Deborah Crooks (www.DeborahCrooks.com) is a writer, performing songwriter and recording artist based in San Francisco whose lyric driven and soul-wise music has drawn comparison to Lucinda Williams, Chrissie Hynde and Natalie Merchant.
Singing about faith, love and loss, her lyrics are honed by a lifetime of writing and world travel while her music draws on folk, rock, Americana and the blues. She released her first EP "5 Acres" in 2003 produced by Roberta Donnay, which caught the attention of Rocker Girl Magazine, selecting it for the RockerGirl Discoveries Cd. In 2007, she teamed up with local producer Ben Bernstein to complete "Turn It All Red" Ep, followed by 2008's "Adding Water to the Ashes" CD, and a second full-length CD "2010. She's currently working on a third CD to be released in 2013.
Deborah's many performance credits include an appearance at the 2006 Millennium Music Conference, the RockerGirl Magazine Music Convention, IndieGrrl, at several of the Annual Invasion of the GoGirls at SXSW in Austin, TX, the Harmony Festival and 2009's California Music Fest, MacWorld 2010, Far West Fest and many other venues and events. She toured the Northwest as part "Indie Abundance Music, Money & Mindfulness" (2009) with two other Bay Area artists, and followed up with "The Great Idea Tour of the Southwest in March 2010 with Jean Mazzei.
Stars. So many stars. Wood chips and pine needles, a cushion for each step. The ocean, the ocean, the ocean. Whales keeping their secrets. Gulls trolling the shore. Poppies tentatively trying the hillsides. Stars. So many stars. So hard to leave…From Big Sur with Love.
“I have a big inner life. My struggle is how to organize it.” — Baz Luhrmann New York Times 2/9/14
Rainy day here. Rainy days. As California basks in belatedly falling rain and snow, I’m happy to be warm at home, reading the Sunday paper, recovering from my venture into beer tourism.
I’m not a big drinker and, when it comes to alcohol consumption of any kind, I’m more apt to have a nice glass of red wine.
However, my SO has a high regard for IPAs and enough interest in craft beer to brew up a batch at home from time to time. So when another friend who is likewise partnered to a beer lover invited us along to enjoy Russian River Brewing Company’s annual release of its renowned Triple IPA ‘Pliny the Younger,’ we said sure.
As the event showed up increasingly in the press, it dawned on us that the Pliny the Younger release was a very big deal among beer drinkers. Expensive and time-consuming to brew, Pliny the Younger is considered one of the very best tasting beers in the world, but is only available at the Santa Rosa pub for two weeks each year (with very limited shipments elsewhere).
People from all over the country (world?) — we’d meet a woman from Texas who flew in and got up at 5 in the morning to get in line — gather in Santa Rosa each February to consume the rich beer. And so I found myself rising early Saturday to join my friends and the gathering throngs to await our turn to taste Pliny.
The drenching rain didn’t keep the crowds away and it was late afternoon by the time we were let inside Russian River Brewing Company. Inside the brewery, it was nearly standing room only, shoulder-to-shoulder, elbow-to-elbow, as the capacity crowd toasted glasses and sipped on the golden ale. The pub serves an extensive list of other highly regarded and artful brews, including Pliny the Elder, all year, but it was Pliny the Younger’s day.
“Are you leaving?” I asked a man getting up from an adjacent bar stool, hoping to secure more perches for my party. “No,” he said, looking at me aghast. “I’m staying ’til they close. Eventually, we got a table to sip and further consider this year’s Pliny over pizza and pub sandwiches. Was it all that? I’m hardly the best judge, but I will say it was the smoothest, most drinkable beer I’ve tasted.
We had another great time in Austin, playing at MEOWCon 13 and getting completely inspired by all the other artists (hello Leni Stern African Trio*, Bluebonnets & Suzi Quatro), while catching up with new and old friends (Katie Garibaldi, Sue Quigley, Willow &The Embers) with gigs at The Driskill and Cedar St Courtyard to bookend the conference experience.
MEOW Showcase, photo by Jo Wymer
MEOW Con 2013
Along with the live shows, there were several films that screened during MEOWCon. We met Seattle filmmaker Kay D. Ray on the shuttle to the hotel and were very happy we made a point of seeing her ‘director’s cut’ of Lady Be Good: Instrumental Women In Jazz. Containing extraordinary footage of, and interviews with, pioneering women musicians from the 1920s to the 1970s, it’s a deep, inspiring, troubling and enlightening film all at the same time. In other words, make sure you see it. You can find out more and support it’s release at Kay’s site. Very big bow of appreciation to Carla DeSantis Black, who rounded up an extraordinary mix of women in music that was the inaugural MEOWCon. Here’s to many more!
