Sacramento’s musical diaspora



It feels as if the last few weeks of this writer’s life have been filled with arrivals and departures. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the weekend return of Grub Dog, legendary local balls-to-the-wall roots rocker and perhaps even more legendary drunken philosopher king who has relocated from Sacramento to Austin, Texas. Then, soon afterward, local songwriter Scott McChane let slip that Gwamba, another local musical legend (albeit of a different sort), was up and moving to far-off Oregon, leaving behind a long history of local bands—including his most recent, the hyper-speed bluegrass trio known as the Freight Train Riders of America (FTRA).

The fact that various musicians are trending their careers away from Sacramento certainly does not bode particularly well for the River City’s scene. One can understand Grub Dog’s move; after all, Austin, like Nashville, is something of a dream destination for musicians. But the implications in regards to Gwamba’s move are particularly vexing because the town he is moving to with his family (Monument, Ore.), doesn’t have a proper music scene at all. In fact, one Web site lists the town’s population as 150 and states that Monument is “a small friendly town where neighbors still speak and have a warm smile when meeting. A community that still comes together to help those in need, which is very rare these days.”

Not really a musical mecca, but then again Gwamba isn’t really known for making decisions based on his musical career (thankfully, because his music has always been interesting and decidedly not mainstream), and this one, a desire to raise his family in a more rural environment is no different. “I’ve done all I can do in Sacramento,” he said in a phone interview during his last weekend at his Elk Grove home. “I need to reinvent myself again—this time in a new place.” It is interesting to consider that a musician of Gwamba’s caliber would choose no music scene at all over Sacramento’s.

Of course, when one door closes, another opens. For Gwamba, the new door leads to Los Angeles and, strangely enough, to Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. It seems that Gibbons has put together something of a rock supergroup, fronted by none other than our expatriate Gwamba and featuring members of stoner-rock superstars Queens of the Stone Age. With Gwamba writing for the outfit and contributing his Zappa-esque musical approach, one wonders what it will sound like. (I envision an ample mix of Kyuss, Yes and Weird Al Yankovic, but I could be wrong.) Gibbons is producing the project in Los Angeles, meaning Gwamba has found himself momentarily stretched farther south just at the moment when he is moving farther north. That’s just how life is.

The bottom line in this is that both Gwamba and Grub Dog (and the Low Flying Owls and many others) have looked outside of Sacramento for the next phase of their musical careers. One wonders if this trend will continue: Our best musicians taking their talents farther on up the road, leaving Sacramento just a bit quieter.