Swing Dance Lessons in Sonoma every Wednesday Night!
Rossi’s 1906 (www.rossis1906.com) in El Verano, partnering with Sonoma County Dance Beat (www.socodancebeat.com), hosts swing dance lessons with live dance music every Wednesday night at the Grove St. dancehall.
The Lone Star Retrobates is a boot-scootin’ wingtips-flyin’ dance band specializing in authentic West Coast Swing. If Jazz is America’s musical taproot, then this roadhouse-swing fusion is its west-facing branch.
Featuring trumpet, sax, twin fiddles, both standard and pedal steel guitars, drums and standup bass, rich four- and five-part vocal harmonies and even trick yodeling on demand, the Retrobates sashay from hot swing to honkytonk. Let’s say Ella and The Inkspots were to gig with Billy Jack Wills at the corner of Louis Jordan and Ray Price, and say Johnny Mercer and the Pied Pipers were sitting in — that’s the Retrobates in a nutshell. Oh, and with laughing gas piped in — these guys have a lot of fun.
The Retrobates show pleases all comers: retro-roots for the youth, jump-boogie for the hipsters, classic swing with new arrangements for granddad, and good tight original arrangements and vocal harmony for the many musicians who like to drop by and sit in on their shows. If they are not zootin’ it they’ll like as not be rootin’-tootin’ it or sliding easy-like into a belt buckle polisher.
With a freshly retooled show featuring a kicking all-star horn section — each horn man a bandleader in his own right — the Retrobates are making a stir in the Bay Area alt-country and retro-roots scene, with bragging rights on singer-songwriter Emily Bonn, swing veteran Mylos “Boogie” Sonka and big-band vocalist Ray Green.
In addition to fronting their own groups, Retrobates alumni have been band members or recorded with Wills brothers Billy Jack and Bob, Tex Beneke, Jimmie Rivers, Alvino Rey, Junior Brown, Freddie Martin, Ray Price, Bill Monroe, The Neville Brothers, The Sky Blue Band, Louis Bellson, Kinky Friedman, Frank Wakefield, The San Francisco Starlight Orchestra, Dan Hicks, the Hot Club of San Francisco, Lavay Smith, Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums, and many, many others.
They’ve made many radio and TV appearances, and have been featured at many west coast shindigs, including the Western Regional and the Northwest Regional Folklife Festivals, the San Diego and San Francisco Folk Festivals, the Grass Valley Bluegrass Festival and the California State Fair. They played a seven-year engagement at Paul’s Saloon in San Francisco. Then for 6½ years they circled up the wagons monthly at Marin’s premiere hotspot, the 19 Broadway Niteclub in Fairfax. They recently did a six-month engagement at the historic 23 Club in Brisbane. For the past three years they have been packing the dancers into the scenic Presidio Yacht Club near Sausalito, playing second Sunday afternoons monthly. They also currently appear regularly at Rancho Nicasio in West Marin County.
Mylos “Boogie” Sonka, the Retrobates trail boss, plays both steel and standard guitars, as well as the fiddle and tiple. He sings all vocal parts, though seldom at once. He has been an ace fancy yodeler since the tragic barbed-wire high jump accident. His main interest is western swing music, though back in the day he performed with bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, toured up and down the West Coast with The Frank Wakefield Band, and co-founded High Country. He played with the jump vocal swing group On the Air over the years, and these days he’s also chopping Freddie Green-style rhythm guitar with the 17-piece Ray Simpson Big Band. He was recently inducted into the Western Swing Hall of Fame.
Emily “Zee Zee” Bonn leads her own band, Emily Bonn and the Vivants, and met the Retrobates backstage when they shared billing at a festival. They got to jamming and soon discovered she wanted to sing more swing and the Retrobates wanted her in their big-band-style harmony mix. Emily honed her original songs from busking in San Francisco BART stations to touring Europe in 2010 with The Vivants. She now makes frequent appearances in Bay Area clubs and festivals. As a featured vocalist with the Lone Star Retrobates, she finds inspiration from such pre-rock legends as Bob Wills, The Boswell Sisters and Louis Jordan.
“Fiddle” Ray Landsberg, our musical professor, is a pint-sized saddle pal with ten gallons of talent. He has played with many well-known jazz and country artists. In the jazz field these have included Bart Bales, Dick Oxtot, Barbara Lashley, and Norma Teagarden. In country: Pat Cloud, Rhythm on the Range, and Fred Maddox. He also produced and appeared on the Melissa Collard CD, Time Changes Everything. Ray’s fiddling has been influenced by Bob Wills and Louis Armstrong. His deadpan humor, often impossible to detect, is featured on Mal Sharpe’s comedy record, The Meaning of Life, on Rhino Records. He is not on a record with Norton Buffalo but met him once. Recently Ray has recorded with Paul Mehling’s Hot Club of San Francisco, Dan Hicks, the Monogram Boys, and the San Francisco Starlight Orchestra.
