Wonder Valley California

Telling lies and spilling whiskey on the floor

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Campfire Tales, Brilliance and Passion in the Mojave

Wonder Valley is a rather small place in a big vast desert. For it's size it sure has it's share of talent. The spotlight this week is a man of great talent but that's not what I want to examine here. What I want to talk about is drive and passion. In my little corner of the world passion is far and away what I admire most about someone.

Each time I go to our local entertainment and social hangout here also known as the Palms Restaurant I am greeted with the smiling face of the fellow we know and love as Kev. Kevin Bone is bar keep, cruise director, actor, theatre director, festival coordinator and master promoter and an all around good guy who's passion (remember that word) always amazes me.

So, all that said, lets sit around the virtual campfire and chat about Kev's Campfires, a new reoccurring production that is as unique as it is brilliant. Picture this... The back room at a Mojave roadhouse, pitched mountain tent, a roaring fire, 3 microphones a few guitars, a keyboard and three talented singer-songwriters telling stories and singing songs. Add to that S'mores and mulled wine and one is smack dab in the middle of Kevin's passion.  You see, Kevin's passion is providing our little town with unique entertainment that gives you that warm feeling in your soul. For that he deserves not only your thanks but your admiration as well.

The singer's campfire is something Kevin says he's been wanting to do for a while. I'm glad he got around to it at Christmas time because it fits right in like turkey and dressing with a side of mashed taters and gravy on a gold winter's night. As I listened to the songwriters apply their trade, a double Southern Comfort in hand,  I reflected on my time in town known to be the Live Music Capital Of The World. In my ten years in Austin I never saw anything like Kevin's crafty little songs around the campfire brilliance.  The reason for that is a lack of the passion that Kevin is blessed with. Three good performers and a fantastic idea made for some pretty cool stuff on a cold, damp but starlit evening out in the middle of nowhere. The big city has nothing on Wonder Valley and a lot of that is because they don't have a Kevin Bone.

And with that friends here is a taste of what you missed or had the pleasure of experiencing.

Ronnie Ruff
Wonder Valley, California 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Ode To The Pack Rats

Here's to all those pack rats I battled all year. You were a worthy adversary and I respect your tenacity and lust for life. May you rot in hell.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Succulents (An evening of small, juicy theatre) at the Palms Restaurant

Many years ago in Washington, D.C. I started a theatre website called DC Theatre Scene mainly to report on and promote local, smaller theatre companies. DC is the third largest theatre town in the country behind New Your and Chicago.

Since moving to our community slightly over two years ago I am finally getting back into writing and involving myself into music and local theatre. 

Succulents is my first foray into theatre criticism in the hi desert and I could not ask for a better opportunity to apply words of praise to a few pieces of original writing and spirited performances.

I have always felt that small intimate theatre productions are by far the most enjoyable for me. I've experienced Broadway, attended lavish productions at the Kennedy Center and the Shakespeare Theatre but my true love is fledgling theatre company productions in small black box spaces. Succulents is such a production.

First, a bit about the space. The Palms is a local bar, restaurant and community meeting place in Wonder Valley, California. Theatre performances take place in a large room behind the bar.  Limitations of such a space exist of course. The bar noise is omnipresent but manageable and not all seating faces the stage. That is where the limitations end and the intimacy shines.  The sense of community and positive vibes overtake any limitations that exist and the audience becomes part of the production in a meaningful way.

"Succulents" is a series of short pieces all written, directed and performed by local writers, actors and directors. 

The evening started with poignant tunes by Steve Jensen and his piano and served as a perfect pairing for the evening's theatre performances.

"Woman of a Certain Age -- Dating" was first up, a smart, funny piece about the complexities and quirkiness of dating later in life by Catherine Gurbaxani.  The age old dilemma of how to find satisfying relationships in a superficial world always makes for good comic relief and usually, as in this case, also brings introspective analysis on the human condition. Catherine nailed it!

"Match", my favorite piece of the evening explores a couple with a date in the works that is in a session with a relationship counselor before the actual first date . Oh, the possibilities of such a scenario! The absurdities of such a premise make for a lively back and forth between two middle aged singles and a relationship counselor.  It's no surprise of course that once they just put aside the pressures of a first date they realize all the worry and stress was silly and useless. Kevin Bone shined in this one as did Celene de Miranda.  

"The First Trip" by Christopher Schoonover was a look back at a mother and son road trip.  The complexities of the relationship and stressors of road trips in general make for an interesting thought piece.  How to deal with an aging parent is something no one is ever prepared for but a flat on a dark desert highway provides an opportunity for the narrator to see the value of simple human kindness we all many times take for granted. 

No Hard Feelings Improv Group brought a comic interlude ala whose line is it anyway.  I need to experience far more of them in the future.

"Women of a Certain Age -- The Doctors Office" was a quirky look at not only the frustrating experience of the doctor's office waiting room but also being a care giver for an aging parent all while juggling the demands of divorce and dating. Celene de Miranda was simply flawless in her performance.

Truth Hurts is part deux of the First Trip and serves as a reminder of why we should always cherish any time with a loved one no matter how frustrating it might seem at the time because life can change with the blink of an eye. Christopher Schoonover is someone I would love to hear more from.

"The Play With No Actors" written and directed by Kevin Bone was a cold script reading that turns into murder as the director comically pursues her dream of performing ALL the parts. This piece was certainly the most difficult to pull off in the confined space but turned out splendidly. 

What I came away with from my evening with"Succulents" was small intimate theatre will continue to be my favorite form of theatre performance. I look forward to more from these talented folks and the potential they possess.

