Slightly Sinister

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

It’s not every day that you get the chance to hear a real music icon play live in downtown Monterey.  You can on Tuesday, when former Wall of Voodoo front man and long-standing solo artist Stan Ridgway performs at Monterey Live.  According to L.A. Weekly, “If David Lynch were a musician, he would be Stan Ridgway.”  An apt description, as Ridgway’s songs paint pictures of everyday America, yet with something slightly sinister waiting just beneath the surface.  In his twenty-plus years as a singer and songwriter, Ridgway’s work has become progressively more fascinating.

Stan Ridgway was born in Barstow, but grew up in Los Angeles.  As a child, he had a fascination with folk music, and took up the banjo at age 14.  As Ridgway grew up, so his range of influences diversified and he decided to pursue a career writing film scores.  With four friends, Ridgway set up a composers’ collective, setting out to write music for low-budget horror movies.  The time was the mid-70s, as punk rock was beginning to boom, and the group became swept up in the new movement.  The composers’ collective evolved into Wall of Voodoo.

Wall of Voodoo released two albums, 1981’s “Dark Continent” and 1982’s “Call of the West.”  A single from the second album, the surreal “Mexican Radio,” became a hit on both MTV and Top 40 radio, and the band achieved major success and recognition.  Unfortunately, Wall of Voodoo’s success was to be short-lived.  The band broke up just one year later after a major festival appearance.

Ridgway reappeared as a solo artist later in 1983 with “Don’s Box Me In,” which was used as the closing song of Francis Ford Coppola’s film “Rumble Fish.”  A year later, his song “Pick It up and Put It in Your Pocket” was featured in “Miami Vice,” one of the most popular TV series at the time.  Both of these songs appeared on Ridgway’s 1986 solo album, “The Big Heat,” which also provided him with the hit single “Drive She Said.”  This album also introduced Ridgway to new fans in the UK, when the single “Camouflage” became a surprise Top 5 hit there.

Since 1983, Ridgway has released a total of eight albums, including his most recent, 2004’s “Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads and Fugitive Songs.”   This album is a collection of tales about a desert road trip and the characters encountered there.  It is at the same time autobiographical, containing reflections on Ridgway’s life.

Over the course of his career, Ridgway has also taken a circuitous route to the role he originally set out to fulfill – that of movie score writer.  Several of his songs have been featured in movies and TV shows, and he has written the complete score for a number of films, including “Speedway Junky” (1999) and “Vengeance” (2001).

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, July 21, 2005

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