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Friday, June 19, 2009
HOME GROWN IV
KGB RECORDS Presents
If the people at KGB continue turning out HOME GROWN albums for many more years, they may at last answer a question which no one ever asked:
How many places are there in the San Diego area worth writing songs about?
Considering the subject in another way, the question may not be answered in our lifetime, if the range of places immortalized in the year's album and its three predecessors is any guide. Geographically speaking HOME GROWN IV starts out on the sunny (except for morning clouds and fog) shores of Leucadia, travels downtown to Horton Plaza, heads across the Coronado Bridge to North Island, bounces back to Mount Helix or a clear-day view of Point Loma, journeys out to Sunnyside, and then makes two stops in Logan Heights before rollin' home. Along the way, it stops a few times to celebrate the glories of the region as a whole. This year's mention of Sunnyside, as a matter of fact, is a good yardstick of the resourcefulness of HOME GROWN contributors.
KGB Programs Director Rick Leibert and others judging the 354 songs (yes, another record number of records, easily beating last year's 325 and a quantum jump over the 142 entries for the first HOME GROWN) had never heard of Sunnyside. We liked James Francis Lamont's tune, but wondered if there really was a Sunnyside. Lamont provided proof, though, a regional map showing Sunnyside neatly ensconced between Jamul and Chula Vista, with its very own zip code, 92073.
Speaking of Chula Vista, newcomers for the first time shelling out their $1.01 for this disc should be informed that KGB jock Cap'n Billy began playing a comedic paean to Chula, as it's simply called by locals, by a group known as Rose and the Arrangement. Next thing we knew, a caller demanded a record about Ocean Beach. SO Billy invited listeners to record and send in songs about any San Diego area they favored.
At the same time, Leibert and former KGB Program Director Ron Jacobs were looking for a project to substitute for the previous year's KGB Charity Ball, which had drawn 51,778 folks to Sand Diego Stadium for a concert by Jesse Colin Young, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, J. Geils Band, Quicksilver, and other rock heavies, all for the benefit of United Way. But the fire department later announced seating limitations for the stadium that made another rock show impractical.
So Cap'n Billy had all these tapes hanging around, and KGB wanted another fund-raiser. Voila, the first HOME GROWN, a vinyl atlas of Mission Beach, Encanto, Santee, South Bay, Clairemont Mesa, El Cajon Boulevard, La Jolla, and the ever-popular Chula Vista. Not sure how popular the idea would prove, KGB ran off a first pressing of 1,000 records. They ended up selling 30,000, and last year's sales topped 50,000. All albums sold profit the United Way and its 100 human care agencies.
That's the great thing about the HOME GROWN project: everybody wins. KGB stages a first class promotion for the radio stations, local musicians have their work heard by the public, and the profits are used for the good of our community.
This year's selections represent not only geographical diversity but a healthy range of musical styles as well, from romantic ballads to heavy rock, from simple folk to big band blues, from blue-eyed soul to off-the-wall novelty. The musicians range from a 17 year-old high school girl to a jazz band full of pros and include one young man who once rented the Civic Theater for a concert starring himself.
The Mellow Side (This year the record is divided according to Mellow and Rock'n, rather than one and two.) opens with 24 year old Don Auten's Singing Celebration, an upbeat, optimistic salute to the idea of HOME GROWN, and an apt beginning for the album. Auten, who manufactures guitars in a La Mesa shop, is a Michigan native who says his primary intention in entering the HOME GROWN contest was to "find other musicians to play with." He recorded his song in a friend's garage, accompanied by a few other friends who chose to remain anonymous, and added that the whole project "cost me nothing." He played briefly with a rock band called Greenfield after his graduation from Monte Vista High School Spring Valley, took a year-and-a-half away from the guitar, and has only recently begun to play again. But his touch here is practiced, and his solos are unfailingly cheerful.
Bill Kaplan, 31, reports that he's "just a person," unemployed, an occasional teacher of guitar playing, who first wrote Singing My Way To San Diego about a year ago, then four months ago polished the lyrics with Bruce Krueger with an eye on the HOME GROWN album. A gang of studio musicians backed him on the recording. Kaplan and Krueger apply an understated, ironic wit to their brainchild, rhyming "California" with "adorn ya" and tossing in a quick tale about a lady in Nebraska. Kaplan, once a varsity gymnast at Annapolis, in 1974 had another of his songs, "El Hombre Muy Perfecto" played at the Woody Guthrie Festival of Songs in Los Angeles.
