For a brief pocket of time between 1989 and 1995, our local music scene was undergoing a creative renaissance that was soon to be felt globally. It saw not only the genesis of what was to become the global supergroup Korn, but also an amazing incandescent eclecticism in its style and substance.
This was the pre-internet era of record stores like Andy Noise, Midnight Records, World Records and Sage Music Mart, who served as arbiters of aloof cool. Good music was spread by word of mouth and finding a rare import was akin to striking gold.
Bands were still gaining legitimacy. Punk bands like Primer Grey and Burning Image were active but it wasn’t until the primal, gothic fury of Cradle of Thorns, the bohemian funk of Spike 1000, and the lovely echoed drive of The Lonely that spawned dozens of bands. Music wasn’t just for cover and country bands; it was the punk rock ethos come alive under the banner of vibrant creativity and general unity.
Live music was everywhere. Whether at John Bryans, Suds, Jerry’s Pizza (eventually), Al Polowski’s, Mannequin’s or the Moonlight Lounge. But, ground zero for that era was definitely Bam Bam’s located downtown on 20th and M streets. The venue, owned by John Bentley, was the intersection where music styles converged like a primal scream. A dark, reverberating echo of pure energy and emotion that’s still felt to this day.
This summer, we lost two musicians who were a part of that time. Darrian Huntsberry, bassist for the proto-punk/funk band 2LAZY2STEAL, passed away on Aug. 2 from congestive heart failure at age 47. Jordan Herbst, drummer for the adventurous retro rock quartet Lily Cigar, passed away on July 26, four days before his 48th birthday, of health complications.
I knew both of them personally during my time playing drums for Paperhouse and then later with Mento Buru. Huntsberry was an energetic ball of fire. In my memory, it always seemed like his bass guitar was in constant danger of dwarfing him (in actuality, we’re both the same frame), but he dominated that instrument and the stage with finesse and power.
Herbst was unquestionably one of the most creative musicians I have ever met. As a drummer, he had an effortless technical facility, which led to him playing timpani and percussion for orchestral gigs. A far cry from the dingy stages he played with Lily Cigar, but he used the same classical aesthetic mixed with an unparalleled musical imagination to come up with some genuinely inventive drum patterns.
Dave Gillette, bass player in Lily Cigar, knew Hunstberry as well.
“He was my favorite Bakersfield bass player,” Gillette said. “Super hungry to master the instrument, but really mellow and loving.”
Huntsberry's 2LAZY2STEAL bandmate Johnny Mendez had been friends with him since elementary school.
“We used to play at Darrian’s house and we would play with one amp while Andy (Zepeda) played drums,” Mendez said. “It evolved into something that clicked together … Jamming with Darrian was a great thing.”
“We had a good time together. I miss him. He’s going to be missed. He already is.”
Huntsberry’s formative years were spent playing music with his younger brother, Bobby.
“Me and Darrian were jamming since we were babies,” Huntsberry said. “We grew up doing music together: I was the drummer, he was the bass.”
“That was my brother. I loved him to death. There’s a piece of me that's just empty right now, you know? It’s hard to survive when they take your heart.”
Before his passing, Huntsberry was able to reunite with his bandmates one last time at their reunion show at Jerry’s Pizza in April. Huntsberry worried that his ongoing health problems would keep him from participating but he prevailed. What can I say? The guy was made of fire and funk.
“I was happy that he was able to show up and play a few songs,” Mendez said. “We knew he was having a hard time with the medical stuff that was going on.”
In their last visit, Huntsberry said his brother had words of affection and inspiration.
“He called me a star, and I said, 'Everything in life ain’t always what it seems. I got a Porsche and I’m driving (it), but it ain’t all that.' And he said, ‘No. You don’t understand, Bobby. You’re a star.’ So, being that’s (sic) his last words, I gotta hold him up and shine for him.”
Huntsberry’s family is in the process of putting together a memorial for him but nothing has been finalized. Friends are suggested to monitor Facebook and social media for any upcoming gathering.
For Herbst, there are currently no plans for a service. But his memory lives on in his fellow musicians.
Gillette and Herbst clocked a lot of time at gigs and practices but their history begins at Bakersfield College, where Herbst was part of the jazz program. They started playing music together in 1987 in the band Oregon — coincidental, since they both ended up moving to Portland a few years later — while Herbst was working with the Bakersfield Civic Light Orchestra on productions of “Hair,” “Godspell” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
“He could tune an 88-key piano by ear, and he was a drummer,” Gillette said. “He had this lovely way of playing the tambourine, where he would vibrate his thumb up it — a classical style — (we) could never figure it out.”
“He was famous for always carrying an Anvil case with him — black with chrome hardware.”
In 1989, they joined with guitarist Brent Sims and singer Jeremiah Lauria to form Lily Cigar, which was a mixture of Hendrix-style exploration and Led Zeppelin bombast.
Gillette recalled when someone suggested the band do a cover of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ that Jordan said, "The definitive version of that song has been done."
"I have never forgotten that,” said Gillette.
The bass player also remembers a light moment when Jordan was asked if he could play without glasses, to which he said “sure.”
"We start the song and it’s a train wreck. Afterward, we’re staring at him (and he said with a straight face), ‘I didn't say I could play well without my glasses.'"
Herbst actively sought out new music, sounds and perspectives, and both directly translated into the music he played and created.
“He had a crazy, loud laugh, and an inquisitive nature,” Gillette said. “He was my introduction to Buddhism, the love of the Spirit and the idea that there was magic in music.”
“Jordan loved cheap, all night coffee and could be found at Cindy's or the Scotsman drinking coffee until all hours. He loved everything from classical music to swing, be-bop, classic rock to Christmas music.”
“He would check out records from the library. One night we sat in the dark and listened to a record recorded by anthropologists in Africa — ancient tribal songs. They all sounded like the blues in a different language; Jordan taught me that.”
Agent Orange with special guest True Rivals and Dreadful Selfish Crime, 6 p.m. Thursday at Temblor Brewing Co., 3200 Buck Owens Blvd #B. $20; 18-and-over show; tickets at eventbrite.com
Speaking of 1980/'90s punk rock, SoCal surf punk pioneers Agent Orange will be performing tonight at Temblor Brewing Company. Wait, what? A punk show at Temblor Brewery? How will the show translate in that cavernous venue? Quite well, I’ll predict. The audience will tend to skew older, but they still know how to have a good time as the crowd at the Face to Face concert proved.
I have to say, though, that this is a perfect opportunity for cross-promotion. A “Bloodstains Blonde Ale” or an “Agent Orange Belgian-style Wheat.” I mean, in between the energy provided by the veteran punk band onstage and the brew provided by the brewery itself, the ingredients are all there for a grown-up good time. The place is big, but so was the aforementioned Bam Bam’s. It’s just more room to make memories in.