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Pioneering pop 

A long lost Gunbunnies’ record and a solo show by its former leader is cause for celebration.

click to enlarge POP PIONEER: Chris Maxwell of the Gunbunnies.
  • POP PIONEER: Chris Maxwell of the Gunbunnies.

Chris Maxwell and the Boondogs

Friday, Aug. 28

9 p.m., Satellite Cafe. Free

Buy “Great Big Diamond” via maxrecordings.com

 

Time to get nostalgic, longtime Little Rock music fans. The band that, perhaps more than any other, deserves credit for our modern music scene is back. At least in part.

Last week, Max Recordings released the Gunbunnies' “Great Big Diamond,” a collection of long lost demos so fully fleshed it seems wrong to call them demos, and on Friday, the band's primary vocalist and songwriter Chris Maxwell comes to town to play a solo show at Satellite Cafe.

Born out of a punk-rock cover band called When Michael Jackson Rears His Flaming Head, Gunbunnies featured Maxwell and a host of names still recognizable to anyone who follows local music — David Jukes (Magic Cropdusters), Jud Martindale (El Son del Mundo) and Brent Labeau (Mulehead, Salty Dogs).

In 1986, they were CMJ's “Best Undiscovered Band.” Sometime thereafter, they signed to Virgin and cut an album with Jim Dickinson they called “Paw Paw Patch.” In 1990, the year it was released, the band was the talk of SXSW, according to former Spectrum Weekly editor Stephen Buel.

But soon thereafter, Virgin dissolved its New York office, where the Gunbunnies' champions were based, and the label dropped the group. Still, they continued to tour, and along the way, someone at Warner Bros. got interested and eventually signed them to a development deal. With that money, they recorded the demos that make up “Great Big Diamond.”

Maxwell remembers the label's comment about the recordings as something along the lines of “We already have Elvis Costello and the Replacements and don't need another.”

“So we dropped it and the band kind of atrophied,” he said.

In 1994, Maxwell moved to New York, where he initially worked as a booker for the Knitting Factory. Soon, he joined the experimental pop act Skeleton Key, which released a critically acclaimed EP and full-length and spent several years touring in the U.S. and Europe before Maxwell departed.

Since then, he and former Brave Combo drummer Phil Hernandez have worked together as the New York-based production team Elegant Too. They've got an impressive track record. It includes remixes for everyone from Diddy to Ray Davies to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, sound design for the “Sopranos” and “Malcolm in the Middle” and commercial work for Wendy's and Coca Cola. Recently, the pair provided the theme and score to Comedy Central's “Michael and Michael Have Issues.”

In recent years, Riverfest's Rob Bell has lobbied hard to get the Gunbunnies to reunite in the Arkansas Tent, and Maxwell says Bell's enthusiasm, coupled with longtime fan Jack Hill's prodding, convinced him to work with Max's Burt Taggart to put the album out. As far as reuniting, Maxwell says there aren't any immediate plans.

“I think everyone's really open to the idea, but the timing hasn't been good.”

Until everyone's schedules align, Maxwell's solo show will have to sate fans' nostalgia. Look for him to mix new solo material with a few Gunbunnies songs. A scaled down version of the Boondogs opens the show.

 

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