The Gand Band has been a frequent performer in the Coachella Valley for years—during which the band has often kept the party going all night long.
The group, known for its unique and talented takes on 1960s cover songs, has been selected by Independent readers as this year’s Best Local Band. I recently spoke with Gary and Joan Gand via Zoom about the honor.
“I think it is so exciting,” Joan said. “I mean, it has been many years since we have been playing, and we see these contests come and go by, and we always kind of felt like maybe someday, we’ll be in one of these things. It is really welcome to get something like this to happen this year, especially since it is such a tough year for live music and for our band.”
Added Gary: “Yeah, it is really a thrill, because we have been at it for a really long time—you can tell,” he said, motioning to his long, white beard. “You know, we are not in it to win contests, but to make audiences happy. It is great when they respond to that.”
Joan said the band is a quartet—more or less.
“Gary plays the guitar, and I play keyboards, but a few years ago, I started playing bass on my keyboard as a way to keep the band smaller and to be in control,” Joan said. “We jam quite a bit, and when you are jamming, the bass player is very important, as they kind of lead where the song is going to go. We have two drummers that we work with. We actually have probably about six great drummers that have played with the Gand Band that we still stay in touch with … but it depends on who is available, who is on tour. Larry Mitchell is our main drummer; he plays with Lee Rocker from the Stray Cats, and when he is not on the road, he plays with us. We have various singers that appear with us, but our main singer is Dion Khan, and he is just a fantastic guy, a fantastic frontman. … Whatever the music calls for, whatever the show calls for, we’ll bring in people.”
The band is originally from Chicago, and the Gands made their mark in the Coachella Valley by bringing in some of that Chicago sound.
“When we first started playing in Palm Springs, the music scene was essentially made up of crooners—basically, singers accompanied by piano players doing a lot of Sinatra, Rat Pack stuff,” Gary said. “We thought that there was not enough R&B and Chicago blues around here. We are kids of the ’60s, so the music that we love is the music of the ’60s.”
Added Joan: “We were a blues band in Chicago for many, many years. We started coming out to Palm Springs for winters, and we thought it might be fun to see what the blues scene was like, so we showed up at a jam at one of the now-defunct clubs. It was a great place called The Blue Guitar. We sat in, and we had a great reception, and the music community was very welcoming. … We started playing a little bit at parties, and then we put a band together and started playing at venues. As we played, we discovered people loved blues, but they also loved having a little different music mixed in—some soul and Motown music, and some ’60s pop tunes, like Dusty Springfield. We just started expanding our horizons, and the audiences in Palm Springs loved that, so we just kept going.”
Gary sums up the band’s range thusly: “It was sort of like setting your iPod on 1961 to 1969. It was that whole gamut. So we could go anywhere from early Stax Records artists like Booker T. and the M.G.’s, to later ’60s with The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Cream. We really run the gamut from the Newport Jazz Festival to Woodstock.”
Incorporating their funky style into the scene wasn’t always easy.
“We were always told to turn it down,” said Joan. “We ran into that several times. We changed venues because of that. If they didn’t like it, we moved on.”
Added Gary: “Our basic formula was, if you can’t hear it, you can’t dance to it—and if you can’t dance to it, then you shouldn’t be coming to see us, because we want to see you on the dance floor. We don’t want to see you sitting in your seats talking to each other or trying to hook up. We are not background music.”
The band played every Thursday for several years at Oscar’s in downtown Palm Springs.
“On that patio, we could do anything,” Joan said. “During street fair night, we would get fantastic audiences every week of both locals and visitors. We ended up seeing people come back year after year, because they would book their vacation in Palm Springs every year and see the Gand Band as part of their vacation.”
The Gands said Oscar’s plays an important role in an upcoming project.
“We recently put on a concert which we filmed with Trini Lopez, who had some big folk-rock hits in the early 1960s,” Gary said. “He turned out to be our next-door neighbor.”
Added Joan: “He lived two houses down from us, and he was in his late 70s when we first met him. He was quite the star in the ’60s, and he still could sing great, so we had him do little guest spots with us.”
Said Gary: “Whenever we would get together with Trini, he would tell us these great stories about how Frank Sinatra signed him to his record label. Sinatra had his own record label called Reprise, and Trini was the first rock act on Reprise, because it used to be all Sinatra’s Rat Pack friends. … Whenever we would get together, he would tell us all the stories about all the famous people that used to come see him—Steve McQueen, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, all of the big stars from the early ’60s.
The Gands wanted to give Lopez the respect they felt he deserved.
“After telling us all these stories for so many years, and singing a few songs with us here and there, we teamed up with some local documentary filmmakers in Palm Springs,” Joan said; the film will be titled My Name Is Lopez. “They recently did a movie called House of Cardin that played in Palm Springs and was very popular. We asked them to create a documentary about Trini Lopez’s life and his experiences, and film a live concert at Oscars. We did this in 2019, and the film is now in post-production. It has taken a while, but it is going to be fantastic. We have both vintage footage and a concert that we all did together.
“He unfortunately passed away from COVID in August. That was really sad, so the film is even more important to us. We’re so glad we were able to capture his excitement on film, even when he was 83.”
Before the shutdown, the Gand Band regularly performed at theme nights at PS Underground.
“They do a really unique thing where they do a multi-course gourmet dinner, coordinated with music to a theme,” Joan said. “We were able to write our own shows to do there. We would come in and say, ‘We want to do a 1960s variety show kind of thing called The Beat, and these are the kinds of songs we would like to do, and these are the kinds of performers we would like to have.’ They would coordinate the food and have some 1960s recipes, and they also have great light projection, so we were able to project a lot of cool graphics on the wall behind us.”
While other bands have experimented with live-streamed shows, the Gands said they plan on holding off until performances can be held in person.
“We just really like playing for people, and when you are sitting in your room playing to a television camera and there is no interaction, that really doesn’t turn us on,” Gary said. “We are really there for the audience and the live performance and the interaction with the people—applauding at the end, and the whole thing.”
For more information, visit www.thegandband.com.