Local music legend leaving Petaluma
Sometime in the next few days, musician Peter Welker will pack up his car and start the long drive to Arizona, where he will begin a new life after residing in Petaluma for nearly a half century.
Welker, a composer, arranger, band leader and trumpet player, will subsequently add a new title to his resume — college professor.
A Petaluma resident since 1972, Welker is arguably the town’s best-known and most accomplished musician. Primarily a jazz player, he is equally adept at rock ’n’ roll, R&B and other genres. He has been a member and founder of several bands and has recorded multiple CDs over the last 40 years.
Welker and his wife, Carole, had hoped to move to Arizona earlier this year, but the pandemic put their plans on hold and delayed their ability to sell their house.
“We’d been thinking about moving for a while because Carole has several family members who live in the Glendale and Peoria area (suburbs of Phoenix),” Welker said. “And it’s gotten a little too expensive to live in California.”
In anticipation of the move, Welker reached out to the deans of six different colleges in the Phoenix area inquiring about a faculty teaching position.
“They asked, ‘Well, you have at least a master’s degree, don’t you?’” A graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Welker admitted that he did not have a graduate degree and had never taught music at the college level. “But I’m a ‘Road Scholar,’” he said, referring to his many years of touring, composing, arranging and recording.
After reviewing Welker’s impressive resume, the deans at all of the colleges called him back. He had six interviews scheduled in May, but had to postpone them due to the pandemic.
However, once he gets settled in Arizona, he has set his sights on a position as adjunct professor of music at Grand Canyon College in Phoenix.
“It’s a beautiful campus with a state-of-the-art auditorium,” he said. “I’m pretty excited about it, but I’m also a little nervous about moving at my age.”
It won’t be the first time that Welker, 78, has relocated to a new state. A native of Massachusetts, Welker boarded a Greyhound bus in 1962 and headed to San Francisco.
“I was a little intimidated by the prospect of trying to make it as a musician in New York or Europe,” he explained.
He wound up in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and soon put together the house band at the Jazz Workshop in North Beach.
“I had a three-horn sextet that played there every Monday night for four years,” he notes. His sextet played at concerts and festivals around the Bay Area for five years.
In 1967, Welker discovered rock ’n’ roll, opening up a new world of musical possibilities, including Latin, funk and fusion. Within a year, he was playing in a four-horn funk band called Rush. After that band broke up, he was invited to join Cold Blood, a popular East Bay R&B group.
While playing with Cold Blood in the early 1970s, Welker played a few shows with drummer Buddy Miles’ band.
“He was putting together a new band and asked me to do the arranging,” he said. But commuting from San Francisco to Miles’ house in Novato every day became problematic, so in 1972 he moved to Petaluma.
Between 1967 and 1980, Welker played with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Van Morrison, Jerry Garcia, Malo, Jesse Colin Young and Joe Walker. In 1981, he formed WBBH, a jazz-funk-soul group that recorded one album. In the mid-1990s, he played on a CD produced by Bob Dylan, “The Music of Jimmie Rodgers: A Tribute,” and a CD produced by Garcia and David Grisman, “Not for Kids Only.”
In 1989, his 13-month-old son, Jacob, was diagnosed with leukemia and died four years later. Welker, who had put his musical career on hold to focus on his son’s health, spent the next year writing and re-learning to play the trumpet. He then produced and recorded “Para Peachy,” an album dedicated to Jacob and featuring musician friends who had gotten to know the boy.
He arranged, produced and recorded two more jazz CDs, “Paradise is Awfully Nice” (2002) and “Duke, Billy and Tadd” (2006), that were picked up by 33rd Street Records and were distributed and received airplay worldwide.
His latest project is the Sidemen, and the ebullient Welker is as excited about the group as anything he’s ever done. The Sidemen are a six-member jazz-funk-Latin group whose debut CD features six multi-Grammy winning musicians.
“It’s the best band I’ve ever put together,” Welker enthused.
Besides Welker, members of the Sidemen are drummer Todd Tribble, guitarist Morris Acevedo, bassist Cliff Hugo, saxophonist Steve Steinberg and keyboard player Ruben Valtierra. Welker and Tribble co-produced the CD. Guest musicians who appear on the recording include saxophonist Tom Scott (L.A. Express), singer Bill Champlin (Sons of Champlin), guitarist Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs and Deep Purple), bassist Tony Levin (King Crimson and Peter Gabriel), keyboardist Pete Levin (Miles Davis and Bob Dylan) and keyboardist Dave Matthews (Santana).