Wonder Valley California

Telling lies and spilling whiskey on the floor

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.

Country Music by Ken Burns - Review

My association with country music goes all the way back to when I grew up in Alexandria, Virginia 63 years ago.  It was a time when country music was all about Country-politan, a mix of country and pop music of the time.

My momma listened to country radio when it was in its Country--politan phase with its string sections and over production. Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty all played on the kitchen table all day every day.  I was in my senior year of High School and I was saving all my money to buy records like Will The Circle Be Unbroken by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band along with country rock records by the Eagles, Poco and the Flying Burrito Brothers I also had worn out my first copy of Sweetheart of the Rodeo by the Byrds.  Momma and I had quite a few conversations about why these county rock folks were not played on the local country station and why I had to listen to them on WHFS an AOR station that played a lot of music coming out of Laurel Canyon at the time. Her answer was always the same, "son, they ain't real country".

As a fan of Gram Parsons I had already heard him quoted as saying that there was no such thing as country rock. He said, "no, it's all just music, you just like it or you don't.''  That brutally honest thought by one of the new artists of the time melding rock and country is exactly where Ken Burns wants to take us with his new documentary Country Music.

What we learn when we look back through the colorful sometimes sorrid history of country music is that blues, gospel and jazz music all played major roles in what country music has become today,  Today, you see we call it Americana, Parsons, Burns notes dubbed it Cosmic American Music however, no matter what you call it friends... it's Hillbilly Music.

There are quite a few references to the rich history of California Country also known as the Bakersfield Sound.  Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Dwight Yoakam and for that matter all the way back to the Maddox Brothers and Rose.

If you are a fellow Country Music fan you will discover quite a few cool little nuggets you didn't know in every episode, you even find out who coined the term Outlaw Country but more importantly you will get a feel for how, from the very beginning, country music was the music of working folks.  Nothing much has changed about that fact in all these years since Jimmy Rodgers..

At the end of the seventh installment of Country Music, Ken Burns tied Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, Townes Van Zandt and Marty Stewart together with Zandt's classic Pancho and Lefty. It really was a powerful moment in the series because it hit the three themes of this production, first and foremost the evolution of country music, second the rich, powerful stories and lastly the ties that bind. Oh... and the stories, it's all about the stories. If you are unhappy with what's playing on country radio these days just wait about a half a minute it will evolve again. That's because country music is the music of the people and there's always a star on the horizon waiting to play you their stories.

Ronnie Cosmic Ruff
Wonder Valley, California

Country Music aired on PBS. The soundtrack is available on Apple Music, iTunes and the other usual outlets.

Artist Profile - Skyler Fell

"Aw, man. You made friends with them. See, friendship is the booze they feed you. They want you to get drunk on feeling like you belong". -- Lester Bangs in Almost Famous

I'm not sure if you have ever had the opportunity to experience the film 'Almost Famous'.  It's one of my favorite films. I grew up when rock and roll was brilliant, when it could be everything to a 16 year old kid.

That kid was me.

I dreamed of being in Linda Ronstadt's band, traveling the country, experiencing the fans and the spotlights and yes…. we were a couple. Those were my daydreams, by day I hung out at record stores and read every music rag on the shelf at the closest Tower Records.

I was a realist however and didn't let all those fanciful daydreams cloud my real life goals but I did always want to be one of the bylines in Rolling Stone and Cream, later SPIN and NME. I read all those reviews and I must admit I wanted to be Lester Bangs or Dave Marsh.

When I first saw Almost Famous many years later I recognized that I had always wanted to be that teenage kid based on Cameron Crowe. We grew up at the same time and his story of a kid who, because of his association with Lester Bangs, gets to write a feature that would make the cover of Rolling Stone is the kind of thing that many of my daydreams had been made of.

So reader, when I was given the chance to write this column and interview local musicians and cover music for Wonder Valley's website I looked forward to asking this question…

Skyler Fell, What do you love about music?

Skyler: I love most things about music, the way it is a universal language, our precious musical communities, live culture and talking to our ancestors by song.

Ronnie: Not everyone can live in the desert. How does the desert color your music?

Skyler: Well, we have a select set of songs we play when it’s over 105F, they are all pretty slow and involve lots of beer drinking between verses.

Other than that, I love singing while I’m riding my mustang pony around the desert and his hoofbeats keep time.

Ronnie: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?

Skyler: Hi Desert Time Traveling Accordion Rampage!

Ronnie: You are currently laid up with a broken ankle, how did that happen and how is your rehab going?

Skyler: I broke my ankle out herding cattle in the high country of Wyoming

Ronnie: Ouch! Tell me about your music heroes?

Skyler: My music hero’s are usually my band mates. I’m also super stoked about my local music scene and what other folks out here in the Hi Desert are up to.

Ronnie: I miss the feeling  one gets from a real protest song, do you feel music can be a force for change?

Skyler: Live music is always a force for change, these days just getting folks to interact without their smart phone can be a stretch. Now more than ever gathering for live music and creating culture is essential.

Ronnie: What are you working on now?

Skyler; Right now we have a 9pm every first Saturday night residency at your local Joshua Tree Saloon.

Ronnie: What's the favorite recording you have made so far:

Skyler: Tumbleweed Timemachine recently recorded Dan Abbott’s song ‘Life is Excellent’ for the 2020 Accordion Babes Calendar & Album. Our stand up bass player Steven McCarthey recorded the song in his home studio. It was a great experience to record with such inspiring characters from my musical community and feel open to bearing my soul through our creation of REAL LIVE CULTURE.

Accordion Babes Calendar

Tumbleweed Timemachine Facebook Page

I hope you enjoyed our first Artist Highlight, stay tuned for more to come.

Ronnie Ruff
Wonder Valley California