Ode to the Nard
In a perfect world, when masses gather in Oxnard, whether it be at community meetings or sporting events, it would be fitting if everyone rose in a unified voice for a moving rendition of the song “Oxnard.” Who wouldn’t get misty eyed belting out powerful lines like “My grandpappy lost his virginity in a shack down by the railroad track . . . in Oxnard.” What type of band would pen such a loving and demented ode to its hometown?
The Ra’s roots date back more than 25 years, when guitarist Ray Waggoner and upright bassist Scott Hughes met in junior high school and bonded over a mutual love of all kinds of music, from jazz to progressive rock. Having dabbled here and there in different local bands after school, Waggoner relocated to the Pacific Northwest. Fast-forward to 2008, when the two found themselves living together again in Ventura County. Casual jamming soon turned into an open mic appearance, then gigging and then a debut record, High Heel Rockets. The Rooster may have taken a long time to crow, but its distinct voice is now turning heads.
Describing the indescribable
Though its namesake may be easy to define in the animal kingdom, the trio (John Lacques on drums was added) is virtually without description. Terms like “Hillbilly Ditch Jazz” and “Psychobilly Cow Bop” have been thrown around to describe the sound, a strange melting pot of jazzy musicianship, groovy stoner rock and odd, if not downright comical, lyrics. Though there’s not a pin-point reference, several acts do come to mind. Fans of cult legends like Camper Van Beethoven, Monks of Doom and Captain Beefheart probably just found their favorite new band, but there are also more accessible, yet far from mainstream, traces of Phish, Primus and Ween in the mix. With song titles like “Canary Bitches” and “Rodent,” Rooster Ra stands uniquely alone in the current local music landscape.
Though hovering over the 40-year-old marker, the Ra men have a youthful energy and joy of playing and promotion that’s rarely seen in their younger contemporaries. Take a visit to any county coffeehouse, and you’ll be sure to find a stack of CD singles of “Oxnard” free for the taking. One can only imagine the random latte sipper’s reaction upon taking in the bold and bizarre ode to the equally bold and often bizarre town where famed actors Walter Brennan and Lee Van Cleef shuffled off their mortal coils.
With its debut now officially out of the oven, the band that initially honed its live show at Los Angeles venues has taken to playing more locally, with upcoming dates around the county, including a highly anticipated set at Ventura’s Fourth of July Street Fair, which is certain to turn the heads of the knickknack-obsessed. While Rooster Ra members admit they don’t quite yet feel part of the local scene, they take a simple military and comical view on the subject. As bassman Hughes simply puts it, “We’re forming alliances.”
See Rooster Ra on June 30, at the Village Jester, 139 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai, 640-8001.