(Published by Zocalo Magazine on Feb. 25, 2014.)
Two hours really isn’t enough time to comb through a band’s two decade span. But we’re trying. My back porch has become a portal to the past, with front man Joe Peña and bassist Duane Hollis regaling a couple of their long-term fans with Greyhound Soul stories.
Disclosure/backdrop: Peña and Hollis are at the Manslander abode; Dan Rylander and I met and became friends at Greyhound Soul shows in 2000. We are now married, and the band played at our reception. Dan was an unofficial roadie for years; my photos are on two of their albums. There’s a comfortable camaraderie between the four of us. We’re relaxing in the cool desert evening, and the trip down memory lane starts in Elgin, Texas, 26 miles north and east of Austin.
Peña takes us back to his grandparents’ restaurant and bar, where his dad and his dad’s musician buddies would jam all night long. It’s the late 70s, “I was like 10-11-12-13-14-years-old,” Joe says. While the kid is waiting to go home, he’s hearing the music. Some nights it was Norteño, other nights it was the blues, because “on one side of the street were all the Mexican bars and on the other side of the street were all the black bars. So at the end of the night, where do they all go? To grandpa’s bar, you know, Chicano Mexicans with their music and their accordions showing up and then the blues guys showing up from the other side of the street, they just played at Charlie Brown’s Kung Fu Inn–that was pretty much a staple in our town. Some of the best people, blues guys from back in the day–I can’t remember–but just, everyone played there, everyone was a musician.
“So a lot of people would be down there, they’d also come from Austin. They would party all night long, party like we do now. Did. Used to. We don’t party any more. Right, Duane?” Peña chuckles, Hollis nods with a sly smile, jokingly points to the Stella Artois in his hand and riffs: “I’m going for it, right now!”
The conversation meanders from Joe talking about being a break dancer when he first moved to Tucson in 1983, surprising Duane—“Really, you were a break dancer?”—to figuring out how and when the guys initially met. Joe thinks it was ’85, Duane tells him it was ’94 and everyone laughs.
“I don’t really remember how it happened,” Joe leans back and looks at Duane. “I remember the band was together making the record (Freaks) and things started kind of falling apart and the drummer and the bass player had left and I saw this band,” motions to Duane, “at that place where they sell pottery now, it’s on the corner of Miracle Mile and Oracle. And you guys were playing there and we played that same night. It was a weird thing, but I was blown away. They were in a metal band (Shok Hilary) and Alan had double bass drums. And we were making the record and losing the drummer, and my buddy said, ‘I know a drummer,’ and it turned out to be Alan from Shok Hilary, and I’m like, ‘Wow, OK, let’s try it out.’ And Alan showed up and we went through some tunes with the old bassist, and then we lost him, and then it was like, ‘Hey Al, what’s going on with your band Shok Hilary?’
“All of a sudden, we found ourselves together.” Joe asks Duane, “How did that happen?”
“You called me,” Hollis deadpans.
Peña laughs and says, “So, yeah, I guess I called Duane and said,” Joe feigns a sheepish little boy voice, “‘Duane, will you play with us?’”
On another day via a Facebook chat, drummer Alan Anderson and I talk about his recollections of joining Greyhound. “It was dark out when we first met. Our practice room was converted from an old garage behind a house in Sam Hughes neighborhood. I remember getting out of my truck with my stick bag in hand when I heard someone say, ‘Alan, is that you?’ I responded, ‘Yes.’ The next words that came out of the dark were, ‘What’s up Chief!’ It was Joe. That was the beginning of a 20 year friendship. During the first practice I realized I was in the making of something special. I was hooked from the first practice and wanted to be a part of it. I thought it would be a way of stepping away from speed metal as it was on its way out. I wanted to be a multifaceted drummer. I was not going to be pigeonholed into one style.”
There’s an emotional rawness and an intense talent for song craft—not to mention that whiskey-husky, heart wrenching blues voice—that pulls musicians and fans into Peña’s rock and roll orbit.
