Cody Bryant's Viva Cantina is a Mexican restaurant in the backwoods of Burbank. One sign says, "A man that don't love a horse, there is something the matter with him." Another just says, "Moonshine -- $8.75." (You'll feel every penny, trust us.) The dance floor is rattling in place as girls with finger waves in their hair and turquoise pencil skirts and guys in Pendletons and almost-black blue jeans bounce around to original 45s. "And now, the brains and balls of Wild Records," says the MC. "Reb Kennedy!"
"The brains, the balls, the father, the mother... that's who I am," says Kennedy later. "Label manager? That sounds sort of boring."
A transplanted Irishman, Kennedy is the man with the plan at Wild, which he runs from his house with help from his wife Jenny. Kennedy discovered punk in the U.K. in the late '70s and even worked in the Rough Trade warehouse before detouring toward the British rockabilly revival in the early '80s. At a no-name bar in an L.A. suburb in 2000, he stumbled in during a set by a band called Lil Luis y Los Wild Teens. He recognized what they could be instantly, and put out the first-ever release on Wild Records. Wild first built its reputation with predominantly Latino bands performing hard-ass Sun-Records-style rockabilly. The label has since expanded its breadth: new signee Mary Simich does '30s Western swing, the teenage maniacs in the Hurricanes hammer out '60s maximum R&B and the Black Mambas do New York Dolls-y trash punk.
"You don't have to look like anything to like rock 'n' roll music," Kennedy stresses. Except... you do have to look like you're really into it. That's not a problem tonight. Brand-new signee Bebo (aka "Big Baby") bounces onto the stage with a Wild Records tattoo so fresh it's probably still wet. One guy stage left tips a pitcher of beer to his face and noisily sucks it dry. After a quick set, Bebo turns the night over to "the beautiful... the infamous... Omar Romero." Romero is Wild's studio engineer and a ferocious guitarist and singer. Two songs in, he's tearing off his tie. Four songs in, he's on his knees. "One more?" he asks, teasing the room. "Two more!" someone shouts. "Three more! Four more!"
The crowd, pushed tight against Viva's tiny stage, are people you'd rarely if ever see at mainstream indie-rock shows in Echo Park or Silverlake, and never ever at the Hollywood bottle-service shows that dominate the perception of "L.A. nightlife." "A couple of years ago, I would have said they're a dying breed," he continues. "Now I say they're the new breed. They don't want CDs, they don't want MP3s. They want Wild Records' true, honest music."
And that's true -- but they want one more thing, too.
"You guys wanna get drunk?" says Romero, grinning into the red stage lights. Turns out they do.