Driving up the 101 past the Summerland exit and memories of the first year we lived in California come back to me. That was when I was playing guitar in Sonny Mone’s band. Sonny was the singer in Crazy Horse when Neil Young wasn’t and we’d rehearse at Billy’s house in Santa Barbara. It was a great band and I still remember the day I quit. It was 135 miles one way to get here and it was killing me and I hated making that phone call from the 101 when I just couldn’t take the drive any longer.
Billy’s house had train tracks in the yard. Real train tracks. He put them there. There was no train anywhere near his house.
That’s what I think of when I’m on the 101 in Santa Barbara - great music, great folks and a drive from hell. It was a short period of time I spent coming up here but it seemed like condensed living, like we were already friends before I even got here.
I cruise by Summerland and give a shout out to the ghost of Billy and sing “dragging the line” out loud for him.
My phone rings and after a few minutes of preamble my friend tells me “I finally figured out what I don’t like about your voice.” Now what he’s talking about is an EQ thing and wishing I had a more soulful voice (uh, yeah, so do I) and he means well but before you do your first show of tour it’s… Well, it doesn’t really phase me but timing is everything. I know what I sound like and there’s no one that’s going to be more critical of me than ME. It’s just…urgh. Timing. He also says that I sound too much like Westerberg but that’s always a good thing in my book.
I drive through Santa Ynez and I actually consider stopping off at the Jones house. The last time I was here I was playing with Phil Cody. They haven’t had their JonesFest in a few years but man what a day that is. I miss the Jones’.
Realizing it’s a bit of old home week driving up the coast. Not a bad thing at all. The weirdest part? I’m not running late to get here.
Tonight I’m at Lost Chord Guitars. It’s a bar, it’s a club, they have guitars for sale on the wall, there’s pictures of The Dude and Jeff Bridges guitars and this is Chris’ place and it’s amazing. It’s a good size room and usually a listening audience. He dials in the sound and I can hear him sweeping the spectrum to dial out the harshness. After a few he asks what I think and it’s *nearly* perfect. I ask about taking out a little more 1K out of my voice and he was pretty much already on top of it and Bam. Great sound.
I’ve decided to bring my “ideal” live stage setup on this tour. That means Gibson 6 string acoustic, telecaster, 12 string Martin, Dobro and mandolin as well as my Fender Princeton amp and pedals.
Now I know - this is insane. 5 guitars for a solo gig but yeah. It works, it’s perfect. I arrange the set accordingly and it keeps it interesting to the listener .
We’re sitting around and Chris and Ben (other soundman) are playing some of the guitars on the walls and they can play. Like really play. It’s intimidating to know that both soundman can play circles around me. Nice guys, genuinely nice dudes as is his dog Sadie who is also hanging out.
I walk to grab a bite, I didn’t realize how hungry I was until I got back to my room and got a little light headed. Nothing a local burger can’t fix, thanks Big Bopper.
The last time I was here a local guy with a good following was playing and it was a holiday weekend. Solvang is pretty dead tonight. I’m a bit nervous about playing to an empty room but fortunately before I start a few folks wander in and I launch into it. You play to the people that are here, not the people that aren’t. And as I go on, more and more folks come in.
I’m not going to bullshit you and say that it was packed - cause it wasn’t - but I had a nice crowd of folks that were here to hear music. They listened to the stories and….LISTENED. It was fantastic.
I talk about working in the old mill and how Springsteen never had a job in a factory and about pig roasts and biker rallies and songs my mother doesn’t like and someone shouted out “Did you ever play metal?” And it’s such a weird question that I actually turn on the distortion pedal and with my acoustic I play a little bit of Ozzy’s “Crazy Train.”*
I tell them all that today is National Toast Day** and that everyone will get some toast at the end of the show.
As I’m getting ready to finish up I tell them I have two songs that I’m thinking of playing - one is happy and upbeat and the other one is slow and about existential dread and which one would they like to hear and they shout back “Play them both but play the sad one first!”
So I do and it’s great.
Then I make toast for them all. Yes, of course Cinnamon raisin. Yes, of course I brought butter, what kind of monster doesn’t put butter on their toast?
I walk around and talk to all the folks. Lily just happened to wander in. She says “I love your voice, so much soul.”*** And then I talk to another couple and I can hear their accent. “Where are you from?” “We’re from Germany.” “Yeah, where?” “Berlin.” “Oh, do you like my Berlin bear tattoo?” And we’re off and running. They can’t believe that I know Berlin and I list off clubs I’ve played there and of course we talk about döner kebab and Mustafas.
As I’m talking to them I’m reminded of something that I started a few years ago in Germany when I had folks at the shows sign my guitar and I clearly remember the first place where this happened to me - Ben and I were playing a restaurant retreat type place in a remote area and the bartender was super nice to us and I gave her the sharpie and she signed her name and she was the first person I ever met from Ukraine.
It’s just a signature on a guitar. There is no global significance but to me I’m remembering a moment when my worldview was expanded by my conversation with her and the world got a little bit smaller. I hope she’s ok today.
It’s time to continue this tradition. I get my dobro and bring it to their table and they both sign my guitar. Thank you Maria and and and…I asked too many times and never got her name down in my head and she signed my guitar and I can’t make it out! Dammit. Tradition continues.
I pack up my stuff and Chris tells me he really enjoyed the show and wants me back.
Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
It was a good night in Solvang.
Oh and Suzi- I’m going to need to do some pants repairs! I only brought one pair of pants and I have a dangerous tear starting.
*Dammit, they were German! I should’ve played The Scorpions!! Missed opportunity.
**This is not made up, it actually is.