About Deborah Crooks

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.

Latest Posts by Deborah Crooks

A Chat With Oakland Musician Michele Kappel-Stone

October 11, 2014 by  


Oakland musician Michele Kappel-Stone is one of those rare hybrids of cool, talented and nice. The Baltimore native is always playing somewhere and she’s a seemingly tireless advocate of her fellow artists.

When she’s not working on her own projects, she can often be found sitting in with another band, helping book a show or organizing an event for The California Roots Union.
I’ve been catching  Kappel-Stone on various stages in various guises — playing as Tippy Canoe, putting together shows at The Starry Plough — around the Bay for years, but one of my favorite of her artistic incarnations is her recent collaboration with Laura Benitez, Heartache Sisters. 

The duo project is a winning spin-off of Laura Benitez & The Heartache in which Kappel-Stone plays drums and sings backup. The duo’s voices blend well, they can play multiple instruments, they exude fun and look great doing it. Think Shovels & Rope crossed with Loretta Lynn and you start to get an idea of what the Heartache Sisters have going on.
After meeting up for coffee in the burgeoning Grand Lake District of Oakland, which she now calls home, Kappel-Stone answered some questions about the evolution of her musical life.

Q How did you first start singing and writing songs? Who were some of your earliest influences?
MKS: My professional singing debut was dressed in a head-to-toe white leotard performing a song called “Sex In Wetsuits” for multi-media avant theater company Impossible Industrial Action’s original play “The Pleasure Raiders.” This was 1990 in Baltimore. Before that it was mostly singing into a hairbrush in my bedroom and daydreaming. I started writing songs seven years later when I was the drummer in The Kirby Grips. I was learning to play the guitar and set my sights on becoming a songwriter.
A portion of my earliest influences include the Grease Soundtrack, Patsy Cline, The Monkees, Donna Summer, Barbara Mandrell, Earth, Wind & Fire, Eurythmics, and The Pretenders. That’s a combination of my mother’s record collection and my first order from Columbia House Record Club (cost just a penny). My first instrument is drums. I have the theater company, I.I.A., to thank for this, too. They gave me a shot behind the kit when the “real drummer” suddenly quit.

Q What brought you to the Bay Area? Does the East Coast ever pull you back?
MKS The Bay Area’s arts and music scene was the initial draw. Secondly, I was deciding between New Orleans and San Francisco in the heat and humidity of Baltimore in August and my air conditioning broke. SF sounded “cool.” Lastly, my best friend, Mandy, decided to move here first and that sealed the deal. One of the reasons I’m excited to return to touring next year (both solo and with Heartache Sisters) is to get to visit my homeland again. I miss it, but always feel connected.

Q You’ve got your finger on the pulse of the Bay Area music scene as a steadily performing artist and a talent buyer — whose inspiring you now?
MKS There are far too many to name and I’d hate to leave out someone I really adore. Instead, I think I’ll name the bands I’ll be sharing bills with coming up. The Demons I Knew (10/11 at Amnesia, SF), The McCoy Tyler Band, Secret Town (11/13’s The Heartless Woman Ball at Leo’s, Oakland), Maurice Tani, Loretta Lynch, and Yard Sale (featuring Jill Olson, Denise Funari and Melanie deGiovanni) (11/22 at The Starry Plough, Berkeley).

Q Describe your writing process. Do you write words first or start on an instrument?
MKS The melody and chord progression come along first, then the words fit themselves in. Sometimes a single line of a lyric and the melody occur together while driving in the car and I’ll develop the rest when I have a guitar or ukulele in my hand later, but that’s less common.

Q How do you feel to have your first solo show is coming up? What can audiences expect?
MKS I’m excited for my first solo show under my very own legal name. Audiences can expect a slight tingling sensation, but it won’t be anything to be alarmed by. Musically it will be a mix of my new songs, with a few older tunes from projects that have stuck with me and deserve to live on. Style-wise, I suppose you can revert back to the earliest influences question and imagine what that mix sounds like filtered through my personality.


On California Earthquakes & the August Sonoma County Quake

September 12, 2014 by  


As timing would have it, we had a gig in wine country on the Sunday of the August Sonoma County Earthquake in California. It was in Sonoma County rather than Napa, but like most people living in the Bay Area, we’d felt the earthquake in the wee hours of the morning.

Like most California natives, the feel of an earthquake is familiar. The first hints of movement, the approaching tremors and then the peak of the shake. Kind of like thunder in the earth. This one felt long and steady (I think I woke up after the sharpest of the jolts), not enough to get out of bed but enough for us to know it wasn’t an inconsequential tremor.

It felt to me that we were at or very near the center of something moderate…or somewhere not too far away, some peoples lives were changing considerably…which they were. My best wishes are going out to those in  Napa who are reeling from the 6.1 quake’s aftermath, and whose nerves are likely rattling from the 80+ aftershocks.

While I don’t think of moving from California when an earthquake reminds me how fragile things really are, something primal in the survival department does get rattled. The earth moving is an awesome event, period. And I have instant recall of the two other largish and large earthquakes I’ve been in (5.9 in 1979 and 7.1 in 1989, both while I was living in Santa Cruz), down to what I did (ducking and covering under a dining room table and doorway respectively), and who I was with, and also that knowing that ‘this one’ is a ‘big one.’
I had the brief  thought on Sunday that maybe we shouldn’t go the gig in Geyserville because of the quake. There were bridges to cross, after all, and we’d be heading closer to the epicenter than we were here in Alameda. Then I realized how silly that was—that while we could control how close we were to a fault line, there are infinite risks inherent to living anywhere, but it’s the living, as risky a proposition as that can be, that’s the point. And so we made the drive, and enjoyed playing atop a beautiful hill with a bucolic view of Dry Creek Valley.




