WHAT A LONG STRANGE TRIP
SOMETIME IN 1986 OR '87, DEX WANTED TO START A BAND.
An actor and a singer, he'd recently been performing with the improve group THIN ICE, and a found that a few of the members played instruments. So as they started to incorporate those talents into the show, the idea took hold to start an actual band. Phil, Dex and a bass player (Tim) were the original members of what came to be The High Lonesome. Originally, they rehearsed in the abandoned apartment next to Dex's place. Two other members of Thin Ice also contributed in those early jam sessions: a sax play and a drummer. Honestly, the sax player wasn't into it and recused himself. When it became apparent that the drummer just wasn't up to snuff, the group decided to seek a new one. Dex remembered his friend Jon from the soap they'd acted on together and invited him to come over to jam. It was an instant match - Jon was motivated and available...and so they started to rehearse in earnest. Jon invited a friend of his (Don) to come in to play lead guitar and, after a bit of rehearsing, they played their first gig.
Dex and his girlfriend Jane were amicably moving out from one another and had decided to throw a "Break-Up Party" so this would be the first time the group played to an audience. They rented a sound system and jerry-rigged some lights, and the backyard/driveway of the fourplex became their first stage. Dex invited his oldest friend, Gig, to sit in on guitar, harmonica and percussion with the nascent gang. Dex and he had played together both as a duo and in a band or two dating all the way back to Junior High. The group's repertoire consisted of a selection of covers, including Badfinger's No Matter What and Marshall Crenshaw's Little Wild One #5. It was also the first time they played the medley of “Mona/Hey Good Lookin' that would become a staple of their live shows. (and one that Dex and Gig would sing years later at Jeb's wedding). The party and the band were a success (and a lot of fun) and out of that night came the decision to pursue real gigs as a "real" band.
Gig was officially added and rehearsal space was rented and the band began to practice. Dex started bringing in original songs and they band dove into them - eventually losing the "cover band" vibe they'd started with. Over time a female singer was added (Lauren), Don dropped out, with Gig and Dex taking over guitar duties, and Tim was replaced by Jeb (whom Lauren had referred). Lauren left as well, and the band's line up was solidified.
With the group's personnel turnover complete, they began to look for gigs in L.A. They played They played everywhere they could: pool parties, charity events, acoustic gigs, theatre benefits - anyplace they could. Eventually, they played at Dex's Birthday party, which was being held on Sunset at The Central (a well known joint that had been a number of different clubs over the years - including Filthy McNasty's - it would eventually become The Viper Room). As luck would have it, the owner of the club happened to be in attendance and liked the band. Well, he liked the crowd they brought in, and so invited them back. They played roughly once a month there, building a loyal following and from that launch pad, started gigging regularly around L.A. and the Valley.
As they became part of the local music scene, a number of names came and went; The Method, The Need, Hiatus, The Actors. They finally settled on everyone's favorite Japanese Live action kids show from their childhoods as their moniker: Johnny Socko! Ultimately, despite their dedication and popularity, the band member's other (better paying) gigs had to take precedence. They went their separate ways.
...BUT THE SPARK THAT HELD THEM CLOSE REMAINED FLICKERING.
A chance encounter by Jon with a former A&R girl (Julie) who was starting her own label (and who’d tried to interest her previous employer in the band) led to a call, that led to a reunion. Much mutual joy and creativity was unleashed and the band began it's second act. After hearing the guys play, Julie and her business partner Carol offered them a contract on their new label, Spark Records, and an opportunity to record their first album. They gang knew that the schedule for the recording would be tight: ten days to record and then a few more to mix with Steve Plunkett and Tom Wire producing and guiding the guys. So, under the tutelage of the producers, they rehearsed like maniacs, pushing to improve themselves - Jon even learning to play to a “click track”. Then, suddenly, they were in the studio and it was a crazed rush. Jon laid down the drums for two days, then each member of the band started recording his parts on top. Tweaking. Re-recording. Then vocals. Guest appearances by friends (thanks Val!). Madness. Hours of “Bakaza!” (a made up game using a pool table and no cues that Jeb taught everyone!). Mixing. And finally...a real honest-to-god mixed and mastered album of original music. “Feel Free To So So”. Oh, and a name change for the band; seems there was a Ska band in Indianapolis already going by Johnny Socko! So The High Lonesome was born. Then to support the album, small tours up the coast of California and throughout the Southwest - all of the guys piled in a 10 person van. Bringing their equipment with them. Acting as their own roadies. Doing local radio shows, and in-store appearances. Including one at Tower Records - live on the Sunset Strip! Supporting and opening for various acts (Asleep at the Wheel, Faith Hill, The Bottle Rockets, The Bud Light Guys) and then some radio play. Even charted on Alt-Country and AOR lists. “Most Added” status for two singles on the Billboard Hot 100. Good Reviews in Billboard and more. Meeting Ben Fong-Torres in San Francisco - who liked the band!
Well, when Jon had to drop out after starting to hit it on General Hospital, the group found a fun compatriot to play drums in Doug Stanny. Then Jeb moved back to New York, and THL pulled in Mark Magdich on bass. Managers were hired, showcases were set up and performances in Nashville and L.A. occurred. A great guitarist was added to the mix as well - Wade Pistole. Then the label and the band parted ways. An independent EP was recorded. But, sadly, finally it felt like the band had run its course. A few years later, a brief reunion for a soap opera weekend in Orlando was fun, and Dex’s (soon to be) wife got to see THL, but Phil and Jeb couldn’t make the trip. Then...nothing. Well, sadness about the end of an era, of course. But Gig pursued new musical projects, Dex got married and continued acting and then wrote a musical (about a band, natch!). Phil continued with improv and became a well-respected folk music humorist, Jeb became a regular on the Great White Way, Jon an Emmy nominee for daytime...until...2010.
Jon (again!) inspired the boys to regroup and release the album digitally. Dex got inspired to write a couple of new tunes that inspired everyone to work together again...and here we are.
Maybe the trip isn’t over after all...