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
I spent a few days in Pasadena California last week and over the past few years, I’ve found Pasadena to be a lovely perch for Southern California visits.
Provided you don’t want to get to the beach, it provides fairly convenient access to much of LA as well as its own cultural highlights (I didn’t get to the Norton Simon Museum this trip, but it’s definitely on my radar for my next visit).
Pasadena also provides a good perch for birds. As I learned observing the local Alameda peregrines, there’s a nesting pair of falcons on the AT&T building smack in the middle of Pasadena.
On our way home from dinner, we stopped by to watch the birds on the highest reaches of the building setting up to roost for the night.
Pasadena is very close to Angeles National Forest the San Gabriel Mountains so perhaps it shouldn’t come as such a surprise to see such wildness amid the urbanity. Either way, I’ve been finding it immensely pleasing to see these once-endangered species thriving while surrounded by humanity.
Read: I’ve been studying up on all my raptors in prep to volunteer at the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory this fall. Glenn Stewart’s Eye to Eye with Eagles, Hawks and Falcons isn’t on the recommended reading list but I’d recommend it to anyone interested in raptor conservation. Likewise, it will be of interest to anyone who had any association with the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group and its work in the recovery of peregrine (and eagle, and hawk) populations. Stewart, the current director of PBRG, was in on the group’s work from the beginning, and offers fascinating accounts of the group’s origins, conservation efforts in Idaho, Arizona, California, Alaska and Canada, as well as falconry in general.
Eat: When in Pasadena, it’s usually a toss up between Real Food Daily — gourmet vegan with a good wine list to boot — and Green St. Tavern, a cozy restaurant with a menu dictated by the seasons. We were won over by the Green St.’s chef offering of a daily ‘pie inspiration’ on the dessert menu. Who wouldn’t be? (The apple pie was a winner.)
Listen: Most of the music happening on this trip was either rehearsal related (Kwame and I are polishing up some of the tunes we wrote for the most recent RPM Challenge) or on the car stereo (a lot of classic rock and top-40 pop happening on LA radios). Nonetheless, somewhere along the routes of the past few weeks, I’ve been turned onto Escondido, an Americana band out of Nashville. Check ‘em out.
Despite living near large bodies of water for most of my life, I don’t know I’ve spent as much time on it as I have the past few years.
Growing up in Santa Cruz, my parents were landlubbers. After several slightly harrowing attempts, I stayed away from surfboards. And save for a semester in college when a friend and I rowed a zipper out of the Santa Cruz Harbor three days a week, and serene kayak trips on Hawaiian vacations, for most of my adult life, the water’s edge has been just fine.
That’s changed a bit of late Having married a sailor and now living on an island (albeit a little one) with an active sailing community, the increasing prevalence of my time spent on boats has become, perhaps inevitably, a regular event. For the past few weeks, it seems when I haven’t been doing a show, I’ve been heading out on the water.
As with most things I do of late, I’m not so concerned with gear (in this case, boat types) or adrenaline (speed, competition, frequency), but I greatly enjoy the chance to experience another side of nature: how the wind shows its change on the surface of the bay before you feel it, the way seals bob in calm repose when the wind and current are low, diving Least and Caspian terns, low-soaring pelicans, the occasional flash of a sea porpoise. Plus there’s something just downright soothing about rocking on water for hours at a time. It’s a nice reset button I can get into.
Saturday, we went out on the Bay on a friend’s boat for an afternoon of sailing. On Memorial Day, we boarded a whale-watching boat run by San Francisco Whale Tours in a bid to see some of the gray, blue and humpback whales that forage in the deep Pacific. While I’ve seen hundreds of migrating whales from shore when living on the California coast, been whale-watching in New Zealand, and gone deep-sea fishing off of Monterey, I’d yet to whale-watch out of San Francisco.
Memorial Day was threatening rain and there was a low fog that inhibited visibility out of the gate and to the Farallon Islands. I was as excited to see the Farallones as I was a whale, even if the jagged rock outcroppings 30 miles out of the gate where capped with low fog.
We could smell the birds who roost there before we reached a safe viewing distance. There, we could make out thousands upon thousands of nesting Murres. Our on-board naturalist told us how in the early days of San Francisco, locals came out to the islands to forage Murre eggs (one egg equaled a decent sized omelet) and fur seals. When the effects of all that pillaging became evident, President Roosevelt created the Farallon Reservation to protect the islands and its wildlife. In 1969, it was expanded to become a National Wildlife Refuge.
Now the Farallon Islands are an integral part of the Gulf of the Farallones National Wildlife Refuge, the birds and seals have recovered and access is limited. There weren’t any other boats at the islands when we pulled up a few hundred yards from its craggy shore. A few seals swam out to check out our boat and a tufted puffin flew overhead as gulls, guillemots and murres wheeled overhead and swam in the inky sea. It was slightly spooky…and magical. I felt we’d gone very far away.
