Bringing on the Night – Wred Horse & The NightDrivers

By Julie Horner

I remember my first night in the new house. A posse of friends had formed a convoy of pickups, vans, and passenger cars packed to the headliners with worldly possessions, and we hogged Highway 9 from Ben Lomond to Boulder Creek at half speed for the better part of that Saturday in June several years ago.

At the end of the day, we cracked some cold Sierras and collapsed into the patio furniture, askew as we had unloaded it and pointing roughly eastward among drifts of stuff, enjoying with exhausted sighs alpenglow in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The evening stars were just coming on.

The night suddenly came alive with the seemingly far-off wail of an electric guitar, the sound charging the then unfamiliar neighborhood with a current of electricity. Only a few blocks from downtown, the forest suddenly had an unmistakable pulse, throbbing and very welcome. I thought we were hearing the band at the local bar. It took a couple of evenings spent outside enjoying the awakening summer in the new environs to realize it was our neighbor practicing in his studio a couple of doors down.

Steve “Mac” McCampbell owns the guitar. I told him I love how his practicing electrifies my evenings. He said, “I don’t consider that I practice, I just play. Musicians get better when they play…it’s some kind of discipline…”

“I have guitars that I play at gigs that get me a certain tone I like. Fender and Gibson have the tones, the essence of it.” For a change, he takes the Gretsch out once in a while. “You hear that sound and you know it’s going to be a good night!”

Steve and his band, Wred Horse, are local fixtures, playing familiar venues throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains. “Joe’s seems like our stable,” he said. Steve and Woody Bell (rhythm guitar, vocals) formed the band in 2007 and they got the name from Woody’s Harley with its red gas tank. “A wise old Indian gave Woody that handle, so there’s pedigree.”

Together with Marvin Labri on bass and Sam Sotelo on drums, “We keep together because we can and it’s fun.” Steve gets to play tunes he really likes, covers that people are familiar with. “If the delivery is good it will pull people in” Rockabilly is very popular, he says, “It’s hard to stay still when you hear it.”

The NightDrivers are a brand new blues rock effort that started last spring and features top notch musicians who have all played in many Bay Area bands. Steve said he gets to play more improvisational instrumentals, “which are really fun to do.” Picture Robin Ford (“he’s my hero”) and Paul Butterfield’s “Screamin.” The NightDrivers are Steve Mac (guitar, vocals), Boulder Creek’s Mike Pupo (vocals, drums), Mark Howe (rhythm and lead guitar), and Tom Fidele (bass).

Steve spent his childhood in Palo Alto but has been in Boulder Creek since about 1987. “It’s like another country over there…great place to grow up, it’s different, you can’t recreate it…it was a time and a place and things change.”

He remembers the last phone booth on Bear Creek Road. “You get that far out there and you have to become self-sufficient,” he said.

With two indoor cats and a mini apple orchard in the front yard and an off-road bicycle that he rides all over the valley to burn off the occasional pilsner indulgence, he says, “I like BC as much now as ever, it hasn’t changed all that much. I think most people live here by choice. It’s a place where the adults stay and the kids leave.”

Steve has no plans to leave. “It’s open ended but Boulder Creek…it’s a good place to be. It’s kind of easy to get lost in the calamity of a small town.”

Catch The NightDrivers at Joe’s on Saturday, September 26 and at Henfling’s on November 28 and December 19.

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(c) Julie Horner September 2015

Originally written for and published in the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin.

Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. Email: