Joshua Tree Robert: Hey Brother, you are from the Glorious State of Texas!! Where in the Lonestar State did you grow up and how did you get the name Dusty?
DW: I was born in Houston and lived there until I was nine. My Dad, who worked for Conoco, got transferred to Ft. Worth, so we moved and lived there for four years. Ft Worth had an amazing music scene back then – it's really an east/west crossroads in many ways. Around the time the Beatles hit, Mom managed a band, The Elite, who were the first band there to embrace the British Invasion. They were really popular and played at various teen dances every weekend. There's a cool film about this unique scene called TEEN A-GO-GO. I was at every gig, standing in front of the stage. When I started high school, we moved back to Houston – around the time the psychedelic era started.
For me, it was the Beatles and the Stones, who are still at the top of my list. I moved on to heavier rock – Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin- and of course, ZZ Top and the Allman Bros., both of whom I still love. I didn't even like country until SoCal made it cool – Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, Poco, Flying Burrito Bros. It wasn't until I was playing the dance hall circuit that I started playing real country and began to love it.
JTR: Where did you play your first gigs and who was the first well-known musician you played with in Texas??
I left school for good when I got hired by a legendary hall band called The Barons. They had a booming business playing the dance halls in all the little German towns west of Houston. They had been together a long time and had it figured out. They always had 500 – 1,000 kids every Fri-Sat night, and we're the first band out there to have a sound board, lights, roadies, etc. They were real big fish in a little pond.
They owned a recording studio, record labels (one English, one Spanish) and a booking agency. The Barons' studio is where I learned to engineer. Basically, they handed me the keys and said your first session is tomorrow! The first thing I recorded was a mariachi trio that didn't speak English and couldn't grasp the concept of overdubbing. But I still have the 45 somewhere. One of the bands on the label - Honest John - was comprised of friends so went spent a lot of time in the studio recording and experimenting. It was a great period in my life – good $ gig and keys to the studio! I think the first well-known musician I got to play with was Doug Kershaw – the Crazy Cajun.
During that time, I met a guy from Houston – Jack Price – who worked for a big music store and looked after The Barons. He was in a big group in Houston called Buzzbone that was started by the drummer and keyboard player from the Moving Sidewalks, Billy Gibbons' band before ZZ Top. They were rock royalty in Houston and had been back and forth between Houston and LA. When they asked me to audition, I jumped at the chance. That's how I got to LA the first couple of times.
JTR: When did you move to California? What did you do, to get started in music??
DW: After some good swings at it, Buzzbone was on hiatus, so I got a job at a music store in Houston and played gigs on the weekends. Buzzbone was supposed to reform in LA so I made plans to move out west. When the band plans fell apart, I knew I wanted to go anyway so I sent resumes to some music stores and got a response from West LA Music. I interviewed, got the gig, and moved. That was in August 1977, the same week Elvis died. I remember standing behind the counter at West LA Music when I heard the news and being the only one there who was upset about it.
I worked there three years, did well and received the best education I could have ever received. Selling gear on commission in LA is quite an experience. I was lucky because the very first home recording gear come out at that time and I was the only one there who really knew how to work it, so I got all those sales. I met a lot of great people there; including the guy I started Mad Dog Studio with in 1980.
DW: I started with guitar lessons when I was ten in Ft. Worth. The first song I ever learned was WALK, DON'T RUN by the Ventures. Then it was years of sitting in my room learning off records. In Houston, I was really lucky to join a band – Felix Fly - with some really talented kids. We all had the same guitar teacher who was great with us. I tried to study bass at UT but they didn't recognize electric bass as a legitimate instrument back then and I didn't play upright.
I was already busy with Felix Fly and sang in the choral at high school. We had a great choir teacher and the orchestra teacher hated us rock-n-rollers. I always wonder what would have happened if I would have been in orchestra in high school- if I would've gotten into the double bass and followed that path. Once I moved to LA and wanted to be a 'session player', I started taking lessons with a bunch of Scientologists, but I gotta say, they were the best lessons I ever had.
JTR: Please!!! Tell us about your first gigs in Los Angeles and whom you played with!!
DW: There was a group from Houston called Navasota that had moved out. They played every Thursday night at a legendary place in Chatsworth called the Sundance Saloon. My friend Jack Price from Buzzbone was playing with them and called me when their bass player left. That was a great scene – lot's of famous people always showed up. We started playing every weekend so I didn't get a lot of sleep in those days, between the band and West LA Music. There were various demo deals but we never got signed. Around the time I started Mad Dog, the amazing lead singer of Navasota became King Cotton and we started a high-energy soul/R&B band - King Cotton and the Kingpins. King sang like a white James Brown and was a great performer.
We played the LA clubs and had a great time. This led to a record deal with Island records and a minor KROQ/dance club hit called STICK TO THE GRIND. We made an album but nothing happened with it. After that, I was just engineering sessions full time at Mad Dog, lots of punk, metal with some reggae and Ska thrown in. It was during this time that I was asked to engineer a country record that was to include all the LA Cowpunk scene – including Rosie Flores and some guy named Dwight Yoakam. His guitarist, Pete Anderson, was producing. He walked in the door, we clicked and that was the beginning of a fifteen-year record making blitz.