After idling a bit so we could see as much as we could see there, we motored on West, in search of yet deeper waters.
This is where we’d find the whales….
Entering this part of the Pacific felt like driving across a (cold) desert: there’s so much out there, but you have to really look and be in it to get just how much. A vast expanse of water and foggy horizon greeted us. The fog lifted a bit, the water was calm, and, our captain said, these conditions were optimal for whale viewing. We whale-less whale-watchers huddled in our storm coats and chewed on ginger gum, looking at the horizon for signs of spouting. We saw an albatross and another puffin, porpoises and auklets, more murres, seagulls floating on large seaweed ‘rafts’…but the whales, seen only a day previous, where foraging elsewhere. Evidently, a small percentage of whale-watching trips turn out this way (SF Whale-Watching graciously offers the next trip on them if you don’t see whales). Eventually we headed back across the water, toward the Golden Gate and shallower waters. But I felt energized rather than disappointed, and happy I have a make-up trip ahead of me.
When I was in Encinitas last month, I met a fellow yoga student who told me of the volunteering she did in Chicago as a bird collision monitor. Confused by city lights and tall glass buildings during the spring and fall migration, there’s a big problem with migratory birds being lost to collisions with the tall buildings.
Something in me perked up as I listened to her tell about her bird work. In college I changed my major in large part so I could work with the Predatory Bird Research Group and spent a couple summers working at hack sites to help the effort to recover Peregrine Falcon populations, a gratifying experience on many levels. Inspired, I came home from Encinitas thinking of ways I might get involved with bird conservation work again in my area.
Amid reading up on the possibility of volunteering with Golden Gate Raptor Observatory and the proposed Alameda Wildlife Refuge, I caught up on what was going on the PBRG these days. Peregrines were down listed from an Endangered Species to a Threatened Species in 1999 so the PBRO doesn’t run (to my knowledge) a breeding program anymore. Nonetheless, close monitoring and research continues, and peregrines have steadily recovered, populating both wild and urban sites. I knew about the falcons on the Bay Bridge and those in the PG&E Building in San Francisco. I knew about the falcons on Morro Rock…but my eyes just about popped out of my head when one of the first stories I read was about a nesting pair of peregrines on a bridge in Alemeda California.
Recently, we visited the Alameda site and found a group of dedicated peregrine watchers (some who drive a couple of hours to see them) with scopes trained on the bridge. Four young falcons had just fledged that week — the female that very day — and we were treated to a great view of the adults dive-bombing a great blue heron flying a little too close to their territory.
I’ve been geeking out on the falcons since: excited that it’s prime time for a close look at not one, but four falcons, hunting, feeding and learning to fly, and delighted I live so close as to have the privilege of seeing them often. I got a little sad when I realized I’d be going to Southern California later this week and would miss some days of seeing the birds develop their flight skills.
I went out to the estuary this evening to watch the falcons, which are audible as soon as you round a corner of a shopping center (a slightly surreal experience). We watched as the adult female chased off some gulls. We watched two of the young adults chase after their parent who was clutching a just-killed pigeon (high-drama for bird lovers). As I was chatting with one of the dedicated falcon watchers, she mentioned seeing other falcons around the state…including Pasadena. Again, my eyes widened. Evidently, there’s an active falcon nest three blocks from where we’ll be staying later in the week. Guess I’m packing binoculars….
If you’re looking for a tireless supporter of other songwriters, an instigator of events that shine the spotlight on San Francisco’s wealth of talented troubadors, and an example of one of those voices, look no further than artist Jeff Desira. An accomplished multi-instrumentalist whose played in a bunch of bands, Jeff’s diverse musical background adds up to a knack for acoustic balladry laced with catchy hooks. I first met and heard Jeff at one of Alex Jimenez’s Usual Suspects Songwriter Showcase where I was glad to find he was in the thick of recording his recent material. He recently caught me up on his new project, his influences, the showcase he now hosts, and his experience as a songwriter on the East and West coasts.
Q You were in a lot of bands before turning your attention to the guitar and your solo work. Was that a difficult or easy transition and what do you love most about leading with your own music?
JD Before making songwriting on guitar my main focus, I played synthesizers and bass guitar in various band situations, starting from around 1990.
Transitioning from keyboard session work/playing keyboards in bands to bass wasn’t so difficult for me, really. After auditioning for a band as a keyboardist, they admitted to really needing a bass guitarist and literally gave me my first bass: a 1954 Telecaster bass. I learned an 8-song set in about four weeks and we had our first gig. In hindsight, if I hadn’t taken piano lessons first, I probably wouldn’t have had a good understanding of how bass works. Bass is a much more physical instrument though, and requires a different kind of coordination. I ended up playing bass guitar from about 1991 to 2004, when I decided to start writing songs on acoustic guitar.
