Living Out of His Truck, Lefty Phillips Never Loses Faith in the Blues

Categories: Locals Only

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Ken Stafford
Lefty Phillips (left) with bassist Paul Bonnano
Lefty Phillips is reminded of the choice he made every morning, as he wakes up in the bed of his 1996 Ford Tacoma. The day creeps in and warms the worn, gray camper shell over his head. He's gotten good at finding inconspicuous overnight parking in Long Beach's residential areas.

"To my surprise, there are lots of places to park where people don't seem to mind," Phillips says with a note of optimism.

Still, sometimes it's awkward exiting his vehicle in the morning, shaking off last night's gig as people are jumping into their cars to go to work. Inside his cozy abode, Phillips has the bare necessities: a feathered comforter, a camping stove, an amp and a couple of electric guitars.
It's been more than a year since Phillips started living out of his truck in February 2013, busking on the streets by day, playing clubs by night. After the economic crash of the late '00s and losing his last job as a janitor at a local community college, the 45-year-old guitarist had enough of working for the Man.

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DJ Carisma: Santa Ana's Hometown Heroine

Categories: Locals Only

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Lalo the Giant
DJ Carisma
When it comes to spinning hip-hop on the ones and twos, DJ Carisma is the sole woman you'll find on the FM dial in Los Angeles. Her distinctive platform on Power 106 didn't come easy. Deejaying, as with other elements of the culture, is all too often a man's world.

Carisma, who grew up all over Orange County, finally landed in Santa Ana, whose only notable claim on rap radio comes courtesy of a verse in Warren G's "This DJ." While an unlikely launching pad for a girl with DJ dreams, the city influenced Carisma's eclectic take in her mixes. "My dad was always into blues, jazz and classic rock," Carisma says. "My mom was always into her Christian and Hawaiian music. . . . Everyone listened to everything in my family except for hip-hop."


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Rapper XYZ Makes Hip-Hop for Gamers

Categories: Locals Only

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Frank Ishman
After he got his drivers license suspended as a teenager for drag racing, rapper Jason Park had a tough decision to make. Born in Hawaii and spending a chunk of his childhood in Columbus, Ga. with his mother, the avid video gamer knew his budding basketball career was done, and now, even though he could still race without a license, it wasn't a viable option.

Thankfully, Park had another hobby: writing and recording music.

A self-described R&B head who was influenced by the likes of Next and Boyz II Men, he made his first song as a sophomore in high school at a friend's house and was instantly hooked. With his basketball and driving aspirations in the rearview mirror, music provided him a much-needed creative outlet and Park put together a small studio in his room where he could record songs for fun.

"I never thought I'd make music, but I noticed when I recorded my first song, I couldn't stop," he says looking back at those early days.

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Locals Only: Common Kings Are Royals

Categories: Locals Only

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Commong Kings
Anything but common

Common Kings are poised for a major breakout. They just came off a tour with Justin Timberlake--13 dates across Australia and New Zealand--and for their debut LP, Hits and Mrs. (due mid-January), they're in the studio with a team of A-list producers that includes Timberlake's longtime co-songwriter/producer Rob Knox, Grammy winner Supa Dups (Eminem, Drake, Bruno Mars) and Brian Kennedy (Ciara, Rhianna).

"We're praying on it, bro," says lead singer Sasualei "JR King" Maliga, a Samoa-born crooner gifted with a honey-tone three-octave range, a vocal styling that would probably make the final rounds of NBC's The Voice. "We're in the mouths of some big-time people, and I think it's just a matter of time before we get a big break."


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The Great and Powerful Big Oz: Irvine's Afghan Rapper Delivers Battle-Tested Rhymes

Categories: Locals Only

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Fahim Farand

It didn't take long for Omar Azizi to establish himself as the biggest presence in a room. He easily outweighed his fellow newborns in a LA hospital nursery, tipping the scales at 12 pounds.

Twenty-eight years later, the Irvine rapper known as "Big Oz" towers onstage, thanks to an imposing 6-foot-6, 285-pound frame. The Afghan-American rapper now stands poised with outsized ambitions to chart a continental reach with his rhymes.

But Azizi's pathway hasn't been without its obstacles. His father, who fled Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion, loves to sing and play accordion but didn't want his son to live a musician's life. He raised Azizi to be cultured while priming him for a future in politics.

"As a kid, I wrote a lot of poetry," 
Azizi says.


