Legendary Tucson bands celebrate city’s desert rock history | Music

In the annals of Tucson desert rock history, Saturday’s “The Whole Enchilada” could rank as the most historic.

On Saturday, April 16, some of Tucson’s most legendary bands from the late 1970s to early 1990s will share the Hotel Congress Plaza stage for the book/album release of “The Whole Enchilada: The History of Desert Rock, Tucson, Arizona, 1978-1994.”

It is the ultimate Tucson desert rock anthology — profiles and photos of 28 Tucson bands from that era and a three-record (yes, vinyl) collection of 31 songs by bands whose music was the soundtrack for people like the book’s creator Rich Hopkins.

“This is the Tucson musical soundtrack of my life, but I also believe the songs presented on these three LPs, and the stories of the bands, are a true testament to all the musicians, producers, engineers, photographers and graphic artists from Tucson who made the music and created the inspiration,” Hopkins wrote in the book’s introduction.

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The book, conceived by Hopkins and edited by Brian J. Smith from Tucson post-punk/new wave band The Pills, profiles 27 Tucson bands from the 1978-94 era whose music epitomized the definition of desert rock — that sense of place that separated bands from Tucson and the Sonoran Desert from their urban Phoenix and Los Angeles counterparts.

“It does sum up a time of what I consider desert rock,” Hopkins said. “You gotta go back to country rock and then the punk bands. It really is a time capsule.”

Many of the profiles in the book were written by the bands themselves, recounting their rises and falls and the scene that played out at long-gone dive bars including The Stumble Inn and Pearl’s Hurricane and clubs like Choo Choo’s and The Pawnbroker.






The metal-tinged, rootsy country rock band Gila Bend featuring Al Perry, James Blackhall, Loren Dircks and Tommy Larkins will perform at the book/album release for “The Whole Enchilada: The History of Desert Rock, Tucson, Arizona, 1978-1994.”




Douglas “Fini” Finical, whose day job is running his Fini’s Landing nautical themed restaurant-bar in the foothills and Oro Valley, curated the black-and-white band photos and designed the book, drawing inspiration from the South Tucson Mexican restaurant El Torero.

Finical’s cover design is the Arizona flag created with blue tortilla chips and enchiladas set on a vinyl record. The back cover that lists the record cuts resembles El Torero’s menu: “Side A” songs are under the heading of “Combinations & Sides” and ‘Side B’ are under “Canciones & Lados” (Songs & Sides). At the bottom: “No Substitutions.” the same language you find on the menu at El Torero, 231 E. 26th St.

The three-record collection includes tracks by Serfers, The Pills, Howe Gelb, Los Lasers, Jonny Sevin, River Roses, Gila Bend, Stefan George, The New Drakes, Chris Boroughs and The Nationals, Ned Sutton, Chuck Wagon and the Wheels, The Freds, Fish Karma, Dusty Chaps, Giant Sandworms, Rainer, The Sidewinders and Brain Damage Orchestra among others. There are 31 songs in all, several of them never released before now including one contributed by Howe Gelb, Hopkins said.

Hopkins, who owns Hurricane Records on North Fourth Avenue, curated the album largely from his own record collection.






Longtime Tucson musician Ned Sutton is featured on the three-record collection.




“These are all bands that I really liked already. I had their records in one form or another in my own collection from the years of listening and buying records,” he said.

Other more obscure recordings came from demo tapes and one from a beat-up quarter-inch reel-to-reel.

All of the artists or their heirs in the case of those who have died agreed to release the songs with all proceeds from the project sales going to benefit the needy and homeless through Casa Maria soup kitchen on East 26th Street.

“No one makes money,” said Hopkins, who financed the project. “Everybody can feel like they contributed something.”






The Pills are one of 27 bands featured in “The Whole Enchilada: The History of Desert Rock, Tucson, Arizona, 1978-1994.”




“It’s incredible. The whole production, I am so impressed,” said Hopkins’s Sidewinders bandmate David Slutes, the Hotel Congress music director. “I called Rich and said I am so proud of it. It’s a real document and I think people are really going to enjoy it. It’s a wonderful little document of Tucson’s music history.”

“The Whole Enchilada” release party will feature performances from members of several of the bands profiled in the book:

Howe Gelb and Giant Sand, which started life as Giant Sandworms with the late Rainer Ptacek

Hopkins’s Sidewinders, with founding frontman Slutes

River Roses, who member Chris Holiman said in the book had arguably the most “consistent and fervent following” courtesy the songwriting/vocal chops of Holiman and Caitlin von Schmidt

Von Schmidt, who put out a single solo album after leaving the band

Comic singer-songwriter Fish Karma (aka Terry Owen), who recorded a dozen albums with song titles that ran from “Rockin’ and Rollin’ with Little Baby Jesus” (“Sunnyslope”) to “Swap Meet Woman” (“To Hell With Love, I’m Going Bowling”)

The legendary Chuck Wagon and the Wheels, who Hopkins said was on top of Tucson’s musical food chain with George Hawke and Dusty Chaps and Ned Sutton, who died last September at 73

Drummer Van Christian’s Naked Prey, which recorded a few albums on small indie labels and had a song, “The Story Never Ends,” featured on the TV show “Miami Vice.” Christian also was a member of the Serfers.

The metal-tinged, rootsy country rock band Gila Bend featuring Al Perry, James Blackhall, Loren Dircks and Tommy Larkins

Billy Sedlmayr, who has deeply planted Tucson music roots that include playing with Giant Sandworms

And the blues and rock jam band Wayback Machine, which technically doesn’t fit into the 1978-94 timeframe — they got together at the tail end of the 1990s — but whose members certainly had ties to that era

“(The concert) reminds me very much of the very first HoCo fest back in 2005,” Slutes said of the lineup, which he helped arrange. “It really resonated with me because of that, all of the music that a lot of the people grew up on here.”






The New Drakes are featured in “The Whole Enchilada: The History of Desert Rock, Tucson, Arizona, 1978-1994.”




HoCo fest at Hotel Congress, which featured local bands alongside national touring acts, was last held in 2019.

Saturday’s all-ages concert begins at 4 p.m. on the Hotel Congress Plaza, 311 E. Congress St. Tickets are $18 in advance through hotelcongress.com; it’s $20 day of show.

Copies of “The Whole Enchilada” will be available for sale ($50) and T-shirts and band posters also will be on sale. The Plaza Eats food truck, which is part of Hotel Congress, will have enchiladas for sale.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at [email protected] On Twitter @Starburch