Commerce City or Bust

The exuberant rock of the Commerce City Rollers.

Maranda Gaylord, the grande dame of the Commerce City Rollers, has never wanted for moxie. Barely one year after she first strapped on a bass, she tried out for Denver's '57 Lesbian in the hopes of filling the slot vacated by Spell's Chanin Floyd. Her audition, she admits frankly, was disastrous, but bandleader Matt Bischoff decided the fiery performer was worth a risk and provided her with a tape of the act's songs. She learned them all within two days--a good thing, since '57 Lesbian soon won the opportunity to open for a national act, the Meat Puppets, before an audience that numbered in the hundreds. Gaylord--at the time a stage virgin--remembers, "Right before we went on, I said, 'Hey Matt, you know that feeling when you first start smoking--how you get that dizzy feeling, like you're about to fall down?'"

Suffice it to say that Gaylord remained upright long enough to rock the house. And while she's taken plenty of knocks since then--for, among other things, the unapologetic, carnal fury of her live persona--she's still standing.

The genesis of her current group can be traced to a period two years after Gaylord's initial gig. Today she gushes gratefully about her membership in '57 Lesbian: "Playing with Matt was the most fundamental part of my education. I couldn't say I was a beginner at all after playing with the guy who was the bass player for the Fluid." But she returned early from the band's last tour with the conviction that she needed to start a project of her own--one "where I was working with people in more of a collective sense." Her prototype was initially dubbed Jonny Rocket, a handle that was changed after members discovered that it also served as the moniker for a nationally known chain of hamburger stands. Several lineup changes later, the rechristened Rollers solidified around drummer Madison (a defector from Fox Force Five) and guitarist Jeffrey Allen. "It was really hard to find somebody to play guitar, because Madison and I were so connected musically," Gaylord says. "We have a strict regimen about how we practice and how the band functions and what its purpose is. Not like, 'Oh, we're so serious,' but we definitely have some strict guidelines. We're the band Nazis. Not Nazis, but band Nazis--not to be confused."

Discipline and thoughtfulness inform the group's music, even though the whiskey-saturated bacchanals that are the outfit's live shows seem to belie such characteristics. These qualities are appreciated by Allen, who frequently found the lack of structure in his previous group, Ruby Hue, to be frustrating. "I used to argue with the other guitar player in the band all the time," he notes. "Say a song was in the key of A and we were doing this progression, and then he'd want to start off a chorus in A. And I'd say, 'You can't do a chorus in the same key. What the hell is that?'" During his maiden collaborations with Gaylord, however, he says, "I loved the way Maranda wrote the songs, and I liked the way I was playing. I'd never really played guitar that way before; I'd never looked at music from a bass line before." Since then, Allen has found the challenge of wrapping his leads around Gaylord's runs--which alternately hammer in the tradition of punk fusillades or hump along like a sultry camel--to be much more satisfying. "It's like, okay, here's a song that's two notes. So now I'm totally open; I can do almost anything within this structure. It's bare bones, stripped down."

"Some of the best songs in history are two notes," Gaylord contends. "Parliament, whatever...It's a matter of, the music rocks or it doesn't. That's the bottom line. There's a lot of integrity in being stripped down."

Madison, too, finds that the seeming limitations of his position stir his creativity. "What I appreciate about Jeff is that there are a lot of players that don't want to come in and try to play somebody else's music and take it as a challenge to come up with the correct part that will please not only themselves but everyone else in the band. That's what I want to do. I've always wanted that to be my role." His drumming history spans extremes; he's played everything from Top 40 to sexploitation punk. As a Commerce City Roller, he pulls out his tricks with discretion, and to great effect. "I used to play a lot of jazz-fusion sessions and had a huge kit--seven or eight cymbals. Now I just play a four-piece. I just kept subtracting. With this band, I can play quarter notes or I can play as busy as I want to."

Live, Madison cues the subtleties of the music from his perch behind the skins. Somebody's got to: His bandmates are both too busy exercising their rights to fantasy and excess. Allen executes airborne split-kicks and windmills like Pete Townshend, while Gaylord, a cigarette dangling from her lip, squeals paeans to horse lust in an estrous fever that seems perfectly in keeping with her blue-movie name.

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