Thursday, February 5, 2004
It was hard to make out everything Mike Beck said during a recent phone interview. Beck, who sounded like he was standing outside in an Alaskan blizzard, was actually driving to Elko, Nevada to perform at the National Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival. Though what sounded like gale force winds made some of his comments unintelligible, the frontman for the local rock group The Cowboy Satellites had a crystal clear response to a question about his group’s future: He laughed uncontrollably.
It is not a very surprising reaction for a group that only has one formal rule. “The only rule in the band is that we never rehearse,” Beck says.
At a show at Ocean Thunder a few months ago, the group proved that band practices are overrated. After bassist Bill Sullivan took a shot of liquor onstage, the band launched into a rocked-up version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” With guitarist Tom Ayres lending searing leads to the song, it quickly became evident that this loose association of veteran musicians is one of Monterey’s best hidden treasures.
Only together since last March, The Cowboy Satellites perform whenever Beck returns to Monterey to visit relatives. Beck, who lives in the small Northern California town of Stony Ford, grew up in Monterey, where he performed with the local bluegrass outfit The Coast Ridge Boys during his early twenties.
Now Beck, an accomplished horseback rider who teaches horsemanship clinics, is a popular performer on the cowboy festival circuit. On the singer/songwriter’s latest CD, Mariposa Wind, Beck laments the disappearance of the Wild West. Over an acoustic guitar, on an original called “Don’t Tell Me,” Beck sings: “I want to put a hole in my TV set/ Let the silence ring true/ Want to count a million stars/ and think of you.”
Another of Beck’s songs, “Patrick,” is informed by his former occupation as a cowboy. In the song, Beck describes Carmel Valley horseman Bill Dorrance from his steed’s point of view. “I said everything about the horse, and I wrote everything about the man,” he says.
In addition to performing some of Beck’s songs, like “Where the Green Grass Grows” and “Don’t Tell Me,” the Satellites cover the Stones, Dylan, the Byrds, The Band and a certain pop star from the ‘80s. “We play the shit out of ‘Like A Virgin,’” Beck says.
Even though the audiences can expect to hear accomplished playing, don’t ask the band what song will be next, because this group just doesn’t know. “We don’t have a set list,” Beck says. “We are kind of like The Dead or something.”
The Cowboy Satellites play Ocean Thunder, 214 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey, Friday at 9pm. No cover. 643-9169.