Independence Day Fireworks: Fourth of July Over the Bay Bridge

July 4, 2014 by  

Driving home last night, I happened upon an early Fourth of July celebration, a burst of fireworks originating near the Oakland Coliseum viewable over the water from the Bay Farm Island Bridge.
A day before the holiday, it caught me by surprise, the lights and glare inspiring my instinctual appreciation for fire anew.   
Last year we spent the fourth at Kwame’s uncle’s house in Seal Beach, en route between a string of shows we were doing in Southern California and the Southwest. In Seal Beach, we walked over from the house to a local field crowded with half the neighborhood to ooh and awe over the multiple displays going off along the Southern California Coast. 
Growing up, July always seemed like the hottest month, but somehow the heat didn’t disrupt the desire to set off a firecracker.
Because we were inland a few miles, we’d often take our holiday fireworks to Manresa or Beer Can Beach to set off after dark. The fireworks sold at stands at that time packed a punch, and watching the official displays in Watsonville and Santa Cruz was nearly secondary to the rogue displays going off at home and along the coastal beaches. We’d buy what are likely now-illegal bottle rockets and other items promising high voltage glitter and thrill from a roadside stand outside of town.
During the week leading up to the holiday, we’d preview our cache of snappers, sparklers, and those weird charcoal snakes that grow before your eyes with the strike of a match, on our brick patio. One never knew exactly what would happen once the firework was lit, which was the real fun. Would the firecracker be a dud or amazing? One year, my dad shot a defective firecracker off early that flew low into a small conifer and burst into flame, a fire that was fortunately easy to contain. Considering our impulsiveness, we were lucky to escape being burned badly or worse: there’s good reason so many fireworks are illegal.
The thrill in lighting your own fuse is primal, and the beaches of Santa Cruz were crazy on Fourth, as they are likely are now, crowded with similarly reckless pyromaniac types intent on figuring out how where to best roll the keg in the sand, light the brightest bonfire and set off the loudest explosion. The folks who wanted bigger and brighter on their own terms bought their fireworks from vendors in Mexico or through other underground routes and their were always some impressive, if dangerous, unofficial displays.
Tonight, we’ll venture out into the middle of the Bay on the boat to see what we can see. Happy Fourth!


The Art of Transformation Exhibit at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum

June 1, 2014 by  


This past weekend, we took the ferry to San Francisco and spent half a day at the Asian Art Museum, catching the next-to-last-day of the Yoga: Art of Transformation exhibit. A much-buzzed-about-in-yoga-circles show (there were many accompanying events that drew on the vibrant and diverse Bay Area yoga community), the curators of the exhibit created a compelling narrative in 135 artworks that serves both as visual feast and food for thought, tracing the roots of yoga as a practice of renunciates in ancient India, to its overseas sensationalization in Europe and the US, and present-day popularity, and commercialization, worldwide.

A winding narrative of paintings, sculpture, drawings, photos and video, including South Indian temple-derived sculptures of multi-armed yoginis, pages from a 16th century treatise“Ocean of Life” (some of the earliest examples of asana  illustrations),  large early-1800 paintings of the chakra system from the Jodhpur court that carry both religious and political associations, and footage of Krishnamacharya and Iyengar practicing asana, very clearly showed how captivating, and widely interpreted, yoga has been throughout the ages. Fittingly, the show culminates with a wall-size piece by Pardon My Hindi, #WhitePeopleDoingYoga in the Education Resource Center. 

The Yoga: Art of Transformation exhibition next travels to the Cleveland Museum of Art (June 22, 2014–Sep. 7, 2014).

Beyond such special exhibits, the Asian Art Museum, now housed in the former SF Publication Library that was built in 1917,  is truly a treasure trove of Asian art and culture.  Every time I’ve gone to a special event here, I take solace from the inevitable crowds in one of the upstairs galleries. This time, after viewing the yoga exhibit, we popped into a gallery filled with Japanese Buddha sculptures and then just stood a while in the beautiful interior court.

From Big Sur With Love…

March 5, 2014 by  

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.

Hats Off To Pliny On Those Long Rainy Days

February 17, 2014 by  

“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. 

Ode to Pliny the Younger

What you’ll do for a fine craft beer 
Why wait in the rain in a soggy chair
As Triple IPA is a strong and special thing
May alter your reality, may make you sing
Oh Pliny the Younger, you sneaky little thing

Oh Pliny the Younger, 
Oh Pliny the Younger, 
Hoppy, smooth, a beer so right
We waited for hours
And now everyone’s a little tight

We stood outside though the rain did fall
What folks will do for rare alcohol 
The cops came, the merchants swore
But we all bought T-shirts 
From The Pliny the Younger store

Oh Pliny the Younger, 
Oh Pliny the Younger, 
Hoppy, smooth, a beer so right
We waited for ours 
Then off we went in the night

Will you do it again? Some won’t some will
Fly from all over to get their fill
Maybe if there’s another sort of inebriation
Perhaps a quadruple IPA creation? 

Music Around The Clock at Austin’s MEOWCon

November 1, 2013 by  


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!

A Chat With Songwriter & Singer Sara Lovell

September 15, 2013 by  

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?   

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