SALT LAKE CITY ” Fifteen years ago, the Arizona-based quartet The Refreshments released their cult-classic album Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big & Buzzy, and lead singer Roger Clyne was on top of the world. The album was the perfect blend of upbeat rock songs with crunching guitars and irreverent lyrics marinated in a Southwestern flavor.
The album spawned a couple of alternative rock and college radio hits in “Banditos” and “Down Together.” In addition, the group wrote the theme music for TV’s King of the Hill.
Fast forward to 2011 and while The Refreshments are but a long ago good memory, their music lives on. Clyne recently released his sixth studio album with his band, Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers, titled Unida Cantina, his most upbeat album since FFB&B. And he set a world record in the process.
Last month, RCPM, who include former Refreshments’ drummer PH Naffah, guitarist Jim Dalton and bassist Nick Scropos, released Unida Cantina. It climbed to No. 2 on Billboard’s Heatseeker Chart and reached the top five on iTunes’ rock albums chart.
“I’m really grateful our audience did that for us,” Clyne said during a recent tour stop in Montana. “They responded by getting it up on the charts. It’s awesome.”
Clyne rocks out on songs such as “Dinero,” “All Over The Radio,” and “Go With the Flow” (which has a very “Down Together” feel) while the Spanish-laced “Marie” has become an instant hit with fans.
The album title itself is a play on words. It can be pronounced in proper Spanish, but it still fits if delivered in gringo-speak, (“You-need-a Cantina.” Get it?)
During the Unida Cantina album release party in Scottsdale, Arizona, in April, fans were encouraged to wear a sombrero. The goal was to set the world record for most sombreros in one place at one time, while also raising money for charity. The record was shattered and was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records.
Clyne has always had a close association with Mexico. He spent a semester in Ensenada while attending Arizona State University to study Spanish. And for his his ethnography assignment in anthropology while at ASU, he studied mariachis.
It was while he was with a group of mariachis that he learned the difference between cheap American tequila and real tequila from Mexico. Today, Clyne markets his own personal brand of tequila called Mexican Moonshine.
Each year, RCPM head down to Puerto Penasco, Mexico, also known as Rocky Point, about 60 miles south of the Arizona border. The annual Circus Mexicus celebration is two nights and one day of music and draws thousands of fans from around the world. The band plays on the beach near the Sea of Cortez. Other bands performing this year include Austin roots-rockers Shurman and The Hickman-Dalton Gang, an all-star lineup of Colorado musicians including Dalton and Johnny Hickman of Cracker.
This year marks the 20th Circus Mexicus fiesta (for several years, the band did two Circus Mexicus concerts per year). Looking back at the past 19, Clyne was asked to pick his top three memories.
The first was where it all began, the first Circus Mexicus event on the roof of the Sunset Cantina. There really wasn’t a soundcheck, Clyne said. The band would simply ask the audience how it was sounding and adjust their instruments accordingly. There was also a bevy of wires strung along the rooftop to get everything to work.
But as the band played that night, the power from the PA faded to the point that the audience couldn’t hear. It wasn’t until Naffah reached behind his drum kit and unplugged a giant inflatable beer bottle that power was fully restored to the PA system.
His next memory was from the show on Oct. 26, 2002, known by many fans as the infamous rain storm show and still one of the most talked about Circus Mexcius events to this day. The band and the audience became one that night.
“We stood there in thunder, lightning, rain and wind altogether and weathered it,” Clyne said.
His third memory was from 2009 when Circus Mexicus moved from its longtime home next to the Sunset Cantina to a huge sandy amphitheatre next to Chango’s Bar.
“It was a much bigger place, a much more logistical undertaking. Everything was working against us. There were poor economic conditions, fears of H1N1, (new U.S.) passport laws, travel advisories…But I remember walking on stage and seeing a sea of really enthusiastic people. It was a relief and also really humbling.”
This year’s Circus Mexicus celebration, or CMXX, happens June 10-12.