Fire and rain
A musical life interrupted by disaster, twice
In the summer of 2005, Alan Rigg was visiting Chico when Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast and he learned that his New Orleans home had been destroyed and that his vacation would become a permanent one.
“I didn’t have anything to go back to,” he said. “So, I settled here.”
A lifelong musician, Rigg has spent the years since establishing himself as a respected local player and bandleader and putting down roots in this area, moving first to Stirling City and then settling into a small home in a mobile home park among the pines in Paradise.
On Nov. 8, Rigg was still asleep when the phone rang.
“My best friend called me at about 8 o’clock in the morning and told me to get the hell out of there,” he said.
Rigg had fortuitously left a few heavy items in his car the night before—a keyboard and two amplifiers—and on the way out was able to grab only a couple of guitars and his Australian shepherd, Maggie. Outside, there were spot fires all over the property and a three-story house behind his park was already consumed. And then there was the traffic jam.
“I got about 100 yards out of the trailer park, and I was immediately trapped for three hours. … It just kept going on. It was so dark, and so smoky and hot. It’s just hard to describe.”
He escaped, but once again lost nearly everything to a disaster.
With his home gone, he’s also had to leave the area and its music scene in order to find a place to live—first in a donated apartment on the Mendocino coast and now at a friend’s almond ranch north of Chico. But he does have new fifth-wheel trailer—thanks to a GoFundMe campaign started by friends that raised $12,000—and a plan to return to Paradise as soon as he’s able.
For his part, Rigg is trying to keep a positive outlook. “My life has been an incredible roller-coaster ride! Tragedy can bring miracles,” he said. “Coming to California would never have happened without Katrina. Who knows what the next incarnation will be.”
Rigg has been playing music for more than 50 years. He was born in Kentucky and grew up in Indiana, where at age 14 he joined his first band, a regionally popular garage-rock outfit called The Weejuns. He moved around, touring the South with succession of groups—Cold Sweat, C.C. Express and a professional backup band called the Memphis All-Stars, which would provide musical accompaniment for touring performers—everyone from Little Anthony to Chuck Berry.
In 1995, fulfilling a lifelong dream, he moved to music-rich New Orleans. A couple of fellow performers he met while playing on the streets of that city actually lured him out West. Michael Borland (aka Zack Dragon) and Pablo Diablo—of one-time Butte County Cajun-rock crew the Double Zero Band—invited their friend to Butte County to join them in the scene. Once fate stranded him here, Rigg got right to work.
He formed the Alan Rigg Trio—with him singing and playing keyboard and guitar—and began performing jazz whenever he could. As he established himself and started meeting other local musicians, the trio eventually grew into the Alan Rigg Band, featuring a large rotating crew of local ringers that includes the likes of sax players Don Bowman and Eric Weber, vocalist Jane Perry, drummers John Hale and David Breed, percussionist Jerry Morano, bassist Jack Lemley, plus other guests. The expanded cast has beefed up the jazzy sound, bringing in elements of Zydeco, rock, funk and R&B to the band’s repertoire of covers and originals and making them regulars at restaurants, clubs and community events all over Butte County.
On Friday (March 22), his Alan Rigg Band will make its first public appearance since the fire, bringing its New Orleans-influenced sound to a Mardi Gras-themed celebration (and birthday party for the bandleader, who turns 67) at Unwined Kitchen & Bar. Rigg is looking forward to the musical reunion and eager to rejoin his community.
“I love my band, and I miss my people tremendously,” Rigg said. “They’re like family to me.”