Singer Gavin Blair and guitarists Richard McGrath and Russ Tolman collectively known as True West perform for the first time together since 1985 in August 2006 in Portland and at Seattle's Crocodile Cafe as part of the west coast International Pop Overthrow (IPO) festival. Joining Blair, McGrath and Tolman will be Portland based drummer (and Paisley Pop label founder) Jim Huie and bassist Ian Barrett.
Originally from California's Sacramento Valley, guitarslingers True West first gained attention in 1982 with their 7-inch 45 of the Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd "Lucifer Sam"/"Mas Reficul" (for maximum psych effect placing the same song backwards on the B side). Contemporaries and friends with L.A. bands such as The Dream Syndicate (Blair and Tolman had been bandmates with a pre-syndicate Steve Wynn), Green On Red, Rain Parade, and the Long Ryders, True West soon came to the attention of music writers in the East Coast, UK, and Europe as part of the West Coast neo-psychedelic movement dubbed The Paisley Underground. However, what distinguished them from the rest of the paisley pack was the blazing twin lead guitar interplay of McGrath and Tolman.
Their 1983 self-released five song 12" EP (on Bring Out Your Dead Records) enabled them to tour the U.S. non-stop, coming to the attention of Television guitarist Tom Verlaine who took them to upstate New York's Bearsville Studios to record demos for EMI America. More attention from the music press followed with True West being singled out in the March 29,1984 Rolling Stone magazine feature entitled "Rock & Roll Rookies: Ten Bands You'll Be Hearing From Soon."
September 1984 saw the release of the band's album Drifters on PVC/Passport (the label that had previously released albums like Big Star's Third and the U.S. versions of the debut albums from The Cure and Siouxsie and The Banshees). While not as gritty and psychedelic as the band's debut (which by this time had been re-released as an eight song mini-LP called Hollywood Holiday), Drifters with its folk-rock influences was dubbed "guitar poetry" by Rolling Stone scribe David Fricke.
Other 80s luminaries started noticing the band, such as Prince who passed along the word after one Minneapolis show that the small purple one was greatly impressed with guitarist McGrath's lyrical leads.
True West landed in London in April 1985 amidst what the UK music press had declared "The American Invasion," which had been kicked off a few months earlier by the arrival of REM. Suddenly, England couldn't get enough of American guitar bands and True West made the front pages of the big three music publications of the day: the NME, Melody Maker, and Sounds. Several major labels came courting with talk of production by Steve Lillywhite (U2, XTC) but problems with their work permits did not allow the band to make scheduled appearances on The Old Grey Whistle Test and other British TV that would have pushed them over the top and into the arms of a waiting major, unlike the rest of their paisley amigos. After a successful tour of the European continent, the band returned to the U.S. to write and prepare to record their third album.
However, as soon as they were home, REM invited True West to join them for the 17 date western U.S and Canada portion of the Athens combo’s 1985 Fables Of The Reconstruction tour. Playing venues such as Seattle's Paramount Theatre, L.A.'s Greek Theatre and Irvine Meadows put True West in front of the largest audiences of their career.
Two years of constant touring, several disappointing close brushes with a major label recording contract, and Tolman's less than stellar behavior had taken their toll on the band and True West called it quits in the summer of 1985; only to reform without Tolman shortly after and go onto record and release their third album Hand Of Fate the next year. However tragedy struck when bassist Kevin Staydohar (who had also been a member of Central Valley pioneers Thin White Rope) died of a heart valve infection in 1988.
In the intervening years, guitarist Richard McGrath was a member of Wall of Voodoo frontman Stan Ridgeway's band and joined singer Gavin Blair to release two albums as The Fool Killers (a recently released collection Out Of State Miracle is out on the Paisley Pop label). Russ Tolman has recorded seven solo albums, the most recent released in 2000.