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Summertime of Life - Pistoleros' Lawrence Zubia's Road to Rock'N'Roll


In the backstage "red room" guitar and rock'n'roll sounds from opening band Satellites work the immediate wall like wind testing a shelter. The red room is carried off into memory. The path of Pistoleros' lead singer Lawrence Zubia is a path of beauty and good fortune, a path of rock'n'roll.

At 34, the early years of Pistoleros' lead singer Lawrence Zubia began with foot tapping, Mexican-cultural impressions and calloused fingers working hard at mariachi guitar. Not your typical upbringing in "Americana"-ville Scottsdale, AZ.

Lawrence and brother Mark missed out on the 70's KISS and Aerosmith scene because they were learning guitar from their father and playing at various functions with dad's mariachi band.

Now, many years later, Lawrence and Mark have their own band of players who call themselves The Pistoleros.

When called by myself requesting an interview for the Navajo Times' Sunny Side, Lawrence Zubia's response was a clearly enunciated and welcoming "Absolutely." Zubia's easy response caught me off-guard because I had doubts whether a non-Phoenix Native American press had a chance at getting an interview with a hot, up-and-coming rock'n'roll group. But, leave it to Lawrence to prove that it's a small world.

Apparently, the Navajo-Lawrence Zubia connection wasn't anything new to him. At interview time, Lawrence rekindled the past like a Zorro unmasked and ready to tell his story.

Going to Chinle in the heart of Navajoland many years ago, described Lawrence, was "like going to the mountains of Tibet." The memory seemed at the tip of his mind, as he quickly remembered the details and line of events that occurred that "dry" winter.

"[There was] ... a blind woman and her husband in the middle of ... nowhere" who he and a friend chanced upon after walking away from their stuck and stranded vehicle twenty miles in the Navajo outbacks. The elderly Navajo couple were friendly and took the two strangers back to their home, where the elder man told them to get in his truck and drove them back to their stuck vehicle and pulled them out.

Born and raised in the Phoenix valley, the Chinle mountain-desert excursion was very surreal and somewhat "mystical" for Lawrence, as he jokes that maybe afterall they just hallucinated the couple.

The winter journey into the Chinle scape was coincidental with the somewhat "winter" of Zubia's life, as he was dealing with "self-destruction" or addiction in more than one form.

But, life has carried him on through the turbulence to a very promising music career landing.

At present, the groups' second album release Hang On To Nothing has national attention and air-play, and Zubia mentions that this particular album was written during the "sober time" of his life-- I mishear Lawrence as saying the "summertime" of his life, and the "deep" allegory and accidental metaphor cracks us up, with Lawrence admitting he likes "summertime of life" a lot better.

The Pistoleros are a Tempe-based rock band who are somewhat the second-coming of what has been called "the Tempe sound."

"Tempe sound" was coined after the success of former Gin Blossoms, and Zubia admits that indeed the Blossoms and original Blossoms' guitarist (the late) Doug Hopkins are some of their primary influences.

As a matter of fact, after Hopkins was fired from the Blossoms (when the GB's were going mainstream), that is when Lawrence, Hopkins and others got together to form The Chimeras.

Those familiar with the Tempe Mill Ave. music scene know that the then Chimeras had to change their name because another Irish folk band had the name Chimira first. Thus, the new name: The Pistoleros. Bang! Pow! Prrrn! Kapow!

The first album Mistaken For Granted (1994) was released independently and is now a limited-edition collector's item. Mistaken For Granted cinched a record deal with the Burbank, CA-based Hollywood Records. Now the Pistoleros have a multi-album deal with "several options"-- thus, no longer "mistaken for granted" by the labels.

Although, there's also The Refreshments and Dead Hot Workshop from Tempe, The Pistoleros seem to have a closer relation to Blossoms and Hopkins' influence.

While with the then Chimeras, Hopkins would, after the last song at Tempe Long Wong's shows, "ram his guitar up into the plaster dry-wall ceiling above the stage and just let that last note resonate," informs Zubia. "He had a crazy personality!" The Beatles sustained the ending of the "Strawberry Fields Forever" tune, and Hopkins must have had a similar bug to sustain the last buggering note at Long Wong's.

The loss of Hopkins I didn't want to exploit, so closed the subject with Zubia agreeing that Hopkins was a "local legend" with a "signature guitar sound." Hopkins was a good friend to Lawrence and an inspiration to many others.

"...Ain't it simple, but it's strange
Ain't the same game, if you don't win
It's a hero, for a friend[
Another day, to be afraid
And, I'm trying, and I'm trying
And, I'm over you, yeah I'm over you
And, I'm trying, and I can't get through,
no I can't get through
And, I'm trying, not to miss you..."

