Vibe Tribing with Grampa’s Chili

By Julie Horner

Late as always, especially after navigating Monday night rush hour into San Francisco, and breathless from walking several blocks uphill in the dodgy Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood, we met friends and dashed into the Regency Ballroom eager for an evening of amazing Peter Gabriel-era progressive rock from original Genesis lead guitarist, Steve Hackett. We made our way to our seats through the smoky, dimly lit crowd of die-hard prog rock fans and introduced ourselves to the guy sitting next to us.

Cue Twilight Zone theme: Another close encounter with a rockin’ neighbor…it was Victor Manning, guitar player and vocalist for local jam band, Grampa’s Chili.

Born in the Bay Area and adopted by the Santa Cruz Mountains, this legendary group of players is more than a band; they’ve created their own community attracting generations of people from all over to their shows to groove together. I met Victor for a sip one afternoon in February at Boulder Creek Coffee Roasting to dig into the meat and potatoes.

‘Chili has a long history starting in the 1990s with original members from Old Dead Bug, The Bliss Ninnies, and Soup and they’ve kept a following of fans from the early days known collectively as the “Vibe Tribe.” When they realized there was another band called Soup out there, the group renamed themselves Grampa’s Chili in honor of a friend’s culinary prowess and the new name seems to be sticking.

The current incarnation of Grampa’s Chili includes Mike Boston (vocals), Jerry Brown (bass, vocals), Tom McQuillen (guitar), Michael Palladino (drums, vocals).

Victor is a comparatively new member of the band who spent a few early formative years in London where he learned to play the piano, and later back in the States did time in a Texas DJ booth spinning jazz and learning “the difference between just hanging and understanding things.”

He grew up listening to his dad’s jazz LPs and cites musical influences such as Steve Howe (Yes), Alex Lifeson (Rush), David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Roland Schaeffer (Guru Guru), Peter Wolbrandt (Kraan), Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, Steve Hillage (Gong), Trey Anastasio (Phish), and Ed Wynne (Ozric Tentacles) to name a few. To say he’s enthusiastic about eclectic types of music is one way to put it. As he was adding Gulf Coast Blues, English folk rock and German prog rock to his list, he laughed and said “I guess I’m a bit of a tune snob…but I can see the error of my ways.”

Victor said, “Band members have come and gone over the years, but they’d leave their songs behind,” so there’s a deep archive of classic material and songs that never got finished. “Songs are like children, you can’t force them to be something they’re not, they’ve got to take their own direction.” The band is also going through a prolific period of writing new songs, and the new material wants to be played. Victor says he loves the technical ecstasy of being in the studio and he’s excited to help inspire ‘Chili to focus on recording a new album some time in 2015. “I feel like we’re getting back on our feet, putting on new boots.”

Grampa’s Chili knows how to build their own spectacle, make their own scene. According to Victor, “We’re all ‘heads’ and don’t know what we can’t do.” They like to go out of their way to make the synergy special and a little out of hand. So expect chunky Rock-n-Roll with some Americana spice, wavy gravy grooves, and some serious late 20th Century Santa Cruz Mountain boogie crackling with energy.

Don’t miss Grampa’s Chili at Lovefest 2015 on Saturday, March 21 at Don Quixote’s International Music Hall – A Bona-Fide Santa Cruz Mountain Vibe Tribe Tribal Vibration

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(c) 2015 Julie Horner – Originally published in the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin, March 2015

Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. Email: