By Julie Horner
Alabama 1989, maybe the early 90s – all he remembers is that the first Batman movie had just come out, the one with Jack Nicholson as The Joker. Robert Johnson, John Brown, and Johnny Winter were chilling on the tour bus parked out back, taking a break from recording in his mom’s home studio. These legends of electric blues had just let the then 12-year old guitarist jam with the big boys and now they were all shooting the bull on the bus waiting for the stripper to show up.
Until his mom found out and hauled him off the bus by his ear.
Fast forward a few years, this southern gentleman has taken Santa Cruz by storm, materializing out-of-the -blue with a prolific schedule hosting open mics and collaborative jams, maintaining a thriving online forum that brings local musicians together to tout their performances in a non-competitive atmosphere, and basically becoming the go-to for hooking musicians up with each other and with killer venues all over the county.
“The Shotgun Suitor” is the operative extension of this all-inclusive mindset. As of March 2015, Chas says he has played more than 230 shows in 365 days since coming to California. Sometimes solo, sometimes with one or more seasoned local musicians, you’ll hear everything from swamp rock and Delta blues to music that’s “southern-ish with a California vibe.” Sometimes, as guitarist Scott Polland puts it, “…it’s just straight-on right down the middle rock.
Shotgun Suitor is at its most soulful, gritty, earthy, country raw, and danceable as a quartet featuring four-part harmony with Chas Crowder (rhythm guitar, harmonica), Scott Polland (‘lectric guitar), David Clark (drums), and Diana Wells (standup and electric bass) singing unapologetic originals and covers with a twist.
The stars were lined up the day I walked over to Barry Tanner’s Boulder Creek studio to meet the band in person: It was Chas’ one-year anniversary in California. And yes, he had a show scheduled that evening at Joe’s Bar down the street to celebrate. The full band had converged at the studio to do some recording, and I was in the right place at the right time to have a quick sit-down with these busy players.
Chas started playing harmonica and then drums as a kid growing up in Alabama and began rubbing elbows with blues legends who influenced his playing and his persona early on. He joined his mom’s band in Memphis, Tennessee and, according to his online bio, went on to play over two thousand gigs with various bands in thirty-three states at over a thousand venues across the south, southeast and west coast.
He told me he met California bassist, Diana Wells on Craigslist and decided to cut bait and head west. He said after a pickup gig in Seligman, AZ, “I crossed the state line and never looked back.” That first night in Santa Cruz he played at Blue Lounge.
Chas has fallen into good company here in the Golden State. Diana is a member of the Sweet Adelines barbershop harmony organization and substitute bassist for The Killer Queens, an all-girl Queen Tribute band. She shares Chas’ tenacity and propensity to jump into challenges, “What can I do now that will scare the heck out of me!” She says they do a lot of things off the cuff on stage – with just a wink or a gesture she knows where to go; she watches Chas’ hands.
Scott “The Shredder” Polland slings the six-string for a number of local outfits including Squeeze Daddy and Funkranomicon while David Clarke is the mad dog on drums, balancing passion for family, surfing, and music while wielding an understated gift for turning a wicked phrase. Playing in the band, he says, is “so much fun it’s ridiculous!”
A couple of weeks ago Chas thanked his family and friends on Facebook for helping make his first year in California so rich. One friend wrote, “There could not be a person who has worked harder and stuck to their guns more, brother…your peers will be in awe of your tenacity where e’r you go…”
Chas’ mom added, “Here Here!!! People are always asking about u here and I tell ’em to check Facebook and I give the latest news…It has been a BIG year for you, indeed, with many more wonderful ones ahead….!!!”
Drummer Dave summed it up: “Chas, you’re an animal. Thank you for promoting all the local bands, music and events in S.C. County. You’ve done more for the local music scene than anyone else I can think of in recent memory. Now go get some sleep!”
Catch the Shotgun Suitor at the Felton Remembers Parade and Covered Bridge Festival on Saturday, May 23 2015 and all over SLV and Santa Cruz.
On Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ChasShotgunSuitor
(c) Julie Horner 2015 for the SLV Post
Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org