“They were all attitude,” Howe Gelb says of the Serfers, the new hot band in Tucson for a minute at the end of the ‘70s. “They were just adorable in a contentious way. The energy was so good and Danny was a character from the get go. And then they all moved to L.A. to get their thing going.”
Their thing was Green on Red, a no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll band, with cheeky and direct bastard-punk songs written or co-written mostly by Dan Stuart.
As fans moved on to grungier things in the late ‘80s , Green on Red’s popularity declined, and Stuart moved to Spain for a girl. By 1993 he returned to Tucson and to music for a couple of deeply personal projects, illuminated by hand-holding and/or cameos by a host of Tucson music notables including Al Perry, Tommy Larkins and Craig Shumacher, plus insider outsiders like John Dee Graham, J.D. Foster and Jud Newcomb. The output of that period, a time capsule of a particular Tucson sound, is compiled on a double-disk set, Arizona 1993-1995, available only on his website.
For the next 15 years Stuart hid out in Mexico, performing an occasional ad hoc solo gig in his local cantina and returning to Tucson only to visit family. He’s performed here just twice, but will stop in at Club Congress on July 12 with new music from Marlowe’s Revenge, a CD set for a European release in September, with an accompanying book coming out in the spring of 2016.
Fellow singer-storyteller Tom Heyman shares the bill. Late of the Philadelphia roots rock band Go to Blazes, Heyman has worked with Chuck Prophet (Green on Red) and the too-short-lived The Court & Spark, as well as producer Yayhoo and original Joan Jett Blackheart Eric “Roscoe” Ambel.
Around 2010, Stuart’s long-time alter-ego Marlowe Billings began leading him to a renewed career making rock noise about hard knocks, lost love and related observations of adult life in the 21st century.
Stuart’s Billings character, somewhat more than a nickname but substantially less than a personality displacement, delivered The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings in 2012, and followed up in 2014 with a fictional memoir of the same name.
Stuart refers to Billings as a “nom de guerre” and says he needs one in the world of ex pats, but he’s kidding. Stuart’s voice is much different on the phone than on the page. It’s the sort of difference that makes you wonder what Charles Bukowski or Hunter S. Thompson sounded like at, say, the bank or the grocery store.
In song, Billings seems to be a gateway to either mask or express Stuart’s most honest and freely flowing emotions, and to imbue his story-songs with the ragged weight of world-weariness.“I’ve never had a problem writing songs. I think I’m a lazy writer generally, and I picked music because, in 1977 to ‘78, that’s what was available. You know the punk rock years,” Stuart says, with typical self-deprecation. If he were an A.A. Milne character, he agrees, he would be Eeyore.
Stuart and Heyman will swap stories and songs taken from throughout their respective careers. Heyman’s 2000 solo album, Boarding House Rules, won critical acclaim for his songwriting, but particularly for his convincing, if gentle, baritone twang.