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May 2024
Vol. 23, No. 8

Featured Stories

Dave Preston Seizes the Day

by Emily BartellJune 2021

Dave Preston. Photo by Nadja Boyd.

Preston with his current group, the Grownups.

Preston on pedal steel.

Preston with 3 Chord Justice (Jeff Houck, Mark Markowitz, Liz Grace, Cheryl and Dave Preston).

Preston and his wife, Cheryl.

Someday, someone might ask you… how did you stay connected to your music during the pandemic? For many, the pandemic came with a mindset of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty; feeling closed off from opportunities to expand their craft. In the case of Dave Preston, however, it allowed him to become super focused, drawing inspiration during troubling times. Knowing that this moment in time, as all moments, are temporary, yet always shaping us, it gave him the space to “hibernate into his sound and work his craft.”
Certainly, reminders of life’s lessons and accumulated experience provided Dave with a strong clarity of purpose and core for introspection. Combine that with a learned trust from which to draw, he trusts that the music will reveal itself with instinctive honesty in the whirl of the universe. “Music has always been such a sane place for me. The world is such a crazy place that music is just a sanctuary, clears my head, gives me reason and purpose.”
So how did Dave come to this place in time where, while the world became confined and faced with uncertainty, he was able to dominate. Undoubtably, this son of a preacher man and pianist mom, born in Kentucky and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, had his first exposure to music through hymns. “I can’t say that I have followed in their footsteps, religiously speaking that is, but the music stuck, that’s for sure. I still love those old hymns.” But it was grandad who truly introduced him into the worldly scope of music. “Grandfather gave me a transistor radio and I carried that thing everywhere I went, and when I went to sleep it was under my pillow, listening to all kinds and styles of music but mostly the pop and rock music of the day, early ’60s, which would have been the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, etc.” Starting out on piano, Dave was basically self-taught, though his mother initially started teaching him to play the piano. With his mom as his teacher, Dave soon rebelled and begged for a guitar. But with a piano in the home, mom and dad saw no need for any other instrument.
Eventually, at age 13, he saved up his own money, working a couple jobs that enabled him to purchase the instrument of his choosing: the guitar. Working as a paperboy, several shops in town soon saw an exceptionally reliable young man and was hired by several of them to keep things clean and organized at their stores. So, early on he developed a strong work ethic and made it happen. He got himself an electric guitar and started playing. Soon he was forming bands with his high school buddies.
There was one incredibly significant day, while up at Camel Back Mountain in Phoenix, that at 17, was a “life changer” for him. Very simply, he was getting out of his car and heard new music coming out from inside one of the other cars. It was Led Zeppelin’s first album, and it just blew him away. “It was a miracle of an album!” Then country rock started to happen, and he became enamored with it. Following bands like Poco and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the transition into country was a no brainer. Rebelling against his granddad, Dave did not want to go into the printing business. He sure thought about being a rock star, though. “I love gigging and doing what I want to do.” Sorry, granddad! Eventually high school ended, and he married his high school sweetheart. Both very young, she broke his heart and, well… lucky for us, he started writing songs.
Inspired by creative artists like John Prine, Jackson Browne (“especially the early albums”), James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, and, of course, Tom Waits, his ear gravitates toward the singer-songwriters. “People who wrote their own songs was something that always attracted my attention.” In the beginning Dave would write only instrumental music, emphasizing finger picking. With time and accumulated experience, the music evolved, creating works that confront solitude and the demons that brought him forward while presenting a soft understanding of tomorrow’s dreams yet clinging to the day with all its joy and sorrow. His genre is a little hard to pin down, having tastes that cross into different categories. “For the most part I’d call it folk, country, Americana, but as with so many musicians we get restless and drive across town every now and again.”
Dave Preston loves the work and the time he puts into his music. “Writing music for me is not a chore, it’s just something I do. I don’t really work hard at it; it just seems to be there for me. That doesn’t mean they’re all gems, but I haven’t ever experienced writer’s block or anything like that. If I decide to sit down and write, something is usually there.” Take for instance “Rising Sun Over Shanghai,” one of the songs from his newest album, Lost and Found, which was inspired by Anchee Min, author of Red Azalea, the memoir of her life during Mao’s cultural revolution. Something about her touched him so much so that one night he came home and just started meandering at the piano. He did not think he was doing anything but soon realized he could make something out of it. Leaning toward a Tom Waits style and flavor, it features guest artist trumpeter Teagen Taylor.
A sample of Dave Preston’s music.
His music and emotional journey would take him to places like Juneau, Alaska; Seattle; Portland; and San Francisco, where his journey of self-discovery would mature, and life experience would develop until—finally settling into San Diego…”
Beginning in 1983, with his second wife, they would start gigging around town as a duo, playing at several venues but very soon after they put a band together called Dina Preston & Chaser. Within a short time they became popular, playing all the established clubs of the ’80s like Leo’s Little Bit of Country, the Mustang, the Kentucky Stud, Circle D Coral, Country Bumpkin, Don’s East, Flynn Springs Inn, Mission Inn, and Valley Center Inn. Next, they got signed to tour the rodeo circuit and took off on the road for a little over a year. Along the way, disheartened by the abrupt ending of his second marriage, Dave found himself in a place where he felt that he had to put the music aside. “The band broke up and I went back to Phoenix for about a year.”
Working as a draftsman, his long-held work ethic brought success. But not the kind that fulfilled his soul. Sitting outside on some steps strumming his guitar, the morning after being offered a lucrative promotion, Dave’s defining moment came. In that moment, he found clarity in respect to his life path… he realized he was a musician and needed to get back to it! Not wanting to waste another moment, he quickly contacted the office, thanked them, gave notice, and he was off.
Soon afterward, now back in San Diego, Dave switched from playing guitar to bass and began working in local bands that he already knew from playing clubs in town. Bands like Lorraine Anderson & Silverado, Kathleen Just & Just Reward, Patrick Trampus and the Saddletramps, Big River, and Rick Robledo and the Working Cowboy Band. Then there was a band with Jim Allen called Rocket Rodeo. A longtime friend and member of his current project, Alex Watts was also in the band. Finally, he joined Three Chord Justice with Liz Grace, Mark Markowitz, and guitarist Jeff Houck. Winning the Big Country Showdown at Viejas in 2010, they went on to being one of the most booked country acts in San Diego for the next decade.
It was during these years that Dave met the love of his life, his wife, Cheryl Jackson Preston. As humble and unassuming as she is, little did Dave know that she could sing, but when he mentioned the band was looking for a backup vocalist, she stepped up, providing a solid harmony vocal and ended up a permanent member of the band until Liz and Mark moved to Oklahoma, which gave Dave the motivation to develop and front his own band: Dave Preston & the Grownups.
Created as the pandemic became a world crisis, Dave Preston & the Grownups’ first album, Lost and Found, has already found acclaim, being nominated in the Best Americana or Country Albu” category for the San Diego Music Awards.
Coming full circle, it seems life has provided Dave a good balance in work and music. Recognizing stability for its place, Dave is the owner of a successful print company called T Shirt Factory in Oceanside and with Cheryl, raising their daughter, Rachel who is a talented musician in her own right, playing violin.
During the pandemic music has not been an escape, but more of a reminder that life did not end when the pandemic began, that it is here, now, in all its glorious color, offering inspiration during troubling times.

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