A History of Rock in Burque, Pt. I
By August March
Writing about Albuquerque’s historic association with rock music is like being magically transported into the midst of an endless buffet, for crissakes.
The stout piñon tables are laden with the produce of several generations. This dining hall stretches into infinity or oblivion. So this summary isn’t comprehensive, more like impressionistic. In some places, it resembles a submarine. In others, it’s more like a hovercraft. But whether plumbing the depths or skimming the surface, it’s clear this is one hell of a rocking town.
Some folks will tell you rock and Burque came together one night in the early 1960s. It was on the Westside during an Al Hurricane show. Tiny Morrie was there too. That’s true enough, but the musical vision of a local guitarist who favored minor chords and the tremolo bar on his Fender Jazzmaster irrevocably changed the local dynamic.
King Richard & the Knights emerged from the nascent scene in 1961, marking an important departure from the popular, Hispanic-inflected tuneage roaring out of clubs and parties around town. With guitar-centric surf sounds generated by Dick Stewart and rhythm guitarist Larry Longmire, the Knights and their instrumental pop explorations became all the rage. Cool and slippery like the sea, Stewart’s music provided a walloping contrast to the florid romanticism of Hurricane and company.
During the summer of 1964, the combo, including Gary Snow on bass and Corky Anderson on drums, released “Precision,” a single that put them at the top of the local AM radio charts. On the strength of their precise chops, trebly abstraction and an elusively ethereal but danceable temperament, the record foreshadowed the direction rock music might have taken in Burque over the next several years.
Instead, the British invasion rolled through town, monsoon-like and drenching. Stewart’s band and musical output evolved as a consequence. Longmire left for the Air Force, a new rhythm section was enlisted, and a keyboardist and vocalist were added to the mix. Throughout these changes, Stewart’s attention to detail and melody remained constant and can be heard on mid-’60s singles like “Why” and “How About You." More importantly, Stewart started producing bands that were heavily influenced by northern Californian and British psychedelia on his label, Lance Records.
The Kreeg were flag bearers of this left turn. Signed to Lance in 1966, The Kreeg’s first single “Impressin’” showed off Stewart’s musical reach as well as the prodigious talents of members Larry Inks (lead guitar), Bob Sturtcman (rhythm guitar), Hap Blackstock (bass guitar) and Russ Sturtcman (drums). The windblown, percussive six-string work, rocked-out solos and slyly nonchalant vocals on “Impressin’” and its B-side “How Can I” were more than a verisimilitude of songs produced by bands like The Animals or The Yardbirds. While the influence of those two major leaguers is evident, the voice of The Kreeg and their producer is distinctly Burqueño in its breezy, casual delivery and desert-like lack of affectation.
During this era, Stewart also produced an authoritative newsletter, The Lance. The publication helped establish and promote a vibrant local scene. The city was awash with Lance acts like heavy blues rockers Lincoln Street Exit and even-heavier psych adherents Fe-Fi-Four Plus 2, who came to near-national notoriety in 1967 with the relentlessly pulsating “I Wanna Come Back (From the World of LSD).”
By the end of the decade, things began to wind down at Lance Records. The draft, the dissolution of war in Vietnam, and the failure of flower power to solve the pressing social problems of the late ’60s caused a massive regrouping. Dick Stewart began working with Spanish-language bands, The Kreeg dissolved, and Lincoln Street Exit, renamed XIT, found a tenuous home at Motown Records.
In the Duke City, the ’70s scene was initially defined by hard rock with a metal edge and a resurgence of traditional musical expression. Near the end of the decade, this era was also punctuated by somewhat eccentric, substantive creative energy as well as “living jukebox” cover bands.
Westside hangouts fomented a renaissance for Al Hurricane, his son and groups like Los Chavos, who jammed a crazy-clever combination of traditional aesthetics with a rock sensibility that brought them citywide recognition.
Not everything was Hurricane-influenced though; the decade also saw the rise of hard-rocking El Paso transplants Old Scratch and proto-hair bands like The Wumbles. The latter group featured a cat named Randy Castillo on drums.
Other rock outfits during the “me decade” included Cody—featuring music teacher Calvin Buckles—and The Clams, featuring Jeff Smith (bass), Carm Schiarrotta (drums), Mark Shelford (guitar), Arnold Bodmer (keyboard), Mark Shorey and Denise Wollman (vocals). For rockers like these cats, most gigs happened at Okies, a huge dancehall bar on the southwest corner of University Boulevard and Central Avenue. It was famous for its slippery floors, picnic tables and cheap pitchers of cold beer.
In the mid ’70s, Albuquerque musician/
Cline says the original Planets were a pop band. “They covered some Steely Dan ... but then they had a lot of Steve Morelock’s and Carl’s originals too,” says Cline. Numerous personnel changes after 1977 caused the band to focus more on straight-ahead rock and roll. This led to regional popularity. Their local appearances, even at Ned’s—where they were the de facto house band—diminished as they began to explore the world beyond the Rio Grande Valley.
After 1978, slick cover bands—often groomed and managed by local impresario Joe Bufalino—began to dominate the scene. These “Buf bands,” including local stalwarts Sassy Jones, dominated the Northeast Heights at joints like Alfalfa’s and Uncle Nasty’s.
Cline was the sound engineer for Bufalino’s college funk project, Wind and Silver, but he recalls the promoter’s domination of the scene was both good and bad for Burque. “In one way, he was really good for the music scene. He kept musicians working. On the other hand, he was really bad for the scene because he stifled a lot of creativity,” says Cline.
As the ’70s drew to a close, something intense happened. Punk rock began to filter down from both coasts and into the independent record shops around this burg. Other locals began to eschew the cardboard cutout model of rock music encouraged by the plethora of cover artists. And Downtown began to come into its own as a place to play and be heard.
Just before punk broke in Burque, this sense of rebellion against the normative could be heard in the recordings of art-rockers The Soxx, whom Cline likens to “a combination of Bob Marley and Frank Zappa.” They were “an acquired taste,” he says. As daring experimentalists, the band made eccentricity a plus with complex tunes like “Make it Right.” Some of the best players in town, The Soxx were harbingers of the huge sea change here at home.
A wild shift toward free expression and creativity would upend the kings of the scene, making way for the new emperor of the avant-garde. This happened as original, homegrown punk and new wave music gleefully took the reins of a growing new scene, and the 1980s exploded in a hail of guitar strings and drumsticks all over our little city by the river.
Pick up next week's Alibi for the second part of this feature on the history of Burqueño rock music.
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