Music from the 805 to the World and Back

Posted online: June 2015

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Katy Perry

By Josef Woodard

While other American cities are famous music centers and have been duly noted and saluted as such—from Los Angeles and New York City to New Orleans, Nashville, and Memphis as well as trendier hot spots (i.e. the indie-landia of Portland and Seattle)—Santa Barbara, the scenic wonderland between L.A. and San Francisco, has carved out its own impressive place in the world of global musical culture, if in syncopated and sin   gular ways.

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Jack Johnson

Apart from the established musical figures spotlighted below, musical angles abound in this blessed city. We’ve had close, nearly neighborly encounters with genuine pop royalty: For years, Santa Barbara County was a destination landing zone for Michael Jackson at his controversial Neverland as well as a launching pad for the young aspiring Goleta-bred singer Katy Hudson—better known to the world as Katy Perry. The New Noise Festival and Conference, a seaside up-and-comer event in the SXSW mold, has so far set up its tent for five years running, and we have, in the Santa Barbara-seeded and now globe-trotting Gardens & Villa a strong contender in the indie rock landscape. In other cultural corners, Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits fame has been a longtime Montecitan, and the S.B.-born, 1990’s hit-maker band Dishwalla’s “Counting Blue Cars” (with its hook “Tell me all your thoughts on God/I’d really like to see her”) radiates the airwaves still. Here, we take a selective guided tour through the map and history of music notables who have called Santa Barbara home.

From the “we remember when” file, some recall seeing the shaggily eloquent guitar-wielding surfer dude/UC Santa Barbara student making the rounds of local venues, including SOhO and the intimate but ever-hip restaurant Roy, in the late ’90s, cooking up an enticing admix of folk, rap lite, Hendrix-y ripples, and sandy, bubbly toes-iness. Before very long, the former film student Jack Johnson ruled his own corner of the music world in his benevolent way as a new kind of pop star, riding a wave of unpretentious and easy-does-it spirits of his own devising. Now, when the Hawaii-born (and still partly based) world-touring star—with six megaseller albums to his name—plays in his SoCal hometown, he settles in for a double-header of sold-out nights at the Santa Barbara Bowl. Restaurateur Roy Gandy, of “Roy” fame, can usually be seen milling about the throngs. Recalling his fast, uncalculated rise to the top, Johnson says, with typical understatement, “I was doing surf films, so I had a pretty good job already. I wasn’t really looking for something new, but it just sort of happened. I rolled with it.”

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Kenny Loggins

Surfing and music—and the sense of rolling with things as they come—are joined at the center of Johnson’s being. “Riding waves—it’s a rhythmic thing,” he comments. “If the wave would stay still, you’d get all your speed from the rhythm of going up and down. You go up and gravity pulls you down, and you use the force of the bottom turn to go back up. Since the wave is moving constantly, you have to learn to roll with it. Songwriting is the same way. If you just go with the constant rhythm of lyrics, you just have the same formula every time. It seems like if you let yourself go and try different things and roll with your mind as it goes, it helps.”

There may be no official Santa Barbara song to speak of, no local equivalent of Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” or “New York, New York,” but one reasonable candidate might be the wistful folk-rock “Walk on the Ocean,” one of the greatest hits by the best-known band outta’ Santa Barbara, Toad the Wet Sprocket. Named after a fictional band from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, this alt-rock band of local boys—lead singer Glen Phillips, Todd Nichols, Dean Dinning, and Randy Guss—who graduated from San Marcos High School in the late ’80s and played beloved joints like Goleta’s Pat’s Grass Shack before being signed by Columbia Records in the early ’90s, scored biggest with the pop tart “All I Want,” but their “Ocean” song may be the best, most timeless and most 805-ish classic in the songbook. After breaking up in 1997 and then making up in recent years (including birthing their #TK album New Constellation) Toad’s saga continues into the sprocketed future.

David Crosby

David Crosby—the hirsute “C” of CSN (with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash) and CPR (with Jeff Pevar and James Raymond, his son) known for solo efforts, duets with his pal Nash, and general folk-rock legendry—may be considered Santa Barbara’s rock prodigal son of sorts. Crosby has hailed from Santa Ynez for several years now, after a long and winding spell away from the county. “I was raised there and I love it,” he once said just before moving back to the area. “I know every street, every tree, and every beach. It’s my stomping grounds.”

He grew up in the 805, got kicked out of schools and played at the old Noctambulist folk club (near the Lobero Theatre), where he says “I washed dishes, for which they would let me get up and sing with a guy named Tony Townsend who played there. He was a guitar player, singer-folkie guy. He would let me sing harmony with him. That was my initial thing.” Landing in Los Angeles, he played with The Byrds and helped forge a new folk-rock sound. He is known for coming to the aid of numerous causes, and refusing to simply rest on laurels up through his first new album of originals in 20 years, Croz, in 2014 at age 72—unveiled, incidentally, at the Lobero, with the ancestral memory of the Noctambulist lurking in the wings.

