Conquering The Local Club Circuit With House of Cards


Just what is “making it” in the local bar scene, and why would anybody even try it in the first place? SLUG and Al James (lead guitar/vocals, House of Cards) sat down one stormy Sunday afternoon to talk about it. 

House of Cards has been an ever evolving effort for a few years now, in different incarnations. First as The Backyardbirds and then The Vipers (a much more acoustic act). Then in late ‘88 came came H.O.C. They played as openers for tour acts like Fugazi at the now defunct Speedway Cafe. They also played a few dates at the Bar and Grill including opening for Universal Congress Of and they played Mayfest at the University of Utah in ‘89. Back then they didn’t get much recognition by local publications. One exception was a write-up in the Daily Utah Chronicle at the University. House of Cards was surprised to hear that they got a rave review for a show they played at the B & G. The commentary on H.O.C. was especially surprising because it was one of the only bright spots in a review that dissed some other original locals. 

First, lets’ get the vitals out of the way. H.O.C. is Al James’ most recent blues project. Al has played in numerous bands over the past ten-odd years. He’s been playing blues guitar since 1976. H.O.C. Al’s priority project for now and he plans on making it work. H.O.C. has been playing a lot around town lately and have already had their fair share of ups and downs. We’ll get to that a little later. Locals may remember the bands Al has played with over the years. At this point, who they were and when they played, he feels, is a muddled memory and not really significant anymore. 

Lance Weaver (drums, vocals) is considered the co-founder of H.O.C. Like his guitar counterpart, he also goes back in the SL scene and has been playing with Al for six years. He and Al can be considered the core of H.O.C. George Ayers (bass) is the oldest member of the band. He has played with Liz Draper and LZ5 and also with the acoustic Angle band. Angle included Ron Miller and Paul Maritsas. They released a 10” in 1978. Of all the bands he has played with, H.O.C. suits George’s musical style best.

Evan Williams (blues-harp) has played with Al in all of his blues concepts through the years including The Vipers and Backyardbirds. His harp adds another voice to the band, which used to be played by Phil Miller (saxophone). Miller is working on a lot of other projects and hasn’t played with H.O.C. lately. 

People might also recall that Al left Salt Lake in ‘89 to play guitar for Poison Idea in Portland. They were on the road nationally and were supposed to go on a European tour but, surprise, it fell through. Reflecting on that time in his life, Al says “It’s okay, I mean, it was fun we were on the cover of Flipside, and I got to meet a lot of really cool people. When it came down to the money, it really wasn’t paying off that much and it wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And how long can you stay angry anyway?” After awhile, Al decided that he’d rather be home and playing his own songs, so he moved back to Salt Lake. 

An interesting side note: At a point when Al wasn’t sure if he wanted to stick with Poison Idea, he met up with Dave Grohl (formerly of Scream) in San Francisco. Scream was breaking up, and Grohl wanted to keep it going. He asked Al if he wanted to join his band. Al turned down the offer and moved back to Salt Lake. Dave went on to luck into joining the latest lineup of Nirvana.

Since Al has come back to Salt Lake, the current version of H.O.C. is getting more recognition than ever before. They have felt the ups and downs of the industry. On one hand, playing weeknights locally is difficult. You can promote the hell out of the show and maybe fifty people will show up. On the other hand, just when things look bleak, something inspiring will happen.

One such instance was in October, when H.O.C. opened for The Palladins at the B & G. The Palladins thanked H.O.C. over and over throughout their set (reminiscent of when H.O.C. opened for U.C.O. at the B & G and Joe Biaza/guitar, U.C.O. invited Al onto the stage to play with them on a couple of songs). Dave Gonzales (guitar, The Palladins) and Al talked for a long time after the show. Their conversation covered a broad range of topics from guitars and amps to The Golden Bear, a well-known L.A. venue. Gonzalez told Al he used to go there (before it was a punk rock club). He said that going to see bands like Albert King and Buddy Guy and Junior Wells changed his life. For Gonzalez to give H.O.C. his vote of confidence was a real boost. 

Another exciting break for H.O.C. came to them after the Palladins show. The owner of The Grey Moose Pub in Ogden gave them a warm invitation to play at his club. H.O.C. played a show there once already and were very well-received by the Ogden audience. The Grey Moose management is promising them a future weekend date and Al thinks they could develop a good following in the Ogden area. Could it be easier to break the ice in Ogden than in Salt Lake?

H.O.C. also is very grateful to KRCL and happy about the fact that they were invited to play at the annual Day In The Park celebration at Liberty Park. “They have been very helpful and H.O.C. thanks them,” says Al.

H.O.C does have a demo but it no longer represents their sound. They were quieter and more acoustic when they recorded last. Since then, H.O.C.’s sound is more electric, with a harder edge. They hope to record something that better represents their new sound soon.

It seems preferable to mature as a musician or a band in the way great blues musicians like BB King have than to maintain a hardcore mentality toward music. That answers the question some may be asking … “Why would Al rather be in a blues band when he could play hardcore?” For now, experimenting with other genres like blues is more challenging than the hardcore thing, which is fun but easy to master. All five members of H.O.C. play guitar, three play banjo and George rips it up on the lap-steel drums as well as playing bass. Don’t be surprised if you hear of an acoustic House of Cards playing in coffee shops.

As far as other future possibilities…it would be great if they could tour as an opener for a national blues act. Here at home. H.O.C. would be happy if they could develop a consistent following in Salt Lake and other cities, regionally. Playing the ski resorts in the winter and the bars could provide a modest but adequate income. Playing music for a living, now that can be considered making it. 

Someday some corporate big-wig will be here in town and hear H.O.C. in some local bar. The guy will call up his industry buddies and say, “Hey, you’ll never believe this, I’m in the middle of nowhereville Salt Lake City, and I heard this great band and … Blah, blah, blah. H.O.C., like every other band in this country are waiting to be that hot new band.” The thing is, they already are.


For more from the SLUG Archives:

What’s Wrong With KJQ, Anyway?

Comics: November 1991