A former Washoe County teacher living in China released an album there this year
As John Lundemo took the stage at the Puzhehei music festival stage in front of 3,000 to 5,000 people in Southern China, he wasn’t frightened. After all, he started performing as a Tonapah teenager in the 1960s, covering songs like “Louie Louie.”
Lundemo went on to play with several other bands in Reno, along the Sierra and in rural Nevada. He opened for Elvin Bishop and Norton Buffalo on Nevada Day in 1985 at the Carson Speedway. He also opened for Townes Van Zandt in the mid-1990s for a smaller performance at Deux Gros Nez in Reno the day after a larger Van Zandt concert.
Plus, the other members of Lundemo’s band at the Puzhehei festival were seasoned musicians from around the world.
“Most of my friends are in their mid-30s or so, so they have hundreds and hundreds of gigs behind them in different situations,” Lundemo explained in a Skype interview from China.
What frightened Lundemo were the 26 to 28 O’Brien Middle School students in room 112 his first day as a full-time teacher in 1979. He took a major pay cut from his job parking cars at the MGM Grand to earn $8,200 as a first-year teacher. He learned as a student teacher and substitute that these were the ages students chewed up teachers and spit them out.
“It was a very difficult age to teach,” Lundemo, 66, said. “They’re wild, and they’re rambunctious, and they’re just difficult to deal with.”
Lundemo retired from the Washoe County School District in 2002 and has wrapped up 11 years teaching in China with the release of a 15-song album, Rocket Chair. Preview the album at http://bit.ly/lundemopreview or buy it for $15 at http://bit.ly/lundemoalbum.
Teaching 14 hours a week in China allowed Lundemo to rekindle his musical ambitions. He found others in China to play with him. The album reflects Lundemo’s blues, rock and country musical influences. He recorded it with 11 musicians in China, many of them from other countries. All were on stage in Kunming, China, on May 9 to play the album before a crowd of about 300. Lundemo flew in some performers at his own expense.
“Just about everybody I know in Kunming was there,” Lundemo said of the concert. “It was a real tribute.”
Lundemo returns to the Reno area in mid-July for about a month and hopes to reunite with his last band here, The Band of Tribal Moons, to play songs from the album. Eight of the songs on Rocket Chair were from his Reno days. He may play some solo gigs, too.
He retired as a Sparks High School teacher in 2002, having transferred from O’Brien Middle School in 1984. He had hip surgery and got an idea to teach overseas. A University of Nevada, Reno professor convinced him to try China. So he went to Central China in 2003 with the idea of spending six months there. Plans changed when he met Caroline McCreath from Perth, Australia, and fell in love. They stayed and eventually they moved to Southern China and taught at English at Kunming University of Science & Technology through Oxbridge College. Kunming has a population of 3 million and is in the foothills of the Himalayas. Lundemo taught American literature, British literature and English speech.
Lundemo didn’t even take a guitar with him to China. He bought a Fender in 2005 and by 2007 was touring with groups, first The Tribal Moons—based on the name of his last Reno band—and then the War Whores.
He toured extensively in eastern Asia with his bands while he taught in China, Lundemo said. Playing concerts paid for trips all over China, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia. He was smuggled in to play a Myanmar disco by the wife of a general.
Friend Mark Corry, with whom Lundemo has played since 2007, started So Danger Records in China, and he convinced Lundemo to put out the record.
“If I had done it in the states it would also cost me a fortune,” Lundemo said.
Tastes in China are changing as the country absorbs more foreign music. Many young musicians like heavy metal, but there’s also interest in country ballads and blues rock, Lundemo said. They love Karen Carpenter, too, and ballads in general.
“They enjoy the older rock songs,” Lundemo said. “They love The Eagles. They like Green Day and things like that.”
His band played the Snow Mountain Music Festival in 2007, as well as small gigs and earthquake benefits. Lundemo is also involved with a group called Village Progress, whose goals include improved water systems for towns, eyeglasses and arts in schools.American band
China generally wants people out of its public workforce by age 65, he said. So he's out of teaching now. He fell into teaching in the 1970s after thinking at one point he wanted to be a U.S. diplomat. His diplomatic ambitions clashed with the 1960s. Lundemo dropped out of college, went to Woodstock with a woman he met while interning for Nevada U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon and eventually lived with her in Morocco.
He came back to the Reno area and lived in a commune just over the California state line in Floriston. And he was taking music more seriously. Lundemo grew up in Minnesota, just south of where Bob Dylan grew up, he noted. In Minnesota, he listened to Chuck Berry, Motown and Buddy Holly. His older sister and her friends danced every Saturday to American Bandstand, so Lundemo was drafted by the group and taught to dance.
His father came to Nevada looking for a job and landed in Tonopah. Lundemo moved there at age 15 and conceded it was a “real backwater.” He started his first band, playing “Louie Louie” and covers of the Tijuana Brass and the Beach Boys. As a Tonopah teen he and friends would drive to Huntington Beach and try to surf.
He was a standout quarterback at Tonopah High School and knew people who knew University of Montana coaches, so after graduating he hitchhiked to Missoula and played quarterback as a walk on. He was 155 pounds. In 1968, he enrolled in what was then still called the University of Nevada, but the 1960s hit in full force and he ended up in the Floriston commune.
“I wouldn’t say any of us were full-on hippies, because we always had one foot in the university or we had one foot in something,” Lundemo said. “But we all had long hair.”
In 1972, he moved to an ashram off Wells Avenue and opened Namascar General Store, one of Reno’s first health food stores, on Ralston Street. It lasted five years.
Lundemo continued his music with other bands, and by the time he was playing in the rock band The Dogs around 1980, he was crossing paths with bands like 7 Seconds and The Wrecks, although he didn’t play with them.
In 1984, he transferred to Sparks High School and taught there until his retirement in 2002. Lundemo said he keeps in touch with many former students on Facebook.
Rocket Chair refers to a legend of a mid-level Chinese bureaucrat who got the idea to explore the heavens by sitting in a chair attached to two balloons and dozens of rockets. In one version the bureaucrat makes it a short distance into the air, falls to the earth and is beaten by the emperor. In the other version, he flies off and is never seen again.