Q&A with musician/poet Dale Peterson - blurring the lines between Blues/Rock and other forms of American Music

"My fear in today’s pop culture is that serious musicians and songwriters are starving and struggling while young 'beautiful people' get all the attention. This is not the fault of common people and music fans."

Dale Peterson: The Roots of Routes

Since the early 1970s, Dale Peterson has been blurring the lines between Blues, Country, Rock and other forms of American Music. Honing his skills in the trenches of Hollywood bars and Orange County honky tonks, he served as a sideman, backing up several artists such as RB Greaves and Don Harrison as well as dozens of bands ranging in various musical styles. After 15 years working as a sideman, Peterson formed the Rhythm Lords in 1988 and toured throughout the US, Canada and Europe. This hard rockin’ blues-a-billy outfit recorded 4 titles with Rebecca Records. Starting with a self titled demo/EP in 1990, EP, “Evil” in 1992,  plus two full length CDs “Happy Hour” 1994 and “Lone Wolf” 1996. In 1999 Peterson launched his solo career with “Full Circle“. This final release for Rebecca Records delivered Peterson compositions that show a much more rock/pop sensibility than the blues heavy Rhythm Lords.                        Photo by Johnny Valenzuela

In 2004 he and partner, John Valenzuela started up Root 66 recording company and VP Studio where they recorded and released “Bandera” in 2005 and “Son Of Harry” in 2007. These two honky tonk releases are a tribute to Dale’s songwriter/musician father, Harry Peterson and both releases feature a sampling of his father’s music. As a songwriter Dale has placed several of his recordings in major motion pictures and television programs. In 2011 he recorded and released “Time Machine” with the band, Trouble No More. All tracks written by Peterson are described as a swampy, beatnik style infused with, blues, twang, Latin and surf. Peterson is also a visual artist, photographer and poet. He released his first poetry chapbook, “Do Not Stop In The Red Zone” in 2008 and is currently in production of his second book of poetry titled, “Out of the Game”. His first nonfiction book is titled “Why In The World Would You Want To Start A Band?” which is a guide for young musicians on how to get started in the music business. Peterson, Valenzuela and Stephen Traino recently released the project CD/DVD “Rhythm Lords – The Early Days (1988-1992)”.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What were the reasons that you started the American Roots music researches and literary experiments?

My father was a professional musician and songwriter. He played standard guitar and then later taught himself to play the steel guitar (both lap and pedal). He performed with George Jones and Ernest Tubb in the early 1960s and Slim Whitman recorded, his song, “I’ll Never Take You Back Again”. I grew up with music and saw my father play live many times while I was still very young. He listened to music at home as well. His small record collection had country music, blues, classical and even some pop and rock and roll. So I guess American Roots music is in my DNA.

As far as the literarily connection, my father was very interested in writing and I suppose that rubbed off on me too. My father took creative writing lessons through the mail and he taught me some of the rules of writing and some good ideas on how to write. Songwriting, poetry and story writing are all the same to me. They only differ in structure and style, but they all come from the same place.

A lot of people from my era site the British Invasion as the pivotal point when they first got into rock music, but I was always deeply influenced by American music and I still am. As I began my own musical journey I seem to have gravitated toward heavy rock filtered through boogies and shuffles (blues and country music). Anything that had a good beat and rhythm! I’ve always been draw to good lyrics too. Bob Dylan, Hank Williams and even Jim Morrison were very early influences when I started singing. My favorite songwriter is, Tom Waits and I’ve been a huge fan of his for decades. Frank Zappa was another early influence as well. Too many to list all of them here.

As far as the guitar, I was influenced early on by, CCR and John Fogerty, Cream with Eric Clapton, and The Allman Brothers. The Ventures, The Shadows and Dick Dale were also very important too. I jumped head first into blues after I discovered Canned Heat, John Lee Hooker and especially Led Zeppelin. I say Zeppelin because they were one of the early bands that opened the door to blues for me. I would see names like, Willie Dixon (who is my favorite blues songwriter) and Sonny Boy Williamson listed on their albums and I would wonder who these great songwriters were. Chuck Berry was an early influence as well as Elvis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash along with a little bit of 1960s Soul Music (Stax, Motown) - my influences run very wide.

"I find that literature influences my songwriting. My favorite writers are Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, Richard Brautigan, Raymond Carver and John Fante as well as John Steinbeck and your countryman, Nikos Kazantzakis to name a few. I love to get lost in a book that deals with the normal and not so normal daily life of regular people." (Photo: Dale & his '50s Chevy/Bandera CD cover)

How do you describe your sound and songbook?

My sound is a mix of all of the above. Rock is my true love; blues, classic country, rockabilly, surf and instrumental music as well as Latin influences are all part of the soup. I guess you could say I’m a rock artist that loves to play around with many forms of American Music. For over 40 years I’ve been a working musician so I’ve had to play many, many covers over the years, but I prefer to play my own songs and music. Most of my albums are all original. My original music is very much like the influences I described earlier. Some people call me a blues musician, but that doesn’t really feel right for me. In this country, like I have experienced in Canada and in Europe, many blues fans are very protective of their music and do not like people like me being called a blues guy. I agree! That’s why it’s so much simpler to just say I’m a rock musician. That way nobody gets hurt. ha-ha

What do you learn about yourself from the Rock n’ Roll culture?

