Veteran punk-rockabilly guitarist Kid Congo Powers, who, upon finally sitting down to pen memoirs tracing his career from his first teenage band to the current Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds, identified what drove him in hindsight.
“I always wanted to be where things were happening, so I put myself there, until I’d become a part of the fabric, a fly on the wall,” says the Washington DC-based author, 55, now polishing his second draft of a volume that covers his work with Jeffrey Lee Pierce in The Gun Club through stints with The Cramps, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Congo Norvell.
At 8, the Mexican-descended Powers – born Brian Tristan in La Puente, a Los Angeles suburb – felt a vicarious musical thrill watching his older sisters head out to see the popular Chicano outfit The Midnighters.
“By 15, I was a glam-rock kid, going to Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco in Hollywood, just because I wanted to be near rock stars. But I wasn’t a groupie – I just put myself there, in real, fake-it-til-you-make it fashion. I had no idea that I would actually make it,” says the musician, who brings his Pink Monkey Birds to The City this week, promoting the 2013 recording “Haunted Head.”
When Powers met Pierce in 1979, they were running fan clubs, for The Ramones and Blondie, respectively. Pierce prodded his friend to learn six-string.
“He said, ‘We’ll have a band, and we’ll just put ourselves there,’” says Powers, who started hanging out with acts like X and The Blasters. “So we saw how it was done. You learn from the best people you can, and sometimes, they don’t even know they’re teaching you – you’re just observing.”
By 1980, Powers was recruited by the legendary Cramps, and his Edward Scissorhands-like stage presence and reverb-clamorous, increasingly psychedelic chordings were the perfect fit. In 1988, he moved to Berlin to become a Bad Seed.
The lesson he took away from all three colleagues was that “vision was the most important, precious thing, to be defended at all costs.”
That’s the credo for Pink Monkey Birds and Wolf Manhattan Project, his new side group.
It’s also what led to his shout-crooning on “Haunted” garage-rockers “Su Su,” “Killer Diller” and “Let’s Go!” He says, “Singing felt weird for a long time, but it feels completely natural to me now. But if I wanted to have a vision of my own, I had to do it. So I’ve finally found my own voice, my expression.”
IF YOU GO
Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds
Where: Thee Parkside, 1600 17th St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Jan. 15
Tickets: $10 to $12
Contact: (415) 252-1330, www.holdmyticket.com