15 Minutes: Peter Stegall, a.k.a. Cactus Pete
His name is Cactus Pete. But folks around town know him as artist Peter Stegall. And, yeah, you’ve read about his work in this paper before. But this interview is about tunes, and his latest reinvention as a septuagenarian deejay of late-’40s country and early-to-mid-20th-century jazz, played on 78 RPM records. Find Stegall, 75, every Tuesday night at The Hideaway Bar & Grill (2565 Franklin Boulevard), from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., where he’s spun going on two years. If you’re feeling the vibe, maybe buy one of his handmade cactus artworks, which start at just five bucks. Or even get him a drink (see below for a pro tip). Stegall chatted with SN&R last week via phone from his Oak Park abode.
You’re mayor of Sacramento: What is your No. 1 priority?
Homelessness. I had the occasion to help a friend this year, and we need to find places for people, to work on that.
If you want a good meal in town, where do you go?
I go to Maya’s, over here on Broadway. Mexican food. And of course I’m great friends with the Magpie people.
If someone wants to buy you a drink at the Hideaway, what’s your poison?
A shot of Bulleit rye.
Nah, I chase it with a little Coca-Cola
Has anyone come to you while deejaying and made a dumb request, like for Drake or something?
Like Drake, like what?
Do people request songs?
Oh yeah! Last night, a friend came in, and we’re talking and carrying on, and he said, “I know this song, but I don’t know who the guy is.” [The song was] “That’s What I Like About the South,” an old Phil Harris tune from the ’40s. A lot of people have recorded that. I dug it out and played it, and he just about lost it.
This is a land line? You don’t mess with email or smartphones?
I’m just choosing not to go there. All my friends tell me, “You got to get online.” And I thank them for helping me out, because I certainly see the advantages. But I just don’t want to be looking at a phone all the time.
Share your first memory of music.
I was 10 years old in 1950, so it was the beginning of the end of the big-band era, before rock ’n’ roll. So I just remember a lot of “Ebb Tide,” kind of soft big-band music. And then in San Francisco in ’55, still listening to Vaughn Monroe, you know, singing World War II songs. And then Bill Haley came out with “Rock Around the Clock” … and that took off. But my roots are not rock ’n’ roll. … I went right into modern jazz in the early ’60s. And then segued into country in ’64.
Tell me one artist SN&R readers should add to their playlist?
T. Texas Tyler. He’s basically the Western version of East Coast jazz. … [He] had a small combo group, not a full band—fiddle, steel guitar, basic drums and such. And he played Western swing and really good jazz. He came out to the West Coast in the late ’40s and played around Los Angeles, had a pretty good career. He was known as the band with a million friends. And he got religion somewhere along the way and became a preacher. Anyway, I love it.
Where do you shop for music?
Everywhere. For two years, I was just out there. Big collectors unloading hundreds of records on thrift stores. So I’m going out there every day, and they’re selling for like a dollar an album. … I get a lot of gifts of records, which is really nice.
Do you do anything besides records?
I’m painting cactuses.
That could get dangerous.
They’re cardboard. I’ve worked with cardboard since the ’80s. … I’ve made a lot of work, wall hangings, out of cardboard with the same paint. … I’ve made a couple desert scenes.
Do you have a New Year’s resolution?
My resolution is for my daughter, I would like things to get better for her. It’s an inspirational story, and she’s pushed so hard to get better. She’s an inspiration to all of us.
Does she have a favorite song?
I’m not sure. She likes George Strait. We saw some country shows at Arco, but I’m not sure of a specific song.
What do you miss most about the Sacramento of yore?
The country shows that were staged at the Memorial Auditorium in the mid-’60s, around ’65. It was the last vestige of the great country shows, of which there would be 15 to 20 groups, and they’d go on for two or three songs and then get off. … KRAK would sponsor these shows, and we saw everybody, all the national people. These buses would be lined up on J Street. Conway Twitty and the Twitty Birds, Merle Haggard and the Strangers. You’d see ’em all at once.
There’s a warmth about Sacramento that certainly has changed in a lot of ways, but is still there. It’s as good a place to live as any.