three Lower Mainland gigs in the company of those wacky H.P. Lovecraft freaks, The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets. It’ll be guitar mania at Langley’s China Beach on Thursday (August 17), the Starfish Room on Friday (August 18), and then up at the Boot Pub in Whistler on Sunday (August 20). Expect to hear the same kind of wonderful racket the guys created in that 1997 beer commercial that saw them rocking out with Hawaiian love god Don Ho.
“It’s kinda tough in one way to associate yourself with a product like that,” says Cooper of the Labatt Genuine Draft spot, “but on the other hand, it is beer, which we’re quite fond of. That commercial was just shown in British Columbia, though, and we were really hoping it would have gone Canada-wide, because then we would have been paid more. And commerce is occasionally a good thing.”