It was a cold wet winter day and I was feeling a little down. Not depressed, just not real motivated. Then I got the call from my boyfriend. He had just heard from a Facebook friend that Hellacopters guitarist Robert "Strings" Dahlqvist had died.
I couldn’t believe it. How could such a talented young man with so much ahead of him be dead? He was only 40, with plans for a new record and touring shaping this New Year. After confirming the truth of this rumor, I sat back and put on one of the two records I worked on with the band, High Visibility, and let my mind wander back to fifteen years ago first meeting Robert.
It’s pretty crazy when you’re working on a record. There are a lot of parts to manage, from the masters to the artwork. Usually there are one or two band members who one works with closely to get all the details sorted out and the record finished. Since I was working out most of these details while the band was in Sweden, I mostly communicated with their manager Patrick and drummer Robert via phone and email.
When the band arrived in town April 2002 to start their US tour promoting High Visibility, I was a little tongue-tied. I’d seen the band play once before, I think it was 1998, but had never officially met them or spent time with them prior to putting out the record. I was always one of those shy types, never feeling comfortable enough to talk to the bands I admired from a distance. They were cool for goodness sake, and I was just a geek who dug their music. I had to get over that for this tour though because I was handling all the distribution, sales and merch for the band and the tour, not to mention the production of their record. Talking to them and getting to know because I was the head of their record label was a must.
Much as myself, Strings was also shy, reserved and quiet. He hung in the background mostly talking in Swedish with his band mates. We chatted a little but I was never able to overcome my own shyness to really open up with him, and consequently, never really got to know him like I did Kenny, Robert or Nicke.
But that reserve disappeared when Strings got on stage. If I had super x ray vision, I would swear there were lightning bolts sparking off his fingertips when he played. He was focused and technically superior, but rocked with a passion and love that could color the notes flying out of his guitar with a fury and aggression that pushed the band to play harder and faster.
It strikes me as somewhat prescient that the band all have wings barely visible sprouting from their backs on the cover of High Visibility. I don’t know whose idea this was.
When they played they were in synch with a higher power, channeling passion and love and companionship through their music. Strings added a touch of American muscle to the band and on that recording, taking their sound into a more 70s classic rock approach, channeling the bands he loved like Kiss, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones into his playing and making their world his own.
I don’t know what happened to him. After the Hellacopters moved on to a new label, I had no further reason to be in touch constantly.
He was such a beautiful passionate young man in his prime, giving the world his love through his music.
My heart hangs heavy, my soul weeps for the loss of this brilliant child of the universe. I know his former band mates and the people who loved him are struggling to put their pain into context. For me, I celebrate the brief time we connected by listening to the records, sifting through the posters and sharing the few pictures I still have. I wish him Godspeed on this journey to the afterlife. Those airbrushed wings from the record cover are now real. I’m certain he is connecting with the rock and roll greats who left this earth before him, rocking the heavens with his glorious sounds.
Robert "Strings" Dahlqvist 4/16/76 – 2/3/17
I grew up feeling like Jan Brady. I was the middle child with 3 beautiful sisters and 3 handsome brothers. I had long blonde hair hanging to the middle of my back. I wore gray cat-eye glasses and was always saying or doing the wrong thing. I was also painfully shy, very introverted and always had my nose buried in a book. My dad called me stubborn and my mother called me “wild flower.” I never felt like I belonged to this family; for a while I was sure I was adopted and my siblings took full advantage of that fact and teased me mercilessly. After all, I had golden blonde hair (but not like my mother!) and all my siblings had lustrous dark hair. I was the alien outsider, always out of step with the rest of the family.
When the popular TV series The Brady Bunch was on TV in the early 70s, I watched it obsessively, looking for clues about how to relate. My mom was a first-generation American Sicilian vivacious stay at home mom, once in the theater, now acting the part of a lifetime as the matriarch of this clan of 7. My dad was an Austrian-born brilliant scientist who single-handedly saved the US brewing industry by developing hop varieties that produced more and were resistant to a strain of fungus that was destroying hop plants around the world.
I aspired to have a life like the Brady’s’ where my parents would take me aside and gently ask me what was wrong. I yearned for a mom like Carol Brady, who intuitively knew how to say the right thing, and help me sort through my feelings of anger, jealousy, and weirdness. But the reality was, with 7 kids, there was never any time to do that. You just have to hope your kids figure it out and find a way to make the best of whatever situation was tormenting them at the time.
Jan’s cry of “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” in response to the attention her beautiful sister always got struck a matching chord of frustration so deep in my soul that even today, when I hear people chant that phrase, I laugh weakly and get chills all over my body. No one can understand how painful it is to feel invisible unless you’ve experienced it.
In one episode, Greg Brady became a rock star, and a light went on. Rock and roll was a way to stand out, be noticed and be cool. I started listening to my records all the time, wearing floppy hats and sunglasses and bell-bottom jeans that were flared out with shocking orange and purple paisley silky material. I felt hip, I was cool, and I looked like a rock star.