I was recently introduced to fellow East Bay-by-way-of-Southern-California songwriter Sara Lovell through the 27 Powers writing community. A songwriter, multi-instrumentalist andproducer with a wide-ranging musical palette, Lovell moved to Berkeley from Los Angeles several years ago with three critically praised full-length CDs of multi-layered modern rock and folk/pop songs to her credit, and a desire to become a parent. As her son begins his fourth year and she shifts more of her focus back to music making, Sara discussed her influences, balancing writing life with motherhood and getting back to recording and performing.
Q You’ve taken a little break — are you finding your writing changing post-LA and post-parenthood? Have you found Wild Writing practice influencing your material in new or different ways? SLI wouldn’t quite say, “post-parenting” yet. My son is still three and I hear this job goes on for quite some time. The biggest challenge at the moment is going from having more open-ended time before my son Gabe came, to now having to fit the writing into shorter, more scheduled blocks of time. And as a former night owl, I now aspire to meet the muse at 2pm instead of 2am. Wild Writing was the perfect practice at just the right time since it was the first opportunity I had where I gave myself extended time each week, just for me, to feel whatever was there and express it in words, in a safe, honoring group of women. And to be so moved and inspired by the other writer’s experiences and words…to be reminded and grateful for this wild, precious life.
Q Who do you count as your main influences and who are you listening to now? SL I grew up listening to lots of different music thanks to my parents and older brother and sister. I heard a lot of classical, some jazz and bossa nova, Ella Fitzgerald and Harry Belafonte to name a few. Then came the Beatles, Motown, Stevie Wonder and the singer/songwriters—Joni, Carole King, James Taylor…When I started composing on the piano I was aware some musician’s music felt so kindred to me, like hearing a Todd Rundgren song for the first time when I was 12 and saying, “Hey I just played those same exact chords yesterday!” And hearing the last movement of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite in a college classroom that made me weep, (and still does to this day). Lately, I’ve been listening to Anais Mitchell, who has such heart and honest lyric writing. I also got Michael Franti’s new album and like dancing to it with my boy!
Q How do you approach songwriting: do you wait for the muse or do you show up daily with intent to finish (or get a good start on) a song? SL As a young person I was inspired every day just by virtue of learning how to play the songs I loved, and playing them for hours. Then I started writing lyrics and singing my own songs, and again spent hours on end. As I got a bit older, I did wait for the muse with my songwriting, and seemed to be more interested in developing musical ideas and arranging. And now that I have less time, I want to be more economical with it, while at the same time wanting to dig deeper with my lyric writing. So I am aiming to start a new routine of writing daily, with a couple of days each week for longer blocks of writing time. As I’ve been getting back into it again, the more I do, the more I want to do, and so it’s building momentum.
Q What can listeners expect in the next year? Where will you be playing? Will you be releasing new recordings? SL Well I’m so looking forward to performing with you and Monica Pasqual at Laurie Wagner’s house concert on Saturday Sept. 7th! And I’ll just see where it leads from there. I am working on several new songs and have some ideas for possible new recordings. My son came up with a great title for a song so I’m sure there’s a kids record in the not-too-distant future. I have this idea for a record of Lullabies for grown-ups. We could all use a little soothing from time to time, right?
Gary Snyder has a book/epic poem “Mountains and Rivers Without End,” an opus that draws on all his Beat Poet/Zen/Nature crazy wisdom. I thought of that title today, rolling across Utah and Nevada with their respective mountains and deserts and highways (rivers not always evident), without end.
Many of the parts of Nevada and Utah that the 80 traverses are the hardest bitten ones: great swatches of possibly inhabitable land. Colorless, hot and dry, they’ve the look of being filled with snakes, barbed wire, abandoned buildings or …explosive devises (we read such a warning in the Mojave last week). We crested a hill and saw two white military dirigibles hovering over some treeless ridges. Again: WTF?
Thank the advent of Smartphones that you can Google “military blimp” in the middle of seemingly nowhere and find out that these floating behemoths are used to mount radar and are being tested in Utah. Hmmm… All that highway calls for much reading, aloud as to entertain the driver, including facts about the towns we’re cruising through. Who knew Rock Springs had such an oppressive and violent past?
Likewise a recent New Yorker provided additional information for review of such humans-behaving-badly matters. If you want to get more up to speed on the implications of the recent Supreme Court ruling Shelby v. Holder do read A Critic at Large: The Color of Law, by Louis Menand. Voting rights and the Southern way of life. http://nyr.kr/14AVbO8 NOW.
