by Sarah A. Peterson
Guy Beard may be the front-man for Guy Beard and the Lunch Wagon Romeos, but there actually is no Guy Beard. “He’s more of an archetype,” says Ron Morse, lead vocalist for Fresno’s rockabilly band of four. “He’s the invisible fifth member of the band.” But it’s the group’s four corporeal members (drummer John Shafer, Scats on the Sly bassist Martin Hansen, keyboardist-guitarist-vocalist Leland Vanderpoel, and Morse, who also plays guitar) who make up the real heart and soul of the Lunch Wagon Romeos. “We’ve been jamming together as the Romeos for about two years now,” Morse says. “Our first gig was my 50th birthday party, and about a week later, we played Tokyo Garden.”
Morse’s musical journey began long before the Romeos first made music. “When I was eight years old, I mowed lawns all summer to buy my first guitar,” he says. “I got it at Thrifty’s drugstore for $13.50.” By junior high he was rocking right alongside friend and classmate Blake Jones (of Fresno’s Blake Jones and the Trike Shop, of which Shafer and Hansen are also part) in a garage band they called Amethyst. “Whenever I listen to a recording of us playing back then, it sounds like small mammals being tortured,” laughs Morse. “But we were having a blast and didn’t know any better.”
He credits Johnny Cash and his Uncle Kenny as being his earliest musical influences, but these days they are two of many whose influence contributes to the Romeos’ unique sound. “Chuck Berry, early Cash, NRBQ, Pete Seeger, the Carters, even The Beatles,” Morse says. “It’s all there in the mix–the country, the blues, the folk and the R&B. That’s how we roll.”
Guy Beard and the Lunch Wagon Romeos have played all over Fresno, including performances at Tokyo Garden, Full Circle Brewing Co., Yoshi NOW!’s Fall Hootenanny, and KFSR’s Fresno Grand Opry at Frank’s Place. “We recorded a track for Fresno Covers Fresno, a compilation of local bands covering other local bands,” says Morse. “The song we chose was ‘Windows and Cracks’ by the Town Cryers.”
Other favorite covers of the band’s are Lefty Frizzell’s “Long Black Veil” and “I Got a Rocket in My Pocket” by Stan Beaver. “We play ‘Rocket’ really wild and fast,” Morse says. “It’s so full of bravado and raging teenage hormones.” And while the Romeos write their own material as well, there’s just something about a cover. “You can play a song that’s not your own, but you can remake it as your own. It’s all in how you play it.”
What Morse likes best about performing with the group is the sense of camaraderie. “It’s like a poker night, a barbeque, and a night of bowling all rolled into one,” he says, “a real group effort. Martin brings a big smile into it, and John brings his great Yoda-like advice. And when we’re playing for an audience, it’s such a blast. It’s almost like we’re levitating up over the floor, ready to take off into outer space.”
Check out more local band profiles in KRL’s music section.