JTR: For the record, J.T. Robert would like to add: Dusty Wakeman you are an incredible musician, singer-songwriter, and bandleader! If any name artist asked, who could put a great band together for a concert, your name would come up!! I told Augie Meyers from The Texas Tornados that!! And it's TRUE!!!! Now, please mention your mischievous sense of humor!! And how you kidnapped Flaco!! Ha, ha, in Spain!!!
I headed back to the studio, called Jesus and told him. He called back a little while later and said they had ended up at a different hotel and gave me the number. I called there but he wasn't in his room so, knowing Flaco, I asked them to ring the bar and sure enough he was there. I asked him if he'd come play after their gig and he said sure. So Jesus and I head to the show, which was amazing, and went backstage to grab Flaco. I ran into their manager, who I knew and had tried to contact earlier. He saw it was me and said, "Man, I'm sorry but Flaco hasn't slept in days and he has an early morning lobby call." The road manager was there saying, "No way am I letting Flaco out of my sight." I said, "Ok, I understand." Then I saw Flaco, walked over to him and said, "Hi Flaco, you ready to go?" He said, "Sure, let's do it." So we snuck out, went to the studio, did the track and put him in a cab back to his hotel. The next time I saw the manager, he wasn't too pleased with me, but he forgave me and we're still friends. And Flaco is still rockin hard.
JTR: Many people have asked about the Rimrock Ranch that you and your wife Szu owned at one time!! Located near Pioneertown in the High Desert!! A whole lot of well-known people stayed at those cabins and many very, very cool Jam Sessions happened there! At the drop of a Hat, can you please tell us about that?????
DW: Being a Texas boy in the great big freaky city, I was always heading out of LA to go explore California when I had a chance. When I discovered the Joshua Tree area, I felt at home. We keep going back as often as we could. I kept hearing about this place called Pioneertown from other musicians at the Palomino, who told me about Pappy and Harriet. I was on a trip with some guys the first time I went there. We were taking a Norwegian country singer on the Gram Parsons tour. While at Pi-town, he told us about this cool little motel up the road, the Rimrock Motel, that he had been to.
After lunch we went up there. It was deserted except for some people who were renting the main house and there was a For Sale sign up. After many beers at the 29 Palms Inn, we called our manager and told him about it. The next morning he called back saying he had negotiated a Lease/Purchase deal if we were interested. We all just kind of jumped in, but it kind of fell apart along the way. After the lease ended, Szu and I were looking around for a place but nothing was as magical as the motel, so we bought it. It was crazy but we were young, no kids, rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica and I was having a good year. We slowly turned it into a guest ranch over the years and we had people from all over come there. We had many, many great parties and spontaneous jams. Jim Lauderdale was one of the regulars and wrote many songs there, as did numerous others. Jim Austin, the current owner, has done great things with the place, which makes me happy – it's better than ever. I still own some property up there that I hope to build a house on someday, so I can sit and stare at the beautiful desert.
DW: I had been working at West LA Music and was getting burnt out on retail. A good customer of mine, Mark Avnet, said he wanted to start a studio and asked if I wanted to be involved. I quit the store and we built a little 16-track place in Venice. We opened January of 1980. Shortly thereafter, my partner, King Cotton and I signed a deal with Island Records. We had a minor KROQ hit called STICK TO THE GRIND – kind of a pre-rap 'rude' song. We made a really cool album that, like so many', never came out. After that, I just spent my time engineering sessions. We worked with everyone from Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek of the Doors, most of the original Mothers of Invention, Flo & Eddie, Megadeath, Stryper to Buck Owens. Along the way I met Pete Anderson, right around the time Dwight Yoakam was getting signed. Pete and I worked together on a great album called A TOWN SOUTH OF BAKERSFIELD and really hit it off. Pete and Dwight wanted to work with a rock engineer in LA so I got the call for Dwight's first LP. That started a big roll for me –Pete and I worked together non-stop for about 15 years. We're still very close – he's like the big brother I never had.
In 1986, my first partner, Mark, left to move back East. I had met a bright, hard-working young engineer named Michael Dumas who did FOH for Dwight. I was always impressed with Dwight's sound live. We partnered up, bought our first Neve console and Studer 24 track, remodeled the place and carried on.
In 1995, we moved to a much larger place in Burbank where we eventually had three rooms operating. Michael, who went back to mixing FOH, left around 1999, and I carried on until I closed the place in 2008. I had gotten burned out on the studio life-style and the changing record business, so in 2005 I took the job of running Mojave Audio, which I'm still doing. I had a blast living my dream in the studio but 25 years was enough. I'm very proud of all the records that I did and all the records made at Mad Dog Studios. One of these days I'm going to make a legacy website for Mad Dog that tells the story, with lots of photos and stories from former clients.
JTR: This year, you will be playing a well known gig in Pioneertown at Pappy & Harriet's with your good friend, singer songwriter Jim Lauderdale on May 3rd 2014! Can you let us know, how you met Jim and what musicians will be playing with you??