One of the more affecting performances on the album is Leucadia, by 17-year-old San Dieguito High School senior Diana Lea Monzeglio. Singing in the background is a friend of hers, Sara Ecke, and together they evoke memories of the straight-haired folkies of the 1960's. Monzeglio, who's been writing songs since she was in the fifth grade, has so far pursued her musical career by playing at parties and weddings around Leucadia. Eventually she hopes to be a music therapist, using music to help people with mental and emotional problems.
Sharp-eyed and historically hip HOME GROWN buyers may already have noticed something wrong with the title of The Alonzo F. Horton Memorial Rag. As Damon Runyan once wrote, a story goes with it. Yes, history buffs, the name of the man who in the 19th Century first planned San Diego's downtown area, and who is memorialized by Horton Plaza, was Alonzo Erastus Horton. But Hunt 'n' Peck explain lamely that water at the fountain has worn off the bottom leg of that middle initial on the plaque. Hence, "Alonzo F. etc. etc." Aren't you sorry you asked? And who are Hunt 'n' Peck? Their card says they are Gregory Hunt and E. Howard Peck, "the unnatural act." They also call themselves E.Z. Mark and Johnny "Jazz" Jones, and say they're both 28, but I cannot vouch for their veracity. They earn their living as musicians, though, and first submitted their silly song in 1974. This year they added a verse and bassist Bill Officer and made it. They come to HOME GROWN, by the way, via the sidewalks of Balboa Park, where they were known and tolerated as the Normal Heights Lounge Lizards.
Toll Bridge Refugee marks the fourth consecutive appearance of Barry Fox, 29, on HOME GROWN and a continued pattern of frustration. "My good cuts never got on," he says. "This time I did 'Julian Summer,' a song I was really excited about. But I have an unfortunate gift for writing satirical songs. I don't want to get into that bag, because even a satirical genius like Randy Newman doesn't sell. I want to be more commercial. I want to be taken seriously." Fox and his group, Island, made it onto the first HOME GROWN with a rocker, So Long San Diego, and in the following years succeeded with Black's Beach and S.D.S.U. Blues, both novelty numbers. He's the only performer who's been on all four albums and since last year has been making his living playing music but has found it necessary to take a few daytime jobs along the way. His HOME GROWN success, he said, "has forced me to think of music as a career."
The Mellow Side concludes with Light Of The City, with Ron Satterfield, 23, the lead crooner in a song that sees San Diego through misty eyes. "We're all just a bunch of friends," he said of the unnamed group on the record. Satterfield has played local lounges with the People Movers, and he and percussionist and co-writer(along with JOhn Slowiczek) Jan Tober have already submitted an album to a few record companies.
Listen, the group that placed Where Is San Diego on HOME GROWN II and City of Love on III, this year opens the Rock 'n' Side with Never Walk Away, by guitarist Marc Intravalia. The group has a long history in the area; its members are all in their early twenties, but they've been together since elementary school, and its present five members have played music together for three and a half years. Their winning song this year is in the folk rock tradition, soft in feel but with a punch of its own, and ends with a long instrumental passage that constitutes its own mini-song. "We're always writing new stuff," reports Intravaia, "but we make our living playing other people's stuff."
Peter Filacio, Jr. characterizes his style in I Can See The Point as "spaghetti reggae," and the description fits. His father, Pete, Sr., gives it a Mediterranean air with his mandolin, but the rhythms seem rooted in Jamaica. A dash of rock and a pinch of disco are present as well, and the whole mix is easy to dance to. Filacio, who wrote his song after seeing Point Loma and the Coronado Islands one day from Mount Helix, recorded Dago From Diego on the first HOME GROWN and Itchy Feet on the second.
James Francis Lamont is another familiar figure to local music watchers. In December of 1975 he hired the Civic Theater, plus a band, and a corps of dancers and put on a concert. Only a few hundred people showed up, but he was undaunted. His style was modeled on that of Frank Sinatra, but since then, he says, he's decided "to get out of that Sinatra thing." Sunnyside Sadie, then, is a 1930's spoof, with squeaky-voiced Jan Tober aiding the comedic dialogue, and provides the album with one of its sprightlier moments.
