Old School Crunch

by Mike Corrigan

Memphis band DUST FOR LIFE plays straight-ahead, close-to-the-bone modern hard rock that owes more than transient allegiance to such sludgy early '90s heavyweights as Alice in Chains. The thick, crunchy guitars, the switchback dynamics and singer Chris Gavin's slightly nasal growl all pick up precisely where Layne Staley & amp; Co. left off. Dust for Life completely ignores, even defies, the genre's recent infusion of hip-hop and rap elements to create muscular music that should make end-of-the-century heavy rock disciples weep metallic tears of joy. The band heads up a quadruple bill at the Double Dribble sports bar next Tuesday night with Eli-Stone, 10 Minutes Down and Pocket Change.

Dust for Life first started making a name for itself on the Memphis club scene in 1998. An early taste of local success (a demo received heavy airplay around town) unfortunately proved destabilizing, so founding member and guitarist Jason Hughes sacked the original lineup in favor of a more solid and focused crew. The new, improved and reformulated Dust for Life includes Hughes, Chris Gavin on guitar and vocals, Rick Shelton on drums and vocals, and Dave Rhea on bass.

The band members themselves give some credit to cosmic intervention for bringing the current lineup together. In Gavin, Hughes found not only an adept vocalist and a complimentary second guitar, but also a true kindred spirit. Before joining Dust for Life, Hughes had seen Gavin perform with another Memphis-area band.

Says Hughes of their fortuitous first meeting, "I sensed that behind those songs was a songwriting soul mate."

"I called him the next day," recalls Gavin. "And he immediately said, 'Let's get started on Wednesday.' I said, 'Let's get started right now!' "

The two began writing the material for what would eventually become Dust for Life's self-titled debut album. Undaunted by a lack of label affiliation, the band members set about capturing their new-found synergy on tape, splitting the recording time between Gavin's home and Memphis' famed Ardent studio. Wind-Up Records (distributed by BMG) jumped in and signed the band after hearing some early results.

The combination of recording in both a home and a professional studio enabled Dust for Life to explore the subtler details of song arrangement.

"A lot of the vocals were recorded in my home studio," says Gavin. "It gave me the freedom to try different things that I would have never been able to try otherwise. Time and money just wouldn't have permitted it."

The final fruit of these labors is a dark and brooding yet melodic album that alternates embellishment with restraint. Dust for Life's music, not surprisingly, reflects the members' roots, which extend into rock, jazz, R & amp;B, funk and soul.

"I played in disco and funk bands," reveals Gavin (who once studied classical and jazz guitar). "I learned more from covering Commodores songs than in any other stage of my musical training."

Both Gavin and Hughes, who share songwriting responsibilities on the album, admit their songs share common themes. "There is a common thread," Gavin reveals. "We were all dealing with hardships and failed relationships."

Says Hughes, "I had people who wanted to stamp me into a mold that I was not comfortable with. Songwriting was a way to get out that energy and voice it."

"Songs are like paintings," he adds. They mark a point in your life, and you can go back and see where you're progressing."

THE LONGNECKS are a young local blues-rock trio with fine chops and an easy, unpretentious style. The band specializes in raunchy blues-rock with a little bit o' soul, funk and God knows what else tossed into the sonic Cuisinart. They also recognize the value of humor -- a necessity these days, especially in such an unforgiving environment as the Spokane live music scene. Pure in essence, they are not. Entertaining? Well, check them out for yourself. It's easy to do, as the Longnecks have a steady gig as "the entertainment" each and every Sunday night at the Satellite Diner.

With Pete Johnson playing electric guitar and singing lead, Eric Shears on bass and Dan Johnson (Pete's brother) on drums, this young band rips through their repertoire of originals and cover tunes with a confidence that comes only with experience.

"Before the Satellite, we were playing at a place called One Bridge North," explains Shears. "We played there for a long time to, you know, three or four people. We left eventually and it shut down. Then a friend of ours got us a gig at the Satellite on a weeknight. We played and they asked us if we'd come back every week. We've been there for about a year now.

"Although," he adds, "our name is still on the reader board at One Bridge."

Aside from their weekly Satellite gig, the Longnecks have been spotted at (among other places) Mootsy's, the Blue Note Grill and at last summer's Ritzville Blues Festival.

Says Shears about the Ritzville fest, "That was a fluke actually. (The Longnecks were an 11th-hour replacement act.) But we had a great time. The place was packed, it was hot, people were dancing, there were bikers everywhere. It was a lot of fun. I'm pretty sure we'll be playing there this year, as well."

The Longnecks released an eight-song CD of all-original material last year (enigmatically entitled The Longnecks). The album showcases the band's inter-genre prowess, veering as it does from the straight blues-rock of "Hangover Song" and "Stoner Girl" to "Country Song (Ball & amp; Chain)," a lively country two-step, and "Too Funky," an up-tempo romp reminiscent of the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughn in one of his more funked-up moments. Elsewhere, the 12-bar progression that forms the foundation of "Just Like A Woman" is dressed up with the guitarist's fluid and tasteful leads, Shears' typically fat, sturdy bass line and drummer Dan Johnson's precision high-hat work. The lounge-y, vaguely Latin-flavored instrumental "Sientese Sobre Mi Cara" closes the album.

The band's current burning ambition? Recognition, baby.

"We're having a pretty good time just playing, but I think we'd like to get some more exposure," says Shears. "I mean, the Satellite is fun, but we're usually playing to the same crowd every week. It's nice that they come down to see us every week, but it would be great to get our name out there a little more and have more people see us."