Members of the Dusty Chaps, Tucson's trailblazing country swing band, thought they hit creative gold when they recorded "Domino Joe," for Capitol Records in 1978.
The concept album, blending classic country with bebop jazz and norteño, told the story of a man's "life and death in the honky-tonks of the Southwest," said Peter Gierlach, the group's vocalist and squeezebox player.
"There were no spaces in between the songs," Gierlach, 64, said.
"We thought it was brilliant to have these segues that went from one song to another. But disc jockeys hated us."
The band will rekindle its creative juices when its remaining members reunite to play HoCo on Sunday.
The show will include a 13-piece lineup and will feature "Domino Joe" in its entirety as well as music from the group's other big Capitol release, "Honky-Tonk Music."
The Chaps have only gotten together a handful of times since breaking up in 1979, most recently to perform "Domino Joe" from beginning to end at Plush in February.
Congress booker David Slutes called the Plush show "a warm-up" for HoCo.
"Here is a band nearly 35 years from their heyday and they can still draw 700 people at the drop of a hat," he said. "Besides Linda (Ronstadt), not many Tucson artists can do that."
The Chaps got their start in Tucson in 1969
Bassist George Hawke was a musician from Los Angeles with Tucson roots looking for a hard-core country band.
Gierlach was a pal and fellow musician studying wildlife biology at the University of Arizona.
"George came to me and said: 'You're from Kentucky. You must know some country music,' " Gierlach recalled.
The band modeled itself in part after purveyors of the Bakersfield sound, artists such as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, and started picking up gigs in clubs and bars along North Fourth Avenue and East Sixth Street.
Traditional country venues were always risky for the Chaps.
"We once auditioned out at a place where the owner told us we were good but he couldn't protect us," Gierlach said. "We were long-haired, pot-smoking, beer-drinking kids. He figured we would get beat up every night."
"It took a couple of years before we could make a living at it," Hawke said.
The group eventually found a home at the Poco Loco, a dive bar on Speedway near Alvernon Way, where it started building its own scene.
It wasn't long before crowds were lining up for a night of two-stepping at the tavern.
"It was ground zero for people coming up by the hundreds to see us play," Hawke said.
The band's music picked up traction on local radio during those days, including on KCUB, one of Tucson's big country music stations.
Tours became commonplace, especially after the group signed with Capitol.
The Chaps recorded "Honky-Tonk Music" with the label in 1977 and "Domino Joe."
"We would go into a bar to play and they would have our 45 on the jukebox," Gierlach said. "That was pretty cool."
The Chaps had its share of problems.
By the time the group broke up in 1979, many of the band's members had seen enough of each other.
"It was not all love and happiness by any means," Hawke said. "You could put the Dusty Chaps up against Led Zeppelin or any band from the 1970s in terms of dysfunctionality and drug and alcohol addiction."
For those still around, time has healed most wounds.
Gierlach and Hawke remain good friends.
Hawke, who continues to play professionally in Los Angeles, said Sunday's performance at HoCo will be a precursor to a string of gigs that he'd like to take to other Chaps strongholds, including Austin, Phoenix and parts of Southern California.
Gierlach, a horticulturist known best to KXCI fans for his show "Growing Native With Petey Mesquitey," said he would be willing.
"George terrifies me with that talk," he joked. "It would be fun. But I told him, 'You better hurry up. You know how old we are.' "
Hear the Dusty Chaps
Hear a clip of the Dusty Chaps on the Hotel Congress website, www.hotelcongress.com