By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
Scott Willhite is a man of many moods. He's best known in these parts as the guitarist for Turnsol, an overtly accessible modern-rock aggregation that's built up a sizable local following (the band opens for Zeut at the Bluebird Theater on Saturday, May 24). But he also possesses (or is possessed by) an alter ego called Willy, who's considerably quirkier than the man Turnsol fans have witnessed on stage. He describes his solo cassette, Willy, as a "sloppy mess," and it is. But despite its primitive sonics, the recording (available in area record stores or by writing Lunar Ranch Entertainment, P.O. Box 16871, Denver 80216) is also hugely enjoyable. The category it comes closest to fitting is country, but that tag gives only the barest hint of its idiosyncrasies. Willhite's heavily distorted vocals range from an ominous growl to a light near-yodel, and his songs are just as varied: Among the best are "Boss 302" (a salute to--surprise--Boss 302), the Neil Young-ish "S'now Cowboy," the surprisingly creepy "Don't Kick My Truck" and the gentle "Finished." Polished it ain't, but it resounds with authenticity.
Even Willhite is uncertain how or when his personality first began to split. He grew up in Aurora and started playing drums in middle school. He pounded the skins for the Simpeltones, another Denver act with unabashed commercial leanings, before becoming part of Turnsol in late 1993. The act's original sound was more on the grunge tip, which was only natural given the pedigree of lead singer Fred Gilmore, who attended school in Olympia, Washington, with a couple of the lads from Nirvana. But over the years, the various influences of the players (currently Willhite, Gilmore, guitarist Jerry Fox, drummer Buddy Gould and Hanging Tree veteran Will Inglis on bass) resulted in a more eclectic blend. "It's sort of a mixture of hard-edged rock with country and funk," Willhite notes, adding, "The country comes from me."
Like many C&W aficionados, Willhite started out by rejecting the genre. His father played plenty of Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings on the family stereo, but as he entered his formative years, Scott found himself gravitating more toward rock and roll and art rock such as that made by Rush and Genesis. Then, upon entering Colorado State University, Willhite received an education in punk rock courtesy of his roommate, Garrett Brittenham of the aforementioned Boss 302. "That was during the period that I really hated country," Willhite points out. "But then I went to see this local band called Acid Ranch, and I was completely fascinated by the weird mixture of country and punk that they did." Before long, Willhite was haunting the bargain bins at music stores, picking up ancient country discs for a quarter apiece. The ditties on them inspired his musical conversion, and the homemade tapes of Boulder musician Jamie Smith and Scott's brother Marc Willhite (currently playing bass with the Minders) spurred him to capture some of his more twisted compositions for posterity. When producer Bill Thomas got his hands on these rough-hewn dispatches from the edge, his first instinct was to clean up the sound, but Willhite dissuaded him. "I liked all that noise," he concedes. "I wanted it to be clear that the whole thing was done in my living room."
At this point, Willhite is uncertain about the future of his side project. This summer he expects to concentrate on Turnsol, which has a busy schedule of festival performances and recording sessions that should result in a new CD by the first portion of next year. But when time allows, he'll let Willy out of the barn. He's also looking forward to collaborating with his brother, whose own four-track experiments (credited to the Hand-Me-Downs) are sampled on Something Cool, a compilation available through Darla Records, P.O. Box 23333, Seattle, WA 98102. Will these efforts be more "normal" than Willy? "I'd say definitely no," Willhite allows. "What I'm doing is something different, and if people like it, that's great. But that's not my goal. I play music for my own enjoyment, and that's what I intend to keep doing."
Item one: The May 12 appearance of the Humpers at the 15th Street Tavern was not a profitable one for the band, a collection of punks from Long Beach, California, who are signed to Epitaph Records. According to the Tavern's Scott Campbell, "After their set, their drunk singer, Scott "Deluxe" Drake, got in a fight with their drummer, Jimi Silveroli, and threw him through a window--the one directly behind the drum riser." Because the window had been broken before, the folks at the Tavern knew how much it cost to replace--$301. Since the band's guarantee was $300, that meant that the only thing the Humpers got out of visiting Denver was a nice, warm feeling. Still, the musicians didn't make a fuss over their bad luck. "They told me this was par for the course for their shows," Campbell says. (In other Epitaph news, the company has just licensed the collected works of the LaDonnas, now down to a three-piece with the departure of bassist Brad Stanton, for the continent of Europe. From here on out, any LaDonnas discs distributed in the Old Country will bear the Epitaph logo.)