Rock music and its influences are wide and far. Rock music allows us to play around with the old standards and push the boundaries of past traditions while pushing forward. Rock music is more forgiving and allows us to be more artistic. I’m a visual artist and photographer and I find that my music is influenced by my visual art as well. The beat poets are my lifeblood as far as literary influences (1940s-1960s). This was a very volatile time for poetry, art and music and this is the intersection where I reside. Rock culture has been a good friend for me and has been my main influence and creative compass. 

Don’t get me wrong – I love traditional music and I deeply enjoy listening to folks who can play in a traditional style and preserve traditions, but that doesn’t work for me. And that’s why I don’t consider myself a blues artist. Blues traditions are too fixed and stifling for me. I’d rather mix things up and try many different art forms.

How started the thought of Root 66 recording company? What characterize Root 66 philosophy and mission?

During the 1980s I began writing songs at a profound rate. I was writing songs, poetry and short stories by the hundreds. After being a sideman for 15 years I decided that it was time to front my own band so I created the Rhythm Lords (1988) as a vehicle for my songwriting. In the early stages I followed the old standard of trying to land a record deal, but after a couple of years and several rejections from major and independent record labels, I decided to start my own record company so I could sell my CDs off the band stand to help pay for touring and producing more CDs. I started up Rebecca Records with my friend and bass player, Steph Traino. Right away we were booking more gigs and began to tour because a CD can give you the lift when it comes to booking shows. After five releases I closed the doors on Rebecca Records to join forces with my current partner, John Valenzuela and started up, Root 66 recording company. It’s a machine that was put into place to keep the wheels rolling forward so that I can continue to write music and perform live.

"I am truly fascinated by the future. I’m very curious about the future of humanity. I hope we can turn some of the bad and evil things of the world around and make it a better place to live. I think technology is also very interesting and I think the idea of going to Mars and other planets is something I wish I could witness." (Dale Peterson, early 1990s / Photo by Jennie Quimbita)

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

My friends and family have always been my most precious influences. I’ve had some great friends over the years and I learn so much from every one of them. I’ve been very fortunate to be in the presence of rock stars and movie stars. I have met some of my heroes as well as some very influential people. I have even sat with scientists, teachers and professors as well as powerful business people and even a couple of politicians.  But to be honest, the most interesting of them all are ordinary people. People off the street impress me every day with their knowledge and wisdom. 

But no one has influenced me more than my father. My father, Harry Peterson was not only a great musician and songwriter, but he was well read and understood many things about life and the world we live in. He encouraged me to write and be creative and was very patient and explained things to me that I still use today. One day in the early 1960s my father and I sat on the couch watching President Kennedy on TV making a speech and he said, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” (or something like that) I asked my father what those words meant and he explained that in order to receive respect in the world you must respect others”, and that has been my golden rule.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions, which you’d like to share with us?

Being on the road touring from town to town you see and hear so much more than you would living in one place. By experiencing various cultures, languages and traditions, I’m a much better person for it. There are some very funny, smart and intelligent people in the world and as a touring musician I get to witness so much. I’ve also seen some of the worst in people too with fistfights, drugs and loneliness. It’s a life lesson every time I hit the road.

As far as gigs and the bands that I have shared the stage with, there are just too many great things that have happened and there have been some terrible hardships as well. My best experience of all has been the friendships. The bartenders, the waitresses, the cooks, the bar owners and club owners, the festival organizers and soundmen, roadies and tour managers and of course, the fans have all been interesting with stories to tell. I’ve been very fortunate to share the stage with a number of stars and celebrities. It’s all been great fun and I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I come from an older era of music. I am fascinated by stories of the past. (My father had a million of them). I think the music industry was more interesting before modern technologies like digital recording and the collapse of the record giants of the 20th century. I’m a romantic and somewhat nostalgic and that seems to influence me most, but I’m also very interested in the future of music and I keep my sites facing forward. I try to infuse my music with tradition while also trying to grow as an artist and push my songwriting into the future.

Pop music has always been very disappointing to me. I don’t mind that there are artists out there who do what they do (rap, hip-hop, DJs and vocal groups), but it seems that the most talented and the most deserving artists (real musicians who have spent their entire lives learning how to play their instrument) are usually ignored by the public because a few corporations and powerful music personalities steal all of the attention from greater talents. My fear in today’s pop culture is that serious musicians and songwriters are starving and struggling while young “beautiful people” get all the attention. This is not the fault of common people and music fans. If they knew how much great music they were missing they would probably make better choices, but if all you see is crap, then eventually crap becomes the big deal and this is what makes me most concerned about the future of music.

