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Raising Hell at Hillel: An Evening with the El Guapos

by Deuce of Clubs

(First published in Planet Magazine, 09may1995)

 

Rabbi Hillel was the preeminent Jewish religious teacher of the Second Temple period. Known for his generous and kindhearted nature, he formulated the seven rules of Biblical hermeneutics and dominated Jewish thought for centuries after his death almost two thousand years ago.

Not that you weren't burning to know all that, but what you probably really want to know is what Hillel the Elder could possibly have to do with rock and roll. That's what I was wondering, too, as I walked into Hillel Jewish Student Center last Saturday night to hear a band I'd never heard of, at the instigation of someone I'd never met.

What happened was this: one night a couple of weeks ago, walking in my door with a massive At the Grave of Wagner (trust me, you wouldn't want to know) wall hanging I scored from Tower Records, the phone rang and a female voice said, "Oh, sorry—I've got the wrong number." "How do you know I'm a wrong number?" I protested (I hate rejection). "Because I'm trying to call my answering machine," she said. "Well"—had to think quickly—"how do you know I'm not...burglarizing your home?" She had to admit I had a point, and I might've managed to convince her of it, too, if the Wagner blaring in the background hadn't given me away. (Hard to comprehend, but the woman has no Wagner in her home.) Even so, we got to talking (she was at an incredibly loud party and ducked into a closet with the phone)—her name was Audra and she preferred Puccini, but there was this show coming up.... And that's how, about a week later, I found myself watching The El Guapos "raising Hell at Hillel," as they put it.

As The El Guapos ran through old gems such as Devo's "Uncontrollable Urge" and the Beat's version of "Tears of a Clown" I flashed back to the days of local legend Johnny D's unjustly ill-fated AM station K-15. ("Off the Wall & On the Air"- -anybody remember?) "Off the wall" certainly describes The El Guapos, who would have fit right into K-15's format. Suddenly the realization hit me: live music—where the Baptists are really missing the boat.

Guapo, by the way, means handsome, ostentatious, or showy. And if you're wondering, yes, they're aware that The El Guapos is redundant (and that it should be Los Guapos, anyway). But who cares? The The is a redundant band name, and who complains about that? Besides, Spanish redundancies are almost traditional in Arizona—how many times have you heard a gringo say "Rio Salado River"?

So what can one expect from a Guapo show? Just about anything, apparently. The songs ranged from Devo tunes to "Freebird" (next time you forget the words, guys, try taking it into "Ziggy Stardust"). There were requests (an unrehearsed "Start Me Up" that easily could have—and probably should have— turned into "Love Removal Machine," concluding with the desperate announcement, "THE REQUEST LINE IS CLOSED!"), Socratic philosophy ("all I know is that I don't know"), singalongs (if you told me I'd witness a "Hey Jude" singalong during my lifetime I'd have bet against it...and I'd have bet big money it wouldn't have been at Hillel—guess that's what I get for growing up Baptist), and Las Vegas excess (The Big Pinata Finish, followed by a two- step version of "Viva Las Vegas" that Tortelvis himself would be proud of). The El Guapos share the sloppy enthusiasm of bands like Tacoma's Girl Trouble and New York's A-Bones. I was even reminded once or twice of the greatest cover band of all time, Detroit's amazing King Uszniewicz and His Uszniewicztones. (I really do mean that as a compliment, no kidding.)

The El Guapo concept germinated about ten years ago. Bassist Ronny Twirl and "Czar of the Guitar" Jonny Riff have known each other since the fifth grade. In fact, the lone original the band performed at Hillel was a Twirl composition about butterflies, which he wrote in the fourth grade. "I started with a bunch of guys who didn't know how to play any instruments, and they wanted to play punk mariachi," he says.

Things eventually jelled with the addition of vocalist MC Rick Lint, "a vagrant from the streets of Tempe," according to the band. Carried onstage in a chair, like some rock & roll sultan, decked out in checkered Vans, red pants, and a loud dinner jacket, he's a long way from the grimy street life. (After the show his outfit was augmented by a pair of women's underwear, which he wore around his neck like a lei. "I have a vast collection and this is just a great addition.")

Lint's stage attire does include one reminder of his days of rum luck: a purple Gilligan hat. (So I've mentioned Gilligan in two straight articles. Call it an LL-Cool-J hat if it makes you happy.) Lint claims to have used the hat to panhandle on "Mill Row," as he refers to it. "The hat is quite deep," he says. One day, spotting Lint, Twirl said, "You're a Guapo, aren't you?" "His hair was longer at the time," Twirl remembers. "It was more Kramer-esque. I could not resist." Lint immediately joined The El Guapos. "He took me in. I do dishes and stuff, to hold my own. But at least I've got a roof over my head now." Riff recalls: "It brought a tear to my eye when Ronny first told me about it. Rick said he'd never have to eat another can of soup out of that hat." "What's ironic," Lint adds, "is that Lipton and Campbell's right now are fighting over sponsorship of the tour, and I just find that crazy, because I could barely get soup, and now they're gonna shower me in it."

Drummer Stikk Trixx seems to be the only quiet Guapo, but Lint says, "You should see him behind closed doors." According to Twirl, "They don't call him Stikk Trixx because he's a drummer." Trixx's liking for green Jelly Bellies offers unique promotional possibilities. "Things go straight over to Gil (Lamar, semiofficial band promoter) for all the sponsorship," Lint says. "M&M was up in arms: why are we not picking them, why did Jelly Bellies get the role, why are Campbell's and Lipton even in the running?" So Lamar came up with a compromise: "I was thinking the next logical step would be to have Campbell's come out with jelly bean soup." "Gil always puts it on a different plane," Trixx explains. "One time I wanted to set my drums on fire, and he goes, `No, dude—set yourself on fire!'" You gotta watch that next logical step.

The Guapos realize that the next logical step for them should be original material, but they seem a little unsure how to proceed.

Twirl: "Tonight it was all covers, except for that butterfly song. We do have about two or three sets of original music—we just don't know the songs."

Riff: "They're out there somewhere. We just need a little time to find 'em."

Lint: "The schedule we're doing right now is mad and it's nutty. Sometimes we just want to get a guru."

Riff: "We were talking about India for a while."

Twirl: "No, I think that was about going to the Indian reservation to play video blackjack."

Is there a Guapo Credo? "Quality Music at Affordable Prices," Twirl answers instantly. There's also a Guapo Handshake, but only those who ply the band with underwear get to see it. Says Riff, "A lot of bands delve into illegal substances, but we get our energy from the Handshake." "And from Rick beatin' us up before we go on," Twirl adds. Lint explains: "That's only because if a gig doesn't go well, get ready for the streets. I've been there. I got a deep hat for ya."

© Deuce of Clubs


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