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Remembering Possum Dixon's Celso Chavez

Celso Chavez
Celso Chavez

Celso Chavez was a mainstay on the Los Angeles music scene for many years, most prominently as guitarist for alt-rock group Possum Dixon, who were featured on an L.A. Weekly cover in 1998.

He died one year ago today, May 9, 2012, from a staph infection and pneumonia related to years of drug abuse.

For the most part, his death went unheralded. The family wanted to keep it quiet.

But he's worth remembering. Imagine if the Violent Femmes (with whom Possom Dixon toured) formed in Los Angeles in 1989 and you've got a good idea of what Celso's group was like.

Possum Dixon played lovingly crafted pop mini-masterpieces that drew from punk and new wave without being entirely beholden to either.

They didn't quite make it in the next-Nirvana sweepstakes of the mid and late-'90s, but it was not for a dearth of talent.

However, reflecting 15 years after their breakup, if they were still around it's not hard to not see the band getting slotted at Coachella.

In addition to Possum Dixon, Chavez was also in local bands such as Pill Module, Artileri, Trash Can School and Black Angel Death Song.

Currently, Chavez's widow is compiling music from his various projects for a boxed set of his work, and his close friend, Zack de la Cruz, of the Pacific Music Group, is looking to preserve Chavez's musical legacy as well.

What's de la Cruz's interest? The two met when he was a teenager in 1984, hanging outside of a club on Pico and Bundy. The crowd became restless, knocking him to the ground, and also knocking off the glasses of Chavez.

De la Cruz returned them, and a life-changing relationship began blossoming. "He helped me immensely in becoming a functioning social adult," writes de la Cruz in an email. With Chavez's assistance, he overcame difficulties with shyness so crippling he could barely speak.

The pair remained best friends for years, though Chavez's drug addiction caused a rift between them for the last years of his life. De la Cruz sees telling Chavez's story as a way to preserve their friendship from beyond the grave. "He deserves more than a passing mention. He saved my life and I won't forget it."

 

In fact, de la Cruz's commitment is so deep that he tracked down Chavez's beloved 1972 Fender Telecaster Thinline. Chavez had purchased it with his first Interscope Records advance way back in 1992, but later pawned it.

"The guitar was his true love," says de la Cruz. "He used it for nearly every song and recording."

To recover it, de la Cruz hit up every pawnshop in Southern California, going so far as to contact Fender's corporate headquarters in Corona for serial numbers. He eventually found it in Thailand and purchased it.

There's more to just Chavez's life than a cautionary tale. Everyone remembers the Cobains and Staleys. More common are the tales of men like Chavez: Talented, clever and hardworking musicians who toiled behind the scenes, got 15 seconds of near-fame and kept on plugging. Not out of a desire to be rich or famous, but out of a love of music.

"I don't want him remembered as just a drug addict," says de la Cruz. "He was a really kind soul."

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