All Shook Up
Paul Galaxy and the Galactix are slicked-back proof that rockabilly is far from dead. Their success is also evidence that a bar band can make a living -- and a name around the country -- while based in Denver. The Galactix have overcome the alleged out-of-favor status of their chosen form (and their hometown's remote location) by playing full-time over the last two years. Since 1999, they've worn out the engine on one van, put 60,000 miles on another and played more than 150 dates a year. Singer/guitarist Paul Galaxy, bassist Chris "Chopper" Cordoba and drummer "Mad Dog" Mike Minnick are also enjoying a massive credibility boost: Their new release, Cross the Line, appears on the revered Rollin' Rock Records label, rockabilly's premier imprint, run by the legendary Rockin' Ronnie Weiser.
"That's the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for rockabilly," Galaxy says on the phone from Phoenix, where the Galactix are opening for the Derailers. He speaks in a rich, rubbery voice, exuding enthusiasm and a hint of swagger -- a possible product of finally receiving some widespread recognition after years of hard work. The band's heightened status within the higher echelons of rockabilly has helped it get noticed in new places in both the United States and abroad. Statesiders are now hearing of the Galactix before they actually hear them.
Weiser says Galaxy and his mates ended up on Rollin' Rock after winning an annual battle-of-the-bands contest last August in Las Vegas, where the company's offices are located. Each year's grand prize is a one-record deal with Rollin' Rock. Weiser, whose talent roster is a virtual who's who of the best rockabilly artists from the last thirty years, says a few of the past contest winners have been acts he wouldn't normally sign. But, he adds, that's not the case with the Galactix.
"There are a lot of grade-B bands that tend to slide into one another in terms of performance," Weiser says. "Outside of those hundreds, there are maybe a dozen top bands in the United States with a unique, distinctive sound of their own. Paul Galaxy is one of those. They look right, they rock hard, and they're not afraid of having other influences."
"I'm not a history lesson. I push the limits on rockabilly," Galaxy says of his music, which he defines as "a guitar tone, an attitude and a lifestyle. This is how I live. We all do." But while he digs vintage fashions and old cars (Galaxy's '31 Ford coupe appears on the cover of Cross the Line), Galaxy says he's "not out to make each song we do sound period-perfect to 1956. That ain't for us."
Formed in 1995, the Galactix have become a staple on the Denver scene by scratching out a living in the region's bars and nightclubs. In 1999 they released their first CD, Flamethrower, which was recorded with drummer Bob Rupp. (Rupp left the group later that year to spend more time running his store, Rupp's Drums.) Minnick, a veteran timekeeper who has played with local guitar hero Rex Moser and others, filled Rupp's shoes.
On the new disc, the Galactix work their way through a solid set of rockabilly numbers that recall the ghosts of Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Sun-era Elvis and other stars of the genre. Galaxy handles singing duties with a clear voice reminiscent of Brian Setzer's, while his commanding guitar playing calls to mind Cliff Gallup, Scotty Moore and Cochran. Cuts such as "Pretty Kitty" and "Bad Girl" expand on cars, girls and alcohol, rockabilly's most trusted themes. Elsewhere, Galaxy lets his non-billy influences shine on the "Ghost Riders"-ish "Desert Air" and "Nightcrawler," which recalls Dick Dale's surf-guitar stylings.
Cross the Line -- which was recorded, mostly live, in Weiser's office over the course of three days last May -- also glows with a retro-sounding tone, a product of both the Galactix sound and Weiser's old-style engineering methods. The tracks that made it on the album were chosen, warts and all, for feel as much as marksmanship. "What the hell, it's rock and roll," Galaxy says.
Weiser recorded the band on ADAT, dumping the tracks down to his home computer and mixing and mastering them with Sound Forge software. And although he uses new technology, he primarily reverts to the long-gone methods of his '50s engineering idols. He places microphones several feet from the instruments to capture small imperfections most modern engineers strive to avoid. Minnick's kick drum, for example, was recorded from three feet away, while the rest of his kit was picked up by a single overhead mike. Weiser also eschews digital reverb effects, preferring to utilize dated tape-echo devices to create a roomy, rustic ambience and a vintage texture and feel.
