By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
"We were actually sponsored by Budweiser for a year," explains guitarist James Dalton. "Basically, what they did was help us with posters and things like that. They gave us a lot of equipment, too. They gave me a Stratocaster guitar, cymbals, sticks, picks, clothes, and they paid us per gig."
The players (Dalton, vocalist Scott Gibson, drummer Jay Reese and bassist Doug Anderson) liked the sound of that, at least at first. But they quickly discovered that the deal had a downside.
"I didn't really like the part about having to advertise for them," Dalton admits. "We actually had a contract that said we could only drink Budweiser beer. We also had to say certain things on stage, like 'Know when to say when' and 'Don't let your friends drive drunk.'"
"Sometimes they would send the Bud Girls over," Gibson interjects, snickering. "They were always like, 'Let's pose together!' and all that crap. It was lame--a really hokey deal."
"There were many cheesy times," Dalton concedes. "One of the requirements was that we had to play this bright-red Budweiser guitar once every night. I never kept up my part of the deal on that one. Never played it once."
"They used to send out these little Bud spies," Gibson adds. "They would always report on the concert and tell them that the Bud guitar was never played."
Dalton's been playing other guitars for a long, long time. He and Gibson formed the Simpeltones in 1982, when both were students at Loveland High School. Reese came aboard in the late Eighties. Anderson is a more recent addition: "We're like Spinal Tap with bass players," Gibson notes.
By the early Nineties, the band was well-known among Denver scenesters as a purveyor of melodic pop rock. Impressed with the Simpeltones' growing popularity, area promoters paired them with touring national acts such as the Rembrandts, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and the Alarm. Some of these matches worked better than others.
"We opened up for Tool," Gibson remembers with a laugh. "We didn't know who Tool was or what they sounded like. We got up there and bopped around and did our thing, and these guys came out looking pretty evil. It was like George Michael opening up for Metallica."
The group's first CD, 1992's Touch the Sky, underlines the verity of this comment; it was catchy, but producer Steve Kopp, who was behind the board on the Samples' first album, highlighted the Simpeltones' softer side. Fortunately, a new disc--Squiggly, released by the band earlier this year--expands the combo's scope.
"We got a little more aggressive and just changed a bit musically," Gibson says. "Things that we did wrong on the first one we were able to correct on the second one. I think our songwriting got better, too."
Squiggly supports this argument: The recording boasts impressive pop craftsmanship, both instrumentally and vocally. The harmonies and sugary hooks that distinguished Touch the Sky are present on every number here, but Dalton's tougher-than-before guitar playing and the edgy sonic sheen created by producer Ken Koroshetz, who's worked with such groups as Suicidal Tendencies, prevents the tunes from turning into confectionery fluff. The bandmates also unveil a caustic sense of humor on the platter, although they wait until the last cut, "Through the Garden," to do so. On the track, Gibson opts for what he calls a "punk, fairy-ass Lou Reed" spoken-word delivery of hilarious lyrics that indict "VW Jesus van"-driving, "100 percent hemp shoe"-wearing hippies. The result is the funniest, most accurate musical lampoon since Todd Snyder's "Grunge Rock Blues."
With material this good, the Simpeltones may soon find themselves beset with sponsorship offers again. But be warned, corporate suitors: The bandmembers are feeling pretty jaded right now. "After our Budweiser contract ran out, they wanted us to guarantee a hundred gigs. We said forget it," Gibson recalls. "We were sick of being Bud Girls.