The actors:
Catherine Gurbaxani
Heather Clisby
Celene de Miranda
Kevin Bone
Christopher Schoonover
Steve Jensen

Ronnie Ruff
Wonder Valley, California 

Friday, December 6, 2019

Cosmic Holiday Tunes

It's that time of year.... When all the elves and creepy Santas with bloodshot eyes and Cuban cigars visit the Hi Desert to help moms and dads with spirit laced eggnog and festive baked goods. Yes it's time for my top holiday videos of the not so traditional Perry Como type.

Because what are the holidays without some Glimmer Twins magic?

Merle is one of my favorite performers of all time.  He does a holiday song right. Now if we just make it through December.

Hey ho! Let's go with the coolest punk band ever! This is tied with Fairytale Of New York by the Pouges but Ramones win because they are all related (sly grin).

Space Kacey is just brilliant and my kinda kooky. Catch her new record if you can.

Ah Willie! He may not smoke pot anymore but can sure sing a holiday tune. Not Santa but a red headed stranger.

Old Bob!  The original folk icon. Sing us some holiday magic man.

Alice is the king of freaky horror rock stars. He makes an excellent bad Samta. No snakes in this one.

Linda, not a better voice in popular music in my humble cosmic opinion.

And we close it out with Miss Emmylou. Sings like a bird ol' Gram once said.

Thanks for listening and have a super holiday season!

Ronnie Ruff
Wonder Valley, California

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Artist Spotlight -- Kaz Murphy

Ronnie: Kaz Murphy, what do you love about music?

Kaz: I love how music is ethereal and literally pulled out of thin air, and how just by chance, and by taking chances, alchemy can be established that creates the possibility of making a sound, or sounds, or sounds with words, that has the potential to be brutally or beautifully powerful.

Ronnie: I totally agree..

Kaz: I remember some years back, I was asked to play at a wedding, and the bride wanted me to cover John Denver's “Country Roads.”  I thought the song was OK, catchy,  but never really cared that much for it or followed John Denver as far as that goes.  So as I was giving it my first run through, I came to the bridge where it goes to E minor with the words “I hear her voice in the morning hour she calls me,” and I just broke down crying.  And I don't mean getting a little teary, I mean, I balled like a baby for several minutes.  The first thing I thought was, oh, that must be why John Denver is John Denver.  Honestly, I had no idea why I was crying like that.  So I took a deep breath, sat up straight, tried it again, and boom, hit that same part in the bridge and cried all over again.  It took me two or three days of playing that song to finally get through it without crying.

I guess that's the kind of power I”m talking about.  For some reason, that coincidental combination of words and music brought something out of me that I couldn't explain, even to this day.  It wasn't nostalgic crying, it was completely random., and it has always stuck with me.

Ronnie: That's extremely powerful Kaz, how would you describe your music to my readers?

Kaz: I'm a singer songwriter with leanings towards folk and country.  Hell, I guess you could say I'm a folk singer.  I was raised in South Jersey, and there is a really thriving folk scene that bleeds over into Philly, and I grew up writing and performing in that arena.  Once I've landed on a subject I always look for one line or one word that really jumps out at you in an attempt to make the song unique and fresh.  For a song to work for me, I either need to get chills, tears or get light headed when writing it. 

Ronnie:  What venues do you like to play up here? I know you're living down the hill in Desert Hot Springs.

Kaz: So far I've played Lander's Brewery, Palms Restaurant and Joshua Tree Saloon.  They're all different and all great.  Looking forward to playing more venues and events this coming year.

Ronnie: All songwriters seem to have a process, what's yours?

Kaz: It can go two ways, Ronnie, sometimes the music comes first, sometimes the lyrics.  When the music comes first it includes chords and melody for the vocals.  Sometimes lyrics will come right away, other times, I just put the music in my roster (which probably has over 100 song ideas at any given time) and wait and see what happens.  Maybe a few months later I'll come up with a title or a line and think, oh, that might fit that music I recorded back yonder.  I'll pull up the song and start piecing together from there.
If the lyric comes first, again, the music might quickly follow or I just put those lyrics in my roster and eventually if I feel the lyric or idea is strong enough, some music will come to me, I look up those lyrics and put it all together.

Ronnie: What are you working on lately?

Kaz: Besides writing new songs and working on placing some of them, I'm working on a sound for my upcoming album.  I don't want to say too much about what that exactly is, let's just say it will come to be known as the Desert Hot Springs Sound. 

Ronnie: I like that!  DHS will be right there with Bakersfield. 

Ronnie: Which of your songs is your favorite?

Kaz: Good question, Ronnie.  I guess right now, one of my favorite is off of the “Ride Out The Storm” album and it is called “All I Wanna Do Is Work.”  It has a kind of slave chant in it, and that chant has become a sing along staple at a lot of the shows.  It feels good to get folks to sing, and even though many are hesitant to do it, once they do, it's a good thing.

Ronnie: Do you think music can be a force for change?

Kaz:  I certainly do, and I've seen it happen.  My song “When People Come Together” is a force for change.  I have played it at Democratic conventions, and it is possibly going to be part of larger picture in the upcoming election but I'm not at liberty to talk about that right now.  I'll let you know if it happens.

Ronnie:  Who are your musical heroes?

Kaz: Speaking of force for change, one of my all time favorite singer songwriter's is Phil Ochs.  He started with protest songs and for a time back in the mid to late 60s he was almost on par with Dylan.  When the war was over he started branching out into different sounds and ideas that were astounding and breath taking to hear.  He will always be way up there on my list.

Just as a last note, I have many musical heroes, but as a rule, I have always been much more taken by novelists and authors, than I have by musicians.   I am just so stunned when I read a  perfectly executed novel.  It almost seems impossible to do and that humbles me in a big way.  And I usually get more inspiration from books than I do from other songs.  Sound weird?  Sorry about that, chief.