"There are delays and bleed-ins all over the place," says Weiser. "It makes it more exciting. I hate this sterile crap that you hear all too often. It doesn't sound like music; it sounds like a dead man playing.
"It's a sick con game that's been played upon Americans for the last thirty years, that you need to go into this ridiculous studio with all these partitions and foam rubber. If you want foam rubber, go to the nuthouse. It's like cooking, man. You want the flavors to jell together; you don't want to separate them."
Galaxy bolstered the disc's antique sound by adding an acoustic-guitar track to most of the tunes. He also sang most of the vocals as he played his guitar. The result is a recording that's heftier than its predecessor. Cross the Line features tighter grooves than did Flamethrower, as well as improved songwriting and playing on Galaxy's part. It also reflects a collective gonzo attitude, honed through nonstop performing around the States. "We give a rock-and-roll show," Galaxy says. "I've seen a lot of shows. I know what I like and what's a waste of money."
Thanks to a busy touring schedule, money is something the band is seeing more of these days. And while rockabilly isn't likely to return to the brief boom it enjoyed in the Stray Cats era, Galaxy isn't whining about it. During the recent swing craze, he notes, "I had people tell me, 'You guys ought to get some horns in there.' I'm like, 'That would be really cool now. We might get a few extra gigs with maybe a little more pay.' But it's gonna come and go, and when it's all said and done, we're still a rock-and-roll band. If I'd added that horn section, now people would be like, 'Oh, yeah -- you were one of those bands from the late '90s.'"
Instead, the Galactix are counting on a slower and more steady plan for earning their daily bread on stage. There's still a healthy appetite for their music, they say, in Denver and elsewhere. The band plays scenester joints packed with hip cats and kittens, as well as less rockabilly-specific venues. "Every time we play a club where they don't know what rockabilly is," Galaxy notes, "they do after we're done."
Galaxy cites a few other acts -- Three Bad Jacks, the Starlight Drifters and the Chop Tops, to name a few -- as helping spread the ministry of '50s rock around the nation's underground. Aboveground, he says, former Stray Cats leader Brian Setzer continues to further the cause. Setzer recorded his new disc, Ignition, with a slap bassist and drummer instead of the orchestra he's been working with over the past few years. The Galactix camp is prone to view the rockabilly scene as steadily growing on its musical merits -- not on fashion and hype, as it did during previous revivals.
"It's never been more popular than it is today in this country," Weiser says. "The Internet is buzzing with this stuff. There are hundreds of bands. There is an underground subculture that is huge and growing, and it's mostly teenagers." For Weiser, the appeal of American roots music is obvious. "All you have to do is play some of it, then play this shit they call country music today. Then you tell me how anybody needs to be bored to death with that garbage," he says. "The question is not why rockabilly is still popular; the question is why is this other shit around?"
The fact that America's cornerstone music doesn't get its just rewards gnaws at Galaxy.
"It kind of pisses me off," he says. "It's good, quality music; it's rootsy and bluesy, and everything started from it. It ain't like it's a flavor of the month, where [a fan's] going to leave it to go with the next thing on the radio. This is music that's timeless, not timely. And you can always make a living doing it. I could do this for the rest of my life. There's a longevity to it that makes you feel secure in what you're playing."
Over the next few months, Galaxy and his mates will continue to hit all corners of the country, "slowly nipping away at America," he says. In the spring, they plan to make their first trip to Europe to take advantage of Rollin' Rock's popularity abroad. It's difficult to know how long the band will manage to keep up its frantic, road-hogging pace. For now, everyone's happy to be out on the nation's roads, rockin' round the clock for a living.
"I talk to bands out on the road doing what we're doing," Galaxy says. "They brag about doing 20,000 miles. We laugh."
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