John Tuttle moved west to California in the 1970s. He is an award-winning songwriter and brings an array of talents to the Retrobates: he is a solid four-to-the-floor rhythm man and he knows his way around big-band style swing vocal harmony—and he switch hits on accordion or boogie-woogie piano as required. John can frequently be heard playing around northern California and Nevada with the Quake City Jug Band (www.quakecityjugband.com). His previous associations include The Jazz City Singers, The Les Moore Band, and Little Mo.
Multi-instrumentalist Dale Alstrom has had his arrangements and compositions performed by numerous symphony orchestras, vocal ensembles and swing, jazz and rock bands. He has played with numerous big bands, including Freddie Martin, Alvino Rey, Ray Price and his Cherokee Cowboys, Tex Beneke, Louis Bellson and Walt Tolleson as well as spending a number of years playing and singing with various lounge groups in the Reno/Las Vegas circuit and Hawaii. He has played for many name acts such as Bob Hope, Jack Benny and Steve Allen. A bandleader in his own right, he is known by many as “Fairfax Sax”, and has lead Dale Alstrom’s Jazz Society for over 30 years. Dale and his ensemble can frequently be heard with his daughter Erika Alstrom, a well-known Bay Area jazz singer.
Ray “Idaho Slim” Green on trumpet and vocals. Ray has headed up his own outfit, the Ray Green Band, for the past ten years. He performs regularly as a big band vocalist with the Ray Simpson Band, and channels Louis Jordan equally well.
Drummer Peter David Lind has played with Lowell Fulsom, the Coasters, Slim Gaillard, Jimmy Witherspoon, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, John Allair (of Van Morrison’s band), Gene and Eunice, and Dee Clark, to name but a few. He has recorded a number of CDs with John Allair, a jazz album with Randy Quan (Booker T. & the MG’s guitarist), the “Out of this World” album with Art Rosch, and the Amy Threadmill album.
James “Li’l Jimmy” Touzel is a freelance bassist, clarinetist, songwriter, vocalist and sound engineer. For the past 10 years, he has been a mainstay in the Bay Area’s traditional American music scene, specializing in bluegrass, country, western swing, dixieland, jazz, and rockabilly. In addition to numerous music and film recordings on the upright bass fiddle, electric bass guitar, and clarinet, “Li’l Jimmy” has toured coast-to-coast at home in the US, as well as Canada, Central America, Russia and Western Europe. He has performed with noted groups such as the Stylistics, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, Danielle Howle, Jackie Gore, and The Tams. He currently performs regularly with The Earl Brothers and Emily Bonn and the Vivants. And now Retrobates drummer Pete Lind, guitarist John Tuttle and Jimmy have put together a dream team of swing—the most shoe leather-slapping kick-ass rhythm section you’ll likely ever dance to.
The Rhythm Guitar Rotation: Originally Kevin, our take-off guitar man, covered rhythm guitar, but when he soloed, Fiddle Ray and Mylos would have to cover the job with cheesy fake rhythm chops on fiddle and steel. Several top-notch archtop rhythm guitar players, doubtless horrified, started asking to sit in, so it has evolved into a seat held down variously by Bob Wilson (who once recorded with Merle Travis), Bill DeKuiper (Swing Shift, On the Air, Hot House Swing Band, and others), Don Burnham (band leader of Lost Weekend Western Swing Band), and occasionally Dick Wilson (who once recorded with Duane Eddy), or our own genius webmaster-photographer Victor Landweber (website). You just never know. And Kevin? He’s happier than a gopher in soft dirt because he gets to do more fills behind the vocals and join in on riffs with the horn section.
The first Hump Day Jump class was held on Wednesday, August 5, 2015. Kevin and Ann Hutchinson, of Sonoma County Dance Beat, will be teaching beginning East Coast Swing on even months. Edna & Dick, long-time dance teachers from Santa Rosa, will teach beginning West Coast Swing on odd months. The Rossi’s team is very excited to be partnering with Sonoma County Dance Beat to bring the excitement of the dancehall to more people, and to share their great food and fresh house-made cocktails. There is a full bar available all night (if you need a little liquid courage to hit the dance floor) and dinner service will be available throughout the night until 9:30pm.
Here’s what local dancer, Becky Bass, had to say when she got Sonoma County Dance Beat’s news:
“Great news, you two! We LOVE the set up at Rossi’s, and we’re so glad you’re helping them make the most of their space! We’ve been going almost every Thursday night, so we’ll be excited to add Wednesdays to the mix! Wonderful! See you on the dance floor! ”
Hump Day Jump will be geared to beginners, costs $10 and no partner is required.
The format is as follows:
7:00 PM Beginning instruction – very basic
7:30 PM Live dance music for practicing
8:15 PM Refresher lesson with extra moves
8:45 PM Band plays until 10:00 PM