Ronnie: Not weird at all!  As I interview folks I find songwriters draw inspiration from so many places.  Kaz, it's been great talking with you, see you down the hill or up the Yucca grade soon.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Mangler Heads West

My buddy Phil is coming back to the desert this spring. Contact nashphil86@aol.com for more information. 

Special Friends

I am sliding feet first into my 63rd Thanksgiving holiday and I'm reminded of what I'm thankful for and why I'm thankful for it. Many many years ago I met special friends, friends that would always stay with me, those friends are my records and the artists that made them. As a young kid I immersed myself in rock and roll, country, and the blues. Those are the friends that are always there, you can always go be with them, with your headphones and your dreams.

As I sit looking out over the desert on this cold Monday morning I'm reminded of how I got here. First off it's fate that I'm in the desert, I always knew it would happen I just didn't know when. Now that I'm here I sit and reflect on what I'm thankful for this holiday season and why I'm thankful for it. Music has been such a wonderful part of my life and as a youngster it was my refuge. I would stay awake late at night sometimes, in my room, listening to the local radio station WHFS in Bethesda Maryland. That station single-handedly brought the music to me that shaped my musical tastes and cemented my love for the sounds of the Laurel Canyon music scene. I visioned California as where I wanted to be, that's a long way from Northern Virginia however and it took a while. I got into the local sounds around DC and southern rock. I discovered the blues and bluegrass.

 When things got tough at school or home and I didn't know where to turn it was always to the songs, to the artists that had become my best pals. After I got a job and  I didn't have to depend on my parents to buy music for me I would go to the record store for hours on end just flipping through the bins. I would have the local proprietor play me samples of the music I was interested in, he was glad to do it, another customer for the music business. Little did he know, or did I know, it would become a lifelong obsession, collecting music, collecting friends that would always be there.

So like this  scene early in Almost Famous, my records set me free. The Allman Brothers, Jackson Browne, the Eagles, the Flying Burrito Brothers and Gram Parsons. There were so many many more that even I lost count quickly. I bought my turntable and the accompanying equipment from delivering newspapers. All the money that I made went to music, went to finding new friends. I'm thankful for that, because now, today, as I write this I know it was the right thing to do and I have that to always look to when I need guidance in the every day trials and tribulations of growing old. It's almost as if I were good friends with these folks, these musicians, these rock stars.

One of the things I liked the most about buying records was what I learned not only from the music but from the liner notes. Records are making a comeback, but not like what it was back then, records where everything, it's how we listened to music. There were no digital downloads, or streaming, there weren't even cassettes, eight tracks or CDs. What we had were those big vinyl discs, clicks and pops, surface noise in all its glory. But that's what the music was, it was full, it was rich, it was warm and it filled the room with glorious sounds. 

Around the holidays when all the relatives would come, drinking eggnog, laughing and remembering old times I would feel like I needed to get away, to get away from the old folks and be off to myself. I would walk to the bus stop and get on a bus across the river to Washington DC, to be with my friends at Tower records. 

Tower was open all through the holidays, and I would get there when they opened and spend hours listening to new things, looking through all the bins, trying to find the next new friend within their vast collections of music. I would usually buy something, even if it was only a music magazine because I couldn't always afford to buy records every time I went. I would buy Creem,  Rolling Stone and later New Music Express. I'm not at all sure why I didn't get a job there, I guess it would have been interesting but probably I would have tired of it because I wouldn't have been able to just listen to music all day I would have been stocking shelves and answering questions where the latest Beatles record was or how soon the new Rolling Stones record would be in. No it was better just to be a customer, a music geek and a kid.

Nowadays the music streams and it's free and musicians don't get paid. We wonder why the music isn't like it used to be, well that's because it's devalued. When you devalue something you take away much of its ability to influence and become more than just notes and lyrics and harmonies. I think that's probably why today's kids don't see artists as their friends they see them more as stars, as commodities, as business entities.  

So on this Thanksgiving I sit at the beginning of my senior years with friends many don't have. I'm thankful for those friends, I'm thankful for the music, for truly the music is in me.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Time - Rosanne Cash

Man -o- man Rosanne Cash is great on this Tom Waits cover out now!

Love Is Love -- Jackson Browne

Great new song from Jackson Brown.

“We wrote ‘Love Is Love’ in Haiti over three years ago - in November of 2016 - inspired by the beauty and resilience of the Haitian people, and the farsighted and soulful work of Artists for Peace and Justice in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake,” says Jackson Browne.

“I wrote it with David Belle, whose deep understanding of the people and the culture informed our group's experience there. Love Is Love contains some of my immediate impressions of Haiti, but especially the spirit I saw there in the faces of families, children, and lovers, as they take on the challenges of rebuilding their country in the face of multiple disasters.

"From the day we recorded Love Is Love in the Artist Institute Studio, I would see and hear students singing the refrain as they walked the halls to classes, both in English - Love Is Love, and in Creole - Lanmou se Lanmou. This is one of the best feelings you can get making music - to see people take your song into their lives. That this could happen there in Haiti is a source of great joy for me".

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Monday, November 18, 2019

Outlaw Country -- Is it a genre?

I'm not one who buys into genres much but seriously what is Outlaw Country?

We kinda know where it came from don't we?  Country Music was all about the Nashville Sound back in the day and Willie, Waylon, Johnny and Kris road in and saved it from itself. There was David Allan Coe and Billy Joe Shaver, heck there was Jessi Coulter. But what does Outlaw Country mean now?