Famed Memphis-born saxman Charles Lloyd has been the jazz world’s token local celebrity for 25-plus years, and on an almost annual basis, appears at the Lobero Theatre, an easy 15-minute drive from his house (or less, the way he drives). But Lloyd—whose style draws on influences of John Coltrane, pop music, and a range of worldly sounds—took a circuitous route to his idyllic hilltop property, not far from the Vedanta Temple. It was the temple, in fact, which partly drew the spiritually attuned musician down the coast from Big Sur. He had repaired and retreated there during the ’70s after ascending uncommonly great heights (for a jazz group) with his legendary 1960s quartet—featuring young piano wizard Keith Jarrett—and then shocked everyone by jumping off the fame/public limelight bus in 1970. Now 77—and toasted around the world as part of a fading generation of a jazz golden era—Lloyd is enjoying status as a jazz senior statesman with an ever-youthful spirit and a road home to Santa Barbara’s trails, pools, and easy proximity to coveted eatery La Super Rica.

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Jackson Browne

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Bernie Taupin

Hanging out and nursing a beer between acts in one of the city’s most prized panoramic vista points—the Scranton Overlook atop of the Santa Barbara Bowl—could be considered a toasting gesture (officially or otherwise) to the man behind the unfolding vision. That would be former bowl executive director Sam Scranton, the musician-manager/venue-maker who spearheaded the drive to make the bowl—originally a WPA project with a long, uneven history as a concert venue—into one of America’s greatest outdoor music “rooms,” not to mention one of Santa Barbara’s cultural treasures, a thing of pride and joy (yes, Stevie Ray Vaughan played there). Others were involved, of course, including an active fund-raising board and the all-important booking efforts and clout of Santa Barbaran Moss Jacobs, now a promoter powerhouse with the mighty Nederlander Concerts. Acts including Radiohead, The Eagles, Sting, The Arcade Fire, Davie Bowie, and Stevie Wonder that normally fill much larger venues have heeded the special call to this jewel of a “room.”

Kenny Loggins—the veteran genre-switchup gymnast in the folk-rock, soft-rock, blue-eyed soul, and other hyphenate idioms—has been a mainstay of the Santa Barbara-meets-the world music population for decades. Not one to dodge the spotlight or the street corner, he shows up all about town, from a Loggins and Messina reunion tour gig at the bowl to casual end-of-the-year shows at SOhO to the televised Christmastime fund-raiser marathons for The Unity Shoppe. He and pal Michael McDonald (also an on-and-off-again Santa Barbaran over the years) cowrote “What a Fool Believes” and “This Is It,” two of the deeper cuts in the long Loggins hit jukebox, which also features the likes of “Danny’s Song,” “Celebrate Me Home,” “Footloose,” and “Whenever I Call You Friend.” By now, Loggins could be drifting into the sunset, sustained by his bevvy of hits, but the creative muse keeps tugging. When he played at the Chumash Casino & Resort not long ago, he “opened” for himself with his new country trio Blue Sky Riders. Chalk it up to another musical chapter in the Loggins saga.

Mention Jackson Browne and multiple associations swim into the mind: A seminal L.A. troubadour and archetype-maker for the folk-rock singer-songwriter cosmos, creator of the haunting ditty “These Days” (he wrote his oft-covered masterpiece at age 16), “Running on Empty,” saying a prayer for the pretender, avid activism through music and the power of fame, and—for proud, trivia-keeping Santa Barbarans at least—Hollister Ranch. (Browne bought a healthy piece of the big, relatively unspoiled acreage north of Santa Barbara back in the 1970s.) Browne has frequented the bowl since it was the County Bowl, stills slips into the Lobero—announced and otherwise—and has lent energies to countless benefits here, including last December’s Sanctuary Centers benefit at the Arlington, when the part-time Santa Barbaran surfed through a 50-year songbook spanning his classics to tunes from his latest album, Standing in the Breach.

One of Santa Barbara County’s most illustrious, culture-defining, and also, by nature, half-hidden legends in the world of song is Bernie Taupin. He is not known for his public appearances or performance powers but more so as Elton John’s right-hand lyricist for four decades, penner of countless words on the lips and minds of multitudes. Drawn to the Santa Ynez Valley for the love of spaces and horses (as have past valley residents Cream drummer Ginger Baker and The Tonight Show band domo Doc Severinson), Taupin—an American West aficionado who once copped the nickname “the brown dirt cowboy”—lived out his dream of owning and running a ranch, the Roundup Valley Ranch (bought in 1992, put up for sale in 2014). Meanwhile, he continued working with Sir Elton John, both long-distance and in real time in the Roundup’s recording studio and elsewhere, right up through the latest, critically kudo-ed John-Taupin song set, The Diving Board. In his little corner of the valley, Taupin has been our premiere local-global lyric-smithing legend.

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The abiding “dude” Jeff Bridges has successfully added touring/recording musician and loveably gruff-toned singer to his artistic life plan. He may have partly tapped into that certain musical somethScreen Shot 2015-06-03 at 11.00.11 AMing in the water here. As an actor, Bridges—whose long flirtation with Oscar nominations came to award night fruition with his Oscar for his role as a washed-up and then renewed musician in Crazy Heart—cites that film as a catalyst to spur him on to pursue his teenage dream of becoming a recording, touring musician. “I probably would still be doing my music without that [film],” he says, “but that was really a wonderful shot in the arm. It really got the music thing going for me.”As for relocating to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles, he has said, “We got shook out with that earthquake, the Northridge quake. We landed very well up here. It’s just a wonderful community to be a part of, so great.”

[SUMMER 2015]

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