by Chase Kamp
If one could put Tempe on a
turntable and drop the needle, the
sound would contain the charge of
‘90s alternative rock, the bombast of
big band jazz and the rugged croon of
Tempe History Museum is
seeking submissions for a November
retrospective on local music called
“The Tempe Sound,” hoping to receive
memorabilia and other treasures from
fans in the community.
Joshua Roffler, senior curator of
collections, has spearheaded the effort
to gather artifacts of Tempe’s musical
past since the submission call went out
He said his office was flooded with
calls and emails after first posting
about it on Facebook, and as more
fans, musicians and former club
employees come forward with relics,
the exhibit continually gets more
“The more I get into it, the more
I realize what a big subject this is,”
Roffler said. “There were a lot of
performers who were very recognizable
locally and we would like to include all
While the museum has already
installed a teaser exhibit in its main
gallery, the full display will include
instruments, t-shirts, listening stations
and video installations of Tempe acts
that found national attention or made a
significant local splash.
The era that shone brightest in
Tempe rock history was the 1990s.
Gnarled country-punk mavens
The Meat Puppets graduated from underground
renown to major label heights, clocking a number
of college radio hits before backing Nirvana on their
legendary MTV Unplugged performance.
Acts like pop-rockers the Refreshments and
rap-rock outfit Phunk Junkeez also made waves
Most notably, Mill Avenue-bred alternative rock
favorites Gin Blossoms scored national airplay and
attention for undeniable jangle-pop gems like “Hey
The museum has already received two guitars
owned by Gin Blossoms guitarist Doug Hopkins, who
penned some of the group’s biggest hits.
The exhibit has also collected stacks of show
flyers, small promotional sheets handed out and
posted around town, often featuring unique designs
for each concert. Roffler said many have saved these
as mementos of favorite bands and venues.
“They’re photocopied pieces of paper, but they’re
treasured memories of a time and place,” he said.
Though Tempe has a rich rock legacy, the exhibit
will showcase many other styles from the city’s
history. The teaser exhibit currently displays a copy
of the first solo album by country legend Waylon
Jennings, who kick-started his career playing at
JD’s, a bygone country and rock bar on the Tempe/
It will also showcase big band leader Rafael
“Chapito” Chavarria, who recently turned 100 and
who was known around the Valley for combining
1950s Mexico City tropical rhythms with American
jitterbug and swing to romantic and bombastic effect.
Emerging from the Tempe barrio neighborhoods
that used to lie north of University, Chavarria’s music
was vital in Tempe’s Latin American community after
World War II.
After a significant remodel three years ago, the
history museum added a community room that could
host live music performances. Since then, Roffler
said, it has hosted free monthly concerts and built
bridges to the local music scene.
“We’ve become a local music venue,” Roffler
said.“It made sense to build on the relationships
Thus far, sitting down with hardcore music fans,
unpacking their artifacts and hearing stories from
Tempe’s musical past has been a treat for Roffler, a
longtime Tempe resident and music fan.
“I haven’t had a single quick meeting with [the
donors],” he laughs. “Usually we sit down for an hour
or more reminiscing, sometimes realizing we went to
same show back in the day.”
Roffler can be contacted for exhibit questions or
submissions by email at email@example.com
or by phone at 480-350-5176.