I would offer not much unless one considers beards and songs about drinking and fist fights. The whole idea with the original outlaws is they were bucking a system. They decided to tell the Nashville brass to fuck off, they were going to do it their way. What is the Nashville brass pushing now? For the most part Nashville executives are pushing pop music with a twang and an auto tune. Americana is now the real country music. One could also call it alt•country but my God folks it ain't Outlaw whatsoever, it is a genre in and of itself. There's some pedal steel, fiddle, telecaster twang, but beards aren't a requirement and the songs don't have to be about bar brawls. 

It's about time Sirius Outlaw Country just changes its name to Americana Road or Alt Country Avenue.  They have an ocean cruise each year called the Outlaw Country Cruise but most of the artists have never associated themselves with being outlaws.

Gram Parsons once pointed out his disdain for country rock, I feel just the same about Outlaw Country, beards shouldn't define any kind of music. And with that my friends I bid you goodnight.

She Talks To Angels -- Black Crowes

The Black Crowes to get back together! The video is pretty damn good.

Clouds -- Eric Hisaw

A friend of mine in Austin Eric Hisaw. Check out his YouTube channel.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

On A Dark Desert Highway

Five years ago, when we first visited Wonder Valley, I was looking to find a place to retire that was less hustle and bustle than the Live Music Capital of the world in Austin, Texas. In Austin music was a stone's throw from wherever I was at the moment, and I can't deny I miss it sometimes. The Hi Desert however has a thriving music scene that is actually probably more deverse than Austin, unbelievably, and that becomes both a blessing and a curse in many ways. I am still feeling my way around it using baby steps to discover new sounds and new artists.

Here in Wonder Valley, we have a single business that takes the form of such badassery that it is a legend here where the summers reach 120° and your eyes dry in the sockets. The business I am describing is the Palms Restaurant. The vibe is sometimes similar to something out of a Quinton Terrentino film if the screenwriter was Sam Peckinpah. 

When one enters the big wooden door there is a feel of brilliant disarray, not unlike the bar scene in Star Wars, where it is not at all unlikely to encounter a wide swath of unique souls from older desert rats like myself to much younger beings adorned with mohawks. On my most current visit a young lady replaced more standard desert attire with frilly granny panties as her sole means of attire below the waist. Every visit can provide new visuals, but the vibe, what makes the Palms soo cool is constant and chill beyond anything I've ever experienced in a regular hang.

The dominant vibe is cozy, not unlike the famous Boston bar of TV fame, but at a moment's notice it can turn into a more raucous one that is similar to the hardcore clubs I frequented in my younger days like the 9:30 Club and Black Cat in Washington, DC where I grew up.

All genres are well represented for the most part except honky tonk, which is unusual considering the history of the Hi Desert love affair with Gram Parsons. Now that the weather is cooler, I wear my Cosmic American Music colors in hopes that the next Grevious Angel comes wandering in to take the stage.

If one feels closed in, because it can get very busy at times, out beyond the back performance space is the majestic palm covered back patio and an outdoor stage with its own tour bus and guillotine sometimes used to solve customer disputes.

Kevin Bone, James Sibley and a cast of excellent barkeeps will keep a drink in front of you at all times and Laura Sibley makes the best burgers and fries on the planet. You can afford to over indulge because this ain't no over priced hipster hang. No the Palms will never drain your bank account. 

I hope if you wander down that dark desert highway on your way to Sin City or La La Land, you stop at what us desert rats consider the best damn watering hole around. You may even see rock and roll royalty like Miss Pamela Des Barres dancing to the Americana sounds of Mike Stinson.  Just walk through the door and say, Cosmic sent me..

Ronnie Ruff
Wonder Valley, California

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Monday, November 11, 2019

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Artist Spotlight -- Cathryn Beeks

Ronnie: Cathryn, what do you absolutely love about music?

Cathryn:  As a listener? Music is a time machine. When I hear a song my memory takes me back to the first time I heard it...or the best time I had while hearing it. I am transported and I can smell, see, feel, and experience that time again. It's a magical time machine and I can go back to any time I want, visit any place just by selecting the right song.

As a performer music is medicine. It cures my panic attacks and anxiety and depression. It makes me feel like I'm creating and giving back, makes me feel like I'm contributing. It also feels a little like a lottery ticket...like, if I can JUST write the perfect song I'll be set for life (laughing). I love all of that stuff about music.   

Ronnie: What brought you to the desert from San Diego?  The desert can be an influential place on us, how has the desert colored your music?

Cathryn: I'd been in San Diego for 20 years and a lot of amazing stuff happened during that time but then I just sort of puttered out around 2016. The world got weird, my writing partner of 18 years moved to the East Coast and I wasn't hosting live shows or my weekly podcast and web series anymore. I was in a funk. I tried exploring different avenues but always ran into road blocks. It just felt like the universe was telling me to move on. My parents are in their 80s and have been in Lucerne Valley for 15+ years and I thought they could use some help around the hacienda so we packed up and moved. 

My amazing husband, who has been a very successful sound engineer for over 20 years in SD, was surprisingly supportive of the idea. He is still mostly commuting/working in San Diego which I hope to help change. Jonny is next level good, bands are blown away by his skills and venues appreciate his professionalism and easy nature. He's been out on tour with some high profile bands and has his own gear for large festivals. Any venue would be lucky to have him, he makes magic with all the buttons.  

I grew up in Lancaster so the desert has been coloring my music since day 1. My 3rd album is called Desert Music, even. I feel like the desert does to music what it does to photos. It adds a special tone, an otherworldly light and a warmth that you can feel and hear in your soul. I am so happy to be back.

Ronnie:  We are happy you are back! Tell me, how would you describe your music?  How do you think others see it?

