The music of Mario Lalli and Gary Arce has inspired and moved me since the mid-’80s, when I first discovered the desert’s underground music scene.
Mario Lalli, with his band Fatso Jetson, is loved and respected as a leader in the worldwide music community that has more than embraced desert (stoner) rock. He is world-famous for hosting the generator parties at which the very first desert rock shows took place—in box canyons, empty swimming pools and abandoned nudist colonies.
“I left for L.A. after high school and moved to Culver City for a year,” he said. “While I was there, I met David Travis and many other people who are still dear to me today. When I returned to the desert, David and I began hosting the generator parties.”
Those legendary parties began getting busted by local law enforcement and eventually wound down and largely disappeared. Today, they still exist—very underground, and as rare treats. They also live on in many of our minds. I will never forget seeing Fatso Jetson in a canyon on a cardboard stage and being blown away—almost literally—along with hundreds of other Fatso Jetson fans.
Since Dead Issue, the first band Lalli formed in 1981, he has attracted other musicians who were fearless and like-minded in the way they thought about creating music, in bands including Fatso Jetson and Yawning Man. Players like Arce, Scott Reeder, Alfredo Hernandez, Larry Lalli (Mario’s cousin), Rob Peterson, Tony Tornay and Brant Bjork have been in and out of many music projects together over the years. Today, these musicians attract tens of thousands of music fans when they tour Europe each year with their various bands, and are widely regarded as movers and shakers who helped define a genre: desert rock.
As a songwriter, Mario seems to be a bottomless pit of innovation. As a guitarist, he is a tone master who has a passion for the surfed-out guitar tones of the 1960s. He pulls from a wide range of styles and nuances of jazz, punk, acid rock and blues, which can all be experienced within the realms of Fatso Jetson. As a bassist, he has an identifiable style that is riff-driven with a deep sense of exploration. Listening to his contributions to Yawning Man, you feel you are riding a great wave with a torrid rip current looming beneath.
Meanwhile, guitarist and composer Gary Arce could be called the Frank Zappa of the desert. He is a true artist who has never allowed musical knowledge to trump pure imagination. He fearlessly explores complex times, mood-altering motifs and intricate ideas through unique instrumentation ranging from knee-benders mounted on vintage guitars, to vintage amps that produce specific tones. Gary can pick up any instrument, whether or not he has ever played it, and find his way to the sounds he envisions in his mind’s eye. Examples of this can be heard in the music of early Fatso Jetson, Yawning Man, Ten East and most definitely in the work of the late, lamented Sort of Quartet.
It all started on what had been a very long day for Mario Lalli.
“Alfredo (Hernandez) and I were living at Mario’s, and neither of us had jobs,” Arce remembered. “Mario would go off to work each day, and Fredo and I would get up, start drinking beer and writing music.
“One day, Mario came home after what must have been a brutal day of work. He walked into the room where we were loudly jamming and asked if we minded cooling it. … He seemed sort of bummed and went into his bedroom to lay down. When he left the room, Alfredo said, ‘Maybe he wants to jam with us?’ I walked back to his room and asked if he wanted to jam, and I swear, he sprung up from the bed wide-eyed and bushy-tailed.
“Yawning Man was born.”
In its earliest version in the 1980s, Yawning Man included Arce (guitar), Lalli (bass), Larry Lalli (second guitar) and Hernandez (drums). Yawning Man created deep sonic landscapes, and explored textures and moods with expansive jams fueled by the imagination and guitar genius of Gary. Today, Yawning Man continues to influence bands and cultivate a following as a cult favorite. The band slipped apart for awhile, but over the years, the members would regroup and go on to create new music. It wasn’t until 2005 that the band finally recorded a full length record, Rock Formations, which was followed by Vista Point (2007) and Nomadic Pursuits (2010). There are also several EPs out there including a Fatso Jetson/Yawning Man split in 2013.
Gary continues to breathe new life into Yawning Man, and today, the band features Bill Stinson on drums, Jennifer Irvine on Cello, Arce on guitar, and Mario Lalli on bass.
When Fatso Jetson formed in 1995, Gary Arce was part of the mix—but not for long.
“I was flaking out and not showing up to rehearsals. Levi, my first son was born, and I needed to get my shit together. So, I told them to go on without me.
“Some of the records have actually featured Yawning Man songs written by me and Mario. Looking back, it was the right thing to do. When you have a family, you have to make sacrifices … even with your music. My family is everything to me, and my kids will always come first. I am fortunate to get to tour every year with Yawning Man in the states and in Europe and share the stage with Fatso Jetson.”
The live Fatso Jetson experience of today is not one of an underground cult favorite. The band delivers a blistering set that would awaken the senses of even the most discerning music fan.
Since those early days, Fatso Jetson has recorded an impressive catalog filled with expressionistic, expansive and highly imaginative compositions that pull from a wide array of genres, including jazz, acid rock, surf, punk and more. The roster today includes Mario Lalli on guitar and vocals; Larry Lalli on bass; Tony Tornay on drums; Vince Meghrouni on sax, harmonica and vocals; and Mario’s son, Dino Von Lalli, on second guitar.
Both Fatso Jetson and Yawning Man have been working together for decades. Between the two bands, they have recorded 11 full-length records and several splits.
And more music is coming soon: Mario Lalli said that both bands are currently recording new albums at Rancho de la Luna, and that both bands will be playing at the Yosemite Music Festival, on Friday and Saturday, July 11 and 12.
“We have just been offered a festival in Holland and a week of club dates while we are there,” Lalli said. “Then, in November, we will all be headed back to Europe for a full tour including Poland and Czech Republic, Sweden and the Netherlands. My son, Dino, just graduated from high school, and I have freed my time for the next six months to focus on a push in the music for both bands. Both records will feature the awesome creative talents of some very special guests, and we are really excited about the music.”
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/fatsojetson and www.facebook.com/yawningmanofficial. For more information on the Yosemite Music Festival, visit www.yosemitemusicfestival.com. To read an expanded version of this article with a video tour of the music, visit Desert Rock Chronicles at rminjtree.blogspot.com.