Originally Published: February 17, 2011 5:25 p.m.
PRESCOTT - From European stages to movie sound sets to the shore of the Pacific Ocean, The Cadillac Angels have been around. But Arizona holds a special place in the rockin' trio's hearts, and they are coming back to blast the leaves off the Prescott trees.
"We've played all over the country, but our music seems to resonate the best in Arizona," said Tony Balbinot, aka Tony Ridge, lead guitarist and founding father of the band.
The Angels take the stage at 7 p.m. Friday at the Windsock Lounge, 1385 Iron Springs Rd., in Prescott.
"I've read some books on how to succeed as a band, and they say you'll find your audience," Balbinot said. "But I think the audience finds you. That's what happened in Arizona."
The band - Balbinot, Micky Rae on standup bass and percussionist Alex Schwartz - have played all over Arizona, but a large contingent of Prescottonians have indeed become devout Cadillac fans.
Although they are generally billed as a rockabilly band, their playlist could go from rock to blues to country and most everything in between. One thing fans are sure to get is a blistering performance that packs the dance floor and rattles the rafters.
"We're like a power trio with a voice that's never been heard," said Rae. "We're rock and roll at its primal best. Gutsy, primal rock and roll."
Balbinot started the band 25 years ago in Santa Barbara as The Roadhouse Rockers.
"There were some other bands with the same name, and we started getting tax stuff from the IRS for other bands, so we decided we needed a new name," Balbinot said while visiting Northern Arizona University as a guest teacher.
While Balbinot was riding his bicycle through Santa Barbara one day, a chance encounter with a little lady driving a big Cadillac inspired the band's new name.
"I saw this little old lady driving toward me in a '62 Cadillac, and she's so small she's driving looking over the dashboard through the steering wheel, and I just had a feeling she couldn't see me," Balbinot remembers.
Sure enough, she ran him off the road, and he crashed.
"When she was pulling away from me, all I could see was one of those little angels with a bobbing head in her rear window, and two huge tail fins," Balbinot said. "So I thought of 'Cadillac Angels.' "
Although Balbinot is based in Santa Barbara, after 25 years of touring and logging more than a million miles on the road, he developed a unique idea for a touring band.
"Over the years, the bars' paying scales have dropped, but our travel expenses have increased, so it's nice to have people in the band who live close by where we're going," he said.
Rae joined the Angels in 1986 after answering an ad for a female vocalist, and she moved to Cottonwood seven years ago. She became Balbinot's Arizona connection and traveling bass player - after she learned to play bass.
"After I joined, Tony fired the bass player and gave me one week to learn it," said Rae, who moved to Cottonwood to get out of California and because "it's a good place for riding motorcycles."
About 10 years ago, superstar Wanda Jackson, whom Bob Dylan reportedly described as "an atomic bomb in lipstick - the queen of rockabilly," invited Balbinot and the Angels to join her on tour, and they've been touring together since.
She also hired the band to perform in her upcoming movie, "Queens of Country," filmed on location at Cave Creek.
"Wanda's husband asked us to play for her because he didn't want her to lip-synch in the movie," Balbinot said. The music scenes audiences will see are live takes of the band and Jackson.
Balbinot has seen a lot of changes in the music business and not all for the best. He doesn't like the idea of venues booking multiple bands for one night, and he doesn't like televisions and video games competing with the bands.
"Some places still don't have televisions on the walls, and those places are gold to play, like the Spirit Room in Jerome," he said.
"Our job in a trio is to lay down a foundation so the lead guitar has the freedom to create," Rae said.
Creating is what Balbinot does best.
"There's different guitar playing - you can cut weeds or be like Zorro and put out a flame," he said. "I'm more like a cave painter."
To read more about The Cadillac Angels, visit crackedpistonrecordings.com.