True West were a guitar band, often considered part of The Paisley Underground. Singer Gavin Blair and guitarists Richard McGrath and Russ Tolman were the nucleus of the group.
Originally from California's Sacramento Valley, guitarslingers True West first gained attention in 1982 with their cover of the Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd song "Lucifer Sam" (and for maximum psych effect placing the same song backwards on the B-side, titled "Mas Reficul"). Contemporaries and friends with L.A. bands such as The Dream Syndicate, (Blair and Tolman had been bandmates with a pre-Syndicate Steve Wynn), Green on Red, Rain Parade, and The Long Ryders, True West soon came to the attention of music writers in the East Coast, UK, and Europe as part of the West Coast neo-psychedelic movement dubbed The Paisley Underground. However, what distinguished them from the rest of the paisley pack was the twin lead guitar interplay of McGrath and Tolman.
Their 1983 self-released five song EP, co-produced by Russ Tolman and Steve Wynn, enabled the band to tour the U.S. non-stop, coming to the attention of Television guitarist Tom Verlaine, who took them to upstate New York's Bearsville Studios to record demos for EMI America. More attention from the music press followed with True West being singled out in the March 29, 1984 Rolling Stone magazine feature entitled "Rock & Roll Rookies: Ten Bands You'll Be Hearing From Soon."
September 1984 saw the release of the band's first album Drifters. While not as gritty and psychedelic as the band's debut (which by this time had been re-released as an eight-song mini-LP called Hollywood Holiday), Drifters, with its folk-rock influences, was dubbed "guitar poetry" by Rolling Stone scribe David Fricke.
Other 80s luminaries started noticing the band, such as Prince, who passed along the word after one Minneapolis show that he was greatly impressed with guitarist McGrath's lyrical leads.
True West landed in London in April 1985 amidst what the UK music press had declared "The American Invasion," which had been kicked off a few months earlier by the arrival of R.E.M.. Suddenly, England couldn't get enough of American guitar bands and True West made the front pages of the big three music publications of the day: the NME, Melody Maker, and Sounds. Several major labels came courting with talk of production by Steve Lillywhite (U2, XTC), but problems with their work permits did not allow the band to make scheduled appearances on The Old Grey Whistle Test and other British TV that would have pushed them over the top and into the arms of a waiting major, unlike the rest of their paisley amigos. After a successful tour of the European continent, the band returned to the U.S. to write and prepare to record their third album.
However, as soon as they were home, REM invited True West to join them for the 17-date western U.S and Canada portion of the Athens combo's 1985 Fables Of The Reconstruction tour. Playing venues such as Seattle's Paramount Theatre, L.A.'s Greek Theatre and Irvine Meadows put True West in front of the largest audiences of their career.
Two years of constant touring and several disappointing close brushes with a major label recording contract had taken their toll on the band, and True West called it quits in the summer of 1985. Tolman started a successful solo career and the band decided to reform without Tolman shortly after and go on to record and release their third album Hand Of Fate the next year. However, in 1987, bassist Kevin Staydohar (who had also been a member of Central Valley pioneers Thin White Rope) died of a heart valve infection.
In the following years, guitarist Richard McGrath was a member of Wall of Voodoo frontman Stan Ridgeway's band and joined singer Gavin Blair to release two albums as The Fool Killers (a collection Out Of State Miracle was recently released). Russ Tolman has recorded seven solo albums, the most recent released in 2000.
In 2006, True West reformed including original members Tolman, McGrath, and Blair - see this site for details. On June 5, 2007, Atavistic/Touch And Go Records released Hollywood Holiday Revisited, a CD collection of True West's first two albums Hollywood Holiday and Drifters.