The transition from bass to acoustic guitar took a while longer, primarily because I was developing material on my own this time, and had a more intense focus on song arrangement.
I’ve been writing songs mainly on acoustic guitar for about nine years now, and I love that I get to incorporate all of the things I’ve picked up over the years and use it on my own recordings. For example, I’m currently recording an EP with producer/musician Scott Mickelson (Fat Opie) and now I play bass on my own tracks, sing backing vocals, write violin arrangements, play percussion — I can add anything I want as appropriate for the song.
Q Music in SF, Music in NYC, Music in SF: Discuss. What’s different and similar about the music scene in/of both regions?
JD After playing in bands for about 14 years, I found myself writing songs on acoustic guitar for [another] three years. With the exception of an occasional open mic, I didn’t really play out much. I then decided to move to New York where I think I really sort of developed my chops. In ’07-’08 the singer-songwriter scene there was pretty thriving, and on pretty much any given night there was a place to play. All of a sudden I was surrounded by other songwriters who were working intensely on their own projects to a degree that I hadn’t seen in SF. I know for a fact that it inspired a creative output in me to where I wrote a ton of material in a short period of time. I also think the level of appreciation for music and live performance is different there. I remember having a regular Thursday night gig at some infused-vodka place downtown, and the clients and staff treated me incredibly well. Everyone was really excited about hearing the live entertainment no matter where I was. I never felt that to them it was just ambient noise or that they were just putting up with it. I felt genuinely appreciated.
I eventually moved back to California in early ’09. I literally moved straight from Brooklyn to the North Bay to take care of family and begin scratch tracks for my current EP with the late Kerry Garloff. During the process, Kerry admitted to me that he had cancer and insisted on finishing what we had started. Shortly after we finished recording the scratch tracks, Kerry passed away, leaving a message through his Mother asking me to finish my album. This is the album that I’m currently working on with producer Scott Mickelson.
After a couple years of hosting events and showcases, I finally moved back to SF where I found a new, developing singer-songwriter scene, comparable to what I had experienced in NYC. The level of appreciation for music here is still different from that of New York, but it’s still so inspiring for me to be around so many talented and motivated artists with similar interests.
Q Other than your latest mixes, what/who are you listening to now? What have you heard lately that made you go ‘yeahhh!’?
JD I love well crafted songs and find new music often through the suggestion of friends. The last thing I heard that really blew my mind was from local musician Brad Brooks — a song called “Night Fades” from his album Harmony of Passing Light. I’m also listening to Fat Opie’s “Victoryville,” Felsen’s “Breaking Up with Loneliness,” and from Brooklyn, NY, I’m listening to Brandon Wilde’s album “Hearts in Stereo.” From Melbourne, Australia I’m listening to Tim Reid’s “Any Given Day.” Also on my ipod right now are Tim Easton, The Jayhawks, M. Ward, Guster, Glen Phillips….
Q Tell us about SF Acoustic Sessions, your monthly songwriter showcase.
JD I host a quarterly songwriter showcase, titled “SF Acoustic Sessions.” I performed the very first one at 50 Mason Social House, but then I decided to simply host the showcase for other musicians and give them 100% of what’s made from the event. The whole idea was inspired by a conversation I had with local musician Tom Rhodes about the use of the word “community.” In order to have a community that works, you have to put in more than you get out of it. For this last showcase at Milk Bar, I hosted Chelsea Coleman, Jefferson Bergey, Aaron Ford, Tom Rhodes, and Liz Ryder.
My next big performance is at Lost Church in HSF. It’s both a theater and live music venue here in San Francisco, where I’ve seen many incredibly talented musicians perform. I have a special full band performance planned for this show on July 25th, just two days before my birthday.
Q How can folks find out more about the Lost Church show and have you any touring on the horizon to support the EP?
JD An easy and quick way to find out about them is to either go to my Reverbnation page or Facebook fan page, where I post my performances regularly. As for touring to support my forthcoming EP which will be titled “Weathervane,” I’m looking forward to touring up and down the West Coast, as well as parts of the East Coast after it’s release in the coming months.
What is Acoustic Bistro, you ask? Well…Acoustic Bistro is a cool weekly songwriter showcase curated by presenter KC Turner at the lovely Osteria Restaurant in San Francisco. I’m excited to be among three artists performing Monday, May 13, 2013, where music will play during a dinner…..Deborah Crooks, San Francisco’s Andrew St. James and Pismo Beach artist Spanky.
