Wednesday, July 13, 9pm – 1am FREE SHOW
by Lisa Morgan
Desert rock icon, Sean Wheeler, featured in two documentaries on the desert rock scene recently, will be bringing a free show to the Hood Bar in Palm Desert, that fans internationally would travel miles and pay big bucks to see. Accompanied by Billy Pittman (Jimmy Vaughn’s guitar player for the last 15 years), bass man Ronnie James (The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jimmy Vaughn, Booker T. Jones and more), the show is already guaranteed to be stellar. But add a guest duet performance from Cait O’Riordan, the original bass player for The Pogues, along with sets from Gabriel Hart of Jail Weddings, Derwood Andrews (the original guitar player from Generation X), rock and roll statesman, Simon Stokes, and local band, Venus and the Traps closing it out, Palm Desert is set to be served an all-night roots rock smorgasbord with punk sensibilities that will satiate even the most finicky rock palate.
Wheeler, or “Captain Sean Doe,” co-founded Throw Rag in ’93 with Roger “Chino” Smith (drums), and Dan “Scorcho” Lapham (rhythm guitar). Bassist Danny “Talmadge” Black and guitarist Michael “The Outlaw” McCartney rounded out the original lineup. Throw Rag played regularly at Rhythm and Brews, operated by renowned desert musician/legend, Mario Lalli. Other members were Scott “Barfly” Brooks (bass) and Tom “Colonel Riptide Tenmen” Lynn (banjo and vibes), Francis “Franco” Cronin (bass fiddle), Patrick “Dino” Bostrom (lead guitar), Craig “Jacko” Jackman “Lord of Scum”, John Summers aka “Johnny Bloodstreak” (washboard and vocals), Louis Bluefeather (harmonica and didgeridoo), and Dr. Brittle Bones (tambourine and “onstage medical assistance”). In 1999, their debut album, Tee-Tot, was released on Hellnote Records. Sean Doe, donning a signature captain’s hat and 70s double-knit suit, and “Jacko” in a wife beater and double knit pants, were known to strip down on stage. Their music and antics, and growing reputation led them to open for bands like Supersuckers, Green Day, Wesley Willis and Willie Nelson. In 2001, the band released a CD split with Supersuckers which featured a song that would later appear on a Warped Tour 2002 Tour Compilation and their follow up album. That follow up album, Desert Shores, was released in ’03 on BYO Records, and was compared by critics to The Damned by Billboard Magazine: “Throw Rag’s approach to punk rock is refreshing and yet still time-honored. ‘Space Hump Me’ has a lot of early-’70s punk in it, particularly with the sneering vocals and simple arrangement such as the Damned.”
13 Feet and Rising, released in ’05, featured guest vocals by Keith Morris and Jello Biafra. A cover of Merle Haggard’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down” featured guest vocalist Lemmy. Their fourth full length album, 2nd Place, was released in ’08, and was produced by Cameron Webb (Social Distortion, Motorhead). Most recently, Wheeler has toured internationally and recorded with multi-instrumentalist, Zander Schloss (Circle Jerks, Weirdos, Joe Strummer and more).
Today, Wheeler and Schloss have taken a break to focus on other projects, and Wednesday night’s show at The Hood will be a reflection of that. CV Weekly caught up with the artist to get a sneak-peek at what we can expect:
CVW: “What have you been up to? Last time we talked you and Zander had just released a new record, Other Desert Cities.”
Wheeler: “Zan and I are taking a break. Zander put his own band together and I’ve put my own band together, Desert Legends, Sean Wheeler, and that’s a good thing. He’s happy, and I’m happy. I’ve been on tour with Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age, Gutter Twins and more).
Calling my new band “Desert Legends” is kind of a joke. In Europe they’re always introducing Mario Lalli as ‘Desert Legend’ and he always says it’s so embarrassing. I told him, ‘I think it’s cool. I’m going to take it!’”
“I just did a record with The Mutants in the UK (an important band in the history of San Francisco punk rock and new wave music), along with Rat Scabies (original drummer for The Dammed), Chris De Niro (bass player with Adam Ant among others), Chris Goss (Masters of Reality, Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age), Bingo Richie and Dave Catching (Mojave Lords), and Victoria Williams. I may also record a song with Fatso Jetson if Mario can make it fit in their tight schedule.”
CVW: “How did you feel about the documentaries you were featured in? Did you feel the finished product was accurate?”
Wheeler: “I think over-all they did a really good job. I think they had to choose NOT to capture it all because of time. They could go on and on – there’s a lot of bands that were not included. It would have to be a five part Ken Burns documentary to get it all. I mean, where do you start and where do you stop. For example, my uncle’s band, Desert Party Association, was doing generator parties before the rest of us. As long as there has been electricity and Edom Hill, there have been generator parties. Also, a lot of the women weren’t included. Off the top of my head I think of Laurel Stearns, Utica Stewart and Riva. I feel bad for anyone not included, but how do you fit them all in?”
