As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican, April 2, 2004
Every few years about this time, I toy with the idea of writing an April Fool’s column and make up a bunch of ridiculous titles for CDs to review. “Where the Rude Boys Are: A Reggae Tribute to Connie Frances”; “Ebony and Ivory: The Ray Charles/Elvis Costello Sessions”; “The Symphonic Iggy Pop”; The Essential Eddie Money (oops, that’s a real one!)
Somehow it always seemed too cute to do a whole column of that stuff.
However in late March I stumbled across a real CD, that, after a little research, I’ve come to believe is an April Fool’s Day joke at Santa Fe’s expense by an obscure Swiss record label, Voodoo Rhythm.
Gentleman of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The Q Recordings, New Mexico ‘58-‘64, released last year, is by an unknown rockabilly singer named Jerry J. Nixon with sad eyes, pale skin and greasy hair.
Nixon’s life story is told inside the package.
Indeed, it was like uncovering a secret history of this place I call my home.
Born Gerald James Hall in 1937 in Yorkshire England, the future rockabilly gentleman was involved with a botched armed robbery in Southampton. But because of his youth, he got off with a light sentence, joined the merchant marines and sailed to America, where he adopted a fake identity — Jerry J. Nixon — and stayed.
By 1956 “Nixon” ended up here in Santa Fe, where he initially worked at a cardboard box and packing company. Perhaps the oppression of this factory was what led Nixon to join the Communist Party of New Mexico.
Inspired by Elvis Presley, Nixon hooked up with a band playing at Atahualpa Bar & BBQ. The were initially called The Santa Fe Flames, but under Nixon’s sway, they became The Volcanoes.
Santa Fe businessman Leonard E. Sanchez, who managed entertainers and owned Q Studios and Quality Records, heard a Nixon and The Volcanoes gig, signed them up, made some records and toured the Southwest and even Mexico.
Like the archetypal rock manager of the day, Sanchez took songwriting credits on nearly all Nixon’s original songs.
After a few short years, however, things soured between Nixon and Sanchez, who gambled away all the band’s money betting on card games and cockfights. He also favored one of his other stars, local country singer Dick Lotner.
The bad blood came to a head in 1963 when the two got into a fight that ended with Sanchez in the hospital and the Gentleman of Rock ’n’ Roll in jail. The bio in the CD says the two never spoke again. However, according to the album notes, the song “Red Sun” was recorded at Q Studios in March 1964.
But shortly after that, Nixon left the Volcanoes and the music biz in general. After doing some work in the Texas oil fields, Nixon settled in Albuquerque by 1967, working as a driver for the Sunset Glades retirement home. He died in Albuquerque in 1999.
Damn! Had I known about him, I could have interviewed him. How come nobody ever told me about Santa Fe’s greatest rockabilly commie?
But the more I thought about it, the more I suspected there was a good reason why nobody told me about Jerry J. Nixon.
The fact that I had never heard of any of the people or the places mentioned in the Nixon story made me wonder.
Checking city directories and phone books between 1957 and 1961 I found no listings for Atahualpa Bar & BBQ, Quality Records, Q recording studio or KWXL radio. There’s no current listing for Sunset Glade retirement home in the Albuquerque directory. I couldn’t find a listing for any cardboard factory in Santa Fe During those years.. There were no residential listings for Leonard Sanchez, Dick Lotner or Jerry Nixon.
Whoever wrote the stuff on the CDs knows something about Santa Fe though. Q Studios was said to be located above a garage on Galisteo Street, while Atahualpa Bar & BBQ allegedly was off Old Taos Highway.
So where did this music come from? One online critic said there are similarities between Nixon and Die Zorros, a Swiss band led by “Beatman” the head honcho of Voodoo Rhythm.
The sad part is, I wanted the album to be real. While not exactly revelatory, this is the sound of a journeyman rockabilly cat who captures the wild spirit of that era.
The music is tough and cranking. Several cuts feature an eerie organ sound (think Joe Meeks or Del Shannon), while “Saturday Midnight Bop,” has a cool sax (credited to one Jose Martinez, if that can be believed) and Latin rhythm that could pass for proto-Los Lobos.
You could almost believe it’s a frustrated cardboard worker releasing his tensions in a cluttered little studio overlooking a garage on Galisteo Street.
Of course the real Santa Fe wasn’t devoid of real rock ’n’ roll during this area. Wouldn’t it be great if some record company recorded a compilation of real Santa Fe bands — The Defiants, The Rocking Aces, The Morfomen?
Jerry J. Nixon Lives on the Radio: Hear songs from the Gentleman and other rockabilly renegades on The Santa Fe Opry, country music as the Good Lord intended, Friday 10 p.m. to midnight and Terrell’s Sound World, freeform weirdo radio (same time Sunday.)
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