Cathryn:  I dunno. When I first started out I was all about rock with a funky vibe and then in early 2000s I leaned more towards that Americana thing and since I'm limited as a player the music I write for myself is sorta folky. If I had to categorize I'd say Americana/Folk/Rock. I have no idea how others interpret it. I'm definitely not mainstream although I've tried to be many times in an effort to get publishing deals and what not. I'm pliable, it all just depends on the musicians I'm playing with. Which is another thing I love about music... it shape shifts. 

Ronnie: Shape shift it does, tell me about what you are working on now. Who are the players?

Cathryn: Well, although they're all still back in San Diego my main squeeze is Calamity. We are an all female acoustic rock ensemble and our average age is 50 but we are so immature that you'd never know it. Ha. We are sort of theatrical and hilarious and the music is pretty sweet with 3 and 4 part harmonies and a combined bunch of years of experience on our instruments. We've been together since 2013, the core being myself, Nisha Catron and Marcia Claire. Our coven has changed over the years but we're currently lucky enough to have Patric Petrie on violin and Catherine Barnes on drums. We've been on a "studio tour" recording singles at various studios with various producers and releasing them with home made videos. You can hear it all at the website.. We are endeavoring to keep our momentum going even though it's sort of a long distance relationship now. We write together online and Nisha comes up here a lot to write with me. I'm proud of this band as we've been though a lot, it was even suspected at one point that we may be cursed but we persevered and have accomplished some cool stuff like being nominated for a San Diego Music Award and lately we're getting some great gigs.

Cathryn: I'm also about to release a solo record. Just before we left San Diego I had asked my longtime producer friend Jeff Berkley to record one of my songs, just me and the ukulele. We ended up recording 6 new songs and adding Jeff on guitar and the baddest rhythm section around...Rick Nash on Bass and Josh Hermsmeier on Drums. The collection is called 20 YEARS HERE and will be released on a USB stick that also contains every other recording with every other band I've ever been in plus a bunch of stuff I produced with Listen Local over the past 20 years, like 2 cook book/CD compilations (recipes and music from local bands), tribute shows, a calendar/cd compilation and more. I'm calling it my TIME CAPSULE and it has almost 200 songs plus lots of bonus stuff. I'm selling them for $40 which supports my podcast and web series, The Listen Local Show. You can hear the single FRAMED and order the collection at my website.

Ronnie: Do you think music can be a vehicle for change?

Cathryn: It's the only thing that will save us. It cuts through cultures, beliefs, stereotypes, fear and hate and all the things that divide us humans. It conveys messages in ways that makes people listen and actually hear... it soothes beasts and gives power to the meek. It connects us. It will guide us through this difficult evolutionary period and once we're all living happily ever after on Love and Peace it will keep us there. That's what I think. 

Ronnie: What kinds of things do you like to write about?

Cathryn: My songwriting is pretty much my journal. I write about what's happening, what's happened and what I think will happen. I try not to be too literal so that folks can relate in their own way but I always end up writing my deepest secrets for all to hear. This new collection of songs includes a song called Hey Desert which is about me moving back home to hang out with Hart and Carole Beeks, who I adore. Another song, Burning Star, is about fighting depression and anxiety with the knowledge that we are all energy and nothing can destroy us. Small Town is about the divide in our country these past 3 years and Daylight is about how music is medicine.

I've hosted a songwriting event called The Game since 2004. Every few months I throw out a few tittles and the local songwriting community writes a song using those prompts and we all gather and play our songs for each other. It's really cool to see how different songwriters interpret a title, it's been a really fun event over the years. Pretty much every song on every collection I've released in the past 15 years is a Game song. I'm actually hosting an online version right now, inviting people to write a song to the title WHITE NOISE (submitted by Jeff Berkley) and EARTHQUAKE GIRL (submitted by Steve Poltz) and instead of gathering at a venue to perform our songs, we're all posting them on our Facebook page between now and December 31st. All ages, styles and abilities are invited to play. It's a great way to inspire a new song or just keep your chops up, plus you get to meet a ton of other songwriters, most of them from San Diego. I encourage everyone ot play!

Ronnie:  Everyone has musical heroes, mine are The Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons and in more  decades R.E.M -- who are yours?

Cathryn: In order of appearance in my life: Willie Nelson, Freddy Fender, Janis Joplin, Melissa Etheridge, The Judds, Ani Difranco, Greta Gaines, Gillian Welch. I kind of stopped listening to famous people about 10 years ago because there were so many incredible unsigned musicians who inspired me...there is SO much great music still to be discovered. 

Ronnie:  Tell me a little about your podcast! I love that medium!

Cathryn: Thank you for asking! I moved to San Diego in November of 1999 with high hopes of becoming a rich and famous singer. Once I arrived there I quickly realized that the competition was pretty steep and that my own abilities, while totally awesome, may not be enough to take me all the way. So, I focused my energy on all of the amazing San Diego artists instead and started hosting open mics and showcases to help them find places to share their talent. In 2003 I started calling the showcases LISTEN LOCAL. I learned how to build a website and calendar to allow people to sign up for showcases and then shortly thereafter got my own PA system and I headed out every night to set it up and host shows at various venues, at one point I was doing it 6 nights a week.

With the help of my friend Tim Flack from Idynomite Media I started my first podcast in 2004 featuring these local artist's songs. In 2009 I moved to legit radio on 102.1 KPRi hosting The Homegrown Hour which had been around since the early 80s. I hosted that show for 6 years before the station sold, forcing me to take the show to the internet. The Listen Local Show became a weekly "audio calendar" where I would play music from the bands who would be out performing live that week. Some of the venues would sponsor me in exchange for the promo so I was able to make a little money to support the show. In 2015 I trademarked Listen Local and I added the web show element, too. All of my past shows, both podcasts and FM, are still available and while the shows that were advertised have long since passed, the music is timeless.


