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May 2024
Vol. 23, No. 8

Cover Story

ANDREW CRANE: A Life in Art and Music

by Wayne RikerOctober 2023

Andrew Crane. Photo by Julia Hall McMahon.

A San Diego native since moving from Elkhart, Indiana at age three, Andrew Crane has had a full-life adventure in the world of music and art. A 1989 graduate from Serra High (now Canyon Hills High), he grew up in the Tierrasanta community. “They call it the island in the hills for a reason,” Crane recalled, “because back in the early ’70s it was isolated, with just a stop light and a two-lane road leading there. It was an idyllic neighborhood, nestled in between canyons, a cool place to grow up in.”

Crane’s musical journey began with piano lessons at age 10. “I didn’t enjoy it very much and didn’t have the patience for it, so I became disenchanted with it. Then I tried trombone,” he continued, “when my dad, who played some trombone, gave it to me when I was in fifth grade. The mouthpiece was so big that it covered my nose, and I couldn’t reach the arm of it, so after six months I gave it up.” After that Crane’s mom bought him an electric guitar with a Fender amp. “I played it for a few months, but it didn’t really ignite anything in me,” he quipped.

What was to become Crane’s main instrument happened when he was 17. A friend handed him a bass guitar that he said he wasn’t using anymore. “I put it in my hands,” Crane gleefully recalled, “and something magic happened and I couldn’t put it down.” Crane’s first band included his brother Jason on drums. “Jason is a fantastic drummer. We played at a couple of coffee shops, mainly at Java Joe’s in Poway,” he recalled. “After that, I joined the band Natchez Fire and that’s when I really started to fall in love with the blues.”

After graduating high school, Crane attended Chico State University to study art, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. “It was a neat place to attend college, a beautiful town,” he reminisced. Although mainly self-taught and learning by ear, he did take some bass lessons from Felipe Godine in Chico. His most significant band there was called Sunset Red, along with fellow San Diegan and lead vocalist Tom Addison. “We put out three albums and did a lot of touring throughout Northern California, including opening for Government Mule. We were probably best categorized as an alternative college rock band.”

Andrew with Chickenbone & the Biscuits. Photo by Nadja Boyd.

After graduating from Chico State, Crane moved to Seattle with his then girlfriend. “Seattle was the first place where I lived in my studio,” he recounted. “It was a big loft space in which I was making art seriously at all times.” He returned to Chico after less than a year’s stint in Seattle. Back in Chico Crane spent the next year establishing himself as an artist. “I helped renovate James Kuiper’s studio, my beloved professor who was a big influence on me, especially deepening my interest in Surrealism and Dadaism art styles.”

Crane’s passion for art stemmed from his early years. “My mom was an art major so I grew up drawing and painting all the time; art was always in my family.” His next move after Chico would be to the San Francisco Bay area with his aforementioned girlfriend. “She was attending UC Berkeley, and I got a job at the Braunstein/Quay Gallery in San Francisco,” he stated. “Ruth Braunstein had been an institution there in the Bay area for decades as a prominent art dealer,” he said. “I was humbled to be at that gallery, eyeball deep in the art world handling all these big artists’ portfolios.”

In 2000 Crane made the decision to move back to San Diego, where he started his own art-related business doing mainly faux finishes and murals, a 15-year run for which most of the time he took a hiatus from playing music. “I worked with a lot of interior designers here in San Diego doing a lot of fun projects—everything from Venetian plaster to wood graining. I had a lot of great clients working in some great homes.”


Crane was an open book as far as his journey from the perils of drug and alcohol addiction to recovery and sobriety. “As an early teen I had a lot of existential angst and little ambition and fell into a world of drugs and alcohol,” he reflected back on. “At home it got to a point where I was asked to leave the house. I wound up sleeping in canyons and couch surfing until I became sober at age 19. That lasted 12 years,” he continued, “before I relapsed over the next 16 years. At that point I had become an around-the-clock drinker, culminating in trips to the ER every three months,” he recalled. “I’ve now been sober for the past five years,” he summarized proudly.