--from "Funeral," Hang On To Nothing

The Pistoleros are Lawrence Zubia (34; vox), Mark Zubia (31; gtr. & vox), Scott Andrews (36; bass) Gary Smith (33; drums) and Thomas Laufenberg (31; gtr. & vox). The boys have been together for a little over six years and Lawrence's main hope for the group is to "keep making records." He also adds that music would/is a great career and a #1 hit would be great.

Although a tour has yet to be slated, the Pistoleros have been doing radio festivals for stations that have added them to their playlist. The "following" or fan-base is, so far, going well in Florida and Texas, which is ironically better than their Arizona home turf.

The first single, "My Guardian Angel," from Hang On... did well on the charts and radio, but Lawrence remarks that he's glad the song didn't go #1 because it would have greatly "misidentified" the group and their rock'n'roll mainstay despite mariachi and other influences.

Some amusing comments I've come across from Window Rock FM radio folk are: "They try to sound like the Gin Blossoms" and "They're like a Mexican alternative [sic] band!" At the very least, the hoopla, talk and hypothesis are activity that can only make Pistoleros a household name.

Perry Yazzie of Tuba City attended a recent Pistoleros show in Tempe, and could only say when asked to comment on the group that he "couldn't place their sound" even though they sounded "alternative."

For those who didn't come of age with the Blossoms and Chimeras on Mill Ave. in Tempe, the second single release "The Hardest Part" should give a more definitive example of what kind of sound the Pistoleros have.

Robin Wilson of the former Blossoms had once commented that despite the jargon used by radio and industry to define their sound, it's all just rock'n'roll. It isn't Seattle "grunge" or southwest "Mexi-rock" or "Tempe sound," it's just good ol' rock'n'roll.

With the latest album release destined for, at least, gold status, Lawrence reveals that the guys just got back from a session at a cabin in the woods 17 miles south of Flagstaff. They now have 19 new songs down and the creation process is taking place. So, a third album is in the not too distant future.

The backstage red room is a narrow 10'X15' with red walls, dim light from the vanity mirror lining the east wall, dark-colored cloth bean bags, an ice chest, ignored table and stool, clothes rack with wire hangers and used white towels and a couch with a dark blue sheet thrown over it. Zubia is wearing pointed-tip black boots, tight black jeans, an untucked black shirt with long-sleeves and an intent charisma. He could be Zorro.

My interview with Lawrence is more of a conversation of sorts, as we're both bookworms and Indigenous.

And, with the (Chinle) Navajo connection on record, I explore the Native chit-chat avenue because Zubia is afterall Latino and of Indigenous blood.

The Native line of discussion is fair game for Lawrence.

An avid reader, Lawrence begins to point out that a good many books from his library at home deal with the history of Mexico and Native America, or "the people who were here before the Spanish came."

Zubia explains that after he sobered up, a big exploration of his identity took place, and he came to conclude that "addiction was the result of not really identifying ... had a lot to do with ethnicity ... [There was] an intense, beautiful culture that I knew nothing about."

Growing up in a Yaqui Indian community in Scottsdale, Lawrence perceives that the Natives there probably dismissed him as being "white" because he was Hispanic.

"[B]y the Yaquis I wasn't accepted, and not accepted by whites [either]."

And, Lawrence mentions that with Scottsdale-- "the epitome of Americana" --always in the foreground, brown-skinned people get instantly stereotyped.

"I looked for my Indian roots a lot ... but have to pick one because I'm half-Indian and Mexican ..."

says Zubia, and adds that being Mexican adds another dimension to Indian-ness because a part of you hates "this 'bastard' blood ... being Mexican is a weird situation."

Zubia also shares a glimpse of Hispanic identity by mentioning that some Mexicans say "We're Spanish." Navajos and other Natives can easily relate with similar stories of Native peers claiming to be "part-white."

Lawrence gathers that the "identity borderland is a strange frontier." And, his mixed blood has him on that frontier.

And, the sense of Indian-ness comes to Lawrence in "little ephipanies" with the spontaneous realization of Indian blood and ancestry. He goes on to mention that there's a rebel or intimidation element that we as Natives can hold over a roomful of whites, and it's a high card we sometimes "get off on" probably because history is on our side.

If Lawrence Zubia were not an entertainer and performer, he'd be a novelist most likely, as his keen intellect is the force within the charisma. He could be Zorro.

With an English and literary background, I tell Lawrence how impressed I am with the "cool things" he does with the narration of his lyrics. He takes the compliment with a mischievous look and explains that he had no formal creative writing or lyrical training. He's just self-trained and of the "school of Jack Kerouac."

Zubia's father was also a self-taught musician and the force of creativity has undeniably gifted another generation.

With a four-month-old daughter, Daniella, Lawrence and wife Janna have been together for six years, sharing this summertime of life.

De Colores.