It is a chilling review of the horrific obstacles the civil-rights workers endured en route to securing voting rights for African Americans in the 1960s and the very real and troubling politics that are in play today.
On a more positive note, we pit-stopped in Salt Lake City and enjoyed an evening stroll through the 80-acre Liberty Park, so named as its fountains, lake, picnic areas, aviary, tennis courts, trees and lawns were intended for all to enjoy, and indeeda large cross section of the city was happily doing just that on a warm summer evening.
I awoke this morning and thought, ‘oh, duh, Laramie is a mountain town.’ Sure there were cowboys and cowgirls dancing in the street to a band wearing LARGE cowboy hats, and it’s pretty flat in town overall, but the elevation is 7165′ and the thunderstorms mountain-issue. We waited in the car for an extra half hour before unloading our gear last night as lightning flashed, thunder rumbled, and a deluge of rainwater filled the gutters.
Earlier in the day, before the clouds moved in, we did a short walk/hike on the Happy Jack Trail in the Medicine Bow National Forest, 15 minutes out of town. Today, starting our return trip home, we drove the Medicine Bow Scenic Byway west, enjoying views of 12,000 foot peaks and… a wolf! By its size and color, we were sure it wasn’t a coyote loping through a clearing in the woods, but we weren’t certain of our assessment until a little fact checking revealed Wyoming wolf populations are deemed ‘healthy’ enough to permit a hunt. The concept of trophy hunting these animals is not a pleasant thought to my mind. Especially since Wyoming wolves were just down listed from Endangered and Threatened Status in 2012. Ugh.
I discovered through some research that in most of the state, wolves are considered a Predatory animal and can be shot on sight. Double Ugh. But even placing my views on killing/hunting animals aside, it appears more protection of wolves is warranted and justified to maintain a viable population of this native animal. The wolves’ clearly beleaguered status notwithstanding, we felt privileged to see a gray wolf, for a moment, running free.
One of the songs I’m currently recording, ‘Committed Lines,’ was partly inspired by the life and work of artist Agnes Martin. Martin was an internationally renowned Abstract Expressionist who lived much of her life in New Mexico, painting highly minimalist works, often based on lines and grids.
She was intent upon conveying inner truth and beauty and was relentless in her pursuit. An article about her work, first read many years ago, was, personally, revelatory. Over the years, I’ve seen some of her paintings in museums in San Francisco and New York.
I was very excited about the opportunity to see the Agnes Martin Gallery in the Harwood Museum of Art, while in Taos earlier this week. Before leaving town on Wednesday, we stopped by the museum (the Harwood had a great collection of contemporary New Mexico artists and a fine representation of Hispanic art and religious iconography as well). The 7 pieces at the Harwood were painted to be exhibited together, and a friend of Martin’s constructed the wooden viewing seats, providing a serene setting and an ideal vantage from which to enjoy the paintings. Truth, beauty, yes.
“My paintings are not about what is seen. They are about what is known forever in the mind.” – Agnes Martin, 1912-2004
Coos, clucks, the occasional rasp. The sun rose at 5:40 am and so it seemed did every other creature in the desert. I popped my head out the door of our rented casita not far from the West entrance to Joshua Tree National Park and saw a flock of quail, several finches, cactus wrens and hummingbirds busily foraging amid the cactus before the temperature skyrocketed.
Yesterday’s high was in the 105 degree range which seems unlivable until you find yourself in it (not that we would have lasted without AC). On the way in from LA, we stopped at Desert Hot Springs Spa and marveled at how odd it was to have air and water hovering around the same temperature.
It’s not the ideal time to be here but we intentionally planned a stop in JT on our way to New Mexico and, as expected, the desert has charmed us.
Within a few minutes of rising we watched two coyotes waltz by. A pair of sparrows landed on a nearby rock and sang a sweet song as we drank mugs ful of strong coffee. We were greeted by friendly staff at the Park visitor center who helped us plan some beat-the-heat morning nature walks through Joshua Trees and the rounded granite rock formations the place is known for.
By noon, we were ready to head back to town for smoothies from The Natural Sisters Cafe and lunch provisions from the weekly Farmer’s Market. It may not be peak season but JT was abuzz with friendly locals and farmers. Everyone we talked to seemed to be an artist or creator of some sort. Perhaps it’s the heat, perhaps it’s the vistas. Maybe it’s the fabled ‘vortex’ of the area.
All told, we’re similarly inspired and invigorated, wondering aloud how and when we could return for a longer stay….
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