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Is San Diego a soulless city? Recently Seth Combs wrote an article bemoaning the lack of venues for R&B. DJ Claire joins the discussion with live music from Stevie and the Hi-Staxx.

November 14, 2011 1:24 p.m.

Is San Diego a soulless city? Recently Seth Combs wrote an article bemoaning the lack of venues for R&B. DJ Claire joins the discussion with live music from Stevie and the Hi-Staxx.

Related Story: Soulless In San Diego?


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS KPBS Midday Edition I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. There's great music happening in San Diego. If you love classical, indie rock, electronic music, even jazz, you can find shows and concerts galore. But if your tastes turn to rhythm and blues, soul music, you may have to really look around. Does this mean San Diego is soulless? Sometimes it may seem so, but my guests and the music we're about to hear say there's hope our soul can be redeemed. Before we talk about San Diego's rhythm and blues deficit, let's hear from one of our town's prominent R&B bands. Here's Stevie and the Hi-Staxx, and Pompeii.
(Audio Recording Played)

CAVANAUGH: That's live R&B music in San Diego on Midday Edition. That's Stevie and the Hi-Staxx performing Pompeii. Can you introduce you to you and all these great musicians, please?
PENNINGS: Certainly, certainly. On drums we have Jake Major, long history in San Diego playing folk music, from a family of funk and soul players in San Diego. Doctor Rick Nash, been playing in this town for long time. Mr. Tim Felchin.
CAVANAUGH: Keyboards.
STEVIE: I liked him. I liked him. Keyboards. My name is Stevie Harris, and thanks for having me. We're the Hi-Staxx
CAVANAUGH: I'm so glad that you're here. And I want to also welcome Seth Coombs is free plans arts and music writer, and DJ Claire spinning vinyl in the name of soul. Welcome to you both.
DJ CLAIRE: Thanks for having me.
COMBS: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Seth, you're the one who started this, you wrote an article in CityBeat, saying San Diego is the most soulless city you've ever been in. Explain yourself?
COMBS: I thought from time to time you were about to say I started soul music, and I was going to say, I assure you that I didn't. I'm yet to visit the rich cultural scenes of places like Omaha and Anchorage Alaska, but yes, that is an accurate quote. It deserves some explanation. It's not so much that San Diego is soulless in that we don't have people who don't play the music or a populace that doesn't appreciate T. San Diego is just packed with people who have moved here from Chicago and Detroit and New York. So you know they'd like to go out and see some soul music. I think the problem I was trying to dress in that column in CityBeat was not one of the scene but more of the lack of venues for bands like Stevie or another band to play at. And when they do, they seem to want, only, like, party music. You always think of that band in animal house, what were they called? Otis day and the knights. And they just want party bands. And that's grit. But I think is there a lot more room for smooth soul at nights and contemporary R&B acts and I just don't see that
CAVANAUGH: How does San Diego compare to the other cities you're comparing it with? What kind of venues would you find R&B music in, I know that you lived in Atlanta. That must be a huge town for soul music
COMBS: Right. We don't really compare. I think on any given night, if you were in a city like Atlanta or New Orleans or St. Louis, there are plenty of clubs where you can go listen to original R&B soul music, blues, where's whereas in San Diego, there seems to be an untapped market for it.
CAVANAUGH: DJ Claire, I want to get you in on this. What is your specialty as DJ?
DJ CLAIRE: I typically spend 60, '70s soul and funk, and all on vinyl records.
CAVANAUGH: Do you find there's a great deal of calling for this? Or do you have to really pick and choose your venues?
DJ CLAIRE: I have been playing in San Diego for over eight years, and I've been really fortunate. I think it's a supporterive scene. And people are receptive to soul music, and they tell me every time I play how much they enjoy the music I'm playing. And also this kind of sense of surprise. Like, wow, somebody is playing these records. And you're playing records. So yeah, I play at the whistle stop, at star light, Casbah, Bar Kink. There are supportive venues out there.
CAVANAUGH: Let's -- let me just tell everyone that you kind of look like somebody who would be more into indie rock than rhythm and blues. You're really young and kind of hip looking.
DJ CLAIRE: Thank you Maureen!
CAVANAUGH: That's all right! But where did you first get into R&B music?
DJ CLAIRE: As my kid, my molwould listen to oldies radio up in the bay area, KSFO was on all the time in the house and the car, and she was born in the early 50s. So grew up in the 60s, really loves motown, and a lot of soul music.
CAVANAUGH: So you inherited it?
DJ CLAIRE: I did. I was a child of the '80s, but I definitely grew up listening to the music of the '60s and '70s, as well as the 80s and beyond
COMBS: I could definitely relate to that.
CAVANAUGH: Stevie, let me go to the source here. How difficult is it for you to book venues to play the music you want to play?
STEVIE: It's not impossible, but it's definitely not easy. I really think that bar pink stands out as a home for soul and funk and Rand B. Stevie and the Hi-Staxx have had a residence there. The fire eaters are playing there, starting their residence dependency. Bar pink has really put their money out. They pay all these bands for these gigs. They put their money out and give us a spot to do it and play every week, and explore it and make a scene and a home for soul and funk music in San Diego. I definitely want to thank bar pink for that.
CAVANAUGH: Seth is right. There may be some people listening to our program that don't really know what R&B music is. Don't really know what soul music is. Can you give us a kind of a primmer on what differentiates maybe a riff as would be flayed by a jazz musician as opposed an R&B musician?
STEVIE: Okay. One of my favorite songs is not for me, jay jazz standard.
(Audio Recording Played)
That's definitely a jazz standard we all know and recognize. That's jazz. If I was going to play this R&B, you know, which is a form of the blues, sophisticated, I would play it -- make the cords minor, and slow it down a little bit. And make it more bluesy, you know?
(Audio Played)
You know? It's like
CAVANAUGH: Yeah! I think we can hear the difference.
STEVIE: I wrote something down before I came. And --
COMBS: I wrote something down before I came, and I think that was the perfect example. Jazz is more contemplative, it's more for the mind, at least in my opinion. And R&B and soul, it's for the heart. And if you're lucky, the body.
CAVANAUGH: You make make a distinction, Seth, and you make a distinction, and you say there is a call for R&B bands like the one that played in animal house. And you make a distinction between those bands or at least those concerts and bands and musicians who are actually writing R&B music
COMBS: Right.
CAVANAUGH: That they're performing.
COMBS: Right. It's an important distinction to make. Stevie's great, they play original music. The Hi-Staxx are great of the there's a lot of bands in town who are -- an example is a gentleman named Rodney Hubbard who I sort of used as an example in my article. Great soul singer, been around the scene for years. And doesn't really have a whole lot to show for it. He has been in a number of bands and it just -- it's hard for him to book venues outside of, you know, wine bars and stuff. And even below he does play those venues, they want him to do cover songs. They don't want him to do original songs. And it's -- it's a complaint that I hear from a lot of different musicians and singers, that most venues just want those party acts
CAVANAUGH: We heard about bar pink, Stevie was talking about. You also talk about the whistle stop in your article. Tell us about that
COMBS: Yeah, there's -- Claire mentioned some, and Stevie mentioned some. Of the whistle stop in south park has been doing some great showcases. And they starteda I night called sleep walking with a DJ, Jeff graves. And if you want
Proof that this kind of night can do well, go there on a Wednesday night. And there's just people out the door, lining up for this sleep walking night. It's billed as low-rider oldies with a mix of soul and R&B. But the place is packed. I go to any show with DJ Claire. There's a DJ in time name -- he changes his name every week. It's rattio rad stark. Grand master rad. He goes by a lot of different names. But he spins a lot of records in la puerta on Thursday nights. And if I may, I started from the reaction that I got from this article to put my money where my mouth is, and I'm starting -- I've been working with the Lincoln room recently in downtown, and I'm starting a new night on the 30 Thursday of the month. The first 1 will be this inside with Stevie and the Hi-Staxx
COMBS: And DJ mice and kings spinning, and it's going to be called super soul night. We're going to have the fire eaters and Jeff graves in December. And we're going to keep going on with it
CAVANAUGH: We want to hear from Stevie and the Hi-Staxx again. They're going to play us out. Going back to the premmes of why are article, obviously when people in San Diego hear this music, they love it. So why is it -- why hasn't it caught fire, do you think, like other forms of music?
COMBS: As I mentioned, it might be a reluctancy from the venues to book more of these acts or they just don't want know about them. I have talked to a few venues about doing nights like this, and a lot of them -- and this is really sad to say, especially in this new progressive era that we live in, they're afraid of attracting the wrong element. Of
COMBS: And I'm not going to quote anybody. But they still see it as sort of an urban genre. That it will attract, like a certain crowd or whatever. And if you actually go to some of these nights, if you come down like I said, this Thursday or you go to a show at the Casbah where they're having those kinds of nights, you'll see that people want this.
CAVANAUGH: That's positive horrifying and must be stamped out. Stevie and the Hi-Staxx are going to be playing another tune. What is the name of this one?
STEVIE: This tune is before I was love loving you, you know? Love something, love somebody, love yourself. Thanks for having us.