I wrote this for the “What is Happening…” zine, which was released in September to accompany the first Big Whup Industries Compilation. American Gil & the Major Dudes’ song “Lunchtime Riverside (Tucson Version, with John Thill and Golden Boots)” is featured on that CD.
For more about the band, see their myspace.
American Gil and the Major Dudes just announced their breakup, a development that has made writing this much harder than I originally anticipated. It’s one thing to write a nice article on one of the best bands in town. It’s quite another thing, however, to write that band’s obituary. And it’s awfully sad. Amongst my friends, the reaction to the news has been universal dismay. People really care about American Gil and the Major Dudes.
When I watched American Gil and the Major Dudes for the first time, I saw people that I already loved and respected doing impressive things that I hadn’t seen them do before. Lou – who masters poise and melancholy in his main act Voice on Tape – was a punk monster on bass! Sam, who I’d previously only known as a keyboardist, likewise floored me: “this guy can play guitar, too? And he’s that good?” I didn’t know the other two guys in the band very well back then, but I was similarly impressed with their skills: Sean can make his drums roll like the ocean, and Brizzah’s keyboard pop counterpoints in songs like “Lunchtime Riverside (Riverside Version)” sparkle and leap out of the song in such a crisp and compelling manner. These are genuinely talented musicians.
Oh man and they rock so hard! Because everyone is so good, they can be afford to be trashy and dissonant and nasty. They can do all that and stay palatable, which is difficult. Whenever I’ve seen them, it’s just seemed like so much fun. It would be so rad to be a part of this band!
And I haven’t even begun to talk about American Gil. He’s this big dude (and I think that with his name he kind of has to be) who barks and yelps and hollers in this voice that reminds me of… maybe Bikini Kill-era Kathleen Hanna, but less young and more of a dude? It’s hard to say. It’s pretty hard to describe his saxophone playing, too –it’s not like Clarence Clemons. Maybe Clarence Clemons in a meat grinder? Or Arnold Schoenberg conducting a heard of elephants? I’ll just say it’s avant-garde. Avant-garde and totally wicked!
The whole sonic world they’ve come up with together is so cool. The sound quality makes me think it came out of a studio, but in my head I picture the recording session for the “Tucson Version” of “Lunchtime Riverside” happening right underneath a giant saguaro cactus in the middle of the afternoon. It just sounds like that. Another song, “the High Seas Rhythm Poem,” takes me to a completely different landscape – although it’s far more otherworldly than the ocean suggested by the title. Over a relentless mechanical beat, Gil mumbles about being sick, sniffles, and wheezes in a way that sounds like it came right out of Snoop Dogg and Pharrell’s “Drop it Like it’s Hot” (the mouth-pops and finger snaps that come in later in the song make me think that was intentional, but I could be over-analyzing). Later he tells us, in his best drunken southerner voice, that he’s “Captain of the ship… plotting a course, plotting a course.” Honestly, it’s disturbing – yet somehow actually groovy. It’s ultimately very entertaining.
American Gil and the Major Dudes is certainly a product of its surroundings. Each of the group members hails from the Inland Empire, and that has marked their music. The lyrical substance of “Lunchtime Riverside,” for example, is precisely what one would imagine it to be – options for lunch in a pretty uninspiring desert suburb: Taco Bell and Farmer Boys. The Inland Empire is present in their sound, too. They remind me, a bit, of the two musicians who originally put Rancho Cucamonga on the map: Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. And there are analogues, too, between the band’s sound and what’s going on with their contemporaries in the region: Sam’s guitar line in “Quadro Booty,” for example, would go great in a song by Upland heartthrobs Abe Vigoda.
But that’s not to say that they sound like anyone else. They don’t. That’s why it’s such a drag that they’re leaving us.
Normally obituaries tell the “cause of death,” but I’m not close enough to the situation to know anything about that. I am glad to report, however, that there is surviving kin. Every one of these major dudes is part of at least one other musical project, and each of them is worth investigating.
Above photo from Gil’s Myspace, taken by Wild Don Lewis.
Filed under: Features, abe vigoda, american gil, arnold schoenberg, big whup industries, captain beefheart, clarence clemons, farmer boys, frank zappa, golden boots, inland empire, john thill, kathleen hanna, no paws (no lions), pharell, rancho cucamonga, riverside, snoop dogg, taco bell, the major dudes, voice on tape