By Eleni P. Austin

Tony “Cisco” Marsico, leader of the Cruzados and acclaimed Singer-Songwriter Rick Shelley have been pals for a few years now. They’ve shared stages and Rick even opened for Tony at assorted solo desert gigs, so it felt wholly apropos to have Rick open for The Cruzados this Saturday at The Alibi.

The Cruzados are making their official desert debut here. The band has a rich history that stretches back 40+ years when they were originally known as The Plugz. Tito Larriva, (vocals/guitar) and Charlie “Chalo” Quintana (drums) formed The Plugz in 1977, Tony had recently moved to L.A. and took over on bass when their original bassist left. Guitarist Steven Hufsteter completed the line-up. They played alongside seminal Punk bands like X, The Weirdos, The Germs and Fear, in grotty clubs like The Masque, Madam Wong’s and The Music Machine. They released two stellar albums and they contributed a couple of indelible songs to the (soon-to-be Cult Classic) film, Repo Man.

At one of those Music Machine gigs they discovered that Bob Dylan was in attendance. He was such an ardent fan, that he invited the guys to his Malibu estate to play music with him. Sometimes they played for days on end. When Dylan was booked to appear on Late Night With David Letterman, it was The Plugz who backed him for an electrifying three-song set. (Incidentally, one of songs can be found on the latest installment of Dylan’s Bootleg Series, Vol. 16: Springtime In New York 1980-1985).


By the mid ‘80s, Hair Metal had completely eclipsed Punk as L.A.’s musical lingua franca, bands like X began embracing a Rootsier sound that incorporated Blues, Country, Rockabilly and Folk, while maintaining a Punky edge. That confluence of styles appealed to The Plugz, but they went one step further, ditching their old moniker and emerging as the Cruzados.

Signed to Arista Records, they released two critically acclaimed albums, garnering the attention from heavy-hitters like David Byrne, Brian Setzer and John Fogerty. Soon enough they were on world tours opening for chart-toppers like Joe Cocker, Billy Idol, INXS and Fleetwood Mac (Stevie Nicks was obsessed with their “Bed Of Lies” song). Although the music press consistently touted them as “the next big thing” their sales figures never matched those breathless predictions. At the dawn of the ‘90s, they quietly called it quits.

All the guys remained in the music business, mostly going on to bigger and better things. Tony became a session and touring bassist, playing with superstars like Roger Daltrey, Marianne Faithfull Willie Nelson and Neil Young, just to name a few. He also formed his rockin’ Tiki combo, The Martini Kings, who have played for captains of industry and a Kardashian or two. Tito made a name for himself scoring films like Desperado and From Dusk To Dawn. Steven was a sporadic presence on the music scene and Chalo spent years playing drums in Bob Dylan’s touring band before pounding the kit for Social Distortion. Sadly, he suffered a fatal heart attack in 2018.

During the pandemic lockdown, Tony, like most working musicians was at loose-ends, but he was gripped with a sudden urge to make some Hi-Octane Rock & Roll again. He contacted Tito and Steven, hoping they would maybe want to reform The Cruzados, but logistics and prior commitments made the reunion impossible. With their blessing, Tony was able to enlist other musicians under The Cruzados rubric. Along with his friend, guitarist Mark Teralgia, he reconnected with his and Chalo’s old compadres, guitarist Loren Molinaire and vocalist Ron Young from Little Caesar. Little Caesar was another critically acclaimed band from the late ‘80s, that enjoyed a chart-topping hit with their cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Chain Of Fools.” Along with drummer Rob Klonel, this new iteration of the band hunkered down in the recording studio. The result was their critically acclaimed 2021 album, She’s Automatic.

Rick Shelley hails from Walla, Walla Washington, but he’s been part of the Desert Rock firmament since the mid ‘80s, first as front-man for the gritty Glam/Punk band RagTag, which included protean guitarist James Danielson, drummer Eric Turner and bassist Nick Oliveri. Then on vocals and rhythm guitar in the Blues Rock band Woodshed, which featured the same line-up, only switching out Dean Oliveri for his brother, Nick on bass.

He jump-started his solo career in 2014, and immediately began gigging around the desert and ended up recording two critically acclaimed albums, 2015’s 1909 Miles and 2017’s Hope Wrapped In Razor Wire. Since then, he’s shared stages with celebrated British Folk-Rocker, Jasmine Rodgers, award-winning songwriter Travis Meadows, Country legend Jann Browne and the Hi-Desert band, The Adobe Collective. He’s performed at venerable venues like Pappy & Harriet’s, The Joshua Tree Saloon, the Songwriter In The Round series at The Beatnik, The Mint and The Echo in Los Angeles, as well as Long Beach’s annual Buskerfest and Songs Alive Songwriter Night in Orange County. He’s currently preparing to head back into the studio to begin recording his third long-player.

I recently caught up with both of these guys (Full-confession, I’ve been friends with Tony for almost eight years and Rick is one of my very best friends, more like my brother. We have had a “ride or die” friendship that has lasted 36 years. Clearly, I am not unbiased when it comes to either of them), and we had an illuminating conversation.

EPA: How did you guys first connect?

TONY: “I’d been living in the desert for most of 2015, doing a handful of solo acoustic shows here and there. Opening for John Doe (from X) and playing around Palm Desert and Palm Springs as part of a duo with Darran “Dewey” Falcone called Cisco & Dewey. I happily stumbled across Rick and instantly took a liking to his honest and heartfelt, Rootsy music.

RICK: “I met Tony when we both played a benefit show here in the desert back in 2015. He had a great Country/Americana band called Cisco & Dewey. I loved the writing, and of course he and the rest of band were great players.”

