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Clyne travels the musical borderlands

Stewart Oksenhorn
Arizona rock band Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers perform Saturday at the Belly Up. (Chadwick D. Fowler )
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When Roger Clyne hit high school age, he decided to rid himself of the country music – Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Sons of the Pioneers – that was his father’s favorite on the family stereo. Clyne also cast off anything that reminded him of the music. “In high school, I swore I’d never listen to country again, never put on cowboy boots again,” said Clyne, who leaned instead toward punk rock in those years.The Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona, where Clyne grew up, had an indigenous culture of its own. Clyne recalls crossing the border to work on ranches in Mexico, and having Mexicans come to his family’s ranch to help move cattle and put up fences. It was a way of life with its own landscape, language and music, as much Mexican as American. “The border of Arizona and Mexico, when I was growing up, was almost a fictitious line. It divided nations, but not a culture.”Still, most people cared for that culture about as much as Clyne cared for his father’s country music.

“When I was a kid, Phoenix was a little embarrassing, Podunk city on the interstate, that everybody wanted to get through,” said Clyne.Over the decades, Clyne, who has spent, more of less, all of his 38 years as a resident of Arizona, has seen his surroundings change drastically. “Now, we have great modern, urban problems, like gridlock and pollution,” he said, by phone. “But we’re a boomtown whose economy has outstripped our culture.”Clyne has been aiming to give culture – especially, but not limited to music – something closer to an equal footing with development and economy in the Arizona desert. In high school, he had picked up guitar, hoping to attract the girls and eventually playing in bands that covered Aerosmith and the Ramones in all-ages clubs in Tempe. At Arizona State University, where he studied anthropology and psychology, Clyne began to re-examine, and ultimately broaden, his musical tastes.”I began to appreciate not so much the genre, but the authenticity that comes through in any source, any genre,” he said. “Now, like a lot of people my age, I appreciate lots of different styles. There was a time I identified myself with a genre – in high school, it was punk, and anything that wasn’t punk, I wouldn’t listen to it.”

In his college band, the Mortals, began mixing Clyne’s original tunes in with covers of the Clash and the Violent Femmes. The Mortals morphed into the Refreshments, which released its debut album, “Wheelie,” in 1994. The band had a moderate hit with 1995’s “Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy,” and gained some notoriety for the off-kilter, country instrumental theme for the cartoon “King of the Hill,” composed by Clyne. Changes at their record label led to disbanding, but Clyne and drummer P.H. Naffah soon reformed as Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers.On “Americano!” the Peacemakers’ most recent full-length album, from 2004, one hears a strong influence of classic rock. There are easy comparisons to John Mellencamp, whom Clyne claims as a major influence, and Jackson Browne.But there is also a big sense of Sonora. “Mexican Moonshine” is spiced with Mariachi-style horns and South of the Border lingo. Song titles include “Loco to Stay Sane” and the gringo-themed “Counterclockwise”; the sounds of accordion and Mexican rhythms are abundant.

Clyne also produces a line of tequila – also called Mexican Moonshine – and a biannual music festival, Circus Mexicus, in Rocky Point, Mexico.”I hope our music can be a culture creator, a community builder,” said Clyne, who leads the Peacemakers to a show tomorrow, April 22, at the Belly Up. “I see merit and metaphor in the people I know, from the guy falling off his barstool in Sonora, to the developer I know in Phoenix.””It’s the Mariachi horns and reggae and I’m sure Jimmy Buffett is in there as well. It’s one big mess, and I love it.”Doors for Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers open at 8 p.m. and showtime is 10 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 the day of the show.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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