Thursday, June 4, 1998
"I''m the cowboy of the group," says Jack Hannah, singer/guitarist/songwriter of the Sons of the San Joaquin. "The other guys ride once in a while but I do cowboy work all the time. I break my own horses, rope calves, try to do arena events every week. It keeps my horses in good shape." The "other guys" are Jack''s brother Joe and Joe''s son Lon. "They like to do High Sierra rides once or twice a year, that''s about all we can manage now that we''re singing."
The Sons of the San Joaquin, who are headlining the California Cowboy Show in Carmel Valley on Saturday, have, in the last decade, become one of the premiere cowboy-music groups. They''ve toured throughout the country as well as in Europe, Japan and the Middle East.
The group came together almost as a lark during a family get-together in 1987 celebrating the 85th birthday of Jack''s and Joe''s father. Jack and Joe had been planning to sing, then Lon asked if he could join in. Lon fit so nicely into the harmonies that the trio decided to perform at a Lions Club meeting. According to Jack, Lon only knew four songs at the time. When the trio was finished, they received a standing ovation--and were forced to sing one of their four songs again because Lon didn''t know any others. From that performance, word spread. One thing led to another, which led to an appearance at the cowboy poetry gathering in Elko, Nev., which led to a recording contract with Warner Brothers--and world tours. The group, in fact, became so successful that all three men had to retire early from their careers as teachers.
A conversation with Jack--who writes all the Sons'' original music--rambles from music to politics to history to lifestyles and ethics. As he braids the topics together, he always comes back to the romance of a cowboy lifestyle.
"There''s so much that can be taught from a romantic viewpoint in American history," says Jack. "The cowboy has been depicted as a hard-riding, hard-drinking, womanizing ne''er-do-well who couldn''t do anything else." The reality, he says, was much different. "When Alexis de Tocqueville came to the United States in the early 1800s, he spent considerable time in the West watching cowboys at work, and he pointed out that the most-skilled and lowest-paid individual in the country was the cowboy."
The cowboy needed to have skills ranging from animal care to land management, skills that kept the cowboy in touch with the land and sensitive to the needs of other living creatures. It was also a dangerous job that forced men to dispose of prejudices and preconceptions.
"One of the things that was stated in cowboy logs is the fact that the cattle range was the most integrated society in the country," says Jack. "It happened because the cowboy didn''t give a hoot in heck about the color of the man in the saddle next to him; he wanted to make sure the man next to him wouldn''t get him killed. It wasn''t the color of the man, it was the quality. After the Civil War, at least one fourth of the cowboys in Texas were black.
"In California, the buckaroo rode side by side with the vaquero, and they respected each other. We should look back on that, it was a beautiful period."
It''s Jack''s opinion that if we spent more time emphasizing the times and events where people worked together, rather than focusing on the conflicts, we''d do a better job of pulling our society together and working toward common goals. And that, at least in part, is what motivates the group.
"Cowboy music sings about the positive things in life," says Jack. "I''m concerned not about the negative aspects of history, I don''t think it''s necessary, it''s not necessary to reiterate or ponder the grievances. It doesn''t do us any good to do that.
"I think cowboy music is good for people. It talks about hope, it talks about challenge, it talks about the essential strengths you need, and celebrates the beauty of nature, and the strength that one draws from loyalty and integrity."
Sons of the San Joaquin (with Belinda Gail & Wild Wind, poet Fred Engel, fiddler Bob Moore and guitarist Bill Ingram), Saturday, 8pm. At the California Cowboy Show, Hidden Valley Music Seminars, Carmel Valley and Ford roads, Carmel Valley. $25. 624-9611.
Talking about integrity and beauty...singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer returns to Morgan''s Coffee and Tea on Wednesday. Last year, Newcomer released a new album, My True Name and, although the album has a bit more of a country twang and more troubled-love songs than Newcomer''s previous two albums >(My Father''s Only Son, The Bird or the Wing), it still rings with Newcomer''s conviction and honesty.
Carrie Newcomer, Wednesday, 8pm. Morgan''s Coffee and Tea. $10. 655-6868.