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Gianna X Gianna Is Sweetly Eccentric

Categories: Locals Only

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Onstage, Gianna X Gianna is a towering presence in platform shoes, a sparkly leotard and spidery black mascara. Her blond hair is dyed a faded, cotton-candy hue; a mischievous grin peels apart her ruby-red lips as though she's a sultry super-villain. With her spastic intensity and robotic gyrations, the rapping songstress has carved her niche in OC as the most eye-catching element of sibling hip-hop/electro outfit BLOK. But in terms of calculating her sweat and creative output over the years, that's barely the half of it.

She views everything she does--rapping, singing, acting, directing, writing books--as a platform to convey her mission as an artist. "I want to be vulnerable and showcase that, and hopefully, that resonates on some level for people who want to do it themselves as well," the bubbly Gianna says.


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Nicker Jones and His Freaky Blues

Categories: Locals Only

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Photo by Gianna Gianna, produced by Luka Fisher
There's a strange world swirling inside Nicker Jones. For the first few minutes of our recent lunch conversation at Memphis Cafe in Costa Mesa, he gazes down intently at his shrimp po'boy sandwich with a smirk on his face.

"It's hard talking about myself," the 24-year-old says shyly. "This is actually one of my first interviews."

But you can sense the wheels of creativity spinning, even when he's not saying much. Of course, anyone who has seen Jones live knows it's usually his manic, blues-fueled freakouts and ankle-breaking dance moves that do the talking when he's onstage.


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Charles Fullwood Is Mr. Soultronica

Categories: Locals Only

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Haila Fullwood
By: Christine Terrisse
A young man plugs in his guitar amp and gets ready to play. The acoustics are good in the lobby of the Santora Arts building in downtown Santa Ana. A few of his friends slouch against the wall. He has dressed the part of a stereotypical OC dude: plaid shirt, board shorts and a beanie. Sometimes, he ditches the beanie, and a mass of tawny curls frames his symmetric face.

His voice starts slowly as he plucks a few chords. Then comes the jolt in a piercing raw-edged tenor: "I need this much! I need you, oh/I need you here/I need you right now."
That voice belongs to 24-year-old Charles Fullwood, and the lyric is from "This Much," off his five-track EP. In his bedroom studio, he specializes in a sound dubbed soultronica: an aural cocktail combining the neo-soul of Maxwell and the raw energy and synth of a Dirty Mind-era Prince.

A big part of his sound is the Korg Kaoisslator Pro synthesizer, which he dubs "kawesomelater."


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OC's Country Musicians Are Sick of Being Ignored

Categories: Locals Only

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Jen Fedrizzi
Daniel Bonte
Igniting a music movement in Orange County is no easy feat, but according to frontman Daniel Bonte of Daniel Bonte and The Bona Fide, a movement is exactly what local country music needs. The Indiana-bred singer set to work finding a venue that would serve as a hub for Southern California country artists, and found a home in the stomping grounds of Cal State Fullerton. The singer snagged a Friday night slot at Big's Bar & Grill for his "California Country" series in hopes of exposing a country music scene.

When Bonte approached various Orange County club owners with the idea of billing original country music, he was met with opposition. Venues were communicating heavy interest in cover songs, but little attention was given to new material. Bonte says that in some cases, venue operators wanted complete control of set lists. "I don't mind playing other people's music every once in awhile, as long as we do it our way," Bonte says. "But I'm not gonna have anybody tell me what I can and can't play. That's bullshit and I'm not gonna do it."


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Rules of Attraction Aren't Afraid to Get Ugly

Categories: Locals Only

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Courtesy of Alex Vincent
A rattle comes from the glass back door of TK Burger in Costa Mesa. Outside, a few cute teenage girls in short shorts and snug tank tops pull on the handle and stare inside like lost puppy dogs. During the lunch rush, they're the third or fourth group to try to get in through the locked door; on the other side of the restaurant, the front door is wide open. All the unfortunate schlubs who tried the handle before them got cold shoulders and smirks from patrons inside. But not these ladies. Within a few seconds, some tan surfer dude wearing flip-flops and a toothy grin trots over and opens it for them.

Alex Vincent observes the scene from a nearby booth. Watching this cliché act of chivalry between chomps of a juicy cheeseburger, he sighs a little and shakes his head, which is sporting a black-and-white admiral's cap with gold trim.

"You see that?" he asks under his breath, his eyes motioning toward the door. "There's a good example for you: No one ever ignores pretty girls."

It's that kind of double standard regarding society's obsession with beauty that stokes Vincent's ire. Combining hardcore aggression, orchestral layers, dark imagery and creepy surf tone guitar, his band, appropriately named Rules of Attraction, create a platypus of sounds that's unattractive on paper. Some of it sounds borrowed from his previous band, horror punk outfit Something Horrible (also featured in Locals Only).

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