DW: I met Jim at the Palomino. Pete signed him to a production deal, we cut three songs, and he got signed to CBS Nashville. Along the way I started playing in his band. We made a great album that, again, wasn't released, although now it's available as an import. It's called POINT OF NO RETURN – THE UNRELEASED CBS ALBUM or something like that. We became, and remain, really close friends. After a stint with Warner Nashville, I got him a deal with Atlantic in LA. We made two killer albums – PRETTY CLOSE TO THE TRUTH, recorded at Mad Dog Venice, and EVERY SECOND COUNTS, recorded in the Sound Stage at Pioneertown. That was one of the most fun albums I ever worked on and I still love both those records.
Every year, for the last seven or so years, we play a show at Pappy and Harriet's in April or May that I call JIMFEST. It started for his 50th birthday and we've been doing it ever since. It's always great but this year might have been the best ever. We had Mitch Marine(drums) and Brian Whelan (guitar/vocals) from Dwight's band and the legendary Greg Leisz on steel. Greg is a top session player in LA and is currently touring in Eric Clapton's band. We played for three hours!
JTR: Hey Texas Dusty - tell us about your Amiga!! Rosie Flores-- how you met!! And how long you have been friends!!! She has paid a lot of dues!! How would you describe her music?!!!
DW: I used to see Rosie with the Screaming Sirens during the Cowpunk era in LA in the early 80s, especially at Club Lingerie. I first met her when we did the first A TOWN SOUTH OF BAKERSFIELD VOL. 1 album. She did a cool duet with Albert Lee called HEARTBREAK TRAIN. I then engineered her Warner album that Pete produced. We became amigos and I started playing some gigs with her. When she got signed to Hightone, I co-produced two bitchin albums with Greg Leisz – AFTER THE FARM and HONKY-TONK MOON. I toured a lot with Rosie in the 90s – we even did a pub tour of the UK as a duo. No matter what the gig, Rosie always delivers. I'm a huge fan!
JTR: On a sad Note, we lost Donald Lindley, incredible drummer and your good friend!!! You guys played on a lot of projects together!! Could you tell us about him!!
DW: I had met lead-singer Bryson Jones earlier when I was making a record with a band from Arkansas called The Skeeterhawks. They kept telling me I had to meet this crazy friend of theirs. When I did, we totally hit it off. We had a 'hi-desert-biker-rock' band called Sawtooth that was a blast. We played some legendary gigs at the Joshua Tree Saloon back in the day. After that wound down, Bryson called me and asked if I wanted to come play some Willie, Waylon, Cash, Haggard, etc. at a monthly club some friends of his were starting, called Sweethearts of the Rodeo, (named after the Byrd's album).
Our first month was a rainy night with about five people in the audience. We moved to Molly Malone's and kept playing every month to crowds that eventually started growing bigger. We never rehearsed and the band was initially Bryson, myself and whoever showed up, but it eventually solidified over the eight years we played monthly. We always played the Gram Parson's tributes in JT and in LA. The crowds at Molly's got really good and we had a lot of great shows there and in Nashville, Austin, London, etc. We still get together once or twice a year for special events – not bad for a band that never was officially a band.
JTR: You have recorded many fine musicians, and played with some Greats!! Could you mention some of your favorites!!!!
DW: Man, that's a tough question! I've been very lucky in that I worked with very few artists that I didn't like. Pete and I made so many great records together and we always had a blast. Jim Lauderdale is like a brother to this day – we're always crackin up. Of course, Buck Owens and Roy Orbison were thrilling to work with. Lucinda and Rosie remain dear friends. In more recent times, Anne McCue (who I just finished my third album with) blows me away, Tony Furtado, Bobby Joyner, Rhett Frazier, Minibar, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers – so many! Of course, getting to play with Keith has to be the pinnacle of my playing career.
JTR: What about Your Family!!! When did you and Szu get married?? And do you have kids?? How did you meet Szu??? P.S.: Szu sure knows how to throw a party!! Your guests won't leave hungry!!! Nice lady your wife!!! P.S.: How does she put up with you?? LOL…
DW: Szu and I met on her radio show on KNAC in 1982 (I think). I was on there with King Cotton, promoting our STICK TO THE GRIND record. She started flirting with me on the air and I turned two shades of red and started sweating. But I did ask her out on the air. We've been together ever since. We got married in 1986. We have two kids – 10 & 15.
DW: I play 1961 P-bass with round-wounds and a 1988 US-made reissue of a 62 Jazz Bass with flat-wounds. I also play my custom 3-string P-bass, a Gibson EB-3 and my Hagstrom bass from high school. I've had an upright forever but I'm playing it a lot more these days.
I love Ampeg bass amps – even the new ones. I love SVTs, of course, if someone else is doing cartage - nothing like the rush of all that raw power - but their little ones sound great too. I have an old B-15 in my studio and I use a Rocket 15 for most gigs. One of my fave amps ever, though, is a Black-faced Fender Dual Showman head through a 4x10 cab.
Joshua Tree Robert would in closing like to say, if any of you musicians have a chance to play some music with Dusty Wakeman!! Don't miss the chance and pay attention!!