EPA: Tony, are The Cruzados currently on tour? I know you recently finished a European tour, how did it go?

TONY: “The Cruzados just completed a month-long tour throughout Spain, France, Germany and Belgium. The band hadn’t toured Europe since the late ‘80s. I half expected some our audience to possibly recognize a few of our tunes from movies, but I never anticipated the great turnout and reception we received. Needless to say, our 2023 European tour is already booked. In the states, we are doing one-off shows, we just played the House Of Blues and I’m really excited to get to the desert and play The Alibi in Palm Springs.”

EPA: How do each of you go about writing songs? Rick, I know “Dead Horse Hollow” had its origins in a Theodore Roethke poem. Tony, I read somewhere that “Across This Ghost Town” came to you in a dream. Can you guys elaborate on the process?

RICK: “For me, I just start with an idea… could be something I heard someone say, or something I read, or me just thinking. I wrote a song called “Lost Feathers (Heavy Feet),” during the first year of Covid lockdown. I’d been taking walks every afternoon, and for some reason, I’d been picking up Raven feathers along those walks and bringing them home. So, the song grew from the statement “lately, I’ve been picking up lost feathers…” and then I tell a story from that.”

TONY: “I’d been living in Palm Springs with a faulty air conditioner in my trailer a few summers ago. I dreamt a lot during that time. In one episode I found myself stepping into a place where I shouldn’t have been. “Across This Ghost Town” is what came out of my dream. I generally write 95% of my songs while driving in solitude on the highway where I spend so much of my time. Dreams, real life, whatever hits me. I’ll start humming and usually by the time I get to my destination I’ll have something. Some good songs, some bad- but either way I’m just thankful to have passed the time.”

EPA: Rick, you spent years playing in hard-working bands like RagTag and Woodshed. Once you began your solo career in 2014, do you think this paradigm shift affected your perspective as a songwriter?

RICK: “Well, it certainly pointed a spotlight on things for me. In both bands we certainly worked at writing songs, and doing our best to grow and evolve while doing it. But there is a lot to lean on within a band situation…Punk energy, great guitar work on an extended jam by the players can cover up some undercooked writing. Solo, well, don’t consider myself that great a guitar player, so I have to work harder at the writing and storytelling.”

EPA: Tony, began playing music professionally in the late ‘70s. Rick, you started a decade later. How has the music industry changed for both of you since then?

TONY: “Over the years, I’ve been involved in a lot of high-profile tours, traveling in private jets, staying in first class hotels, etc. That’s what record company financial support can do for you. Those days are gone, record companies are as antiquated as Dinosaurs. These days, I don’t mind hauling my gear and hoping in a van. The bottom line is I’m in it to play my music for people. All the rest is just fluff.”

RICK: “Tony has the most real-world experience when it comes to the industry, and I figure he has the most to say on this subject. He has seen it all and worked at it from all sides. For me, I think technology has changed the industry the most, in ways both good and bad. It’s made it easier to record and release music as an independent artist. The thing that remains a constant in the music business, is that it’s still fucking hard to make money at it!”

EPA: What music are you each listening to these days? TONY: This summer I’ve been looking back and we’ve been playing a lot of The Stranglers at our house. Now the COVID restrictions have lifted, I’m on a quest to see as much live music as I can. Upcoming shows that are on my radar include The Who, The Rolling Stones and Midnight Oil.

RICK: “I bounce around a lot… but in recent days I have been listening to Ben Folds, Otis Gibbs, John Mayer…currently in the CD player, is John Doe’s Fables In A Foreign Land.”

EPA: Rick, it’s been five years since the release of Hope Wrapped In Razor Wire. I know you’ve been working on several new songs. Do you think you’ll be back in the recording studio anytime soon?

RICK: “I am hoping to, and certainly I have enough songs lined up for a record (or two). But we’ll just have to see if I can pull things off financially for a formal release this year. I recently went into L.A. to work with producer Ted Russell Kamp. He’s been helping me clean up some of my stuff. He’s great to work with and it’s good to have someone on hand to say ‘Hey, that part is missing something.’ Shit, I will add a beat or skip a beat here or there to fit a line in and not really notice it until I get with other players. EPA: Tony, I love how She’s Automatic is such a sharp synthesis of Rock, Blues, Country and Punk. It’s definitely full-throttle Rock & Roll. Have you guys begun working on a follow-up?”

TONY: “Cruzados started writing new songs to lengthen and beef up the live shows on the European tour. We have written almost an entire album’s worth of new stuff, but we’re in no rush to return to the studio. Our band is really enjoying playing all the songs from She’s Automatic, as well as classic Cruzados cuts.”

EPA: Finally, how cool is it that Palm Springs now has a world-class venue like The Alibi? I have seen so many great shows there in the last few weeks (Bob Mould, Lemonheads, Sondre Lerche, The Mekons and Love Revisited), what does it mean to you guys, as musicians and music-lovers, to be able to see live music almost every night of the week?

TONY: “When I lived in Palm Springs a few years back, live Rock & Roll shows were few and far between. I only wish a venue like The Alibi was around then. This is a real game-changer for folks in Palm Springs and the High Desert who are looking for a rockin’ night out.”

RICK: “It’s a great spot, and much needed here in the Coachella Valley. I played there once before, on a bill with The Adobe Collective in early 2020. It was just a few weeks before Covid shut down all indoor live music venues. I’m so glad they made it through to the other side of all that and reopened as an even better looking and sounding venue.”

(Cruzados with special guest Rick Shelley, Saturday, July 9th Ages 21 & over/Doors Open at 5:30pm/Show at 6pm The Alibi 369 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs.