Last week, Mike “Gabby” Gaborno, one of OC’s most important musical figures, died at the age of 51. On Jan. 4, just days after making it out of a tumultuous 2016, Gaborno’s tough, tattooed body succumbed to the ravages of Liver cancer, which he fought like a bull until the very end. Though he’s been widely praised in the media over the past few days as the wild, raucous lead singer of pioneering rock band the Cadillac Tramps and pinche punks Manic Hispanic, he also contributed to the music world in several other great bands, including Flock of Goo Goo, the X Members, Santos Y Sinners, and others. All of Gaborno’s bands will gather at the Observatory on Sunday, Jan. 15 to rock the stage in his memory and tell stories of a genius comedian and talented musician, as well as an outstanding father. All the proceeds for the show will benefit Gaborno’s 7-year-old son, Presley, who can also receive donations through a recently established You Caring fund.
There’s no way to sum up Gaborno’s life without the legendary stories that made him a king and the lesser-known stories that made him one of the greatest people many of us in OC’s music scene have ever known. Since his passing, there’s no doubt that thousands of stories of Gabby’s ridiculous antics, kindness, compassion and crudeness have flooded our memories. Now that he’s gone, those he touched will never laugh as hard or have a life that feels as full as it did when he was around. In an effort to honor his memory and capture the true spirit of Gaborno’s extraordinary life, we’ve gathered scraps of stories from band mates and friends who knew him best. If you have a special memory of Gabby you’d like to share, please post it in the comments section below—we know you got ’em!
Brian Coakley [Guitarist for Cadillac Tramps]
I was sitting by myself after this terrible breakup; I was literally suicidal. I was sitting in my house in this place that I was living, and I had a .357 Magnum out, and I was just looking at it. I was at that point where I felt like I had just wrecked my life. It was all that kind of love pain that can make you crazy—a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Gabby called me out of the blue because he knew I was going through the breakup. We had our tensions in the band at the time; everybody had gotten sick of one another. But he still knew in his heart, “I better call Coakley.” And he called me, and I said, “Dude, I’m just sitting here in the dark, and I got my gun out. I don’t think I’m going to shoot myself; I don’t think I’m going to kill myself, but that’s just what I’m doing right now. I’m looking at it.” And he was over in 15 minutes, and he just sat with me. I think he took the gun away, too. He sat with me for just as long as it took. I’m sure he had something else to do that night—it wasn’t his first choice to go over and sit with his friend who was just distraught—but that’s the kind of guy he was.
Warren Renfrow [Bassist for Cadillac Tramps]
I remember one night the Tramps played at Bogarts. And he and I were sitting around talking afterward. There was a fight in the parking lot, so we went out there. Mike wasn’t really tall—he was stocky, though—but I see him square off with this broad-shouldered, 6-foot-5 black guy, and the guy is like, “Hold on a minute,” and he goes to put these fighting gloves on, thinking he was about to easily wipe the floor with Gabby. And quick as he could, Gabby uppercuts him. And all you see are the whites of the guy’s eyes after [Gabby] hits him, and Gabby tackles him in the bushes, and his fist was like a jackhammer on the guy’s head. When Gabby got pissed, his nostrils would flare and he’d look like a bull. And then, all of a sudden, I hear him say, “Don’t you ever do that again. I’ll kill you!” And then from underneath the bushes, I hear the other guy go, “Hey, it’s cool, bro. Just don’t hit me no mo’.”
Alex Hernandez [Owner of Alex’s Bar, former promoter at the Foothill in Signal Hill]
We did a show at the Foothill [during Cinco De Mayo in 1999], and everything was going well. It was time for Manic Hispanic to go on, and Robbie, the owner, hired a new door guy at the club who was super-green and didn’t know anything about punk rock. He sees Gabby getting ready for the show, and he puts a toy pistol down his waistband, which is part of a Manic thing as a stage prop. So he walks up to Gabby and says, “Hey, man, is that a real gun?” Gabby says, “Hey, how about you try to take it from me, and we’ll see if it’s a real gun.” He was just messing with him. So Manic goes on, and the kid had gone and told one of the older bartenders named Hal what he said, and Hal called signal Hill PD and told the cops that one of the band members in Manic Hispanic had a weapon on him, and all the PD hears are the words “Manic Hispanic” and “weapon,” and they immediately call for backup. So Manic is a couple of songs in, and all of a sudden, it was like The Blues Brothers, where cops just start pouring into the bar with weapons drawn, stop the show in the middle of the set, and tell the band to put their hands up. Gabby basically had to talk his way out of it and tell him it was just a toy gun. At one point, [the band’s bassist and co-founder] Steve Soto asked the cop if he could put his hands down. The cop said, “If you make any moves, I’ll blow your head off right here!” Pretty much every Mexican dude in there got held up by the cops, and they search everyone for weapons and shut down the show.
Dave Stücken [Touring Guitarist for Cadillac Tramps]
I was never officially in the Cadillac Tramps, but I filled in for Two Bags [Jonny Wickersham], so I spent a lot of time with Gabby and the band. I played some shows and learned all the songs, but I was never sad around Gabby. If I was having a bad day when I would go to hang out with Gabby, he would brighten the day. There’s a picture of me on my Facebook page playing with the band, and my head is turned and you can’t see my face, and a lot of people have commented on it, saying, “Dave, I can tell you’re smiling; keep smiling.” Gabby made me smile so big that you can tell I’m smiling, and you can’t even see my face because my cheeks are so high in the air. What I’m going to miss most about Gabby is his smile and the comedy he brought to life. He was able to not only look death in the eye, but also smile at it.
Greg Antista [Bassist for Flock of Goo Goo]
One night we had a Flock of Goo Goo rehearsal, and we’d just been inside some sketchy studio in Santa Ana, working on our choreographed dance moves for three hours, and we wrapped up, so we go outside to find two people breaking into our cars. We roll up on them and spin [them] around, and its a guy and a girl, and the guy sticks his arm straight out, and he’s got a pistol probably 3 feet away from us. We all step back, but without missing a beat, Gabby walks up and in his Manic Hispanic voice goes, “Hey, holmes, nobody’s gotta die tonight.” The guy’s all sketchy—he’s spun-out, sweaty and scared, and he’s clutching his girlfriend in one hand and the gun in the other. But Gabby just starts talking to him about getting clean. He said, “It doesn’t have to be this way; I know a place where you can get clean, you can get off the street.” He told him his name, the name of the sober house and how to get a hold of him. And after a couple of minutes, he defused the situation. That guy kept his gun, but he and his girlfriend walked away. And I think they gave us back everything they stole. They walked off into the night, and nobody got shot. I always thought it was funny that Gabby had been in the studio working on his dance moves five minutes before, and then he walks straight up to a pistol and handles it.
Kevin Cully [Guitar Tech for Manic Hispanic and Cadillac Tramps]
Ten years ago, my mom died, and the first person I called was Gabby because his mom and dad had both died in the same calendar year, and he stayed sober. I called him, and I said, “Hey, man, this is gonna be difficult for me.” I came to his house after leaving the hospital, and I was a mess. I sat there with him, and we talked for a couple of hours. He said, “Hey, man, getting loaded is not the answer in this situation. Where’s the end game if you decide to get high? You’re not gonna help anyone in this situation.” I’d really wanted to get high at that time, even though I had gone 11 years clean. But Gabby talked me out of it and said that’s not what my mom wanted. “Now is your time to step up and be a man,” he said. “Be the fucking man that you haven’t been able to be for 30 years. Your dad’s a mess; he can’t handle this shit right now, and you’re the oldest. It’s your time—you step up; you represent!” He didn’t ask me; he told me to step up and represent myself as a man and the leader of my family. And I did. And for a week Gabby was calling me, and every day before the funeral he was at my house. And when we buried my mom, one of the first people I saw when I turned around was Gabby. He was there for me. That will always be my take away from Gabby. This time of need had nothing to do with the music; he had no reason to do anything he did other than to help me. He never asked for anything in return.
Mike De La Cruz [Childhood friend]
The Tramps had two drummers, Chris Laberborg [“Lumpy”] and Spanky, who both passed away years ago from drug-related deaths. Those guys and Gabby would always fuck with one another. Gabby would just nut check you, go tell you to fuck your mom in the ass, and then make it funny so you didn’t want to kick his ass; instead, you wanted to be his best friend. Just a great persona not only onstage, but also in life. Right now in heaven, Gabby’s fucking with Lumpy, ’cause Lumpy was always really sensitive, and Lumpy’s probably getting bummed out and fucking with Spanky, who in turn is fucking with Lumpy, who is in turn fucking with Gabby. It’s just a vicious circle up there, a constant cycle of just fucking with one another.
Rob Moser [High school friend]
We went to school together at Wintersburg Continuation High School. I left Westminster High and went to Wintersburg, which isn’t even there anymore—they tore it down. I knew Mike at Westminster High School, and I turn around in class [at Wintersburg], and I see him in there. And I go, “What the hell are you doing here?” And he just says, “Same thing you are.” Being right down the street from the beach, we’d usually cut class. We were supposed to be at school from 4 to 8 p.m., and more than once, we’d go down there and drink beers and would be walking on the peer. Our last class started at 7 p.m., and one time in particular, the teacher of that class was sitting at the bar drinking beers, and he spotted us and said, “Hey, aren’t you guys supposed to be in school?” And we go, “Aren’t you supposed to be in school?” Then one time we took acid when it was foggy, and we went to class higher than a kite, and afterward, I gave him a ride home, and we were all wasted, and we have the bright idea to say, “Hey, let’s drive right past the cops and see if we get away with it.” How stupid is that? But when you’re 17 years old during the punk rock thing, it was just like, “Fuck it!”
