By Eddie Jorgensen
It’s been 33 years since Sonoma County’s longest running band, Skitzo, started its reign of sickening, barf-encrusted, thrash metal terror and vocalist/guitarist Lance Ozanix shows no signs of slowing down. Ozanix’s annual side project, Sweet Leaf, an Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath tribute act, will be celebrating their 20th anniversary together and will play one last show in the area before they reconvene again in December.
Sweet Leaf features a veritable who’s who of the metal scene. Guitarist Steve Smyth has done countless national and international tours playing with the likes of Testament, Nevermore, Vicious Rumours, Forbidden, Dragonlord, and currently lives in England with his wife and dog where he teaches guitar to over 60 students. Drummer Chris Newman played with Intense, one of the largest drawing speed / thrash metal bands in the late 80’s and also played with local hard rock outfit, Ariah. The group is rounded out by the ultra-talented bassist, Steven Hoffman, from the defunct Esseness Project.
“Nowadays it’s just one practice and go” said Ozanix in a recent phone interview. “This year because of the 10 year anniversary of Dimebag Darrell’s death, we have added some some Pantera songs into the set. Of course, when we run out of material during shows, we will throw in some Accept, Judas Priest, Dio, or even some AC/DC tunes.”
“I tried in 1989 to get Sweet Leaf going but I couldn’t get my shit together,” said Ozanix of the band’s humble beginnings. “People were in the band for only a couple of months at a time. All the current guys came together in 1994.”
“This will actually be an interesting return to Spancky’s in Cotati, as it’s the first time in nearly twelve years since we’ve been back to play there,” said guitarist Steve Smyth. “The last time we were there, the power surged onstage and blew out Steve Hoffman’s amp so we couldn’t continue from there. We managed to get through nearly an hour set though, so that was a great thing.”
Although Ozanix’s loves the annual Sweet Leaf shows, he made certain to mention the status of Skitzo, his main band. “We just finished our 19th album, ‘Dementia Praecox,’ but have not planned a release date since we don’t have a drummer.”
And while Skitzo may be a bigger name in Sonoma County, Sweet Leaf has quite the following of its own and plays shows in the Bay Area, Sacramento, Fresno, and anywhere else in between.
“We just played Livermore (Pine Street Bar and Grill), Sacramento (On The Y), as well as our hometown area shows in Rohnert Park (Quincy’s Pub) and Santa Rosa (Sprenger’s Taproom). We did our second annual acoustic show there at Sprenger’s. It was a lot of fun!” said Steve. “ We average a handful of shows per year with Sweet Leaf due to the fact I live out of the country now, but we still can manage around eight shows a year.”
Metalheads who love Ozzy Osbourne’s body of work along with the entire heavy metal genre will be thrilled with Saturday’s show however unrehearsed it may be. “ Expect surprise, I would say!” said Steve. “Of course, there are the usual fan favorites one can expect and the songs we love to play as well, but there are songs in those band’s back catalogs that seem to get called out a little more.”
Sweet Leaf (Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath tribute band) play Saturday, January 10th at Spancky’s in Cotati, with Lord Mountain opening. 9:30pm. No cover charge but donations accepted. 8201 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati. 707.664.0169.
By Eddie Jorgensen