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Cranking It Out

Prolific rocker Jonathan McEuen plays two area gigs this weekend.

March 03, 2000|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Besides the boys in Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Jonathan McEuen is probably the closest thing in the area to a rock star.

The 20-something McEuen is the son of John McEuen, co-founder of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the master of all things stringed.

He will be playing a pair of local gigs this weekend, showcasing his eclectic and vast repertoire of folk rock songs. Tonight, he'll be joined by Randy Tico and Jesse Siebenberg in opening for those blues monsters in the Guy Martin Group at Nicholby's in Ventura. Saturday night, McEuen will basically be doing a solo show at Calypso's in Ojai, but with an assist from his younger brother, Nathan.

The hardest-working local musician this side of Teresa Russell and in absolutely no danger of getting a day job, McEuen expects to have completed three more albums within a year's time. The Ojai resident already has two. Five albums in less than two years is a decade's worth of work for many bands--two decades' worth for Raging Arb & the Redheads.

It's not surprising that McEuen ended up as a musician. He grew up with a famous father whose famous friends were always hanging around--people such as Levon Helm, Dolly Parton and Vince Gill. McEuen swears he has been singing since he was 2. He's played countless times with his father and even survived several gigs for the bikers at their annual run to Sturgis, S.D.

"My dad kind of stood down when things started to happen for me in music," McEuen said. "He didn't want to be my manager and book gigs for his son. He was very respectful about that. I think I had the influence, not the pressure. This way, we can keep it musical and just play and make music together."

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The kid will be gigging around town for a month, then heading back to Nashville in April to begin work on CD No. 5. The story so far:

The first album, "Sampolin 14," came out at the end of 1998 and according to McEuen, "It's sort of like my version of 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken,' Ventura County style." Helping to make it happen were such noted local players as David Holster, Orest Balaban, Jonathan Raffetto and Danny Wilson.

The second album was a stroke of genius. McEuen, along with "Fiddlin' Phil" Salazar and a bunch of other local players, recently released a Deadhead-friendly album, "A Tribute to Jerry Garcia." Since millions of Deadheads were cast adrift when Garcia died, some becoming Phish Heads and others spinning off aimlessly in space, this album has a ready-made clientele.

"We made 5,000 of them and we've already sold about 2,000," McEuen said. "The whole thing was pretty much Phil's idea. He saw the Dead a few times in the early '90s and really got into them. He figured this would be his final attempt at the record industry. So far, the Phish Heads are buying the album, but we're selling most of them through the Grateful Dead Almanac, their merchandising catalog. There's a Phil Lesh & Friends tour starting up soon and we'd like to do that for a couple of months."

Then there's the third one, already completed and soon to be released on Chrome Records out of Nashville. McEuen is hoping for a spring release for that one. He's also almost finished No. 4, a "Live at Cafe Voltaire" release.

How did this guy have time to talk for this article?

"The Chrome Records guy heard a live recording I made and called me up and flew me back there to get me in the studio," McEuen said. "There's 10 songs on it, and five of them are my originals. I'm going back in April for a couple of months. It's a good setup back there for making music and being in show biz."

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McEuen is a gifted player and perhaps a finalist in the next Leon Trotsky look-alike contest. When he performs, a good portion of the crowd is inevitably other musicians, perhaps aware of the fact that they'll be able to say "I saw this kid back when." McEuen knows 15 to 20 originals and enough covers to play longer than the Grateful Dead in their prime.

"It's American music with roots from all over," McEuen said. "Since I'm from Colorado, I can't call it Celtic music or anything like that. I'm just an American guy born in Denver."

DETAILS

Jonathan McEuen & Friends and the Guy Martin Group at Nicholby's, 404 E. Main St., Ventura, 9:30 tonight; $6; 653-2320. Jonathan McEuen at Calypso's Bar & Grill, 139 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai, 7:30 p.m. Saturday; free; 640-8001.

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Making a short road trip from their base in Westlake, the Art Slade Orchestra & Big Band will provide music from the '30s and '40s for some serious rug-cutting at the "Black Tie Dinner Dance" scheduled for Saturday at the Marriott Residence Inn in Oxnard.

This function is a pricey benefit sponsored by the Peace Officers Assn. of Ventura County and several of the county Rotary Clubs to assist the county's youth and, one hopes, to create less future business for the peace officers.

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