Petaluma couple finds harmony in music
There aren’t many musical groups in the North Bay who have been playing for as many years as Petaluma-based Solid Air. And few groups maintain such an active performing schedule as singer-guitarist Allegra Broughton and bassist Sam Page.
Broughton and Page are the nucleus of the group, which sometimes expands to a four-piece band. Since it formed in the early 1980s, Solid Air has earned a devoted regional following, recorded eight CDs and garnered praise from music critics for its blend of folk-rock, Americana, roots rock ’n’ roll and world music. A ninth CD is planned for release next year.
“Our original music has always been the focus of Solid Air,” said Broughton, who collaborates with Page when writing songs.
Page first saw Broughton perform as a solo act in Cotati in 1982.
“I thought I’d like to work with her someday,” he recalled.
Broughton, who was looking for someone to play with as a duo or a group, later saw Page performing with a band in Mill Valley.
“It was gorgeous music,” she said. “Eventually, we met and started playing together and the rest is history.”
Page, who had also been seeking new musical ventures, said he saw the “possibility of something beautiful.”
Their musical connection blossomed into something more: the couple has now been married for more than 30 years.
“We started out being tagged the local ‘Joni and Jaco,’” said Broughton, referring to introspective singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell and bass player Jaco Pastorius. “Joni is the reason I started writing songs. When I heard her, it was like a light bulb turned on.”
When Solid Air expands to a quartet, they are joined by lead guitarist Steve Barbieri and either Rick Cutler or Vic Carberry on percussion.
The couple also plays in two other bands: The Wild Catahoulas, a Cajun/zydeco dance band, and Laughing Gravy, which plays American roots music and has recorded a CD titled “A Tribute to Gram Parsons.”
Sonoma County music maven Doug Jayne, a member of Laughing Gravy, owner of the Last Record Store and Jackalope Records and host of a music program on KRCB-FM, said he’s honored to share the stage with the duo.
“I’m the luckiest guy in the world that I’m allowed to be in a band with them,” he said. “They are world-class players, whereas it’s more like a hobby with me.”
He recalled seeing Broughton playing solo in the early 1980s.
“I was smitten, not only by how lovely her singing was, but by the great songs that she played: covers and originals,” he said.
Page, who also plays baritone slide guitar, has performed with Elvin Bishop, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Norton Buffalo and others. Over the years, Solid Air has opened many shows at Petaluma’s Mystic Theatre for Dan Hicks, Loudon Wainwright III, Jesse Colin Young and others.
The group’s eight CDs are on the indie labels Globe Records and Jackalope Records, although they were courted by larger record labels. The late singer-songwriter John Stewart (at one time a member of the Kingston Trio) was a mentor who tried to get them signed to his record label before it was discontinued.
Solid Air’s recordings have gotten airplay around the world, including places like Belgium, Wales and Serbia.
Their most recent recording was a beatnik/gospel version of Norman Greenbaum’s 1969 classic, “Spirit in the Sky.” It was included in the “Sonoma County Covers Project,” a two-disc CD of songs written by various Sonoma County songwriters and performed by other county musicians as a benefit for KRCB-FM.
Broughton said that Solid Air’s musical evolution has been influenced by artists such as Nanci Griffith, Tracy Chapman, Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention. Music critics have likened their sound to Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, Lucinda Williams, Richard & Linda Thompson and 10,000 Maniacs.
Both musicians feel that Sonoma County has a wealth of musical talent.
“This county is super-friendly to artists – musicians, visual artists and writers,” Broughton said. “There are a lot of great musicians here and it’s a real community. You don’t feel isolated.”
The couple appreciates the fact that more performance venues have emerged in the past four decades.
“When we got started, it was a desert as far as places to play,” said Page.
Broughton recalled that there were so few coffeehouses and acoustic music-friendly venues that they would put on their own concerts at Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma and the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station.
One thing hasn’t changed, though.
“Being a musician always means that you’re a moving company,” said Broughton. “You’re always bringing your own equipment to gigs.”
But the reward is an appreciative audience.
“I want people to feel good when we’re playing for them,” said Page. “Without an audience, it’s just playing in a vacuum.”
(Chris Samson is the former editor of the Argus-Courier. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)