I learned to embrace my weirdness, my freakish otherness that the rest of my siblings never struggled with. I learned to make it a part of who I was, to enjoy standing out in a sea of conformity. Punk rock and the underground lowbrow world of hot rods, art and music became my family. It didn’t matter that I didn’t look like everyone else. That was the whole point. It was ok to be different. In fact the weirder you were, the cooler you were.
The passing of Florence Henderson, the actress who played Carol Brady, several weeks ago triggered a moment of mourning, as if my own parent had passed. I deeply love and respect my parents, but Carol Brady was the mom I longed for as a child. I see now that my own mother accepted me for who I was, and was happy to help me express myself. She sewed the clothes I wanted and supported my struggle to find my creative voice by signing me up for art and music lessons, no questions asked. I will always be grateful for that support.
When I was in college, a record by an all-girl band called The Lunachicks caught my attention. I played their hit Jan Brady every chance I got, an inner knowingness that I had found kindred spirits in this raggedy group of girls empowering me every time I played the song on my radio show. I longed to tell them how much that song inspired me, but was too shy to track them down and tell them. Maybe someday I’ll get that chance.
Jan eventually learned to love her “otherness” just as I did in real life. Embracing your uniqueness is what gives art, music and hot rods that special something no one else can; your own voice, your own perspective.
Live Fast and Be Weird! It’s the key to enjoying life.
The world of independent music darkened a little bit more Nov 6, 2016 with the death of Norton Records head honcho Billy Miller. To say the secret caverns of garage punk, rockabilly and r & b have lost a shining light would be an understatement.
His infectious grin and manic passion for raw, wild undiluted rock and roll will live on with the hundreds of records he ushered into existence. Because we mined much of the same earth for raw heart on your sleeve punk and garage music, our paths crossed many times over the years.
His curly brown mop of hang hung above twinkly eyes as he gave me a hug and greeted me each time we met, happy to connect with a fellow music freak.
I was always a little tongue-tied around Billy and his lovely wife Miriam, a former drummer for one of my favorite bands, The Cramps. They were my heroes. It was through Norton that my mind was first blown by some of my other favorite bands: The Real Kids, Bobby Fuller, The Sonics, Link Wray, and the awesome compilations of garage punk from the early 60s.
These were the records that lit the passion for raw crazy-wild rock and roll bubbling through my veins back in the mid-80s when I was first dipping my toe into the sludgy garage-punk underground.
In 2001 I was hired by Valley Music/DNA Distribution to set up an independent distribution branch called Emerge Distribution. The company was looking for independent labels to distribute and I excitedly went to bat for Norton Records, lobbying my bosses to bring them on for distribution. At that time, this sort of music was still ridiculously underground, not heard yet on the airwaves and really only supported by in-the-know mom and pop records stores and music geeks. But the marketplace was catching on and sales of “indie” records were skyrocketing as the mainstream started to discover the secret world of DIY rock and roll.
Billy and Miriam were humble, delighted that I thought their label deserved to be supported and promoted alongside other better-known labels such as Bear Family and Sugarhill. At that time, I was a firm believer in the “bigger is better” distribution model and I knew I could help spread the gospel of Norton Records with the vast resources that I had at my fingertips.
Much to my horror, just nine short months later, 9-11 came crashing into the comfy world of record sales and shortly later the parent company of Emerge, Valley Music, filed for bankruptcy, stiffing labels big and small for thousands of dollars and records.
I frantically called the labels I was responsible for bringing into the fold, trying to give them a heads up before it all got rolled into the bankruptcy. I felt horrible, but Billy and Miriam were gracious and supportive and never blamed me for what happened.
My own label Gearhead was also mixed up in the mess and they were empathetic and encouraging that everything would work out, despite my utter devastation at the shocking turn of events. They lost thousands of dollars and inventory but never held it against me, instead grateful that I helped shine the spotlight on the emerging marketplace for garage and punk rock.
Billy, Miriam and Norton Records soldiered on, despite numerous set-backs over teh years, saving many musicians and amazing tracks from obscurity by steadfastly and passionately documenting the raw and wild side of music. Billy was The General in the war to save rock and roll from the bland insipid side of the music industry. I was happily part of the infantry, supporting his vision by playing those records on independent radio shows and writing about them in DIY fanzines.
Few in the corporate towers knew his name but to those of us in the trenches, he was a hero, digging one obscure gem after another out of the dusty recesses of anonymity.
My heart goes out to Miriam. I have no doubt she will continue the legacy she and Billy started back in 1986. They were an unstoppable team of passionate music collectors and revivalists. My heart is broken with the news of his passing but the music Billy championed will live on one record at a time, spinning round and round feeding my soul, inspiring me to keep going on my own journey of documenting and recording the sounds and words that ignite my soul with excitement.
Rock on Billy; host an endless dance-party in the heavens with the fellow musicians and record enthusiasts who have gone before you. Make the heavens shake with that wild foot stompin’ rock and roll you loved so well.
