In a year that will be remembered for loss, there were two that hit very close to me: bassist Mike Thomas-Money and trombonist Armando Joe Vazquez. I played a few times with Thomas-Money with his band Hayesfield, and performed with Vazquez in Mento Buru for almost 25 years. The latter was as close to me as family, and the loss of both of them still reverberates deeply in our small music contingent.

On Dec. 13, we also lost local musician Rory Todd Thompson, who served as frontman for funk country act Big Jed and the Flat Beds and proto-psychobilly act The Mutilators. He was 53.

Marc DeLeon, musician and owner of Mad Dog Tattoo, was friends with Thompson for many years.

DeLeon said he first saw Thompson play in 1984, when Primer Grey opened for Slayer at the original Bakersfield Inn on Union. During the soundcheck, he saw the singer in full force.

“He got on top of Slayer’s Marshall full stacks and he was singing Rainbow’s 'I’m the Man on the Silver Mountain,’ but he was yelling, ‘I’m the man on the Marshall mountains!’”

“It was all punk rock and I was, like, ‘Now, that’s cool!’ Because I wouldn’t have guessed that he knew that (song). I was the only one that got what he was doing, and I was laughing.’”

DeLeon and Thompson would take the Greyhound down to Hollywood and spend time looking for used gear via Recycler magazine and eating leftover hoagie dogs left on restaurant tables. Thompson — aka Todd, Big Jed, or under his smooth jazz DJ name, Rory Todd (seriously) — also taught DeLeon how to play the guitar, sometimes during his DJ shifts.

“Me and him would be on speaker phone all night and he’d be able to play guitar and I’d play bass along with him. I would still be counting frets as numbers, but he showed me scales and the chords.”

“There are Rush fans and there are Ramones fans. He wanted to have The Ramones fans, but he had the music intellect of Rush you know? He had the ability to do all these four and five part harmonies and innovate gospel into heavy metal into funk country.”

“He wanted to be a cross between (The Minutemen’s) D. Boon and Ted Nugent.”

Thompson also introduced DeLeon to the music of The Mentors, with whom DeLeon would later drum and sing.

When Thompson moved back to town last year, he asked DeLeon to teach him how to tattoo.

“And I felt at this day and age where I don’t like to teach anybody something like that, that I had to teach him that because he taught me so much. He was really my mentor — with no reference to the band I was in. I was really honored that he asked me that.”

In a sort of cosmic symmetry, 2016 started with the passing of an iconic British singer and a local one, David Bowie and Red Simpson, only to end the same way with the passing of George Michael and Thompson. And also like Simpson, Thompson sometimes found more recognition outside of Bakersfield than in it.

DeLeon said while playing shows with the Mentors, he found even the biggest psychobilly bands treated The Mutilators like “elusive psychobilly royalty.”

“When (Thompson) was in Bakersfield, he was musicians’ favorite musician. When he left Bakersfield, he was even bigger musicians’ favorite musician.”

As of press time, there were no official plans for a memorial service, but those wanting to attend one can call Mad Dog Tattoo at 322-8282 for information.

A look at the music scene in 2016

Our local music scene is one of peaks and valleys. For a time, it will bustle with activity and expression, only to plateau and lay dormant until its next creative spike. Like the previous year, 2016 has been one of those plateaus.

Sandrini’s remains Bakersfield’s most consistent live music venue and O’Hennings in north Bakersfield has been hosting quality blues, rock and country acts on weekends. Pyrenees stepped up its game with two stages for live music.

The Crystal Palace and B Ryders held strong, and Syndicate Lounge’s Thursday open mic has slowly attracted poets, rappers, comedians and musicians. The Bellvedere, Riley’s Tavern, The Old River Monte Carlo, The Mark, Lone Oak, and Ethel’s Old Corral all provide live music on weekends as well. Even newer venue 1933 occasionally offers music on Sundays.

But my long-standing hope for venues to become more tech-savvy still remains to be realized. And when looking at dwindling or syphoned patronage, venues need to use every tool at their disposal to help stay afloat.