During that period of sobriety Crane answered a CraigsList ad for a bass player, which was placed by Ron Houston for his group, the Sickstring Outlaws. Little did they both know at the time that they would have much in common. Houston shared his thoughts on their mutual dealings with addiction and recovery. “I played with Andy for quite a while. He’s one of the best bass players I’ve had the pleasure of playing with. He also was a huge part of my sobriety. He helped me get sober, and I can’t thank him enough for doing that!”

In recent years Crane has crept back into local music circles, initially as a regular participant at a weekly blues music jam at the Downtown Cafe in El Cajon. “So many there helped encourage me as I got back in the music scene, especially host Chet Cannon and bassist Frederick Lawson. It became my musical church every Sunday.”

Cannon remembers Crane’s musical devotion well. “Andrew is dedicated to his instrument, a 100-percent real cat. He knows where the proverbial pocket lives and brings it to the stage for every show. If you know him, you can’t help but like him.” Lawson seconded the motion. “Andy started showing up as a jammer, whom I saw had a passion for the bass. With his eagerness it was easy to carry on a conversation about music with him. He began picking my brain. He was definitely driven to become a good bassist. Now I have to laugh and pick his musical brain. I’m very happy he’s been able to travel the world because of his talent and also happy to call him a bass brother!”

Jam attendee, guitarist Nick Abadilla, waxed philosophically on Crane beyond his musical presence. “Andy has a quiet presence that attracts people to him, someone who’s thankful for what each day brings and finding the beauty in the ordinary. He listens intently and engages you in conversation. It’s always a pleasure to be in Andy’s light.”

Vanessa Collier Band with Andrew & Laura Chavez. Photo by Marilyn Stringer.

Top tier local bassists Kevin Cooper and Troy Sandow have also been mentors to Crane. “Troy took me under his wing, talking about the roll and pulse of the bass and how to connect the rhythm to the melody. Kevin has been a silent mentor to me. I love Kevin to death. I learned a lot by just watching him. He is the epitome of channeling love, warmth, and light from a source that comes out through his bass…I wanna be him when I grow up.”

Concurrently, Crane got calls from many working blues artists upon his return to the music scene as his name made the rounds as a first-call bass man, which included vocalists Michele Lundeen and Mercedes Moore. “I played a few gigs with Michele. She’s wonderful. A great group of musicians in her band, too—really warm and welcoming. Mercedes is awesome as well; I love playing in her band. She’s keeping a lot of important tributaries of the blues alive in her repertoire.” In addition, Crane got in the loop with guitarist Charles Burton’s band. “Love working with Charles, particularly in his trio format. It’s neat because it forces me to think differently as a bass player in terms of filling space and being mindful of where I’m placing notes.”


Crane with Fred Lawson. Photo by Nadja Boyd.

In 2021, Crane was recommended to join Vanessa Collier’s band by her guitarist Laura Chavez, a great opportunity with Collier touring the globe, showcasing her immense talent as a blues vocalist and saxophonist. “I’m eternally grateful that Laura had the trust in me and faith in me to extend my name to Vanessa. I was given a lot of time to learn the music and felt like it was right in my wheelhouse with lots of great grooves. Crane left the tour as of August 2023 but with a wealth of memories and experiences. “It was the chance of a lifetime with all the places we got to see abroad, a phenomenal two years. I’m forever grateful to Vanessa for giving me this opportunity.”

Crane’s road experience with Collier’s band gave him a particular insight into his soul. “I like to call the whole experience with Vanessa’s band as spiritual bootcamp, he fondly noted. “I learned a lot internally and spiritually, as it’s a lot to maintain your sense of humor between the hectic pace of car and plane travel and sleeping in one hotel after another and only two days at home in between tours. It gets draining, and you question yourself on how not to get pulled into negativity or complaining. I learned a lot as well, being in so many different countries and how people live, how people eat, and people’s different attitudes and world views…it was an amazing education and an internally rewarding experience.”