Brad Logan [Guitarist of Leftover Crack, high school friend]
Gabby and I were in [the boys’ bathroom at Wintersburg], sharing a bottle, and I remember the bell going off and saying, “Man, I got to get to class,” and he stayed back to finish off the bottle. As I was walking out of the bathroom, I saw the dean of students walking in, and I knew it wasn’t going to be good. By the end of my class, I’d heard that Gabby had actually knocked out the dean in the bathroom. Instead of getting expelled from school, they made him the school janitor as well as a student there. There was nowhere else for him to go anyway; Wintersburg was the last stop on the block before prison. So we would be standing around the school smoking, and Gabby would be pushing a trash can on wheels. So then suddenly we had something new to make fun of. Later in life, Mike had stopped doing drugs and was living clean and was doing really well, and he would always open his house up to me and was always there for me even though I was a total mess. He let me live in his garage for a little while. He wouldn’t let me live in the house because he knew me and he knew that probably wasn’t good idea—rightfully so. But he opened his garage up to me, and he never turned his back on me.
Steve Soto [Co-founder/bassist of Manic Hispanic, The Adolescents]
When we were making the first Manic record, me and Gabby and Warren would spend the night at the studio because we lived farther away. There was this kid there who was like an intern and also a big Cadillac Tramps fan. He asked us, “Is it cool if I crash out here, too, with you guys?” Gabby says, “Yo, if you stay, you have to make the doughnut run right now.” Keep in mind, it’s about 3 a.m. So he gives the intern some money, and he goes, “I know these guys always give a baker’s dozen homes, so don’t come back light.” And the kids goes, “Where’s the doughnut shop around here?” He was kind of a chubby guy, so Gabby looks at him and says, “Come on, bro. You know where the doughnut shop is around here.” So the guy goes to get the doughnuts and comes back, and we’re all sitting there, and Gabby and Warren sit next to him on either side of the couch. And Gabby starts messing with him. He goes, “Do you ever like to take a jelly doughnut and let the jelly ooze all over your chest and maybe have another lick it off?” And they just kept messing with him like that all night. The last time I talked to Gabby, he told me he was going into hospice and getting off all his meds. He said, “I want you to tell everyone that I fought all the way and I ain’t no sissy.” I told him, “You’re the baddest dude I ever knew; no one’s ever going to think that.” So I told him I was gonna come see him on Saturday, which was New Year’s Eve. I also told him I was gonna bring him some doughnuts. He just smiled and said, “Hey, man, don’t come back light.”
Jim Monroe [Manic Hispanic producer, drummer for Santos Y Sinners]
I worked with Mike a lot, and there would be days where you come into the studio, and you just gotta do what you gotta do that day. There would be days that Mike would come in like anybody—he was tired, his throat hurt, maybe he played a gig last night. But there’d be those times where I’d look at him in the booth on the other side of the glass, and he’d be slumped over. And then the red light came on, and he’d rise to the occasion—he’d never phone it in, and he would always bring something special. There’s a lot of people who phone it in, and he just refused to do that. That’s something I always respected about him. And if you made the mistake of thinking that he wasn’t a smart guy, then he already had you. Because soon your pants would be down around your ankles, or his pants would be down around his ankles. It didn’t matter—either way, somebody’s pants were gonna come down.
Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham [Guitarist for Cadillac Tramps, Social Distortion]
One thing I’m happy about is that he was able to find himself and accomplish a lot of great things in the last few years of his life. He established himself as a fantastic father, and his boy was the most important thing to him. The way he’s remembered for his son is so important to him. He didn’t want to just be remembered as Badass Gabby, and he was—he was the baddest dude I’ve ever known. He’s the toughest guy in the world, and he was also the sweetest and the biggest-hearted person. And we all know he was the funniest. Just an extraordinary person. I’m just glad I met him; I’m glad I crossed paths with him. I have no idea what my life would look like right now, but I don’t think it would be what it is. I’m eternally grateful to him for that. He just made everything right—that was what was the most important thing to him. That’s the one thing in all this we can happy about, those of us who are mourning him.
Celebrate the Life of Mike “Gabby” Gaborno at the Observatory, Sun. Jan. 15, featuring the Cadillac Tramps, Manic Hispanic, Flock of Goo Goo, X Members, and Santos Y Sinners. For tickets and full details, click here.