Documentary Review: ‘The Cadillac Tramps: Life On The Edge’

Review by Mark Merrell

Rock groups are legendary for their use of recreational drugs, alcohol, or both. For the Tramps, it was the opposite. After abusing drugs and alcohol, sobriety was the glue the held the members of the band together. Amazingly, it gave birth to a different sound. A hybrid of Rockabilly, Punk, Surfer, and Rock music. Fronted by Lead vocalist, Mike “Gabby” Gaborno, a semi-John Belushi lookalike on steroids sporting Raybans, the Cadillac Tramps set the standard for the bands during their stint on the music scene from Orange County California North to Washington State, and beyond.

The Cadillac Tramps came together in 1987 with Gaborno (vocals), Warren Renfrow (bass), Jamie Reidling (drums), Brian Coakley (guitar/vocals). The group also featured Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham (guitar/vocals). Like most bands, the lineup changed over the years as the group evolved, with new priorities and life rolling out. Steven “Spanky” Barrios, Dieter Hartman, and Anthony “Tiny” Biuso, all has a stint at drums, with Mike “Mad Dog” Combs, Matt Beld, playing the guitar for the Cadillac Tramps as time moved forward.

The movie starts with a visit to the hospital for Gabby, as he is undergoing dialysis, a regular ritual for him. Presented through numerous interviews featuring current and former band mates, film footage, former managers, musicians, and those in the music industry, the film is fast paced, very interesting, and informative. And yes, it’s stuffed full of the Cadillac Tramps kick butt and haunting tunes.

Written, directed, and shot by Jamie Sims Coakley, he weaves the tale of the Tramps through the years, from a exponentially growing fan base, record deals, managers, band mates, tours, and their meteoric rise. With funny inside stories, introspective thoughts on music, and their common bond struggle to stay sober and free of drugs, it’s a story not common unto the music industry. Gabby is the focal point. Humorous and totally out of control at times on stage (and off), occasionally self deprecating, his generous heart and soul truly shine through. He completely held the audience in the palm of his hand. If you haven’t seen the group previously, the concert footage captures the essence of their raw, passionate delivery the band was so famous in providing.

The lineup of fellow musicians helping tell the story of the Tramps is legendary, from Sugar Ray, The Foo Fighters, Red Five, Adolescents, No Doubt, Rancid, Youth Brigade, Fastball, Beat Farmers, and Pearl Jam. Do yourself a favor, and check out this super cool movie. Just like the music from Cadillac Tramps, it’s absolutely magic.

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