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Coastal Commuter

Working from post to post on the coast

Just to be clear, I may be the coastal commuter, but I am hardly the only coastal commuter — at least when it comes to the San Francisco-Los Angeles circuit. I have at least three friends who regularly make the trek up and down the state for business with pleasure, and generally, by car. It’s a schlep, but it’s worth it to all of us.

There’s Heather, a professional organizer who moves, stores, recycles, and winnows down her clients’ possessions, and oversees relocations by packing up and cleaning houses for sale and setting up new dwellings. She has so much work offered to her in Los Angeles, a town that invites well-to-do transience, that she regularly leaves her Marin digs, trundles down Interstate 5, and sets up shop at one of a number of friends’ homes for a week or two at a time.

My pal Barry is an entertainment industry lawyer and artists’ manager. As a result, he needs to be in L.A. frequently, whether it’s to scout talent, sign artists, take meetings at music labels, or shepherd a band on a tour stop at a SoCal club or concert hall. So he locks up his Mission district house, hops in his 4×4, and heads for Hollywood.

Then there’s the querulously named Scrote — a longtime buddy who is one of those hyphenates: guitarist-keyboardist-singer-songwriter-producer-bandleader. I met him when he moved to San Francisco around 1990, right after attending an arts college where he studied music. Although he worked as a sales assistant at a radio station, he spent half his time auditioning for gigs as a guitar player and leading various bands, starting with You and What Army. His most successful original venture during that period was the avant garde rock band Baby Snufkin, which toured the United States and Europe with modest results. It was enough that he was encouraged to move into music full-time.

A CAREER IN PROGRESS

In San Francisco, he founded Casino Royale, an ensemble of local musicians and singers dedicated to performing the ’60s and ’70s chart-toppers of Burt Bacharach. Casino Royale regularly packed ’em in at Bimbo’s in North Beach, and the group quickly expanded its repertoire to a hit parade of ’60s pop rock and soul. Scrote simultaneously was fronting the Jimmy Bond Orchestra, a Casino Royale offshoot that played nothing but themes from the James Bond movies, and Herb, covering the Herb Alpert songbook.

Scrote, the self-proclaimed nomad who never lived more than three-and-a-half years in one place, had found a home, and stayed in San Francisco for 13 years. But he eventually decided to move to Los Angeles, where he had traveled for shows and sessions. “Musicians were flocking to L.A. and New York,” he said. Maybe it was the rising costs of the dot-com era. It felt like a mass exodus, and it wasn’t very fun without a lot of my friends and colleagues.”

Los Angeles provided Scrote with a vibrant music community that was exponentially larger and more professional than that of San Francisco. He has thrived down south with studio work, concerts, and record releases as a performer, while also composing and producing instrumental music for other artists. Although he maintained residences in both locations for about four years, and drove back and forth depending on the jobs at hand, he eventually gave up his Bay Area place.

HOME IS CONNECTION

Scrote has now lived in Los Angeles for over 13 years, but still plays shows and sessions in San Francisco and spends time with what’s left of his old crew. Yet his most significant endeavors are now in Los Angeles. He has formed a band called The Euphoriants with the rising singer-songwriter-guitarist Joe Sumner and drummer Blair Sinta. Their debut recording should be released early next year. And Scrote just played ukulele on a track that also featured one of his idols on piano: Burt Bacharach.

“As a musician, you’re much more likely to meet and work with your heroes in L.A.,” Scrote said. As if to prove that point, he was asked to assemble and lead a group to play a posthumous tribute to David Bowie in early February. That collection of talent included the renowned singer Seal, Fishbone front man Angelo Moore, and Bowie’s longtime keyboardist Mike Garson, and actors Ewan McGregor and Gary Oldman on vocals. The concert, a benefit at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip, was a sold-out triumph. By the next morning, Scrote had fielded numerous proposals to take the show to other cities. He turned them all down, except for one.

A month later, he gathered up some of the gang and traveled north to do a Bowie celebration. “An encore in San Francisco was irresistible to me,” said Scrote, after a rousing Regency Ballroom show that added the Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison to the line-up. “I have a history there and still know the players and people in charge.

“As long as I still have those connections, San Francisco will be a home to me — where I’m happy to return time and again.”

 

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Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on KPFK/Pacifica Radio's David Feldman Show and on Michael Snyder's Culture Blast, via GABnet.net, Roku, and YouTube. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster

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