Jan. 1, 1954- Nov. 6, 2016
As a child, I was painfully shy. I had several close friends but relied mostly on my brothers and sisters for playmates. We had fabulous imaginary forts and tree houses and romps in the woods. We rode our bikes and played pirates and cowboys and Indians and all sorts of fantasy games inspired by TV shows on the air at the time such as I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched.
I also spent hours with my nose buried in books, sometimes reading 4 or 5 books a week. One of my favorites was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, followed by Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.
When the story made its TV debut in 1975, I was eleven years old. I had a vivid, colorful imagination, encouraged by my mother and the playtime with my siblings, but nothing prepared me for seeing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in living color. It blew my mind in a way nothing up to that point had, except maybe The Wizard of Oz. To see the strange and curious Willy Wonka come to life I could imagine him no other way except as actor Gene Wilder played him in the weird and wonderful show.
As I became a teenager, Gene Wilder movies figured prominently. It gradually dawned on me that being weird, funny and a little off was OK, and in fact, maybe a desirable thing. Which was good because I was definitely a weird kid.
Young Frankenstein became a favorite movie in my family. We’d laugh hysterically repeating lines from that movie like “Werewolf! There wolf!” I sought out the movies Gene Wilder starred in because I knew they would make me laugh.
It was inspiring to me that this pop-eyed, frizzed haired zany man was a movie star. He wasn’t cast for his looks, but for his personality. His humor wasn’t forced, and he didn’t rely on profanity. He was truly a silly funny guy who made his quirky personal style the basis for laughter. I always felt better after I watched one of his movies: it gave me hope that, as different as I was from my siblings and friends, it would be ok. The taunt of “you’re weird” didn’t hurt so much.
His relationship with the unconventional Gilda Radner was also inspiring, proving there was a special someone out there for everyone.
The remarkable impact Gene Wilder had on pop culture cannot be emphasized enough, and I am so sad to hear of his passing. The world has lost a man who made us laugh but more importantly gave all us weirdoes permission to be goofy and unconventional. RIP Gene Wilder, your laughter, light and quirkiness will be deeply missed.
(6/11/33 - 8/29/16)
I never really got why people cried when someone famous died. It’s not as if they knew them. Why all the hysterics? But when I heard the news of Guy Clark’s passing, I found myself deeply mourning and grieving this loss. I felt like a friend had died and left a hole in my heart. All I could do was listen to his music and let the tears flow. This was a person who’s art touched me deeply, and whose songs felt as if they were my songs. I gave in to the sadness and mourned in the way I knew best: driving down a country road and listening to the music that filled my life for so many years. It has been almost a week now and while the tears have lessened, the emotions I feel while listening to his music have deepened. The well-loved lyrics seem to have new meaning now.
The Cape by Guy Clark
Now, he's old and gray with a flour sack cape tied all around his head
And he's still jumpin' off the garage and will be till he's dead
All these years the people said, he was actin' like a kid
He did not know he could not fly and so he did
Well, he's one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape
My love affair with Guy Clark’s music began when I was just a teenager. I was hanging out with a group of friends who were really into The Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, The Kinks and other 60s groups, but they also really dug the country and folk scene too, music from Emmylou Harris, Kate Wolf, Jerry Jeff Walker and Guy Clark.
I was just getting ready to head out to the desert for my first class at Malheur Field Station where I would study the Survival Skills of the Primitive Paiutes with Jim Riggs, a do-it-yourselfer who had put together this class teaching kids like me how to live off the land the way the native Americans had for centuries.
I was studying cultural anthropology at Oregon State University, so the class made perfect sense. To help pay for it, I got a gig being a kitchen assistant for the following session, helping to prepare meals for the nearly fifty students who would be taking other classes from ornithology to bird watching and geology.
At eighteen, I was fearless, ready to try anything and go anywhere I could get myself, and a summer spent in the middle of the Oregon desert was just the adventure I was looking for.
As we packed up our belongings from the house we shared, music blared from the boom box, including Guy Clark’s Old No. 1. The lyrics to the song L.A. Freeway hit me deep in my gut with hope, excitement and a little sadness:
Pack up all your dishes.
Make note of all good wishes.
Say goodbye to the landlord for me.
That son of a bitch has always bored me.
Throw out them LA papers
and that moldy box of vanilla wafers.
Adios to all this concrete.
Gonna get me some dirt road back street
Fast forward to 1992 0r 1993, I can’t remember exactly when. I had moved to San Francisco in 1990, and was a devoted fan of all things garage and punk rock. I worked in a record store and wrote and DJ’d for Maximum Rock n’ Roll. But my country and bluegrass roots never left me and I got a lot of shit for listening to Guy Clark, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons and Hank Williams during my shifts at the record store. When I found out my hero Guy was playing the Great American Music Hall, I jumped at the chance to see him and got there early so I could get a good spot.