“When I saw the Desert Age film, I felt like, ‘Fuck, all I did was talk about drugs!’ But then I remembered, I did about four hours of interviews and that’s what they went with. It was definitely not the experience of everybody, but it was for us. Drugs were a big part of what was happening in high school and beyond. Speed got popular out here real quick because everybody was cooking it up long before the Mexican super labs came out here. Was that part of the scene sensationalized? I did wonder about that myself, at first. But you’re talking about a small group of people. I don’t know. We could have done the same thing about sex in the scene. All things considered, I think they did a pretty great job. I’m just happy that someone wanted to document the music in the desert.”
CVW: “We’ve talked before about how your sobriety was necessary to continue your music. How many years clean and sober do you have now, what was the catalyst for that major turning point in your life, and how do you maintain it?”
Wheeler: “19 years now. I go to meetings. I enjoy it. I help others who have an interest in getting clean and sober. I can’t get anyone sober, but if they want help, I can surely be honest with them and offer my experience and my hope.”
“Man! The guys that weren’t partying back then, were so smart. It’s so easy to confuse what’s cool and what’s not when you’re a teenager. But, if you’re going to be a dope fiend, you better believe the bullshit because you’re already all in it from the start. You’re going to have to believe all the lies just to keep that going because it’s so miserable. It’s such a hard way to live. It was a fucking painful, brutal thing to have to be committed to. Some people are just normal; they don’t have that ‘ism’ thing or whatever it is. I had it from day one. I’m clear on that. I was blacking out at 13 when I first started drinking.”
“The turning point came from just being in fucking pain all the time… and sad and so fucking miserable. Basically, the thing that was once my solution to whatever my problem was, ultimately became my biggest problem. I kept returning to the problem to be my solution – kind of like a baby who is abused by its mom or dad and reaches out to that same person to comfort it. It’s crazy. It’s crazy that you don’t realize that sooner also. I had no peer pressure…my friends were like, ‘Dude, you have a fucking problem.’ It was obvious to everyone that I had a problem. Even fucking dirt bags were like, ‘Dude…‘. I was so fucking miserable. It sucked more than it didn’t suck. I’d given it so many chances – I wanted so bad for it to work for so long. Everything I had, I gave it to it. The deal was I give you (the addiction) everything, and you give me a little bit of peace. And when the peace leaves, I give you whatever else I have, and we do that over and over again. But now you’re taking what little peace you gave me, and I’m giving everything and getting nothing back. I was going to AA meetings back when Yawning Man was a newer band, and Kyuss wasn’t even a band yet. In 1987, I clearly had a lot of problems. I’d been shooting drugs at that point because when I drank I was a bummer and blacked out. I’d been in and out of the program since I was a teenager. I knew where to go for a long time, but I just didn’t want to give it up.”
“I got clean and sober on the streets, went to the meetings immediately… May 15, 1997. I didn’t drink and use no matter what, went to a lot of meetings, and then bam. I’m so fucking stoked. I couldn’t imagine being without drugs and alcohol at first. First, time crawls, but then it flies by. I’m going on 50 now and the friends I had that are still doing it are homeless, living out of homeless camps in Indio, or in prison or dead. And that’s as good as it gets. It’s so crazy. Zach Huskey (Dali’s Llama) told me, ‘You always put that lifestyle in front of the music, and that was your problem.’ He was right. We were all teenagers during the punk rock scene – that hardcore scene of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, T.S.O.L., and drugs were a part of that. Since we had that punk rock, ‘We’re all in-no future- fuck it,’ attitude, it made sense that so many people jumped in so hard core. We’d given up. I’d given up in tenth grade. I remember making a clear choice. Drugs were a cancer in the scene.”
CVW: “Simon Stokes will be part of the show at The Hood. The two of you seem to have a very special relationship.”
Wheeler: “I love Simon. I’ve always felt we need to honor and respect the elder statesmen of rock, like Simon. I try and have him with me every time I do a show in the desert. I met Simon in LA through Daniel Harvey at the Redwood where I was playing. Punk band, Antiseen, did a tribute album to Simon. He’s one of those dudes that when you start learning about him you think, ‘Oh my god, what a story!’ He is a mind blowing, lifetime rocker, and he’s so sweet. We started hanging out immediately. Simon got signed to Elektra the same day as MC5, and he had the first banned record in American history. He wrote, “Miniskirt Blues,” covered by The Cramps, with Iggy Pop singing it. He’s done so much, and he’s still so obscure. He should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don’t even know if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is worthy of him, but he should still be there. He is definitely a desert legend.”
Find out more about Sean Wheeler at www.facebook.com/seanwheelerodc