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A Band Is Born - Gin Blossoms find alter egos in Del Montes

Linda Romano

Tempe Daily Tribune, December 23, 1988

Long before Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and the late Roy Orbison emerged as the Traveling Wilburys, a local bar band was at work crafting its alter ego.

The Gin Blossoms, a guitar-driven pop rock band noted for its four-hour, packed house marathons at Long Wongs in downtown Tempe, features lead singer Robin Wilson, bassist Bill Leen, lead guitarist Doug Hopkins, guitarist and vocalist Jesse Valenzuela and drummer Phil Rhodes.

Together the GB's concocted a secondary group. And lo and behold from the Blossoms budded the Del Montes.

Like the infinitely more famous Wilburys, who individually call themselves such names as "Otis," "Lucky" and "Lefty," the Del Montes have assumed such aliases as "Otto," "Pablo" and "Biff."

And whereas the Traveling Wilburys fabricated a lengthy myth about how they came to be--they were brothers born to different parents in a caravan of migrant musicians--the Del Montes' myth has similar overtones.

The Del Montes were all begat by the same Momma Del Monte (Irma), but by different dads, including one who made his way as a flamenco dancer.

"We couldn't believe it when this whole thing with the Traveling Wilburys came out," says Wilson, munching on a salad. "It's almost the exact same thing we'd done with the Del Montes."

The brown-eyed singer, whose Bono-like hair is long and brown and pulled loosely away from his face, sits inside Long Wongs on a recent balmy afternoon. His cohorts in Blossomdom and Del Montedom, Leen and Hopkins, sip bottles of beer and puff cigarettes at a wobbly table near the door, which is flung open wide enough to shed late afternoon sunlight--and gaseous rush-hour exhaust from downtown Tempe traffic--into the quaint but tacky hangout.

"The difference between the Del Montes and the Gin Blossoms is that the Del Montes drink more," Wilson laughingly explains, gesturing with his fork and then stabbing a slice of cheese.

Beyond that, he explains, the Del Montes play more cover songs, more requests and more parties than the Gin Blossoms, who stick pretty much to original material and jam sessions--and who lovingly call Long Wongs "home."

It was a year ago Christmas, not at Long Wongs but at the Mason Jar in Phoenix, that the Gin Blossoms played their first gig.

Like most bands, the group underwent assorted personal crises and personnel changes.

Wilson had been studying planetary science at Mesa Community College where his real dad (as opposed to his Del Monte dad) teaches. He had performed with local groups such as Guy Smiley and Bed-Spurs before joining the Gin Blossoms a few months ago.

"Before I was ever in the group, the Gin Blossoms were my favorite band," he says.

The Gin Blossoms is a lot of people's favorite band. The group has a growing following, as evidenced by the overflowing rafters of Edcel's Attic, where the brothers Gin performed during Tempe's winter arts fair.

Especially popular with the college crowd, the band is known for its own music (which Wilson describes as "not unlike the Rolling Stones") as well as rip-em-up renditions of "Brown-Eyed Girl" and the Jeffersons TV show theme song, and that brat-pack favorite, "Louie Louie."

The Blossoms, named for the alcohol induced affliction that Wilson says produced comedian W.C. Fields' bulbous, pebbly-surfaced nose, also attracted the eyes and ears of a couple of talent scouts for Scotti Bros. Records, a subsidiary of Columbia.

Duly impressed by a recent set at the Sun Club, the two men offered the Gin Blossoms something the majority of obscure would-be up-and-coming bands only dream about: a free recording session.

The Gin Blossoms went into Chaton's state-of-the-art studios here in the Valley and laid down about a half-dozen tracks, most of them cut live, without overdubs.

"It was incredible!" Wilson exclaims. "We played the best we've ever played--no question."

However exciting that experience may have been for the Blossoms, most of whom are former McClintock High School students now in their 20s, Wilson modestly makes one thing clear:

"We don't have a record deal."

Armed with the tape that was recorded at Chaton, it will now be up to the Gin Blossoms themselves, and the Scotti Bros. talent scouts (whose biggest "discovery" was short-lived teen heartthrob Leif Garret, Wilson coyly comments) to score a record deal.

In the meantime, the Gin Blossoms will be back in the studio next week to work on remixes for the tape they'll take to Los Angeles next month. And they'll perform at 9:30 tonight at Edcel's Attic, and in their fourth-year anniversary show at 9:30 p.m. Sunday at the Sun Club in Tempe.