Chuckawalla Rhythm Kings

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A few disjointed comments about the name

People continue to ask, “What’s a chuckawalla?” A chuckawalla is a lizard. From the time I was a kid growing up in Yuma (Yes, that was a while ago, but what of it?), “chuckawalla” referred to a particular lizard. They’re about the color of sand, 12 to 18 inches long, with a tail nearly as long as the rest of their body that they hold straight out behind them while they run lickety-split across the highway, trying to keep from being smashed flat and lifeless by the foot-wide tires of your heinous, gas-swilling SUV (What were you thinking?).

If you do a Google image search for "chuckawalla," you’ll turn up photos of at least a dozen different lizards, each labeled chuckawalla and precious few bearing any resemblance to the long-tailed lizard of my youth. To be perfectly honest, I don’t give a rat’s ass. I may puzzle about Palestinian autonomy, the ingredients of Little Debbie Snack Cakes and the nature of God, but I know damn well what a chuckawalla looks like.

A few pathetic souls cling to the more primitive “chuck-walla” and tell me we have the name spelled wrong. Nah. The Native American word that chuckawalla comes from clearly has an “uh” sound in the middle of it, “chuck-walla” obviously being some poor, white-trash, imitation word created by hick, carpetbagging chicken thieves in their unwashed, moonshined stupor. Anyway, Mike Whitson and I came up with the name on the long trail to Havasupai. We spell it with an “A” in the middle. Any uppity herpologist at the U of A that thinks otherwise can take a hike.

As a matter of historical accuracy, the name we baked up in our dehydrated delirium that day was “Mule Hair & the Chuckawalla Rhythm Kings” but using that would’ve led to the endless grating question, “Which one’s Mule Hair?” which, with the nonstop requests for “Orange Blossom Special” and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” would have put us over the edge. Also, for the record, Patti still has a handbill for our first performance when, for about a week, the band went by the name, “Fishwhacker.” Nice, eh? Who wouldn’t want to name their collective artistic endeavor after a short, blunt, lead-filled stick used to jelly a fish’s brains? America, I love you.

The name leads to some interesting conversations. A blue-haired patroness came up and asked the name of the band. “The Chuckawalla Rhythm Kings,” I answered with pride. “Oh, you’re from Canada!” she beamed. “No,” I stammered, “We have chuckawallas here in the desert, too.” “Oh,” she said, obviously crestfallen at the thought of a doughty Albertan reptile desiccating slowly in the crevices of the Sonoran Desert. I hope we didn’t ruin her. Damn name.



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