"Don’t get me wrong – I love traditional music and I deeply enjoy listening to folks who can play in a traditional style and preserve traditions, but that doesn’t work for me. And that’s why I don’t consider myself a blues artist. Blues traditions are too fixed and stifling for me. I’d rather mix things up and try many different art forms." (Dale, late 1990s / Photo by Johnny Valenzuela)

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

In a perfect world, all musicians would be paid a fair salary for their work. I wish each and every serious musician and songwriter were paid fairly. File sharing, unfair payments on streaming, piracy and Pay To Play policies have all but killed the chances of professional musicians to ever earn a living. There are legendary musicians who are suffering and dying broke because of corruption and illegal practices in royalty distributions and the unfair control that some “music business professionals” are doing to our community.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Rock, Soul, and continue to Rockabilly, Surf and Country?

When I first started my own musical journey as a professional musician (early 1970s) music genres were completely separated from each other. My generation was the first to begin to “toy” with this separation and since the lines have since faded somewhat. Now days you have Nashville producing rock and pop music under the guise of country music. Stevie Ray Vaughan was a great rock guitarist that was called a blues guy and that continues with Joe Bonamassa (whom I have great respect for). Even the Grateful Dead were among the first to dismantle the ridged divide that separated rock, blues and country music. As time ticks on, music genres continue to blend into new original sounds and this is where I fit in. My record collection (about 3000 LPs, cassettes and CDs) is a vast mix of all of the styles I have mentioned so far. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I believe that many people from the 1960s forward, were influenced by several genres and styles of music and that is why we see so much morphing of musical styles today and the practice is much more acceptable now than it was 20 or 30 years ago.

Make an account of the case of Rock/Roots/Blues in L.A. What touched (emotionally) you from the local circuits?

Growing up in Los Angeles was a blessing for me. The local music scene here was strong long before I came along and continues today. You can go out on just about any given night and see/hear world-class music being played all over town. We have legendary rock clubs and blues and jazz venues. Our local musicians have recorded timeless classics and some of them are famous stars all over the world. It’s a great place to experience live music, but it’s not the best place for someone to be discovered. There are too many musicians, actors and artists here trying to make a name for themselves. To be a local musician/songwriter in LA is like being a needle in a haystack.

The local music scene for me started in the early 1970s. I played the Hollywood rock clubs like Gazzarri’s, Starwood and the Troubadour as well as the legendary Palomino in North Hollywood. I also saw many performances at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, California. I enjoy many styles of music and I appreciate any band that has energy and style. I’ve gone through different stages during my career. I started out playing acoustic music (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young among others) then I switched to electric and followed a hard rock path that led me to local bands like Van Halen and Quiet Riot. I saw the band X, The Blasters and Canned Heat play the Starwood with Hollywood Fats on guitar and that blew my head right off. I began to search out more west coast blues bands like, the Mighty Flyers with Jr Watson on guitar. I found William Clark (very nice man) and Robert Lucas. The local scene in Los Angeles is diverse and continues today.

"Rock music and its influences are wide and far. Rock music allows us to play around with the old standards and push the boundaries of past traditions while pushing forward. Rock music is more forgiving and allows us to be more artistic. I’m a visual artist and photographer and I find that my music is influenced by my visual art as well." (Dale at Pacifica Studio / Photo by J. Valenzuela)

What is the impact of music on literature? What is the relationship between music and socio-cultural implications?

For me it’s the other way around. I find that literature influences my songwriting. My favorite writers are Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, Richard Brautigan, Raymond Carver and John Fante as well as John Steinbeck and your countryman, Nikos Kazantzakis to name a few. I love to get lost in a book that deals with the normal and not so normal daily life of regular people. Famous people and celebrities are interesting for a few minutes, but common people on the street and their stories are much more interesting to me.

My music is deeply influenced by these simple stories of the human condition. I suppose street philosophy is more interesting to me because it is the way of the common man. My music and the stories I write about most deal with the human condition and the struggles we all live day to day. I’ve written songs about race, love and songs about the spirit. Literature is a huge part of my personal journey and influences every song I write.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I am truly fascinated by the future. I’m very curious about the future of humanity. I hope we can turn some of the bad and evil things of the world around and make it a better place to live. I think technology is also very interesting and I think the idea of going to Mars and other planets is something I wish I could witness. But with that said, I’m also nostalgic and very interested in history. My natural curiosity for things like the years of the American Revolution and Civil War are strong.

But if I had to pick just one day to be in a different time and era, I would have to say, backstage at Woodstock. Not for the sex, drugs and rock and roll, but to see all those (now) legendary musicians and songwriters at such a pivotal time in music. The counter-culture was not as interesting to me as the music, musicians and songwriters of that time. I would love to see people like Hendrix, Santana and the Who as young men still searching for their sound and their place in music history - that would be a real treat. 

Root 66 Recording Co. - Home

Trouble No More: Mike Malone, Stephen Traino, Dale Peterson, Gerard Boisse &  Hampton Flanagan / Photo by Ed Freeman

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