In his later years, the great Joe Strummer hosted London Calling, a radio show on the BBC World Service. Strummer blended the music he was known for – punk, reggae, dub, and 50s rock & roll – with cumbia, protest folk, blues, Soweto township jive, and more. On paper, it looks like a disparate lot, but in Strummer’s hands, a distinct vibe united the songs across musical, geographical, and temporal boundaries. Drummer/songwriter/singer Dave Purcell listened to the show obsessively as it matched the sounds in his head and inspired his desire to build a band that could bring them to life. That band is Radio Free ABQ.
Radio Free ABQ’s journey began in summer 2021 when Purcell landed up in Albuquerque after three decades of leading successful bands in Cincinnati. Over 13 years and three records, the fiery Pike 27 – driven by Purcell’s songs that were equally influenced by alternative and roots music — garnered enthusiastic reviews and radio airplay, won regional music awards, opened for national acts, and earned a reputation as one of the area’s best live bands. Purcell took a step closer to his vision by founding Ghost Man On Second, an instrumental quartet with the motto “soundtracks for the movies in your head.” Ghost Man quickly gained a following while drawing on a wider range of influences than Pike 27. Shortly after arriving in ABQ, Purcell joined folk-rock orchestra Dust City Opera on drums. After a year of touring and recording with DCO, he assembled the right players to bring his vision to life and left the band to begin RFABQ.
Ryan Goodhue (High Desert Playboys) brings a deep knowledge of musical styles including jazz, Tex-Mex, and country on keyboard and accordion. Travis Rourk (DCO) is the band’s Swiss Army Knife, putting his UNM music degree to work on trombone, synth, and guitar. Scott Brewer (DCO) holds down the bottom end as one of the city’s most melodic bassists. Guitarist Paul Milazzo grew up in NYC at the height of the city’s CBGB scene and draws on a lifelong music obsessive’s warehouse of influences.
Together, these five bring to life the concepts that Purcell scribbled in his journal after listening to Strummer on the BBC World Service: “Shortwave radio in the attic at midnight. A Jim Jarmusch soundtrack. Good grooves. Somewhere between London, Kingston, New Orleans, Memphis. A musical conversation – among us and with the audience.” What the hell does that even mean? Catch Radio Free ABQ live and find out.
Inspirations and influences
Calexico, Los Lobos, R.E.M., The Clash, Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros, The Police, Elvis Costello, David Bowie, Mark Guiliana, Paul Weller, Alejandro Escovedo, Tony Allen, Morphine, Grant Lee Buffalo, The Iguanas, Bill Frisell, vintage tube amps, numbers stations, novels by Anthony Doerr and Paul Theroux, roasted green chiles.