Red Dress, Part 2

Posted: August 3, 2011 in Red Dress

Childhood friends Gary Minkler and Rich Riggins essentially created Red Dress.  They grew up in Seattle’s North End, where the city’s punk rock scene originated in the mid ’70s.  They both graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1968, the same institution that later produced Jim Basnight (Meyce/Moberlys), Lee Lumsden (Meyce), Tom Price (U-Men), and Duff McKagan (10 Minute Warning/Guns N Roses).  After high school, the pair migrated down to the U-District, taking in the glam and later punk scene.  Like a lot of young kids interested in music, they listened to records together.

Desiring to move beyond classic rock stalwarts such as the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, the pair began listening to Frank Zappa, as well as jazz and classical artists such as Ornette Coleman and Igor Stravinsky.  Minkler then heard Captain Beefheart’s seminal Trout Mask Replica and everything changed.  Beefheart’s strange combination of offbeat lyrics, odd musical constructions, and varied time signatures blew up Minkler’s world.

In a sense, Beefheart became the palette that would allow Red Dress’ singer to create his own musical oddities.  Minkler’s mind housed his own oddball fantasies, and Beefheart inspired him to set those storylines to music.

At the same time, Riggins began to gravitate more to punk rock.  In 1976, Riggins formed Chinas Comidas with poet/singer Cynthia Genser and split off from Red Dress.  Minkler continued to investigate his own band’s evolving creative process, soon adding guitarists Pete Pendras and John Olufs in Riggins’ place.

While Minkler provides the artistic spark that makes Red Dress breathe, Pendras and Olufs offer an interactive approach rare among guitar players.  Red Dress doesn’t have the typical lead and rhythm guitar model.  Instead, the two players have created a partnership that allows space for each musician to shine, as long as each player’s contribution fits within the storyline and structure Minkler sets forth.

The guitarists feed off each other, constantly listening, responding, and improvising.  This arrangement does not occur consciously, however.  During live performances, Olufs and Pendras stand on opposite sides of the stage, communicating in ways only artists can.  Their chemistry allows one or the other to take more of a lead, depending on the song, Minkler’s vision, and how they are interpreting the music at the moment.  One thing, however: ego does not determine who gets the lead.  “And I think we both kinda have that same sense of kind of yielding [to the other player],” says Olufs, “and then realizing, [it’s] not just yielding and deferring to the other guy all the time.  It’s also [saying], ‘No, what I’m doing is taking over.’… It’s also nothing we’d ever talked about.”

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