Wonder Valley California

Telling lies and spilling whiskey on the floor

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