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Americana music apt for Petaluma


Once a musician comes of age and enters the professional world, the artist is compelled to determine and announce the genre or category he or she plans to pour his or her heart and soul into. Radio stations and record companies need to have a pigeon-hole in which to place each artist.

Last week, I met with Larry Goldfield, local guitar player/band leader to talk about how he came to play his music of choice. In addition to asking him about his personal journey down the music highway, I seized the opportunity to grill him about the category/genre issue.

SB: How did you wind up in Petaluma?

LG: “My wife and I moved to the West Coast from Philadelphia, landing in San Francisco. Our second child was on the way and we wanted to buy a house. Of course, San Francisco was way out of our financial league. The North Bay had a laid-back vibe that suited us, plus easy access to the coast and back to the city. Petaluma is a great family town and there are a ton of great players. So, we made the move in 2010.”

SB: What would you consider to be your main instrument and what equipment do you use?

LG: “As a guitar player, I gravitate toward playing rhythm. (The rhythm guitar provides the cake for a band’s icing. When there are two guitars; the rhythm player’s job is to play the chords and support and compliment the drummer’s groove.) I play an Eastman arch top; that’s a full-bodied, f-hole electric. My current band, Sugar Moon, plays mostly Western swing with a few jazz standards, blues, and classic country thrown in. The full arch-top sound is perfect for what we’re doing. My amp is a 1974 Fender Princeton Reverb. It’s the reverb that gives it the fat, organic, retro sound, (especially true when he’s recreating the late, great Bob Wills and the Texas Playboy’s unique cross-breed of jazz and fiddle-driven country.)”

SB: We’ve talked about the term “Americana” that came into being in the mid-90s - the category created to cover the music that didn’t strictly fit the automated and predictable formats of pop, rock, and country radio. When did you first hear about Americana; and how did you view it?

LG: “To answer that, I’ll have to give you a little background. I had piano lessons as a child; and had already quit by the age of six. But, I was an avid listener. The first three albums I bought in my freshman year of college were by Lightnin Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt, and Earl Hooker. (These blues masters had garnered a whole new white, college audience, from coast to coast, in the late stages of their careers. They were actually booked as folk music acts.) My first professional gig wasn’t until 1989, when I was hired for a recording session in Indiana, playing old-time Appalachian mountain music. And then, after college, I started attending folk festivals. That’s where I was introduced to the original definition of Americana. They were playing every style imaginable - bluegrass, Cajun, zydeco, country rock, and much more.”

SB: ….and all those different bands were sharing the same stage. I remember, at the end of the ‘80s and the first part of the ‘90s, there were a ton of musical hybrid bands with decidedly rural Americana roots coming into the national spotlight for the first time. Americana became the catch-all phrase, DJ-friendly moniker for every band that was pushing category boundaries. So who is your favorite artist, in the Americana realm, that you’ve seen play Petaluma?

LG: “Definitely, David Bromberg, when he played The Mystic.”

SB: Why?

LG: “He covers the broadest spectrum of my favorite blues, electric blues, and soul guitar styles.”

SB: I’ve noticed that the term, “Americana,” is getting used for more and more pop-oriented music. Why do you think that is?

LG: “A lot of those terms are marketing-driven. I don’t pay much attention to those divisions. I favor the Duke Ellington philosophy: ‘If it sounds good; it is good.’”

You can check out Sugar Moon’s concert schedule on the band’s Facebook page and by visiting its web site: www.sugarmoonswing.com/

(Sheldon Bermont is a longtime Petaluma musician. He can be reached by email at smb@sbermont writer.com.)