Front Porch

Doktor Dave Sawyer Enriched San Diego’s Music Coverage

Doktor Dave Sawyer


Dave with the late Hot Rod Harris


Dave with Chelsea Flor


Dave and photographer Dan Chusid


Dave with Ronnie Graciano and Brenda Banneton


Dave with Liz Abbott after winning a Taylor guitar at the Troubadour 10th anniversary party raffle in 2011.


Dave with Alan Land and Jeffrey Joe Morin


Dave with Marie Haddad

Dave Sawyer— given the musical moniker “Doktor” by no less than [the late] Hot Rod Harris—is leaving San Diego for the sometimes greener, sometimes whiter, and occasionally brilliant-with-color pastures of northern Idaho.

Family is a powerful force, and Dave has the kind of heart that responds most strongly to sympathetic vibrations— and so he is leaving a town he loves for an even stronger affinity.

Dave’s affable presence has graced many a stage in our town through the years, his unerring sense of rhythm and taste contributed to many a band.

What may not be known is Dave’s extraordinary influence on musical coverage in San Diego in the latter half of the 2000 decade.

The North County Times, the now-defunct 85,000-circulation daily that covered parts north of Miramar to Camp Pendleton on the coast and nearly March Air Base along the 15 corridor, was looking to beef up its arts coverage to better compete against the San Diego and Riverside dailies. It was just over a decade ago that I was pulled off the website desk and given the assignment of covering the burgeoning local music scene.

San Diego in 2006 was positively bursting with original homegrown music— not just the acoustic folk, blues, jazz, and country-inflected styles that Troubadour covers so well, but hip-hop, rap, hard rock, alternative, hardcore, metal, screamo. Just about any style you could think of had its own significant orbit in San Diego.

If the fulfillment of a lifelong dream— to write about music for my primary living!—it was also a bewildering challenge to try to figure out where to begin. We created a MySpace page for the NCT music section, and began friending every local musician and band we could identify.

Shortly after starting my new assignment, I was at the Belly Up one evening— I can’t remember who I was there to see, but I recognized Dave from his MySpace photos. I introduced myself and asked him who I should know. Dave spent the next couple of hours taking me around the different parts of the BUT, introducing me to anyone and everyone. It was a blur, but I remember meeting singer Chelsea Flor and promoter / superfan Debra Siegelman. A few nights later at Lestat’s, I ran into the three of them again. Kept picking their brains. Had them tell me I needed to check out the Hot Java Café if I wanted to really cover the local acoustic scene.

That, of course, led to Hot Rod Harris, and then to Steph Johnson and Kim DiVine and Cathryn Beeks and Steven Ybarra and Regina Dawn and Michael Tiernan and Brenda Xu and Josh Damigo and Sara Petite and the literally hundreds of local artists we profiled in the North County Times over the next five years, running one or more interviews nearly every week.

It was a gas, documenting an important time in San Diego’s artistic life and Doktor Dave was consistently my guide: making introductions, suggesting I listen to this person or that, that I check this band out or cluing me into a new venue, making sure bands sent me their latest demo or their debut, or just their latest album. During that run, local bands knew there was one local newspaper that would at least spin their disc and give it a listen—and if it was promising, write up an interview.

When my wife and I held a housewarming party at our new place in Escondido a year later, Dave showed up, guitar in hand. On our back patio, he joined Jeffrey Joe Morin and the greatly missed Larry Robinson for an impromptu acoustic jam. It was, I believe, the first time Jeffrey Joe and Larry had played together—but Dave having played with both of them through the years provided a complementary vibe that made it all just click instantly. (That night was also tragic, though, as it was the night we lost Craig Yerkes.)

As the recession ground on and the NCT’s corporate owners demanded staff cutbacks, I found myself trying to cover music while also supervising our religion, science, military and books coverage, as well as writing the daily editorial for the opinion page each day. About five years ago, the paper was sold to the Union-Tribune—and I found myself on a new career path.

But whatever good we did in covering the local music scene (and I like to think it gave a lot of local musicians the coverage the attention they so richly deserved) was due in large part to the gentle guidance of Doktor Dave Sawyer.

Fair winds, friend, and we’ll see you down the road.

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