The opening band was a young duo, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. I was mesmerized by their haunting harmonies and raw lyrics. They reminded me of John Doe and Exene Cervenka from my favorite punk band X, but they were pure Americana. After their set, I tracked down Gillian and asked her where I could buy her record. She just laughed and in a soft voice with a hint of a drawl said she was working on it, and maybe in the next year or two it would be ready. Guy Clark did the world a big favor bringing this unknown artist on tour. Their music would go on to attract millions of fans when that first record Revival came out in 1996.
Then Guy took the stage and I was transported back into a world of hard living, open spaces and following your heart. Songs about life, heartache, bad decisions, faith and good food filled the hall for the next hour or so. I left that show further enamored with his music and vowed not to let my negative punk rock friends sway me from listening to the music that touched my heart.
Fast forward another several years, to 1995 or 96. Guy Clark was coming back to the Great American Music Hall and this time I had a partner in crime join me. My friend Cathy and her boyfriend Andrew were both fans so we went and had the amazing pleasure of going back stage afterwards with Guy. Andrew had toured with him as a roadie, so he was the one who finagled us back stage. Rambling Jack Elliot opened the show and they were both hanging out at a shaky wooden table telling stories, sipping off a bottle of Stoli, and just letting loose. I was a little in awe. There I was hanging out with these legends, and let me tell you, they don’t call Rambling Jack that because he moves around a lot. That man can talk! And he and Guy clearly dug each other’s company shooting the shit, laughing, drinking and swapping stories. Two hard-living guys, credited with creating the outlaw country genre, just hanging out. I was transported to another world.
After a couple of hours, it was time to head out. Guy very sheepishly asked if anyone could give him a ride to his hotel. I was the only one with a car, and of course I jumped at the chance to assist this artist who had given me so much pleasure that night. I neglected to tell him that it was a tiny 2-door Toyota Tercel.
When I pulled up in front of the venue, Guy just looked at my tiny silver car with a wry smile on his face. He’s a big man, well over six feet. I apologized for the size but he was so gracious, he thanked me profusely for helping him out. I opened the door and flipped the seat back so he could stow his guitar in the back seat, then stood mortified as he folded his massive frame into an accordion to fit into my tiny car.
We drove those ten city blocks making small talk, all the while I was freaking out inside, “Oh My Gosh, I have Guy Clark in my car!!” When we got to the hotel, he unfolded himself and I helped get his guitar out of the car. We shook hands and he thanked me again for the lift and for coming to see him play.
I headed home that night, knowing the only people who would be as thrilled as I was were my friends Cathy and Andrew. None of my other punk rock friends would get that I just had a legend in my car.
Fast-forward to 1999, my first time in Austin, TX for SXSW. I tracked down one of the spots he sang about. South by Southwest was still a relatively small festival in 1999, and I had gone by myself to check it out and see some of my favorite bands play: The Derailers, The Dragons, Steve Earle and The Briefs.
I was determined to find the Texas Chili Parlor bar Guy sings about in Dublin Blues:
Well I wished I was in Austin, hmm,
In the Chili Parlor Bar
Drinkin' Mad Dog Margaritas and not carin' where you are
I headed out of the heart of SXSW, 6th St and Red River on foot, with a vague sense of where I was going. This was before Google Maps and Siri and I asked people I passed on the street for directions. Some had never heard of the place, but those who did looked at me with a knowing smile and asked me if I was a Guy Clark fan.
When I got there after walking for almost 40 minutes in the muggy Texas heat the first thing I did was order a Mad Dog Margarita and a chiliburger. Everyone there knew that song, so that fact that yet another tourist had found this secret hideaway because of Guy wasn’t big news.
Guy’s music is so much a soundtrack to my life; it’s hard to separate the events and emotions from the music. I only met the man once but his songs painted such clear pictures in my mind of people with worn and lined faces, scrabbling a living from an earth parched and dusty, but with hope and love in their hearts. Plates of Texas BBQ, drinking and smoking and riding the rails, and of love and loss and pain and perseverance. His music has given me the strength to keep going and walk my own path, even when I’ve been surrounded by people who thought I was nuts and said so to my face. When I get down, I pull out a Guy Clark record and sing at the top of my lungs until I feel able to face whatever situation has me all tied up in knots. I know I can keep going because of Guy Clark’s music gives me courage:
Come From The Heart by Guy Clark
When I was a young man my daddy told me
A lesson he learned, it was a long time ago
If you want to have someone to hold onto
You're gonna have to learn to let go
You got to sing like you don't need the money
Love like you'll never get hurt
You got to dance like nobody's watchin'
It's gotta come from the heart if you want it to work
Now here is the one thing that I keep forgetting
when everything is falling apart
in life as in love, what I need to remember
there's such a thing as trying too hard
You got to sing like you don't need the money
Love like you'll never get hurt
You got to dance like nobody's watchin'
It's gotta come from the heart if you want it to work
Thank you Guy for always being there for me with the right words of encouragement.
Guy Charles Clark (November 6, 1941 – May 17, 2016)
George Barris shaped my life. Truly. As child of the ‘60s and ‘70s I grew up watching his famous cars in TV shows that would forever imprint themselves on my psyche and later, on my choice of careers.
The Munsters, Beverly Hillbillies, Batman, Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Green Hornet…. iconic TV shows all with way cool cars that the shows revolved around, almost like the cars were part of the cast of characters.
Rock and roll, hot rods and muscle cars burned their way into my soul as a youth, and like the cars Barris kustomized, my destiny was shaped little by little.
I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with George several times at various car shows.
He was a doll, absolutely charming and delightful, still working the angles, promoting his brand and the line of famous cars he became known for. He invited me to come visit him and tour his museum, and urged me to call his daughter Joji to set up an interview. I had planned on doing that this upcoming spring of 2016, but sadly I won’t get that opportunity now. George passed away Nov. 5, 2015 at the age of 89.
He was scooting around in a little motorized jalopy, which hadn’t been kustomized, much to my surprise. Delighted to talk with fans and pose for pictures, he was sharp and with it, sporting a groovy yellow satin jacket, hipster shades and slicked back thinning gray hair both times I met him.
We always fought over who got to be Batman and drive the Batmobile. Of course as children we made due with whatever we could find, our old red wagon, or my pink stingray bike, and used our imagination to supply the special features.
Thank you George for all you did to energize the imagination of my youth, and fuel my path towards the weird, the quirky, and the kustomised culture. Never be boring, always stand out and do your own thing. These are lessons from George that I will embrace always. Rest in Peace George. Thank you for your vision and your impact on the pop culture that made me who I am.
I fell asleep last night with the words "I live in my heart" repeating in my head. I had no idea what that meant, but I wrote it down so I wouldn't forget.
The first thing I read when I woke up were the words "Trust the changes you are experiencing as they are answers to your prayers about your career and finances."
As I drank my morning coffee, I pondered these two seemingly separate sentences, and I realized, they were actually connected.
If I live in my heart, then I am living in love. And if I'm living in love then I am following my passion. And following my passion means I'm following my bliss, which means in the long run, it will all be ok, no matter what is going on.
Things have felt pretty shitty lately. It feels like I"m struggling to make things happen instead of following my passion. I love my company. I never set out to just have a company to make stuff and be detached from it.
I created this company from love and passion and enthusiasm and ecstatic exuberance. And then it became something bigger than me. It was authentic. It was born from the heart and created in love and heat and passion, and the knowing I had to do this.
Maybe that's why it feels like a struggle now. It has become detached from me and I am in effort to make it be something again, instead of just allowing it to blossom like it once did.
Dr. Wayne Dyer passed away last week quite suddenly. He was a motivational speaker and my mentor. His books and lectures really helped me in some of my darkest days of running this company. I was fortunate enough to get some counseling from him, and he told me to live in my passion, follow my heart and it would all be ok. He was right. He lived from love. He touched many people. He lived spherically.
Part of what I'm running into with Gearhead is I've taken someone else's vision and tried to put it on. Instead of inhabiting it, I'm swimming in it, desperately looking for a floatie to save my drowning ass. Wayne Dyer told me to find my passion and live in it, but there was a time my passion was drowning me.
The Pizz, a tremendously talented artist who created a style many copied killed himself a few days ago. Why? Was his passion drowning him? Had he stopped living in love and instead was being consumed by it? We will never know, but I have felt that bleak, that drained, that destroyed by my passion.
Neil Young says it's better to burn out than fade away. That place of burn out is excruciating. When you are so tired you can't even open your eyes, when you breathe in and it feels like scorching flames in your lungs and your body is so heavy it feels like you're dragging a two-ton automobile behind you....
This weekend at Ventura, sales were disappointing and all the magic that I had felt when I first started going to car shows again was gone. Each car seemed like a shapeless lump of metal, each face a foreign blur. I know these clues now. I am no longer living in love, in my heart center but from duty and effort. Willing each person who walks by my booth to stop and buy something. That desperateness repels people. Its like having dog shit smeared all around my booth. Who wants to go near that?
Maybe that is the place The Pizz got to. Maybe his life smelled like crap and he was no longer living in his heart. Maybe he was so weary and discouraged because what once was his alone had now become second nature and mundane to the world. So many people copying his style and vision that his gifts and creations no longer stood out in this sea of wanna-bes.
Things have changed so much. What once was original and unique is now common place and boring. Every mall has a "punk" shop where you can just go in and and buy mass produced "punk" items and clothing by dropping a couple hundred bucks, and walk out looking like you've inhabited that segment of the underground for years because that's what you see celebrities wearing.
I remember how revolutionary it was to get your nose pierced or to get a tattoo, and now its part of our everyday landscape. Garage punk music now sets the pace for advertising everything from telephones to take out food. But when it first started, it was mind-blowing! As an artist and originator, you long for your work to be accepted and for it to make you a decent living wage so you can keep creating. But when it achieves that, then what? Where do you turn? I don't know the answer to that, but I do know that trust, and faith in love and passion to keep guiding us as trailblazers is essential. When the horizon is dark and cloudy those are the only lights we have to guide us through the darkness to the new day dawning.