Logan Avenue Blues marks a pair of first for HOME GROWN being the first song centered on the black community and the first by a bona fide big jazz band. "The song has been around a long time," reports leader and saxophonist Ted Picou. Jimmy Noone wrote the music in 1965, and Picou added words in 1973. It was also in 1973 that Picou's band, since dissolved, recorded the song with a batch of others. It lay dormant until Picou submitted it to the HOME GROWN contest. Besides the heavy-weight vocal of Irvin "Big Daddy" Rucker, the recording is notable for the deep and bluesy organ solos of Jimmy Noone and a splendid series of consecutive crescendos by the whole ensemble at the end.
At this point, firmly grasp the volume knob on your gramophone and turn it UP! This so you can better enjoy my own personal favorite, Logan Heights. It has a raw, uninhibited vitality too rare in today's pop music and an absolutely uncompromising rhythm. "I gotta admit," says bassist Jeff Bock, one of the five East County white kids who comprise the Pillars of Society, "we're kind of surprised at how the sound came out."
The 1976 edition of HOME GROWN rocks off the turntable with Rollin' Home, by a Carlsbad band, Southbound. The band plays professionally on weekends, but during the week its members support themselves with day jobs. Bassist Paul Beach makes surfboards, while drummer Mike Corbett works in a nursery, and guitarists Bruce Dailey and Bob Lowder are a meatcutter and draftsman respectively. Together they end the album with sharpness and gusto.
A little quick math reveals that each song entry had one chance in 29.5 to make the album. But there were 146 drawings, paintings, photos, and assorted visual works submitted for the cover and only one to be picked. The artist who beat the odds was Gary Damon, 38, of the visual merchandising (window displays, furniture arrangements) department of the Broadway Store in Fashion Valley. Damon has been painting for several years but only lately has pursued a professional career. This year his work "We The People" won the Bicentennial Award at the Southern California Exposition at Del Mar.
So there it is, another year of HOME GROWN, another dozen songs about San Diego and environs, another sampling of the work of hometown musicians, another helping hand for the United Way.
Until next year, then.
Robert P. Laurence
The San Diego Union
Cover: Damon/Back cover photo: Tim Hammill/Sleeve photo: Bill Maier/Post Production: Bill Blue and Studio West/Production Assitance: Ed Hamlin, Jim McInnes, Lyn Lacye/Selection: Robert Laurence, San Diego Union; Delores Forcino, Old Town Circle Gallery; Phil Kirkland; KGB Music Staff/Profits from the sale of this album to 1976 United Way of San Diego/"When you help your neighbor you help yourself."
SIDE A: MELLOW SIDE
Singing Celebration - Don Auten (Don Auten) 3:58
Singing My Way To San Diego - Bill Kaplan (Kaplan-Krueger) 2:28
Leucadia - Diana Monzeglio & Sara Ecke (Diana Monzeglio) 3:07
The Alonzo F. Horton Memorial Rag - Hunt 'n' Peck (Johnny Jones) 2:02
Toll Bridge Refugee - Island (Barry Fox) 2:18
Light of the City - John Slowiczek, Ron Satterfield & Jan Tober (Slowiczek-Satterfield-Tober) 3:51
Never Walk Away - Listen (Marc Intravia) 4:34
I Can See The Point - Pete Filacio & The Fantasy Band (Pete Filacio) 3:54
Sunnyside Sadie - James Francis Lamont (James F. Lamont) 2:24
Logan Avenue Blues - Ted Picou & Good News (J. Noone-T. Picou) 3:38
Logan Heights - Pillars Of Society (Bock-Crocker-Landis) 2:21
Rollin' Home - Southbound (Beach-Corbett-Dailey-Lowder) 3:47
Editor's note: I thought much of the music was pretty good but the insistence of making the songs about San Diego basically destroyed the lyrics and sent the songs in directions that they probably wouldn't have normally. They seemed to have suffered for it too. Most come across as whimsical because of this and I'm sure that wasn't a happy point for the featured musicians. But I guess it's better to be heard than not and the record quality is great and I'm sure somebody in this compilation made it professionally somewhere along the line. Or maybe not. We need guitar teachers just the same.
I came across this record on a few blogs and managed to track down some audio from WFMU's site. I would love to hear more from this honky-tonkin' caterwaulin' queen. Listen to the tracks below and I think you will too!