If you haven't heard the popular 4-year-old local band, Sky King, lately, you haven't heard Sky King. That's because the band has been through a lot of changes. And bass player Dan Wilson is the only original member who has played continuously with the group. He acknowledged that the use of so many fill-in players may account for what some fans in the past described as lack of continuity in the band's style.
But you'll soon have plenty of opportunities to catch the latest--and best--incarnation of this quartet. The lineup features Wilson, a former Phil Salazar Band member, on bass and mandolin; Randy Guzcman, Sky King's original drummer, who returned last year after pursuing another project; and Allan Flaa, of the defunct Caught Red-Handed, on pedal steel guitar.
"Getting Allan was like finding the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle," said Dan Wilson. "This current lineup is the strongest the band has ever been."
All three are top-notch, veteran musicians with extensive and impressive credentials. But Sky King seemed to really come together in April with the arrival of Rob Wilson (no relation to Dan) on lead guitar and vocals.
When Rob Wilson sings, you can understand every word. And his mahogany-toned tenor voice is a standout. "I'm really a ballad singer like Steve Wariner and Vince Gill," said Wilson, who comes from a musical background.
"Mom recorded on Dot Records back in the early '70s. And Dad played with Jim Ed Brown," he said. "I was raised around Nashville, in Arkansas and Tennessee. But I started out in bluegrass. We had a complete family band with my sisters until they got married and left."
He moved to Ventura in December, after 14 years on the road with Rodney Crowell, Trisha Yearwood and various artists. "I also did USO tours to Saudi Arabia with Leroy Parnell and Marty Stuart."
The only originals the band has been performing are his, according to Rob Wilson. "We've been doing six or eight a night. They're more complex than your usual three-chord country songs," he said. "The main two I like are a country-two-step, "Telephone Line," and a ballad called "I Know It's Over." That was written when I got back from Sauda Arabia and found divorce papers waiting for me in the mailbox."
Hal Ketchum and guest Suzy Bogguss will appear Nov. 16 at Santa Barbara's Arlington Theatre. I didn't wash my telephone ear for days after the mega-star called me from a Nashville recording studio last week.
Ketchum is a songwriter from Austin, Tex., whose eclectic style and penchant for acoustic sets has earned him a reputation as a balladeer storyteller. His haunting, distinctive voice has garnered him a string of upbeat hits including "Small Town Saturday Night," "Hearts Are Gonna Roll" and "Mama Knows the Highway."
But if country is considered "white man's blues," Ketchum's soulful, R&B overtones really fit the bill. And most fans probably associate him more with "Past the Point of Rescue," the plaintive title song of his gold debut album on Curb records.
But Ketchum isn't sitting around waiting for checks and accolades to come rolling in.
"We're making an new album for release in April that is still untitled," said Ketchum. "It's probably a lot more like my live show, which is pretty bare bones. I like simplicity. But it's hard to achieve. I grew up listening to old record collections and quartets. So I go for that instrumentation." Which means fans should get their fill of warm fuzzy ballads.
"Chuck Flood is my mentor in Nashville," Ketchum said. "And he says, 'a man never went wrong singing about love.' And I agree with that."
Robyn Loewenthal, an avid two-stepper, welcomes all news of country doin's around the county. All submissions should arrive at least two weeks before the event. Write to her at 5200 Valentine Road, Suite 140, Ventura, 93003 or send faxes to 658-5576.
TWO STEPPIN': Your guide to area country entertainment is in 11-Day Calendar. Page 12.
* SKY KING will be performing at the following locations: Friday, Saturday and Dec. 17 and 18 (Smokey's, 211 E. Main St., Ventura, 643-3264); Sunday and Nov. 21, Dec. 5 and 12 (Nicholby's Upstairs, 404 E. Main St., Ventura, 653-6488); Nov. 19, 20, Dec. 3, 4 (The City Line, inside San Marcos Bowl, 4050 Calle Real, Santa Barbara, 967-5631); Nov. 26, 27 (Crazy Bull, 4426 Central Ave., Camarillo, 988-4209). For more Sky King play dates or to receive their newsletter, call the hot line, 648-6318.
* HAL KETCHUM AND SUZY BOGGUSS will perform at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Arlington Theatre, 1317 State St., Santa Barbara, 963-4408. Tickets cost $23.50 and $20.50 at the box office and are also available at Ticketmaster outlets.