My stomach lurched as the tires of the plane hit the tarmac when we touched down in San Diego. I felt incredibly nervous. I hadn’t seen these people for almost ten years now, and I wasn’t sure exactly how everything would unfold.
A week ago today, I was invited to be part of a private Celebration of Life for Steve Rodriguez. I did something I’ve never done in my life: I bought a ticket to fly down and back in the same day. It felt like kind of a rock-star-ish thing to do, but the price was right and it was really the only way I could fit it into my busy schedule. I knew I had to be there in person, to be part of this celebration for a man and a band that had touched my life in such extraordinary ways.
We sat on the runway for over an hour while technicians fiddled with an armrest, trying to fix it, but finally opting to just remove it so we could be on our way. Thank God I wasn’t making a connecting flight. I had a reservation to pick up a car so I could get to my destination, but I was nervous about that too. I had only rented a car one other time in my life and I wasn’t really sure how it all was gonna work.
Originally I had planned to meet up with George Startswithans for drinks and lunch before the memorial. I was supposed to have several hours before the memorial, so this seemed like a good way to relax a bit before the celebration. We had never met in person, but he had interviewed me for his book, Band Together; The Definitive Entry Level Guide to Forming A Rock Band. I really loved how great it had turned out and the care that had gone into making it. He lived in San Diego and said he and his friends met up every Sunday morning for Bloody Marys at the Small Bar, so we made plans to meet there.
Of course by the time I got to San Diego and got my car, it was almost noon. Thankfully for GPS, I found the bar pretty easily and rushed in all apologies at my tardiness. My blood sugar was dropping, and I was starting to get shaky, so I was pretty scattered as we chatted and got to know each other. I didn’t want to drink because I was driving, and I needed to eat something fast. Luckily, a nice bartender (George told me he used to play in Rocket From The Crypt!) gave me a bowlful of cottage potatoes, which he had just ordered for himself. I wolfed them down, and then had to leave so I could find the mortuary where the memorial would be held in just a half hour.
Again, thank God for GPS! I have no idea how we used to navigate in strange cities before it! I found the mortuary easily, but parking was another matter. After driving up and down and around and around for about ten minutes, I finally found a shady spot on the street in front of a quaint old house surrounded by an overgrown tropical garden about eight blocks from the funeral home. It was a really warm day, I don’t know if it’s always like that, but I left my hoodie in the car and hoofed it as fast as I could.
The funeral home was a lovely Old Spanish style building tucked in between little pubs and boutiques. I was so nervous when I walked in; my mouth was dry and I could hardly swallow. I was late, and tried not to make any noise as I opened the heavy wooden door. The little foyer held flowers, and many pictures of Steve. Several other guests who had arrived late were standing looking into the main room where a gentleman dressed in a dark suit was speaking at the pulpit. The mortuary team told me there was no more seating inside, but they found a chair for me at the back of the room where I could sit down and still hear and see the service.
I didn’t see anyone I recognized, so I just sat and listened to the words being shared by those who knew and loved Steve. Shortly after I got there, one of his relatives started to play a slide show with pictures of Steve as a little boy. This was a whole part of Steve I never knew, and I watched in rapt attention as the sweet pictures of this small smiling boy who would grow up to be a rock and roll musician flash before my eyes. And then music started playing, Lynard Skynard’s Simple Man, and suddenly, all the grief I had been feeling welled up and spilled over as tears rolled down my cheeks.
Mama told me when I was young
Come sit beside me, my only son
And listen closely to what I say.
And if you do this
It will help you some sunny day.
Take your time... Don't live too fast,
Troubles will come and they will pass.
Go find a woman and you'll find love,
And don't forget son,
There is someone up above.
The words to this song were so perfect for this kind gentle soul who apparently was struggling with some demons that I never knew about because it had been ten years since we talked. I thought about his mom as the words to the song sunk in, and I cried for her and his wife and young son. After the slide show, several friends and family members shared memories of Steve, and I thought about how much one life could touch so many. And how music can touch us so deeply that we can’t even put into words how it makes us feel, and then all of the sudden it touches a spot deep inside and the emotions pour out. I looked around at all those faces and even though I only knew a handful of them, we were all there because this beautiful smiling soul had touched each one of us in some way. We all had Steve as our connection to each other.
