19 February 2017


by Andy Weddington
Sunday, 19 February 2017

If music be the food of love, play on. William Shakespeare

Once in a while artists grab my attention and merit commentary. 

This morning a true short story about last evening and artists and an artist among the artists.

Our party of four was seated less than 15 feet from the stage - live music - in the wildly popular roadhouse Pappy & Harriet's - a (eclectic) place in Pioneertown, CA; up in the high desert.

Somewhat regulars, my wife and I opted for the seats facing away from the stage so our friends could enjoy sights and sounds. 

Packed - parking, reception area, billiards room, bar, dining area. The small dance floor peopled to capacity - not so much dancing as SRO for the band.

The band was in the middle of a set. 

The place hopping. 

The staff hustling.

What an interesting mix of folks!

With the band and chatter and typical eatery sounds noisy but not impossible to carry on conversation. 

Then in the middle of a swallow of beer a sound caused me to stop and turn around. 

Johnny Ray's pipes!

Baritone. Bass. I don't know enough about voices and music to specify. 

What I know is Johnny Ray Martin's voice is deep, solid, husky, rich, sweet, soulful, and damn haunting. It resonates and penetrates - cutting through whatever competing noise. Never have I heard anything like it. Never ever. He renders notes that make women weak and grown men weep. 

Complementing his voice, Johnny Ray plays autoharp - a peculiar shaped stringed instrument, hugged to chest - strummed and picked, rarely seen outside of Appalachia. He's mastered it.  

The band plays a brand of bluegrass and more that's now being described as "desert grass." 

They hold attention by switching from fast-driving, toe-tapping traditional tunes to reworked popular and contemporary songs to ballads that grip like a vise for Johnny Ray's delivery.  

The band ...

Shadow Mountain Band from Joshua Tree, CA - front man Steve Lester (guitar and vocals); Bobby Furgo (fiddle); Johnny Ray Martin (autoharp and vocals); Damien 'Dooley' Lester (acoustic bass and vocals). Other Lester family members and guest performers sit in. 

These gents can play their strings! And they can sing! 

They are, brand of music notwithstanding, as good a band as I've ever heard. And though I've seen and listened to them for years and years (and know them) still I am silenced when they perform - especially when Johnny Ray sings. 

If living in or visiting Southern California and unfamiliar with Pappy & Harriet's then check them out. Paul McCartney (yes, Sir Paul) recently played there. Go out of your way to get there. The drive from Los Angeles (2 hours) or San Diego (2.5 hours) nothing for the reward. 

The Shadow Mountain Band plays Pappy & Harriet's most Saturday evenings 5:00-7:00 pm; or thereabouts. Make a reservation. Otherwise you're in for a long wait if even able to get in. 

For particulars and music: 

In closing ...

Typically, at the end of a show, I make it a point to go up and shake hands with my friends and say thanks. Last evening crowd size made that impossible (but my wife got in a quick hello and plussed the tip jar). Nonetheless, I doff my ball cap, adorned with American flag, to them in salute. They are great Americans playing great Americana Roots music. Better it does not get! 

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