Merican Slang is a band that features the saxophone, an instrument that, until recently, was considered to be Satanic. More than that, this fresh and phat collection of longtime Burqueño musicians plays a sort of rock and roll that may indeed be described as devilish.
But guitarist and singer James Haynes, drummer Ricardo Sanchez, bassist Dave Pankuch and, yes, even sax man Romeo Alonzo aren’t heshers, though like some forms of metal (the music they make) is decidedly American—in its roots, its execution and its intent.
Sanchez, the stick man and band visionary, is from deep in the heart of the Midwest in Chicago, a town where funk rules. If you sit down and listen to the dude, he will tell you all about influences that he gleaned in the larger world outside Albuquerque. Names like the Tower of Power, the Average White Band and Dr. John are certain to come up.
But so too is the music of Sublime and other West Coasters from those heady days of yore in the mid-’90s. More importantly, all members of the band tend to reference the jam band scene that proliferated in Burque back in the late ’90s and early aughts.
Over at long-gone Nob Hill venues like the legendary Sonny’s, bands like The Withdrawals and Mucho Buddha drew sold-out crowds on a regular basis. As a matter of fact, Pankuch was part of the world of The Withdrawals; the rest of the band paid their dues at Sonny’s, too.
After the group got together about 10 years ago, they enjoyed the kind of success that such funky, crowd-pleasing outfits often do. Lots of shows and a solid fan following paid off for Merican Slang.
That is, until that sax player we mentioned earlier decided to head up north to work on being an activist in 2017. What was meant to be a two-week stay in North Dakota ended up lasting two years.
When Romeo Alonzo finally returned, the first thing the other members did was suggest a reunion. Last week it happened. Three members of Merican Slang met with Weekly Alibi to discuss their huge reunion gig.
After a tour kickoff gig titled Never Say Never on Wednesday, March 11 at Left Turn Distilling, Merican Slang plays a huge, free rock and roll party at Rock Canyon Taproom in Tijeras on Thursday, March 12.
We asked the band to stop by our headquarters to talk about these amazing developments. They obliged and we had the tape ready to run when they showed up on Friday afternoon.
A couple members of the band—Alonzo and Sanchez—arrived early and everyone sat around talking about the scene and who knew who from where until lead guitarist and singer James Haynes arrived.
After some introductions and just a little bit of discussion about the guitarist’s New Mexico-style rodeo belt—with his name in turquoise engraved in silver— the discussion began in earnest when Haynes said that this band is really about America.
Sanchez picks up on his frontman’s thinking and continues, adding, “Basically we’re about us coming back together as a band after not playing together for a couple of years.”
Alonzo interjects, telling those gathered that because the band always had a deep following, it was always a possibility they would work together again. Sanchez says that he and Alonzo haven’t played with the other two at all for a couple years. That kind of artistic anticipation is driving the reunion. All of the band members agree on that.
Alonzo then begins to detail the events that led to his temporary separation from the rest of his musical mates. “I went up to North Dakota. I was with the no DAPL movement. That was actually a departure for me from the band. I stayed up there, like, two years, and I was only supposed to be gone for two weeks. It’s like any relationship, you have to be present. I understood. There were no hard feelings. Music is a business.”
Everybody laughs about that and Sanchez mentions that the meeting they are at is the first time he’s even seen bandmate Haynes since they last played together those couple years ago.
Haynes reminds his compatriots that there used to be a goodbye ritual for those who were either planning to leave the band or were being tossed out for any number of reasons.
According to Haynes, “It involved this huge barbeque joint on the edge of town. You’d be blindfolded and taken there to be given a plate of ribs, a pitcher of beer and a speech about how profoundly you influenced the rest of the band.”
“I always hoped that would happen with me,” says Alonzo, obviously disappointed about his own former outcome. He tells our reporter with tongue planted firmly in cheek, “I was just a little bummed out; I was for sure I’d get it. At least that.”
Everyone was having such a good time talking about American music, American slang and one of the grooviest bands to ever come down the Rio Grande and rep itself all over this town, that our reporter almost forgot to ask the fellows in Merican Slang exactly what their sound is all about.
He happens to know all about that, but, figuring it was a good time to shift gears and seeing how everyone had grown comfortable and loquacious talking about music, he asked that very question on behalf of readers who may not have as clear idea as either this critic or the band.
Haynes takes up the lead on this new twist in the tale, telling our reporter that, “Ricardo and Dave played together for a while with Rudy Jaramillo, in the Rudy Boy Experiment.”
Just then, Sanchez clicks as if remembering a long-ago memory and then adds to Haynes’s story, saying, “I was living with Dave at the time and he wanted to start another project separate from Rudy Boy. But it wasn’t until we went to the Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings concert in Santa Fe, at the Lensic that it all came together. The next day, we started brainstorming. We came up with a few ideas and decided to give Jimmy [James Haynes] a call because both Dave and me had worked with him in the past, but separately.”
“I was in a band called Jimmy’s Jupiter at the time,” the guitarist reminds his bandmates, “and working a corporate job. Anyway, we ended up getting a gig in Arizona with Rudy and we needed a name really quick. There was an American Slang Dictionary, for some reason, sitting on the table where we were practicing. Some people made fun of it afterwards, saying it described how I sing. I think Dave said to drop the A on it. It’s a brilliant marketing strategy.”
The reporter reports that he thinks that makes the name even more slangy, so it becomes a truly meta thing, he tells those gathered to be interviewed, before continuing to probe the whys and wherefores of a rocking, decidedly singular band of American musicians.
Haynes continues the genre conversation by telling the writer, “If somebody asks, ‘What do you guys play?’ I tell them we play a little bit of everything, truthfully.”
Sanchez, meanwhile, returns to the importance of specific American funk and soul bands, adding, “We were inspired by Sharon Jones, so in the beginning, it was supposed to be a funk band. I’ve always considered us a funk band. But we do go off the rails for sure. I like to play everything.”
“It’s driven by Rick [Ricardo Sanchez] and Dave as a team essentially,” intones Haynes. That spirit is all of this, he adds, causing Romeo to laugh enthusiastically and nod in agreement.
Alonzo begins his conclusion when he reiterates to our reporter that the band is solidly American. That brief summation causes his bandmates to offer details about that identity. “We’re fighting terrorism with funk,” offers Haynes, “one party at a time!”
Sanchez concurs, adding, “We’re anti-terrorist and pro-party.”
Asked if they thought it was an American responsibility to fight for one’s right to party, this version of the mythical three all screamed with delight that such a comparison was even made, with Haynes offering the final comment of the day’s discussion.
“Our shows are kinda like that video for ‘(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)’ [by the Beastie Boys]. Everyone’s there. We bring in an eclectic crowd from different backgrounds and we’re multi-cultural, too. People in Albuquerque like to dig the funk and party. We’re there for them.”