MARIO LALLI & THE RUBBER SNAKE CHARMERS “Folklore from the Other Desert Cities”

By Lisa Lynn Morgan

Most who live in the greater Joshua Tree area year-round have a special place in their hearts for desert storms. With a front row seat to miles of vista, they watch, feel, smell, and taste the escalating shift from gentle breeze to the bellowing cauldron as cumulus clouds morph the sky and traverse the plains. It is spellbindingly powerful, heavy, dramatic, beautifully dangerous, potentially devastating, and absolutely necessary. Somehow, the legendary Godfather of Desert Rock, Mario Lalli, and the Rubber Snake Charmers have fearlessly wrangled the storm and channeled it into a sonic treasure on vinyl with their first release, “Folklore From the Other Desert Cities.”

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The freshman release, almost a decade and a half in the making, features a weighty collaboration of desert rock pioneers: Sean Wheeler (Vocals and Poetry), Brant Bjork (Guitar), Ryan Güt (Drums), and Lalli (vocals and bass), accompanied by Mathias Schneeberger (keyboards). Folklore from Other Desert Cities is a tribute to the individual and collective music, sweat, and tears these troubadours have been compelled to bleed for decades. It brings its frontman (Wheeler) and curator (Lalli) full circle to the stories of their youth growing up in the “other desert cities” surrounding the more popular Palm Springs. The impeccable live recording captures a special performance at Mo’s Desert Clubhouse in Gold Coast Australia and is a vital encapsulation of all that was and will forever be Desert Rock.

This perfect sound storm exercises the desert born ethic and approach of rock improvisation, psychedelic freeform, and sonic exploration. At the foundation, Lalli’s grooving heavy bass lines dictate the principles of thunder, from deeply meditating to emotionally fraught, as he poignantly shepherds the ensemble’s ambulation. Drummer, Ryan Gut (Brant Bjork), reads Lalli like a wizard and the two make for an authoritative sound bed that is soul jarring. Lalli and Gut don’t keep time, they tell time how to keep.

The great, extraordinarily intuitive, Brant Bjork (Kyuss, Vista Chino, Fu Manchu) brings in the wind and rain, drenching the sonic story line with the signature heavy chord progressions and lead lines only he can conjure. For Bjork, it’s not about the guitar, or about him – it’s about the storm and the other elements within. He loses himself creating something that is even greater than the sum of its parts in fluid concert with the ebb and flow of its members.

Enter the lightning, Sean Wheeler (Throw Rag), the charismatic, unabashed, pied piper of beautifully broken things. Wheeler’s poems and songs capture the dark and beautiful stories and images of life as a punk kid growing up in a desert that held no gentle place for the poor. Poor latchkey kids had to make a place for themselves in a “swamp cooler reality.”

“Sand in my blood… skinny arm down the hole… kangaroo rats bowl invisible pins… nothing but love… snakes without sin… lost in the riches of the winter sun’s gold… there are no trees and the creosote breeze… blows through like kisses… dreamt before dreams… digging together… dancing on knees… there’s a feeling you get when the fair has to leave… and the Ferris wheel’s lights they don’t shine anymore… the rainbows once spoiled.. now black and alone…” Sean Wheeler, Dry Heat

“This is desert rock in its purest form,” shares Lalli, the man who, in 1981, began carving out an entire genre that world now knows as, “Desert Rock.” Lalli facilitated the generator parties that drew hundreds of kids into the hills, some to play music, others to experience the music channeled from the dirt under the vast desert sky. These parties fueled a community of young punks with nowhere else to go and nothing else to do in the undeveloped places that existed before “Operation Pave the Desert.” Lalli’s early bands, Across The River, Fatso Jetson, The Sort of Quartet, and Yawning Man, are imbedded in the foundation and etched in the bearing walls of the desert rock sound, a collection of multiple genres cultivated through several collaborations, with its own distinct thumbprint.

Lalli’s multiple collectives and projects throughout the years include writing, recording, and performing with artists such as Queens of the Stone Age, Mark Lanagan, Greg Dulli, Greg Ginn, covering a wide arrangement of musical styles, not least of all his current long-standing band, Fatso Jetson. Lalli’s key interview appearances in several documentary films – “LoSound Desert”, “Desert Age”, “Such Hawks Such Hounds,” Dave Grohl’s HBO series “Sonic Highways” – all reflect just how deep his footprint is planted on the rock music scene. Lalli has released nine studio albums with Fatso Jetson, six with Yawning Man, four with The Sort of Quartet, and has contributed to numerous bands in the stoner rock and desert rock scenes in a career spanning over forty years.

Mario Lalli & The Rubber Snake Charmers “began in 2010 with a focus on live psychedelic rock improvisation and sonic experimentation,” with Lalli as its curator. Some of the past Snake Charmers include, Dino Lalli (Mario’s son), Gary Arce (Yawning Man), Tony Tornay, Joe Baiza, Vince Meghrouni, Mathias Schneeberger, Bill Stinson, Nick Oliveri (Queens of the Stone Age, Mondo Generator), Janet Housden, Michael Glass, Alain Johaness (Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, PJ Harvey, Chris Cornell, Arctic Monkeys, Mark Lanegan), Jason Simon, Dave Travis, John Ramirez, and Herb Lienau, to name a few. You are likely to see any combination of these and other players in live performances, always anchored by Lalli’s heavy grooving, morphing dynamic bass lines. Lalli provides a canvas where each participant is encouraged to create fine lines or splatter and explode into chaos. “Wherever it goes, it goes,” says Lalli.

Lalli and Wheeler fearlessly bear their legendary naked souls as they come full circle to give musical testament to what it truly means to have sand in your blood. They’ve been practicing their whole lives for this, and it shows. To be release March 29, 2024 by Heavy Psych Sounds Records, “Folklore From the Other Desert Cities” is a necessary addition to any discerning rock and roll collection.

Black and white photos courtesy of Mos Desert Tavern. Other photos by Mario Lalli.

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