Tuesday, April 24, 2018

25 years in the Desert: Deserted Sessions 2018

On April 25, 1993, somewhere between 800,000 and 1 million took part in the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation, one of the largest protests in American history. One person who had planned to be there but was not was Fred Drake. Fred was a musician living in Hollywood who had been active in the fight against HIV/AIDS since being diagnosed 9 years earlier and was planning to go to Washington DC, to participate in the march and to meet with Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, to advocate on behalf of HIV+ people. Fred was to report on his own unique regimen, which included trial experiments with the new Protease Inhibitor "cocktail," and a vaccine formulated by Dr. Jonas Salk. He had refused AZT, the only drug which had been officially approved by the government, and had no success with the appetite booster, Marinol, an artificial form of marijuana, preferring to smoke a joint which would not only give him an appetite but would also inspire him to play his guitar and - with a strong cup of coffee - stay up late in his friend Dean Chamberlain's studio and record. At the last minute, due to a clerical mistake, the airplane ticket which was to have been sponsored by APLA (AIDS Project Los Angeles) fell through and Fred was unable to go. He was extremely depressed, angry and feeling like he was at the end of his rope. I was staying at Fred's at the time, after my own cross-country trip to Austin, Texas, to help some friends move, and then, by Amtrak train, through New Orleans to Colorado, before heading home to LA, where I had no home. We were both burned out from living in Hollywood, playing in clubs and coffee houses and numerous close-calls with record companies that never panned out. When the trip to DC didn't come through, our friend Francesca Lia Block wisely suggested that Fred and I go to the desert, which is where we would go any chance we got. Francesca was going out of town to do a book reading and offered us the use of her Jeep Cherokee, as neither of us had a very reliable car at the time. We packed up a thermos of coffee, a couple of joints and a small bag of mushrooms for our trip to Joshua Tree and made tentative plans to meet our friend Robert Allan and his girlfriend, Wendee, out in the desert. Fred and I booked a room at the Harmony Motel and watched the march on TV, while I painted a t-shirt for him, with the word, "GAY." Fred decided he wanted to go get a haircut at one of the barber shops near the Marine Base, in his newly painted shirt. We locked the keys inside the car and I remember being a little worried as we stood along Adobe Road with a wire hanger, Fred proudly wearing his colors for the passing Marines to see. Fred and I drove into the "Monument" (in the days before it was designated a National Park) and drove to Ryan's Campground, looking for Robert and Wendee but not finding them, and then down Geology Tour Road, as the mushrooms were beginning to take effect, before we headed to Keys View to watch the sunset. We stood there gazing into the distance, when we heard our names being called. Debbie Hotchkiss had been one of our managers in Ministry of Fools, the band we had with Robert. She had recently gone through rehab, where she met a boyfriend named Tony Mason. Tony and Debbie had just gotten a car together and had been watching Huell Howser on TV, talking about Joshua Tree. Neither Tony or Debbie had ever been there but they'd heard Fred, Robert and me rave about it so many times, they decided to make it their first outing in their new car. For Fred and me, it was surreal to hear our names shouted out by familiar voices in this vast, empty place. Not wanting to let on that we were tripping to the newly sober couple, we agreed to follow them into town, to a coffee house called Jeremy's, crowded with rock climbers. At Jeremy's, another person called Fred by name. It was a Park Ranger named Taylor Bucci, who Fred had met once in LA, through Taylor's sister, a photographer friend named Andrea. Taylor asked us if we would play a song but we declined. Later, Fred and I decided to invite Tony and Debbie to crash in our room at the Harmony Motel. In the morning, Debbie took a photo of Fred, Tony and me in front of the motel's sign, mimicking a similar shot of the Band U2 that has hanging behind the front desk. In those days, there were no stop lights in the entire high