When talking about his father, Thomas Crane, he can’t help but to get a bit choked up. “My parents divorced when I was 12. Fortunately, they’ve always remained friends, which I’m forever grateful for,” he began. “I love my dad; I feel so lucky our souls got to meet. He’s been my hero, and we’re very close. He saved my life when he got me off the streets when I was homeless and helped me get back on my feet.”


Andrew & Robin Henkel at the weekly breakfast.

An established weekly meetup breakfast group of fellow musicians has been part of Crane’s routine amid many prominent local musos. “Being invited to the Romeos breaky was a privilege. Outside of my family and my recovery groups, I haven’t felt the warmth, support, and camaraderie from a group of dudes like that in a long time. They are each solid, stand-up guys with the best stories and lots of love.” One of the regulars is drummer Jake Najor, who has shared the stage with Crane in different musical settings. “Andy Crane is a great guy, fun to play music with, and a deep insightful cat.”

Currently Crane is fulfilling a new chapter in his life’s journey: he is enrolled in a two-and-a-half-week course at the Academy of Advanced Cosmetics in Alpharetta, Georgia. “I’ll be learning how to do lips, eye liner, and brows although I really want to learn the paramedical side of permanent makeup in helping to restore dignity to people.” In the meantime, Crane has a new love in his life, Bebesh Brandon. “She’s incredible with a heart of gold, especially with her work as an animal rescuer. When I met her, it was immediate, passionate, and real. She really is the light of my life and I love her dearly. I’m grateful that I get to participate with her in her rescue work called Scratch My Belly.”

Many of Crane’s musical cohorts weigh in about his work ethic, playing skills and personality. “Andrew is a bass player’s bass player,” exclaimed local bassist Omar Lopez. “He has a big sound, solid, with a deep pocket groove. He’s also very humble and cares about his craft. We’ve sat and had some conversations about bass theory in addition to life on the road and at home. I can only say good things about the guy…he has a big heart and is one of San Diego’s funky blues ambassadors. I’m proud to call him a friend.”

“Andy is a solid musician and an equally solid person,” said Tim Felton, keyboardist for the Sure Fire Soul Ensemble. “He leads with his bright smile and is constantly sharing his joy for life with both his musicality and personality.”

“Andy Crane’s bass feel is solid as a rock,” raved bassist Kevin Cooper. “His ability to effortlessly stay in the groove and play in the pocket has literally taken him all over the world and back. This coupled with him being just a great human being means the sky’s the limit.”

Photo by Julia Hall McMahon.

“Andy is one of the first musicians I started working with full time after the pandemic hit.” said drummer Marty Dodson. “We began to rehearse original songs for Chickenbone Slim’s band. He was ever present with ideas, conversation, musicianship, and humor. A quick study, he’s easily one of the best bass players I’ve ever worked with. He understands all sides of the groove and pocket. He’s crazy-good, versatile, inquisitive, and has impressive transparency when it comes to learning something that he does not feel already rooted in. He seems to be one of those people who is seriously good at what he does but doesn’t take himself too seriously. That’s a good balance in my book.” Crane’s musical respect for Dodson is mutual. “I love Marty. He’s responsible for helping me understand pulse as a bass player and how to stay in a tight pocket with a drummer…he’s one of the best blues drummers alive today.”

From guitar tech Andy Greenberg: “I built one of his bass guitars and have also set up and tweaked a few of his other instruments. He’s one of the sweetest guys around.”

Crane summed up his circuitous life’s journey with words of gratitude for the many people he has crossed paths with, especially in the local San Diego music community. “I just want to express my gratitude for all the amazing musicians that we have here in San Diego who have created a warm and friendly family-like environment. It’s definitely the biggest small town in the U.S.” In closing, Crane has packed in a little over half a century of myriad life experiences but takes heed in one of his favorite sayings from the Buddah: “When the Buddah was asked what our biggest mistake is?, the Buddah replied, ‘Thinking you have enough time!’ Crane then took a dramatic pause reflecting on his own life’s sojourn and what lies ahead for him, responding with a confident smile: “there’s a lot of truth to that!”

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