Cathryn: I stopped producing a weekly show around 2017, instead offering artist interviews where we play a few songs and chat. Now that I've moved up here I have been reaching out to the local music community inviting them to be featured. I am happy to feature any genre, the only issue is my studio is in my 1978 bread truck here in Lucerne Valley so I'm limited to 2 guests at a time due to space. Anyone interested should reach out to me . I'm also considering starting up the weekly audio calendar again if I can find some supportive local businesses to sponsor the show. Very reasonable rates, give me a shout to discuss! 

Ronnie: When and where can folks get your new record?

Cathryn: It's ready!! I just received my masters back from Paul Abbott of Zen Mastering in San Diego (who is AMAZING) and I'll be shipping out the USB Time Capsules containing the 7 new songs and 200+ bonus songs next week. Folks can order them at my site.. If you don't want to drop $40 for the collection, I'll be releasing these new songs as singles to the public over the next year via my home made 1/2 Fast Film videos so stay tuned at my YouTube channel.

Cathryn, many thanks for taking the time to talk with us and share your music and best of luck with the new record!

Ronnie Ruff
Wonder Valley California

Monday, November 4, 2019

Gram's Rhapsody

Because sometimes words are useless and void of value. Fingers on keys, bending strings are the better high. Thanks Willy Potts

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Artist Spotlight - Laura Harmondale

Ronnie : Laura, tell me, what do you absolutely love about music? 

Laura: Music is a magnifier for whatever you're feeling, a spiritual balm in an otherwise harsh and mundane world. It can be wonderfully therapeutic to hear your own pain and joy reflected in the art of another human, expressed from that human's own unique perspective. It will burrow inside your soul and build a nest there. It's a familiar old friend that's always there for you and asks for little in return but respect.

It's a form of alchemy that helps us affirm we are not alone in the world. We're alone together! Almost all of my friends came into my life through my love affair with music.

Ronnie: Not everyone can live in the desert. What brought you here and how does the desert color your music/songwriting?

Laura: first moved here in 2005 from Cleveland, OH. Call it a soul journey...I knew I would die if I didn't make a huge life change. (Everyone's seen the infamous Cleveland Tourism youtube videos, right? If not, go have a laugh!) I'm highly sensitive to my environment, and sensory overload can easily depress me and activate my anxiety. The desert was the perfect place to escape, spiritually detox and start over. The quiet, misunderstood and alien landscape of Joshua Tree seemed to understand and offer a solution. Things were a little slower in the desert then. I hung around for 5 years channeling the songs that would become my first album, Spirit of 73. I joined my first band, singing harmonies in a rock & soul group that had its first gigs at Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace. During this time I was fortunate enough to be invited to live at a local friend's ranch, which was a vital incubation period for my soul. I did a lot of growing there to evolve into the person I needed to become to fulfill my life's purpose...but I still had a long way to go.

In 2010 I moved to Nashville to work on the production team of the Music City Roots show. I made some great connections, but decided to return to the desert in 2018 after my riverside cabin home flooded. I lost almost everything including a pickup truck and an 27-foot RV, which actually flooded all the way up to the roof! The neighboring Amish community graciously took me in for awhile and nurtured me while I figured out my next move. Where else do you go to dry out after such a wet disaster? I'm happy I came back to the desert. Even if it means I have to endure a few upturned noses and interrogations from the new wave of desert scenesters who think I'm another newbie or LA transplant.  High desert dwellers can be very territorial, and understandably so, because we have something rare to protect. It's healthy to remember that there's always someone who was here before you.

Ronnie:  Artists sometimes see their music differently than listeners, how would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?

Laura: It's basically folk country with influences across the board of roots & "Americana" music...I love bluegrass & Appalachian sounds, classic 60's & 70's country, 90's "alt-country", classic rock, indie rock and I even had my punk rock phase in my teenage years. I don't try to make my music sound like anything in particular, but I trust the songs that come to me; they're like a crystalized composite of everything I've ever loved. I ask the songs what they want and need and let them just become.

Ronnie: I know we share a lot of friends from different Gram Parsons groups, does his music influence your work in any way?

Laura: Absolutely, in fact he's made more of an impact on me than any other artist. I wouldn't have been aware of Joshua Tree if not for Gram's legendary life story. How can you feel such a close connection with someone who checked out almost decade before you were born? Gram wrote in one of his journals that 100 years from now he would be a magician. And that proved to be true; we now have several generations of musicians that credit him as a catalyst to their art. Obviously he was super aware and understood the everlasting and far-reaching power of music, and that he would be an influencer long after death. He knew what he was doing.

Ronnie: We all have music heros, I'm betting we share a few. Tell me about your music heroes.

Laura: Gram & Emmylou, Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, Jay Farrar, Jim Lauderdale, Charlie Louvin (actually got to perform with him at Spaceland, his last show in LA before he passed away), Victoria Williams. There are so many more but I owe a lot to these particular path-pavers.

Ronnie: We live in crazy times. Do you feel music can be a force for change? 

Laura; Yes, a change of heart, social change... it's an excellent vehicle for propagating a message. It's too bad it is rarely utilized that way. The pop music dominating the airwaves currently feels very low-vibrational to me, like they're trying to hypnotize the masses with oversexualized and violent programming. There's definitely a dark agenda there. The other side is that we now have tools literally at our fingertips which bring production and distribution straight into the hands of the creators. The outreach potential of your message is limitless. So it's more vital than ever that we take special care with the messages we are propagating!

Ronnie: You stay so busy, what are you working on now?

