Wednesday, April 6, 2016

THE RAYBRAZEN.COM STORY, PART ONE


It all began in Ensenada, Mexico on July 25, 1988. That was the day I first discovered the band that would ultimately lead me to the humble beginnings of one of my greatest projects... and greatest adventures.

I was on a weeklong safari in southern California with my parents, and had successfully begged them to take me to Mexico while we were there. Rather than risk driving, we opted to take a tour bus. It was driven by a wonderful Mexican guide named Val (pictured below with yours truly during a quick pit stop in Rosarito), who was almost as entertaining as the country itself. But I didn't want to just fritter around Tijuana for a couple hours and leave quicker than I'd arrived -- I wanted to dig a little deeper than that. And so we rode that bus all the way to Ensenada, down Route One along the Baja Peninsula, where I saw the biggest, most ferocious ocean waves I've ever seen to this day. Ultimately we arrived at our destination and a big shopping strip populated by roadside taco carts (which I was admittedly too wary of to try, much though they were very tempting), sad-eyed poor kids selling penny candy, and lots of stores.


Of course, I went right for the record shops, finding them practically by instinct. I already had a basic knowledge of the local rock music through bootlegs like "Mexican Rock & Roll Rumble," and was hoping to find some records by one band in particular, Los Locos Del Ritmo. There were none to be found in that strip in Ensenada, but in one particularly dusty bin I found another very mysterious album whose cover immediately took me by surprise. The front depicted three guys dressed in cool jumpsuits that were true '70s rock period pieces, playing amidst a haze of dry ice. They looked almost like Mexico's answer to Black Sabbath. The name of the album was emblazoned in big silver letters: "EL LOCO." When I flipped it over I immediately noticed that most of the song titles were in English. Two names in particular stood right out: "Stupid People" and "We Always Hate Your Manners."

That was it. I'd seen all I needed to see. It was obvious this album stood a pretty darn good chance of turning out to be some seriously heavy duty music. I paid six American dollars at the counter for it, and in a flash, my quest for Los Locos Del Ritmo was quickly forgotten. From that day forward, Mexican rock would be all about Los Dug Dug's for me.

There would be four agonizing days of obsessive speculation about what they might sound like before I would finally get to hear them. But on the night we returned home to New Jersey, no sooner had we brought in our suitcases than I pulled "El Loco" out of mine and went straight to my turntable. Side one, track one was"Stupid People." And yes, the song rocked, all right... but in a way I didn't see coming for a second. It was a very strange mix of hard rock and mariachi music! There was even a break in the middle of the song which featured the world famous Mariachi Vargas just wailing their butts off for 30 seconds! It was a weird sound to my gringo ears indeed. But you know what? It totally worked! Beyond the mix of local and international influences was a great song with beautiful playing. And again, it rocked. As did "We Always Hate Your Manners" and some of the other songs as well, which were considerably less mariachi and more straightforward hard rock. And the title track was a quirky instrumental prog-rock parody! The album also had a couple of slow ballads that I didn't care much for at first, but would come to appreciate over time. All in all, I couldn't have asked for a better record to bring back from Ensenada.


My interest in Los Dug Dug's might not have gone much further from there if not for a chance second brush with fate about a month later. I was browsing around in a used record store on St. Mark's Place called Sounds when suddenly I came across... another album by Los Dug Dug's! I mean, really now, what were the chances? It was proof they'd made more than one record for sure, appearing to be a "greatest hits" collection of sorts. There were several photos of the band that showed them in various stages of their career, and they added to the intrigue already created by the "El Loco" cover. And it was in the one dollar bin of all glorious places. Sold!

Upon bringing this second album home I immediately jumped to "Stupid People" simply because I was quick to notice it appeared to be a shorter version and was curious about it for some reason. I waited for the mariachi rock explosion to follow... only to be greeted by a totally different, balls-out garage-rock version that stood the "El Loco" version on its side! Then, going back to the beginning, I was greeted by the experimental strains of the intro to "Lost In My World," which then became a strange psychedelic waltz like no other I've heard before or since.

That did it once and for all. I was now officially obsessed with Los Dug Dug's and there was no turning back. I couldn't stop playing either album for trying. These were two of the most uniquely brilliant records I'd found in a long time, and to think I'd discovered them in Mexico. The only clue I could gather about them was that they were led by a man named Armando Nava, whose credits as writer and producer of both records were the only information given on either one. Whoever he was, Senor Nava was now offficially my new rock idol. Both albums had just as mysteriously been released only in Mexico on the RCA Camden (!) label, and I was very determined to find out more about Los Dug Dug's.

But remember, folks, we didn't have this here thing we call the internet in 1988. Back then, if you wanted to know more, you actually had to get out there in the real world and dig for it. I had but two options at that time: the first was to send a letter to RCA Mexico at the address on the album covers and hope that someone there spoke English. They never replied. The second was to alert two close friends I knew were going to Mexico at around the same time to be on the lookout for any and all things Dug Dug's while there. One of them did report back that they'd seen a poster for a DD's concert in Mexico City. Ah! At least I now knew they still existed in some form... if not much else about them.


It was during the early stages of this obsession that I purchased a copy of a fanzine called Kicks, published by the husband and wife team of Billy Miller and Miriam Linna who also run the great Norton label. I saw both of 'em around town a lot in those days, and while I never really became friends with them, I do recall them as very nice folks. And this strange zine they wrote was also to have a profound effect on me around this time. It had the Trashmen on the cover and a massive cover story and interview with all of their surviving members. It also introduced me to all these obscure artists they'd all discovered completely through massive crate digging. Billy and Miriam would find totally unknown '50s and '60s rock 45s, then actually try to track down the folks who made them! Whenever they hit paydirt they'd interview the artist extensively and then publish it in Kicks. I was immediately drawn to the stories of Billy and Miriam's exploits and I absorbed them all like a sponge. To me there seemed nothing cooler than going from some strange garage sale discovery to meeting the men on those old, dusty 45s in person.

It may not have had any articles on Los Dug Dug's in it. But Kicks magazine put the whole situation into perspective for me. It flat-out made me determined to have a similar moment of glory with the mysterious Armando Nava. It would take me almost a full decade to get it right. But ultimately I would. And in the most accidental of ways, too.

It was in 1994 that I heard about the internet for the very first time. I remember exactly how, too: my roommate at the time had a friend of his over and I walked into their conversation just as she was starting to describe it. Even before I ever got on it myself, I could tell by the fact that this friend said she spent hours on the damn thing that this was something with the potential for maximum time-wasting. About a year later, when my mother finally got online, I found that out for myself for sure. It seemed like you could look up just about anything on it. Anything, that is, except Los Dug Dug's.

Ultimately, it would be me who would fix that.