With more bars opening up (Nuvo Club and Lounge, Silver Fox Starlite Lounge, Tiki-Ko, 1933, etc.), something’s got to give. A diminishing amount of paying customers being spread out around town to keep businesses afloat will only amount to fewer options.

These days, audiences tend to be fickle, especially with dwindling finances, and for a town that has changed the face of popular music twice — Buck Owens and Korn — seeing people’s indifference for live music is unacceptable. It’s the equivalent of going to the French Quarter in New Orleans only to hear, “Jazz? That’s old people music.”

We know what good music is.

And despite being in a musical plateau, there were some highlights this year, including outstanding local releases like Lonely Avenue’s gorgeous self-titled release.

Others include Mopey Lonesome’s joyously lamentful “155,” If It Kills You’s debut vinyl EP, The Byrom Brothers’ groovy, bluesy “The Age of Music” and Dreadful Selfish Crime’s underrated self-titled album, which manages to evoke your favorite punk bands and country acts simultaneously.

This bounty of outstanding local releases shows that the groundwork laid over the last few years will see fruition in the years to come. Not just on stages, but in living rooms, backyards and in tour vans. Exactly like live music should be experienced: with vitality and immediacy.

Our local comedy scene has also been laying its own foundations. The Third annual Oil City Comedy Rumble at Temblor was a blast (I’ve helped judge the last two years) and congratulations to winner Daniel Betts. Temblor has also been consistently bringing top-shelf comic acts like Jim Breuer, Carlos Mencia, Tim Meadows, Al Madrigal and others with no sign of slowing down.

While, there wasn’t one huge rallying event like the Alley Fest a few years ago, we did have the Bakersfield Rocks The Fox concert, featuring mostly all-local bands that jump-started momentum for two of them: Ill Tiempo and Art and the Resistance. The Fox also hosted two of my favorite shows this year: Gabriel Iglesias and The Brian Setzer Orchestra.

Here are some other highlights:

Mopey Lonesome’s “155” CD release at Sandrini’s

Along with If It Kills You’s Vinyl EP release, and Bar Room Riot’s CD release, Mopey’s event was equal parts unveiling, capitalistic venture and gathering of the tribe. Performing on a rose-petal strewn stage — with some gold ones mixed in for good measure — Mopey Lonesome, aka Evan Ross, unleashed his Buddy Holly meets Hank Williams persona with music that tread the line between ethereally morose and playful.

Reggae For A Cause at B Ryders

The first in what will hopefully be the many reggae benefit shows to come. The boys in Irie Essence put together a benefit show at B Ryders to help 8-year-old Gabriel Lopez who suffers from the rare muscle disease. Lopez attended the show along with his family, enjoying music from Steady Vibe, 7th Standard and rapper Riddy K.

It is events like these that remind us that our town might be small, but when it comes to helping, our collective heart can be very big, indeed.

Blessed and Matze Rossi at Sandrini’s, Rosedale at Pyrenees

Canada’s Blessed is a combination of Death Cab For Cutie, Interpol and King Crimson, and the few of those in attendance at their show at Sandrini’s were knocked out by the band’s musical proficiency, dynamics and song craft. Six days later fellow countryman Mike Liorti, who goes by the moniker Rosedale, played a one-man show at Pyrenees.

Liorti had an ingenious stage show where he performed on guitar and keyboard to pre-recorded music while footage of him recording those parts were projected on a screen behind him — essentially making himself into his own backing band. Again, there wasn’t a lot of people there, but those that were there were treated to a unique spectacle.

Matze Rossi is a German singer/songwriter who was on tour for the first time in the U.S. to fulfill a promise he made to his best friend, Wauz, before his passing. 

His show at Sandrini’s was especially poignant to those in attendance since the aforementioned Mike Thomas-Mooney had died the night before in a car accident on Sept. 10. Rossi’s stirring performance, including his powerful original tribute, “Best Friends,” created one of those rare moments of transcendence, solace and community; a sense of emotional resonance unique to live music.

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