Laura: I've been tracking a new album, Old Cardinal Gem Mine, at Red Barn Recorders in Morongo Valley. It will be my first full length release since 2011. These are songs mainly composed in two different cabins; my former TN home before it flooded, and a primitively off-grid tinyhome on the Appalachian trail, which triggered an  abundant flow of ideas, since I was so off-grid I had to drive 5 miles to send a text or phone call. The rest of my time was spent collecting and filtering creek water to drink, and gathering fallen firewood for the woodburning stove, my only heat source (besides the 7 feral cats hanging out there). One of the tracks, Better Way to Fall, was composed in another off-grid home in the Amish community, where I was allowed to live for almost a year, housesitting for a traveling family. That was an incredible experience! 

Ronnie: What is your favorite song you've written and why?

Laura: My favorite song is usually the one I'm currently working on. A favorite from my upcoming album is the title track, Old Cardinal Gem Mine. It's a sweet and simple reflection on a precious afternoon spent with my mom in the Blue Ridge mountains at a little roadside gemstone mine operated by two children and their grandmother. I was touched by the way they make their living in the isolated North Carolina mountains. Sometimes you want to change the whole world but it's only within your power to affect the person sitting next to you. What would the world be like if we all did that? I'm anxious for the album to come out...I hope people will hear the song and flock to the gem mine! 

Ronnie: Thanks for the conversation Laura, I look forward to hearing the new songs!

Follow Laura on Instagram



Ronnie Ruff
Wonder Valley California

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Tanya Returns

"It’s a haunting clip, with Tucker at her most commanding. But while it clearly signifies the end of one’s journey, the country singer is far from finished. Her LP, produced by Carlile and Shooter Jennings, has reinvigorated her career, and put her back on some high-profile stages, from the Grand Ole Opry to a recent sold-out show at the Troubadour in Los Angeles".  Rolling Stone


Over the years I have met so many really wonderful people because of being a music geek . I've been a fan of so many genres and personalities that it's hard to keep track of them all.  Rock, country, punk, folk, funk, alternative, college and country rock, I could keep going but I won't. Let's just say there's little I don't like. Needless to say then, I've met so many cool and interesting folks along the way.

Making friends based on the love of a music genre is a far better option than one based on employment, politics or location or for that matter anything else in my oh so jaded opinion. When you share a love of music with someone you don't usually give a damn about their politics and their location is meaningless as well.

One of the personalities I have obsessed over at times, Gram Parsons, has a mystical hold over Hi Desert lore. Stories of burned caskets in Joshua Tree  and kidnapped corpses in LA have been told and thanks to my pal Phil Kaufman I have the location of the deed.  

I've belonged to various fan groups and been to my share of GP tribute shows over the years in Nashville and Austin and for the most part I have found Cosmic American fans to be some of the best, loyal and kind friends I've made.  We have debated who wrote the Rolling Stones "Wild Horses" and the biggest question of all -- when will Parsons be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

I look forward to highlighting some of these friends as we go down this path of sharing my opinions and musings on my musical condition. We will discuss music together, you and I and it's my hope that we both learn something in the process. The stories will be true and the truth will be music. I'm unsure however if it will set you free.

All that said I want to share with you some links to a few Facebook groups that are full of good people talking about Cosmic American Music.

One relatively new friend I have met through these groups is Laura Harmondale.

Laura is a local here in the Hi Desert and we met at a three artist song swap at our local bar here in Wonder Valley the Palms! We chatted a bit before the show and the show was just filled with great songs and performances. We talked again a few months back about doing a photo shoot but due to pending monsoons we postponed but now that I am writing this column we decided to do an artist feature and interview next week. How cool is that?  

So, Laura Harmondale... What do you love about music?

.....to be continued ...

Monday, October 21, 2019

Currently spinning

This is just a fantastic video. Soaring vocals, hooks, guitars... 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Down The Hill In The Canyon

I don't know where to start with the documentary "Echo In The Canyon", should it be the bland live versions of great, classic songs from California's Laurel Canyon music era that make up much of the film?  Should I start with the missed opportunity to tell the whole story, not just 2 years from 1967 to 1969 and even then concentrate on only a few artists? Or, maybe that there was little or no mention of Joni Mitchell whose home was at the center of much of the explosive creativity.

This project, which started as a 2015 performance to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the Laurel Canyon scene should have been left as just that, a concert film. The labored and incomplete telling of the Laurel Canyon story seems like an afterthought. The promotion of the film was rather misleading as well, leading us to believe it was the complete story of the musical magic that took place in those hills behind Hollywood. There is far too much mediocre  21st century concert and interview footage at the expense of wonderful 20th century archival coolness.

The timeframe documented here by director Andrew Slater and covered in song by Jakob Dylan and his cast of singers took place from 1965 until 1967 when singer songwriters and bands were playing off one another to push the limits of the music coming from across the pond. Folk artists were relocating from New York to California and many settled in the hills behind LA. The meld of rock and folk became the sound of Laurel Canyon but the film totally ignores country music influences being experimented with by not only the Byrds but also by the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Brothers and others.

“Echo in the Canyon” is a great title however even if the film isn't because it represents only the early echoes of genius and ends far before it describes the ways in which the inspiration shared by these bands lead in so many different directions and continue to reverberate in the music being made in Southern California to this day.

Sadly the history of this California music phenomenon is reduced in 'Echoes in the Canyon' to the Beatles led to The Byrds, and then in turn how The Beach Boys’ landmark album, “Pet Sounds,” inspired “Sgt. Pepper.” Never mind all the music made at Joni's house at 8217 Lookout Mountain that became the place that was memorialized in Our House by CSN or the jams happening at Burrito Manor off Mulholland Dr. Left out were the stories of Jackson Brown, Linda Ronstadt and the Doors, all should be major parts of any telling of this story.