KC Turner Presents Acoustic Bistro @ Osteria
3277 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, CA
Reservations, call: (415) 771-5030 No Cover. All Ages.
It feels like a mini-Mysore in Encinitas, CA, this week, a couple hundred yogis or so in town for the two-week Ashtanga Yoga workshop with Sharath Rangaswamy and Saraswathi at Jois Yoga Encinitas. I’m among those here for five days of led classes as are a lot of folks from all over the country and some from beyond (ahoy Englanders and Canadians). Many of us have only crossed paths before while in India to practice.
If you’re reaching for Moksha “the liberation from samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth” that yoga practice offers, a beautiful Southern California beach such as Encinitas is definitely a good place to start.
It’s clean, it’s sunny, it’s warm. After practice, spent and happy, students catch up at one of the many veggie-friendly restaurants, head for the beach, or home, and/or sit for hours, eh-hem, drinking stellar almond-milk lattes at Lofty Coffee. Hordes of cyclists stream down the boulevards and kids on skateboards roll by, doing a little jig as they pass a live band playing at the annual street fair. Offshore, surfers paddle over the blue, blue water, looking further West, for the hint of the next break.
Life is good. Especially after you’ve put in some effort.
Those who really know me, know I’m somewhat of a bird geek. I grew up in the country, our TV got 2 1/2 channels, and our phone service was so geared to rural living that we shared a ‘party line.’ So the out-of-doors was where it was at. And boy was it! Birds were radical, I soon found, and became fairly adept at identifying hawks and doves, towhees and waxwings, at a young age.
My father gave me binoculars before I was five years old and I think my first book was The Sunset Magazine-issue ‘Introduction to Western Birds.’ Owls, eagles and egrets—I found all of them wondrous and inspiring. When college got confusing, I switched my major so I could work summers for the Predatory Bird Research Group, dabbling in what it meant to be a field biologist.
I thought that’s what I’d do after college, applying for a coveted internship at The Point Reyes Bird Observatory, getting accepted only after my life choices found me pointing my compass toward writing, and Colorado, and a lot of other places on the map since then. Nonetheless, once a bird lover, always a bird lover: It’s no accident I got married at a local bird sanctuarylast year.
So I was both pleased and sorry — I’ll be traveling elsewhere this weekend so will miss it— to hear that The Point Reyes Birding Festival is starting this Friday, April 26 and running through the weekend. The festival features birding trips, informative talks and a wine and dessert reception to compare notes with your fellow birders. Even if your interest in birds is cursory, you really should go if you’re in the area. Point Reyes is truly one of the most beautiful and diverse places in the world. And what better way is there to learn about the avian world than from the host of master birds and ornithologists who will be on hand?
Point Reyes Birding & Nature Festival April 26-28
Environmental Action Committee of West Marin
P.O. Box 609
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
When a friend invites you to a wine and food pairing party featuring more than 50 Zinfandel wines, well, you don’t really say no. Thursday night was the Epicuria Food & Wine pairing at The Concourse in San Francisco, an all-out celebration of the many takes on bottling Zinfandel and the food it best compliments. A long-time fan of Pinot, I’ve come to enjoy Zinfandel more in the past couple of years (perhaps it’s my Croatian roots showing?
I learned Zinfandel grapes are genetically identical to a Croatian red grape, Crljenak Kaštelanski).
Admittedly, it wasn’t the best place to be a vegetarian and I missed out on many aspects of the pairing. However, my no-meat policy did help me moderate at an event where it was very easy to have too much of a good thing. With restaurants such as San Francisco’s Sauce and Local Mission Eatery serving up, respectively, Beef Short Rib sliders and Confit Guinea Hen (paired with wines by Brazin and Les Sabores ) the event was a lesson in the merits of moderation as much as the perils of excess. Even if I did pass on many a well-constructed morsel (Duck Confit Crepe with Organic Watercress, Comte, and Dried Cherry Powder by Twenty Five Lusk anyone?)
I was able to compare and contrast many of the Zin’s and enjoy quite a few delicious bites. Savoy Events offered an intriguing Indian ‘Dhokla with Butternut Squash and Smoked Tomato Chutney(paired with wine by Harney Lane ) and I could have parked it at il Davide Restaurant’s station and made a full meal
out of their Black Truffle Porcine filled Agnolotti, White Truffle Fondue (paired with Starry Night wine). OMG.
I also got a kick out of running into the hometown Alameda wine and food contingent amid the sea of SF and Napa foodies: R&B Cellars paired their wines with Soleil’s African Cuisine, for this event a Coconut Fish and Bean Stew, which saw many a taster going back for more. Yum. I’ll toast to that.
Don’t miss this if you’re in the Bay Area. It’s an annual event SO worth attending.
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