desert, except for the one at Adobe Road and Highway 62. We started out of town, driving down the 62, from 29 Palms to the village of Joshua Tree, on our way back to LA. At the corner of Hallee Road, Fred spotted a sign which read. "Three Houses for Rent," and directed me to turn. We followed the road to the gate of an adobe house, where we met brothers Hal and Gene Hill, and Gene's wife Maria. We went inside the house and in the back room, the floor covered in green Italian tile, with high windows, Fred clapped his hands together and, as if by magical decree, he announced that this would be his recording studio's tracking room. Fred decided then and there that he would be leaving LA. I spoke with Francesca, who had just received an advance for her new book, and she decided to rent the house in the back. Soon, our friend Fred Burke rented the third house and we all spent the summer of 1993 moving to Joshua Tree. Tonya Lee Jaynes helped with the move in her station wagon and Chrissie Wilson provided the golf hats and cherry picked the garbage out of the front yard which had been left behind by the previous tenants. At the time, Fred didn't own a studio but soon everything manifested. Fred spent the next 9 years living at his beloved Rancho de la Luna, where he recorded his own album, "Twice Shy," along with countless ambient, electronic dance and experimental pieces. He welcomed artists Elia Arce, Adriene Jenik and Joe Garcia to record their work in his home. He made records with Daniel Lanois, Victoria Williams, the Earthlings? (his band with Dave Catching and Pete Stahl), and many others, myself included. Fred recorded my work with Johnny Vargas, and put me together with Tony Mason, whom he trained as an engineer so that he could escape the infamous "Desert Sessions" and go for a ride on his horse, Kashmir. In all, Fred recorded most of five albums of my songs in those 9 years at the Rancho. Fred was the unofficial mayor of Joshua Tree and every artist or musician who passed through town would make a stop at his home for a cup of coffee and a smoke. In those days, there was Alta's Curiosities, the Country Kitchen, Jeremy's (later the Beatnik) and Fred's house. When Fred died of cancer on June 20, 2002, Fred Burke, Tony Mason and I were asked by his parents to keep the studio going. We invited Fred's former partner Dave, as well as friend and former studio owner Dean Chamberlain, and Billy Bizeau, to partner with us to keep Fred's dream going. Fred's parents specified that nobody should live in the house but we should keep it going as a studio. A couple years later, when we ran short of money, Dave 'offered' to move into a back bedroom and pay the rent. Before the rest of us knew what was happening, the locks had been changed. The Rancho continues as Dave's studio to this day but the era of Fred Drake is long since past. These 25 songs (plus a few extras) are some of the ones Fred, Tony and I recorded, along with Elia, Joe and Johnny during that period which began 25 years ago this week. At my own home, my son Sage and I have planted ten off-shoots of the "singing, ringing tree," as Chrissie had dubbed the now-gone Cottonwood tree which Fred had planted and where a group of his family and friends spread his ashes, nurtured and provided by Tony Mason. The singing and ringing has moved all across the desert. https://teddyquinn.bandcamp.com/album/deserted-sessions-rancho-de-la-luna-1995-2004 To Smokey, For Fred (5/93) Last Night's Wind Baby Steps Stray Arrow Orphanage of Souls Wild West Ballet Crow Desert to the Sea Pilgrim Warrior Shepherd Boy Tolerancia Rain of Love Apocalypse No (As a Matter of Policy; The Mighty Q-Ball; Stones) If That's What You Wanted (Dave's Song) Billions and Billions Tar Beach I Dream of Sleeping (Peacefully) 29 Palms If U Do Death of Cool Orange Sunshine Only So Many Heartbeats Love On (plus 6 bonus tracks) 31 Flaovors!!!

1 comment:

ted quinn said...

To make things even more synchronous, I hosted the Open Mic at the Beatnik last night to mark the anniversary for my first time in a decade. I’m telling the rather lengthy origin story, the missed March, the mushrooms, the surprise friends, Jeremy’s Cafe (which became the Beatnik), the Harmony Motel, the now famous Rancho studio...I said something about the magic had begun, when through the door walked THE Jeremy, with his wife, who live in New York. First time I’ve seen him in close to 20 years. The hair on my arm is still standing up.