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Citizen Staff Writer


Mark Insley hangs his hat in `Tucson’

Mark Insley knew he was taking a chance when he titled his new Rustic Records CD “Tucson.”

“I know people must figure it’s a CD of mariachi music or something,” he says, laughing.

And while he met and married a Tucson woman and moved to Tucson during the making of this album, of which all the photos in the booklet were taken here, that isn’t why the first single and album got its name. The song, about a failed relationship, begins, “I remember once you told me/I was in your head like a drug/Said you had to go to detox/Just to try to escape my love,” and the chorus says, “Maybe I’ll just go to Tucson/Albuquerque’s nice this time of year/Maybe I can make even lose some/of these blues in between somewhere.”

“I don’t write using any kind of formula,” he says. “I don’t have any kind of goal to be a staff writer somewhere, `OK, today I’m gonna write a love song.’

“Most of the songs I write have been during some kind of major upheaval and turmoil in my life,” the affable Insley says, munching on Mexican food in South Tucson recently. “Most of them have been written in the middle of the night, when I haven’t been sleeping, and it’s a sound that I’ve tried to capture on the recordings, too.”

One of Insley’s heroes is country music legend Merle Haggard.

“I only have to listen to a Merle Haggard song to know how far I have to go in the songwriting business.”

Kansas-born Insley grew up a toy gun belt-toting, cowboy hat-wearing Midwestern boy with stints in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. His musical leanings took him to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s to play bluegrass?!?!

“We were either 20 years ahead or behind of our time,” Insley says of his former group, Luke & the Drifters. “We languished for years. It’s hard to get arrested being a bluegrass musician in L.A.”

To confuse things even more, there wasn’t a Luke in the whole bunch.

“People would walk up to us and say, `Hey, Luke!’ And, depending on why they were saying that, anyone could have been Luke,” Insley recalls. “Is it a husband who’s upset? That’s Luke over there! Is it a pretty girl? Luke, that’s me!”

Luke & the Drifters recorded one album, but the label folded right after the release.

“We don’t even know who owns the masters now,” Insley says.

Over the next few years, Insley’s music evolved into the country/rock/roots hybrid known as Americana. In 1996, he released a solo album, “Good Country Junk,” which was produced by Taras Prodaniuk, a longtime member of Dwight Yoakam’s band, and featured such prominent southern California musicians as Skip Edwards, Scott Joss (also with Yoakam’s band) and Albert Lee. Pete Anderson, Yoakam’s mentor, even sat in for a song. It was recorded in producer/engineer Dusty Wakeman’s (Dwight Yoakam, Jim Lauderdale, Buck Owens) Mad Dog Studios in Venice, Calif.

It was through an association with Craig Shumaker of the North by Northwest music festival that Insley began to record demos for “Tucson.” The label most interested was Rustic, a Phoenix-based company run by Mark’s big brother, Dave.

“And in the interim, I met my wife,” Insley says. Mark and Fonda, who were married last year, met at Che’s Lounge on Fourth Avenue.

Insley says his wife tolerates most of the vagabond lifestyle that she married into. Except, perhaps, his addiction to CMT.

“I am a CMT junkie,” he says proudly. “She hates that. She can’t wait till I go back on the road so she doesn’t have to watch that stuff.”

And what are Insley’s goals?

“Superstardom, baby!” he says, folding his arms behind his head and laughing.

“No, really, my goal is to convert the entire population of the world to my music. And I’m doing it two and three people at a time. Sometimes up to 50 on a good night.”

Shea’s music covers variety of genres

Independent doesn’t just describe Rick Shea’s status as a recording artist. It also very much describes his attitude toward the kind of music he plays; it’s music that’s labeled Americana, sometimes called roots, but embraces everything from bluegrass to Mexican to country to rock to Western music.

Case in point: His newest CD on the Wagon Wheel Records, “Sawbones.” The album begins with Shea’s searing guitar – which over the years has earned him fame backing such alt.country acts as Dave Alvin and Chris Gaffney – introduces the first cut, a rocking “Black-Eyed Girl.” Immediately following is the Mexican-flavored “Magdalena,” inspired by an old legend about ghostly goings-on at the mission at San Juan Capistrano.

And so it goes, from the mandolin-strong “Lonesome Cannonball” and “Deep Within the Wall” to the Western-tinged “A Bend in the River” to the CD’s bluesy title cut “Sawbones,” and Southern rockish “Camellia.” Shea wrote or co-wrote 12 of the album’s 13 cuts (the exception being Don Wayne and Bill Anderson’s “Saginaw Michigan”).

“I kinda feel like albums should start off with something that grabs you,” Shea says, reached at his Los Angeles home recently. “Beyond that, I just try and think about each song and how it transitions from one to the other, where is a good place for it. I don’t think beyond that.”

The great range in styles comes from Shea’s approach to songwriting, which is casual.

“When I write songs, they just tend to turn out in whatever musical bag that they’re in,” he says. “It’s not something that I think about.”

Songwriting isn’t something that came naturally to Shea.

“I worked at it. I probably would have been content singing other people’s songs. It was a long time before I realized that there were career limitations to that. I’ve worked at writing songs from a fairly early age, but I didn’t feel like I had any worth keeping, worth recording until my late 20s or early 30s.”

Shea, who grew up in southern California, has been part of L.A.’s alt.country/Americana scene for the past two decades, but he sees thriving music communities wherever he goes.

“There are good music scenes between Phoenix and Tucson,” he notes. “Some real interesting bands making real interesting music are all over the place. All over the country, in fact, Chicago, North Carolina, Austin, anywhere where there’s enough places to play to start to develop some kind of regional sound. In the Southwest, there’s usually a pretty fair amount of influence from Mexican music. You get a lot of that stuff in Arizona and Southern California.”

Shea has seen fellow musicians migrate from the L.A. scene to Austin and Nashville, but being from southern California – as well as his wife, Susie, whose family goes two or three generations back in the area – has made him determined to stay in the Southwest.

“It just feels more like home than anywhere else.”

Shea’s musical influences include Jimmie Rodgers, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. You can detect the Bakersfield sound in some of Shea’s songs, but it never goes as far as strict imitation.

The turn of events at this year’s Grammy nominations – in which such old-time stars as Johnny Cash and Ralph Stanley outnumber the Tim McGraws – isn’t an occurrence that shocks someone like Shea. Traditional country music may have been elbowed out of most commercial radio, but community stations such as Tucson’s KXCI still cater to the fans, he stresses.

“I’m out there every night I go out on tour, and I see the audience for this kind of music,” he says. “I know the audience is there.”

• A.J. Flick

if you go

What: Rick Shea, Mark Insley, Rosie Flores, Trophy Husbands in concert.

When: Jan. 26 from 9:30-12:45 p.m.

Where: Plush, 340 E. Sixth St.

How much: $7.

Details: 798-1298.

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