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Celso Chavez, founding member of Possum Dixon, dies at 44

This post has been updated. See note at the bottom for details.

Celso Chavez, the guitarist in local '90s alt-rock band Possum Dixon, died Wednesday night after complications from a staph infection led to pneumonia, former bandmate Rob Zabrecky has confirmed to Pop & Hiss. He was 44. 

"He had been doing a lot of harm to his body for a really long time," Zabrecky said. "It finally took its unfortunate toll."

Possum Dixon, which played some of its earliest shows at the long-since departed Bebop Records and Fine Art in Reseda, had moderate success in the post-Nirvana alt-rock era. The quartet, along with the likes of Beck and Weezer, was one of a number of local rock acts that jumped to a major label in the early '90s.

Possum Dixon put a pop spin on late '70s punk and new-wave influences and garnered radio play for frenzied singles such as "Watch the Girl Destroy Me." The band was known for its hectic live shows.

A 1994 review in The Times wrote that Zabrecky, Chavez and guitarist Robert O'Sullivan "were all from the bowling-pin school of rock stagecraft, repeatedly flopping to the floor and rolling about while attempting to extract something more or less (usually less) coherent from their instruments."

In an interview with The Times in 1993, Chavez said the band approached its live shows as "a big celebration, chaos, just having to release a lot of tension." 

Possum Dixon signed to Interscope and released its self-titled debut for the label in 1993. Prior to inking with Interscope, the band released numerous singles for the tiny Pronto Records label, which had also issued music from acts such as Spindle and Sugar Plastic. Possum Dixon ultimately recorded three albums for Interscope, culminating in the Ric Ocasek-produced "New Sheets" in 1998.

Song topics, especially early, were heavily focused on dead-end jobs, girls and illicit substances. Zabrecky said he and Chavez regularly over-indulged. 

"Celso and I were two wild teenagers and guys in our early 20s," Zabrecky said. "We were up there smoking crack and taking heroin and pills. We were doing exactly what we wanted to do. We were touring the world. We made three records for Interscope. Life couldn't have been any better for a good five years. But drugs took a toll on our band. I was lucky and was able to get sober about 16 years ago."

Zabrecky and Chavez met while attending Los Angeles Valley College in Van Nuys. 

"Celso was so distinct," Zabrecky said. "He was this great-looking guy with heavy-rimmed glasses and dark hair. He looked unique. We kind of wished we had come out of the late '70s, new-wave thing out of New York. That was more where we were coming from. The lyrics of songs and everything that we wrote about was true. We were writing about reckless abandon, taking drugs and not wanting to work a job. That's what we thought was cool."

Today, Zabrecky is an actor-magician, and recently was named stage magician of the year by the Magic Castle's Academy of the Magical Arts Awards. Zabrecky said he continued to stay in touch with Chavez, and the two remained on good terms, although they were no longer close. He said in the years since Possum Dixon split, Chavez continued to "search" for his place, playing music and working random jobs. 

Zabrecky said the band received a few requests to reunite locally, but always declined. He said by the end of the '90s, the band had burned out.

"Drugs had a lot to do with," Zabrecky said. "I got sober in 1996. I gave up that lifestyle that I had fallen into. I was using a lot of intravenous drugs, and I hit bottom. I cleaned up, and I don't think Celso was ready to make that commitment at that point, and we parted."

[For the record, 12:02 a.m., May 11, 2012: An earlier version of this post stated that in addition to guitar, Chavez played keyboard in Possum Dixon. That was incorrect and the post has been changed accordingly.]

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-- Todd Martens

 
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