Joe Baiza is truly one of the great guitarists to come out of the so-called punk rock scene of southern California, "so-called" because most of Baiza's music fits more into the category of free jazz or jazz-rock. He has often been ahead of the curve with his musical thinking, playing intense instrumental jams a few years before his audience would be eager for them, and bringing together the creative anarchy of improvised music with the independent attitude of the punk scene at a time when the two philosophies seemed mutually exclusive, at least to people whose brains were fuzzy from falling into the mosh pit. Baiza's career also includes a trail of unfortunate incidents including accidents and several horribly violent attacks on his person; indeed, with a little bit of Hollywood seasoning and rewriting there is the stuff of a Steven Seagal action picture in there somewhere.
Publicity photos from the guitarist's barnstorming days of European touring in the late '80s and '90s frequently display some part of his body in bandages. At one point he had his hand caught in a sliding van door, an ouchy for anyone and particularly unpleasant for a guitar picker. During the same era he was jumped and beaten up by skinheads in Hamburg, Germany; they thought Baiza was of Gypsy origin. By the time of an even worse incident from 1997, one could easily understand if the guitarist swore off ever playing in Germany again. Following a gig by his band the Mecolodiacs in Berlin, Baiza was once again attacked by hooligans who smashed his right hand with a baseball bat. Add to this reports from on tour with Mike Watt, such as "Joe Baiza went tumbling into the drums," and there is an impression of a fellow to whom bodily injury comes often, although thankfully not quite often as the inspiration to play a brilliant guitar solo.
Guitar nuts first picked up on Baiza in the context of his band Saccharine Trust, one of the mid-'80s groups that made the SST label so interesting, at least for a short time. Fellow bandmember Jack Brewer and Baiza revived this band in 2001 and recorded a new album in — yikes — Germany. The amusing name Universal Congress Of was at first just the title of a Baiza solo album in 1987, but evolved into a group whose three original releases became favorites of the electric jazz audience. Universal Congress Of toured frequently in both Europe and the United States.
Baiza was involved in a variety of different groups in the '90s and beyond, extending the developments of Universal Congress Of with the aforementioned Mecolodiacs and embarking on at least three marathon tours with Watt, in whose band he replaced guitarist Nels Cline. He also worked in the band Putanesca, named after one of the most intense types of Italian pasta sauces — ingredients include anchovies and squid ink. Baiza is also a visual artist who has contributed work to several album covers. ~ Eugene Chadbourne