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"Man!" Nichols says, laughing again. "I can assure you, pal, that was the furthest freakin' thing from our minds back then. We didn't even know how to play our instruments!"
He's highly amused, thinking back on the underground and punk paths that led to the Revue. "We didn't know jack. I was into punk, but I was also into doo-wop and Sinatra. I knew a little, but we had to reinvent everything. We had no idea what'd gone before. It wasn't until about three years later, when we started actually researching, that we started to learn [about the history]."
The band had the usual uphill struggle, starting out as as something Nichols calls a "weird skiffle burlesque" and absorbing other influences while playing gig after gig. The Revue gradually picked up steam, signing to Warner Brothers early last year and appearing in The Mask, playing "Hey, Pachuco!" off of Mugzy's Move.
And the sociology? "When you live in L.A., it's all around you," Nichols says. "I was there for the [Rodney King] riots. I know what goes on."
"Most people hear 'zoot suit' and they think of Cab Calloway," adds trumpeter Scott Sheen, "so it's kind of a history lesson, but we look at it as fun."
"We didn't plan to [arrive] here," explains Dorame, who grew up in Watts and has played the juke joints of East L.A. almost since childhood. "We just grew here." Dorame confesses to not having contemplated the sociology of the band before, but he thinks it's interesting, and he's glad someone's considering such things. In that vein, he suposes that the Revue "...revives the forgotten [and] lets people know where they come from...and that things haven't changed that much."
Neither are things reducible to yes/no certainties, according to Douglas Monroy, a sociology professor at Colorado College whose uncle was a pachuco until he was drafted. "The pachuco is a symbol, and there is no one way of seeing a symbol...The pachuco stood for defiance, both of the dominant culture and of the traditional culture [of his parents]."
Monroy isn't too focused on color issues. When asked if he's Chicano, he replies, "Yeah, like that makes me an expert?" in an unmistakably tired tone. He finds the line between affirmation and affectation as ill-defined as anyone, finally employing an oxymoron in an attempt to express the ineffability of such distinctions: "It's like a very fine line that is also very fuzzy. It's tricky. A band like Los Lobos have the heritage to back up their act; someone else doing exactly the same thing might not be able to pull it off." In the end Monroy finds the pachuco a vessel; anyone can use him. "It's like the [early] Beatles and Rolling Stones co-opting working-class [music and attitude]; the defiance of the pachuco is the defiance of rock 'n' roll."
Dr. Keyes doesn't feel like the audience or the act should worry overmuch about such issues. Legitimacy is like pornography: You know it when you see (or hear) it. "Individual artists' validity is determined by the community," she says. "If you're of it, welcomed and appreciated by it, [you're] valid. The problem comes when commercial success becomes the only validator."
Although commercial success is a validator that the Royal Crown Revue would love to land on the happy side of, Nichols does not define the band so narrowly. "We're painting a picture we started years ago, and we work hard--over 200 gigs a year. We're entertainers," he maintains, "and we believe in what we do: Draw 'em in, make 'em smile, and make 'em forget."
The Royal Crown Revue plays the Velvet E. July 6.
Doosu fans, take heed: The band's Friday appearance at Trees--as part of a multi-act lineup that includes Caulk and UFOFU--will be its last for approximately two months. "It's KISS vs. Doosu," jokes Casey Hess, who founded Doosu with Eric Shutt in 1992. Hess is going into Presbyterian Hospital July 8 for surgery to correct a leaky heart valve that was discovered in the sixth grade. "They're going to repair or replace it," Hess explains. "If they replace it, they'll put a titanium-and-carbon valve in." Although he confesses to a certain amount of apprehension, Hess--who is planning on getting a lot of writing done during his six-to-eight-week recovery period--is looking forward: "If I get the valve, I'd actually tick," he reports wonderingly. "I'd have the beat, and I'd tick, too."
Lockjaw headlines KEGL-FM 97.1's band-a-rama the night of July 4 on the Green Room roof; showtime is 10 p.m. and the show is free...Brave Combo has a new drummer, Greg Beck; catch the new lineup at Club Dada July 5.
Street Beat welcomes whatever via email at Matt_Weitz@dallasobserver.com.