Afterwards we were invited to The Tractor Room, a lovely little pub just a few doors down. One of Steve’s long-time friends owned it and he had graciously opened his doors for us to eat, drink and celebrate Steve’s life further. As we all got up to leave I was thrilled to see Jarrod and his lovely wife Marcie. They had met during The Dragons/Wildhearts tour, which kicked off in Austin at SXSW 2004, and I was so happy to see them still together. It felt like it was just yesterday and we hugged and laughed and cried. Their small son was with them, and I smiled as I was introduced to him. His name was Dragen, how appropriate! I saw Mario and there was more hugs and laughter. He introduced me to his lovely fiancé Maren and we chatted as we ambled towards the door and out into the hot San Diego afternoon. Ken and his sweet wife were also there, and again, more hugs and laugher and talk about how long it had been since we had all seen each other. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder and as I turned, a large man whom I had completely forgotten about stood there smiling at me. Joel, the Dragons tour manager introduced me to his wife and “talked story” about his four kids and life since being on the road with the band. Dennis, the man who had opened his house to The Dragons while they were on tour in Philadelphia so long ago was there as well. It was at his house that the story I shared previously took place. I couldn’t even remember his name for that story, but as soon as I saw his face, I knew I had to share it with him. We cried and hugged and it was just like that, another connection came full circle.
The afternoon flew by, with shared memories, forgotten stories, and catching up on what we had all been up to. I had been nervous for no reason. We all had a common bond bringing us back together: the music and our love for the smiling face of Steve Rodriguez. I met his mother for the first time and hugged her as if I had known her forever. And Jamie, Steve’s wife, beautiful in her black and white dress hugged me like sisters even though it had been over ten years since we met that one time. I finally met Jesse, Steve’s handsome son, now a young man, with his father’s large brown eyes staring out behind shaggy dark bangs. I had only seen pictures of him as a baby, and here he was now, a gentle, composed young man, surrounded by people who knew and loved his dad. I met many people that day that all had their own special memories of Steve, and I felt so grateful to be there, sharing and celebrating with them.
As I sat on the plane, wedged into the middle seat on my way back to Sacramento that night, I reflected on how much we touch those around us. We take for granted the people we love know how we feel about them, but rarely do we tell those we work with or have a casual relationship with how they affect our lives. I feel deeply honored that I got to work with Steve and the Dragons for so long. But I never told the band how much their music and friendship meant to me as I worked with them. Of course I was focused on trying to do my best for them, and maybe actions speak louder than words. But I never told them how much I loved and respected them. Being in that room surrounded by all those lovely people that Steve had left an impression on made me realize how important it is to share these feelings while these people are alive. I don’t know if Steve really knew how he affected the people he came in contact with. How he changed lives, and touched those around him with his music and warmth. I hope he knew, but if he didn’t while he was alive, this day of celebrating his life was loud and clear; I know he heard us in heaven and was smiling his big beautiful beaming smile.
Cheers to you Steve Rodriguez, you will be missed by all those who loved you and who's lives you touched.
ACE FREHLEY OF KISS AT STEVE RODRIGUEZ (THE DRAGONS)
MEMORIAL LAST SUNDAY AT CASBAH IN SAN DIEGO
Memorial Concert Raised Over $7,000
GoFundMe Campaign Raised Over $8,000
All Contributions Go To College Fund For Son Jesse Rodriguez
Last Sunday night Ace Frehley (KISS) honored the memory of Steve Rodriguez (1967-2015) by playing with The Dragons (Mario Escovedo, Ken Horne, Jarrod Lucas) at a memorial at the Casbah in San Diego. The bands and the music community raised over $7,000 at the concert and over $8,000 via GoFundMe campaign. All contributions go towards a college fund for Rodriguez's son, Jesse.
In addition to Ace Frehley members of The Bronx and The Zeros joined The Dragons for an incredible night of music and remembrances. Attendees were also treated to performances by Steve Poltz, Uncle Joe's Big Ol' Driver, and Saint Shameless. A video tribute was produced and edited by Maren Parusel featuring a collage of photos depicting Steve Rodriguez's life and emotional video messages from Seiji of Guitar Wolf (Japan), Ginger from The Wildhearts (England), Sami Yaffa from Hanoi Rocks/Mad Juana/Michael Monroe (Finland), and Ronnie Barnett from The Muffs (California). Video can be viewed HERE.
Many others turned out to pay their respect and share stories, including Tony Bee from the Adolescents, John Reiss from Rocket From The Crypt, Lou Carus of Junk Records and countless other musicians, fans and community leaders.
Steve Rodriguez passed away on July 21, 2015. Besides The Dragons his bands included Infantry, Mad Juana, The Zeros, and of late his own band Saint Shameless. He is survived by his wife of many years, Jamie, and their son Jesse.
Publicity requests may be directed to Ilka Erren Pardinas at Fly PR:
Any other inquiries may be directed to Mario Escovedo at:
PHOTO CREDITS AND CAPTIONS
photo outside Casbah with Ace Frehley/KISS from left to right: Ken Horne, Javier Escovedo, Ace Frehley, Mario Escovedo, Jesse Rodriguez, Jarrod Lucas
By: Maren Parusel
photo on stage from left to right: Hector Penalosa of The Zeros, Ace Frehley, Mario Escovedo, Jarrod Lucas, Matt Caughthran of The Bronx, Javier Escovedo, Ken Horne
Steve Rodriguez portrait by Derek Plank (photo of Jesse by Mario Escovedo)
When they announced they were breaking up back in 2006, I cried then too. I loved this band so much and they brought such pleasure to my life and the lives of others; how could they call it quits? The music industry is a tough place to work. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to get out there and tour, playing sometimes for pennies and almost no one listening. The lifestyle can take it's toll on relationships and on one's health. I understood that probably better than most, having worked with many bands over the course of their careers.
My heart broke when I got the news via Facebook that Steve Rodriguez, bass player for The Dragons, had passed away suddenly July 21, 2015. Disbelief, shock, questions...all flashed through my mind in an instant. And then the tears came. Only a few weeks prior I had cherished hopes that The Dragons might reform and play the Gearhead Anniversary party I was putting together for the fall. Now, I will never see them play again.
It takes a specific type of personality to be able to weather the stresses of band life, and Steve seemed to be that person. He was married to a lovely lady, Jamie, and had a cute kid, Jesse. He was so proud of his wife and son, and while I never got to meet his son, and only met his wife a couple of times, I knew that was one relationship that could withstand the rigors of the road. I was happy for them, and happy to see love thrive in the otherwise desolate landscape of constant touring. Being a woman in the music industry is rough. Many people think all you have to do is sleep with the band, and you're in the inner sanctum. I had the privilege of being one of the lucky few who got to work closely with the bands but never had to resort to sex to spend time with them. I had a strict rule: no sleeping with the bands! It allowed me to do my work, be the boss, but also be a friend and confident.
I went on tour with The Dragons and The Riverboat Gamblers in 2003. It was a blast, and really eye-opening. Much of touring is simply moving from one city to another, spending countless hours on the road discovering new ways to pass the time as you travel in cramped uncomfortable vehicles to the next show. It's the type of situation that can cause crankiness and frayed nerves to escalate into fights and disagreements but that never happened, at least while I was with them. In every picture of Steve, he is laughing, enjoying life, celebrating his friends and music and how much pleasure it gave him. And that is always how he was with me.
There was always time for a smile and a hug. He was especially good at the hugs. They were warm and deep and came from his very soul. He never held back, and there was never anything superficial in those hugs. I am a pretty shy person, although you might never guess that. During one stop on the tour, we were at a house party in Boston, and I felt very out of place. I didn't know anyone except the bands I was traveling with. I'm not really a drinker or a partier, and all I wanted was to go to sleep. Steve seemed to sense how uncomfortable I was and stuck close by my side talking and laughing, making sure I was ok. It meant so much to me, tears come to my eyes now as I remember how relieved I was to have him there with me, making me feel safe.
He became my guardian angel that night, and for the rest of the tour, he always made sure I was ok, feeling safe and comfortable, had food to eat or a beer if I wanted. He was thoughtful and kind, and there was no rock-star bullshit. He could have very easily pulled attitude with me, but he never did, and I never saw him pull it with anyone. H just seemed to thrive on being a nice, sweet kind guy, the kind of guy his wife and son would be proud of. Steve was a rock star in the truest sense of the word. He shone so bright when he was rocking!
His signature song was Joan Jett's Bad Reputation. As soon as Steve stepped up to that mike, you knew what was coming next. He rocked and sang with passion and enthusiasm and fun every single time I saw him perform it. And no one could have done it like Steve. It was just his song!
It's hard to put into words how much someone can touch your life without you really even knowing it. As I sift through the pictures and the memories, I wonder if he ever knew how deeply his kindness and love touched me. I don't think I ever told him. It makes me want to be a better person, more loving and more open and vulnerable, telling those I love how much they mean to me. Telling the bands that have touched my life how grateful I am to have worked with them, learned from them, shared with them.
To those of us left to honor his memory, I think that is one of the best ways we can do it. Be grateful for the close bonds of friendship and love that surround you. We all have them, even if you're not in a romantic relationship with someone. As we walk through our lives, we touch those around us, even if we're not aware of it. Little acts of kindness and generosity are what it's all about after all. Leaving the world a little bit better than how you found it. Many blessings and prayers to those touched by Steve's life, especially his brothers Mario, Kenny and Jarrod from The Dragons, and his wife Jamie and son Jesse. He has passed out of our lives physically, but emotionally, he is there, always reminding us to smile, to love, to be genuine and authentic, and most of all to make those around you feel loved and special. Rock with the angels my friend. I know they will enjoy you as much as we did.
A Go Fund Me account has been set up to help with expenses and to create a college fund for his son. Please donate what you can! A lovely video has been put together honoring Steve. You can watch it here. Also, a memorial show has been set up for Sunday Aug. 2, 2015 at The Casbah in San Diego. For more information go here.
Automotive Journalist, Editor and Publisher of Gearhead Magazine, Gearhead Records, Gearhead Apparel, DJ, Punk Rocker, Master Gardener, Minister, Environmental Activist and Animal Lover... who IS this person?!