Guitarist Jason DeCorse was drawn in as a 22-year-old in 1995 when he saw Greyhound at The Rock, saying via phone from San Diego that, “When I saw them playing, I knew he had something I didn’t have, and I was like, ‘He’s got something I can really learn from,’ and I think he felt the same way about me and he guided me into playing and communicating with him more, in his style.” DeCorse picked up axe duty after original guitarist Larry Vance quit the band.
There’s a deep bond between the four, who can play together without set lists or a predetermination about how the songs will start or where the songs will progress and end up. Each show is unique; tempos change, chord progressions shift, even the lyrics might morph. Underneath is an unspoken, visceral communication between the band mates, through the notes, body language, a knowing grin or nod.
About live shows, DeCorse says, “It’s all like, just on the whim, you just gotta make sure you are ready for it. But that’s what’s so crazy; everything is so steeped in our heads. I don’t even have to review the songs, it’s just the way that it is, it is in your blood after awhile; you can’t forget it. That’s what I really like the most, it shows the maturity and the camaraderie, a true movement with the band, I think that’s the best thing when you don’t plan it out and you do it and you deliver. Nothing’s planned, and it happens.”
Back on the porch with Peña and Hollis, the two run through a collection of memorable shows—playing between turtle races in California, touring Europe six times and rocking Bonn’s Rockpalast, a German music television show.
“That might have been the coolest thing we did,” Hollis says. “And they hand pick people to do that thing. So many bands have played that—Led Zeppelin, The Who, Rolling Stones. We also played a festival in Hanover with Motörhead and Rose Tattoo and Steppenwolf and Steppenwolf made us get off the stage early because they wanted to get up and play,” he shrugs. “We also played the Orange Blossom Festival in Germany, it was this three day festival–Glitterhouse Records puts on–it’s like a hip to be there gig and that was a really great show.”
Great shows aside, Joe says the best times were the times spent with each other, between gigs. “We would get done with it and we’d end up with ourselves. And, the fun that we had, and us really being mad at each other or whatever, just the dynamic of being four guys that have no choice but to be together, dealing with each other’s thing. That was beauty. I remember those moments more than playing gigs.
“I don’t remember the gigs at all,” he jokes, laughing.
Through the years, the Tucson line-up would expand, contract, shift. Other players have included keyboardists Glen Corey and Bobby Hepworth, drummers Bruce Halper, Tommy Larkins and Winston Watson and guitarists Robin Johnson and Oliver Ray.
Through it all, the core of the band has been Hollis and Peña. When asked about their recent, brief hiatus, Joe pauses for a moment, gathers his thoughts and says, “Uh, you know what? It’s like 20 years, and there’s going to be some things that happen, but always, I gotta say Duane, in the back of my mind, I just always knew and always felt like it was always just a break, it was never ever really done, like done-done. And I don’t think it’ll ever really be done-done until like one of us dies. Quite honestly, I think that, you know, we’re close in a way that, it’s, we’re brotherly or something. I don’t know what it is man.”
Duane agrees, “It’s kind of a brotherly thing, for sure. When you put some much time into it, it becomes a part of your…”
Joe exhales, and completes the sentence succinctly, “Your life.”
Greyhound Soul’s first gig was on March 11, 1994 and it celebrates the 20th Anniversary with a show at Che’s Lounge, 350 N. 4th Ave., on March 8 with DeCorse coming in from San Diego. The music starts at 9 p.m. with St. Maybe opening. Greyhound Soul also performs on Saturday, March 22 at Sky Bar, 536 N. 4th Ave. In other band news, there are plans to record a new album. Previous releases include “Freaks” (1996), “Alma de Galgo” (2001), “Down” (2002) and “Tonight and Every Night” (2007). Find more information on Greyhound’s Facebook.com page; search YouTube.com for live shows and videos.