Ward Dotson, the brilliantly understated guitarist whose atmospheric style was a critical component of early ’80s Hollywood underground rock legends the Gun Club, is definitely an odd one. Widely recognized as one of the post-punk era’s most engagingly progressive musicians, Dotson is a dry, droll cat with a mile-wide streak of ingenuous, self-deprecating humor and, for an artist with his singular, significant cachet, a refreshingly disarming lack of ego.
In fact, Dotson, who went on to lead the Pontiac Brothers and the Liquor Giants in the 1990s, has been missing in action since the century’s turn, but with his new ’60s-pop-fixated Golden Sombrero, all that is changing.
“I hadn’t done any music, seriously, in about 10 years,” Dotson said. “We did two shows last year. There were eight people at the first one, and even less at the second, so we really got off to a real whiz-bang start.”
Golden Sombrero, which will appear at Viva Cantina in Burbank on Sept. 6, is perhaps the last thing Gun Club fans would expect. The latter’s stark, dark, punk-blues was the complete opposite of Golden Sombrero’s lush, sunny, classic pop approach. With a set list that includes numbers from Burt Bacharach, Dusty Springfield and Glen Campbell, it seems like an unlikely stretch, but that doesn’t bother Dotson.
“It’s all about great songs. Other people’s songwriting matters,” Dotson said. “I don’t care if people want to hear it or not, we just want to play them. Even that novelty band, Gun Club, that I was in a hundred years ago did a lot of cover songs. And Jeff [as in Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Gun Club’s infamously volatile frontman] and I met way, way back and both of us were always really into songwriters. In fact, it was Jeff who told me that Burt Bacharach was the one who wrote the theme song to ‘The Blob.’”
Golden Sombrero’s somewhat ignominious debut soon gave way to a high-voltage word of mouth, and the band’s increasingly well-attended performances are uniformly fascinating, swinging models of dog-eared grace and admirably rough-and-ready musicality.
“We play late 1950’s and early 1960’s Adult Contemporary, which is hard for a garage band,” Dotson said. “And this is about the loosest band imaginable. We never do anything ‘tight’ or even arrange songs. We just kind of screw around with it, but just in the last four months we started again and something happened: People showed up and liked it and we started feeling more confident and good about it. So we play even better.”
The band’s affection and involvement with the material (including such AM radio classics as “Daydream Believer,” “Little Red Book” and “Galveston”) makes for an arresting combination of atmosphere and technique that displays a surprisingly expressive spirit that really draws the listener in.
This unusual mix of familiar themes and idiosyncratic musical redefinition has always been Dotson’s calling card, and with bassist Steve K and drummer Charles Maxey, Golden Sombrero is extending and enhancing the Dotsonian School of Musical Cool with an admirable velocity.
“It’s a dream come true,” Dotson said. “This started as a joke band but here I am, talking to you and we just got a call from Burger Records, some hip little cassette-only label in Orange County, and they want us to put out an album.”
“This is the best my life has ever been. To hear people saying ‘You guys are really good,’ or ‘You’re the best band in L.A.’ is fantastic. So, I just say, ‘Awesome. Let’s learn another song.’”
Where: Viva Cantina, 900 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank
When: Saturday, September 6, 9 p.m.
More info: (818) 845-2425,vivacantina.com
JOHNNY WHITESIDE is a veteran music journalist based in Burbank and author of “Ramblin' Rose: the Life & Career of Rose Maddox” and “Cry: the Johnnie Ray Story.”