Yes readers this much anticipated film truly disappointed. I felt saddened by the inconsistency of what was included and what was left out the story about the music scene that was such a huge source of happiness in my early life. I'm not suggesting you shouldn't see the film. I am suggesting that you should not expect much more than being underwhelmed at the mediocrity of "Echo In The Canyon".

Jakob Dylan
Tom Petty
Eric Clapton
Ringo Starr
Stephen Stills
David Crosby
Roger McGuinn
Regina Spektor
Graham Nash
Cat Power
Lou Adler as
John Sebastian
Jackson Browne
Michelle Phillips
Norah Jones
Jade Castrinos

"Echo In The Canyon" can be purchased on Amazon or streamed from the usual locations.

Ronnie Ruff

Wonder Valley California

A Tale Of Two Honky Tonks

California has a rich history of hell raising establishments.  Books have been written and documentaries filmed about their history and in some cases demise. The Whiskey, the Troubadour, the Crystal Palace, the Palomino and many others all have rich histories and glory days that guided California Country.  The Palomino is now only a neon sign in a museum but that sign and that rich history is embedded in the hearts of the folks that played and drank there.

For almost fifty years a building in North Hollywood was home to the Palomino Club, with it's bright neon sign and wild west bucking bronco reputation. The Flying Burrito Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Rosie Flores, Gram Parsons, Willie Nelson and a slew of other country and country rock stars made the club their home. 

Tipping back whiskey shots and dodging thrown chairs, the Pal was the hotspot for music industry hot shots, out of work actors, truckers and thrill seekers. They crowded in front of the dusty stage nightly for a wild west hootenanny eighteen miles from downtown LA.

North Hollywood at the time was a rowdy place, home to cowboys and stuntmen, far from the art district hipster haven of today. Shitkickers, as they were called, liked to party hard and sleep only occasionally. I have been told parties went on for days. There were fights every damn night and the artists that performed were about as rowdy as the shit kicking patrons. Stories and tales of the shenanigans include horses on stage and Jerry Lee Lewis getting angry and pushing the house piano off the stage. The club's bouncer a 300lb fellow called Tiny even got an arrow in his back from an unhappy patron.

By the end of the 60s, country music was changing. The Nashville acts of the 50s and 60s made way for the long haired country rock stars of the 70s. Gram Parsons and his band, The Flying Burrito Brothers, made the scene with their hippy look and country meets rock sound, Parsons once said he nearly got killed playing the Palomino. But, he became a popular performer at the club with both the shit kickers and the waitresses, who he could turn into sobbing schoolgirls with his southern charm and hillbilly crooning.

In 1969 Keith Richards, Parson's new pal and his girlfriend of the time Anita Pallenberg would spend quite a bit of time getting high in the Hi Desert. Parsons and Richards once even lugged a barber chair up to the crest of a mountain they called their own which afforded them a 360-degree view of the Joshua Tree covered desertscape. It would only be a year later that Parsons would die of an overdose of booze and drugs at the nearby Joshua Tree Inn in 1973.

The previous year only a few miles north of where Parsons died a biker roadhouse opened in Pioneertown and would soon be home to some of the same shitkickers hanging out in North Hollywood at the Palomino with Parsons.

Pioneertown was created as a film stage for the popular Western movies and TV shows of the 50s. Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey, Russell Hayden, and the Sons of the Pioneers (for whom the town was named) were some of the original investors and personalities who helped build and invent Pioneertown. More than 50 films and several television shows were filmed in Pioneertown throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s. 

An old saloon facade on the set was purchased in 1972 by Francis Aleba, and her husband John and they created an outlaw biker burrito bar called The Cantina. The Cantina would only last about ten years before John and Francis closed it down but in 1982 their daughter Harriet and her husband, Claude “Pappy” Allen opened “Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace” The new venture was a far more family oriented establishment but still home to bikers and live music. Pappy and his granddaughter Kristina along with Harriet would play along with the bands booked into the palace. It was a free spirited place where Pappy lead the fun and Harriet ran the kitchen. In 1994 when Pappy passed hundreds of mourners from around the world attended the memorial. Pappy's was sold and later closed.

The Palomino Club however was still going strong but the music had changed from honky tonk to mostly rock. Rock and Roll era stars The Everly Brothers, The Pretenders, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bo Diddley,The Blasters, Albert King, Neil Young, New Riders of the Purple Sage, even Quiet Riot featuring Randy Rhoads, and Canned Heat all played the Pal.  Post punk stars like Elvis Costello and Green Day also played but things were changing and by 1995 the club was no longer economically viable and like Pappy's also closed.

In 2003 Pappy and Harriet's was purchased by Robyn Celia and Linda Krantz, two New Yorkers who loved the venue and wanted to see it returned to its former glory.  They did a lot of repairs to the building and brought the venue back to life with their persistence. 

Since then it has become an alt rock mecca that has hosted bands from the Breeders to Arctic Monkeys, Leon Russell to Paul McCartney. With indoor and outdoor stages and a beautiful mountain backdrop it has become a wildly popular destination for LA thirty something's seeking the solace and beauty of the desert. 

While ticket prices are far more than the three dollars needed to see top acts of the day at the Palomino most shows sell out. Gone are the days of just walking in and taking a seat at the beautiful rustic bar. While it is painful to see a cherished venue like the Palomino close it is also sad to see any iconic venue change and evolve into something less unique, less cool and less cosmic. Time passes and neighborhoods change, maybe sometimes things happen for the best either way. If you have ever loved a venue, a scene, you certainly know what I mean.

Ronnie Ruff
Wonder Valley California

Note… full disclosure, I appear in the following short documentary about Pappy's.