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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 9:44 am | Fair 51º


Paul Mann: Blazing Haley Lights Up Lounge in Fiesta Tradition

The rock-and-roll band's Wildcat performance helps get the party started

In what has become a well-known Fiesta tradition for many Santa Barbarans, the rock-and-roll phenomena that is Blazing Haley played an explosive concert at the Wildcat Lounge on the opening night of Fiesta.

The band, formed locally in 1997, had played numerous times at the Wildcat, but will forever be associated with the club after a performance in December 2001. That night, the lounge caught fire under mysterious circumstances and was gutted.

Since the rebirth of the club, more than a year later, the Blazing Haley show has become the official opening party for Fiesta. Wildcat owner Bob Stout doesn’t like to talk about the fire, and he’s so superstitious that he hires an employee to spend the night each year to help ensure the tragic anniversary is never repeated.

Many labels have been used to describe the music of Blazing Haley. To be sure, they owe their roots to styles including rockabilly, punk and psychobilly. But this band has gone a step further and created its unique brand of classic Americana rock ‘n’ roll.

Lead singer Matt Armour belts out dark, witty lyrics on songs such as “Driving to Vegas,” making them an iconic road trip band. I have known Armour since the 1980s, when we worked at Zelos nightclub. Then owned by Stout, it was probably the most popular nightclub in Santa Barbara for a decade.

Armour would play the hottest new avant-garde 1980s music, and I would mix lights and primitive analog visuals to the music. He actually introduced me to much of the best music of the genre, which got little airplay at the time. Bands such as Dead Can Dance and Paul Weller have become some of my favorite bands to listen to, even to this day, thanks to my musical education form Armour. Moving from the nightclub to the radio, he became a successful personality on KJEE 92.9 FM.

In 1997, he teamed up with a group of local rockabilly musicians. Brian Lakey (lead guitar), David Kruger (upright bass) and Chris Story (drums) were a powerful rhythm section that had been playing together for a while. With the addition of Armour on lead vocals, Blazing Haley was formed, and the group began to write compelling lyrics and develop a unique sound.

True to its roots, this working-class band no longer performs full time, as all members have developed alternative careers. But the band’s list of accomplishments, with little help from radio or record producers, is impressive.

Its debut album, titled Sleeper, released by the band on its own in January 1999, received consistent national acclaim. Its songs were featured on several compilation albums, including some European productions, national TV and radio commercials, X-treme sports shows and in a TV pilot episode. Appearing on an MTV battle of the bands show, they did not win, but they gained an influential fan who was judging the competition — Busta Rhymes.

Wednesday’s show at the Wildcat was a high-energy rock fest that we have come to expect from the band. Playing its classics and some new material, it rocked the house, but thankfully left it standing the next day. For many Santa Barbara locals, the Blazing Haley show at the Wildcat is as much a part of Fiesta as El Mercado or historic downtown parades.

Viva la Blazing Haley!

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor.

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