Keepers of the Flame
Everyone loves the musicians! They love the sexy and sultry singers telling a story put to rhythm, the killer-diller guitar players, soulful sax men and women, virtuoso boogie woogie, blues, and jazz piano players, funky electric bass players and cool upright players, and, of course, all those great drummers who have the unique ability to bring any other soloist to a breathtaking, ecstatic climax. And, for the most part, what all these musicians really care about is being able to go out and play, to practice their passion, express themselves in song, and hopefully receive a little recognition and appreciation for what they do. But without the truly dedicated individuals behind the scenes, who give these musicians a place to play, and promote their art so that others may know about it, they’d most likely just be playing in their own homes, for nobody but themselves.
As a professional musician in San Diego for the past 38 years myself, I would like to acknowledge two very special individuals, who I believe over the past decade or so, have been as responsible as anyone for giving blues, jazz, country, and rockabilly musicians a place to play and for promoting their art so that others can know about it, appreciate it, and support it. And with this, I raise a glass to RosaLea Schiavone of Wicked Harem Productions and Liz Abbott of the San Diego Troubadour.
I first became aware of RosaLea around ten years ago, when she was helping our friends Scottie Blinn and Roxanne Coverdale get gigs around San Diego with their new band Black Market III. One night during this time, my wife and I, and another couple, went to see Black Market at some dive bar in Oceanside, and RosaLea was working the door for them. She said there was a ten dollar cover, which I thought was pretty steep for this joint. Moreover, it was going to be 40 dollars for me, because there were four of us, and I thought I should also pay for our friends, since we pretty much dragged them along. For a split second I thought, “This is bullshit! Doesn’t RosaLea know who I am! Scottie probably wouldn’t even have a band if not for me!” (I don’t really believe this one iota!) But I didn’t want to make a scene or come off as some arrogant asshole, so I just paid the 40 dollars to hear our friends play one set in some dive bar.
Now, all these years later, I realize exactly what RosaLea was doing that night, She was looking out for the band! She was doing both what she was hired to do and what she passionately believed in. And now I know, without any doubt, that is what she always does: looks out for the band and does so with passion, conviction, and integrity every single time.
For many years (before the Pandemic), RosaLea established a formal relationship with Tio Leo’s in San Diego as their music booking agent and promoter. And thanks to her reign there, I’d venture to say that she’s probably responsible for giving at least half of the blues and rockabilly bands in San Diego at least half of their gigs over these years. Blue Largo, the Fremonts, the Mercedes Moore Band, Sue Palmer, Gino and the Lone Gunmen, the Sleepwalkers, the Sea Monks, and others have all held down steady residency gigs at Tio’s, thanks to RosaLea. She’s also promoted many special shows with touring bands such as Nikki Hill with Laura Chavez, Gunhild Carling from Sweden, the Rick Holmstrom Band, Carl Sonny Leyland with Chloe Feoranzo, the 44s, Kid Ramos, Lil A and the All Nighters, Dennis Jones, and the Crown City Bombers.
I also know for a fact that unlike most of the individuals who book music at local San Diego venues, RosaLea truly tries to book only artists she believes in, and who she believes deserve a platform to spread their musical message. I’ve heard her express her personal excitement about someone she’s booked on so many occasions, and it’s always been because of their music, never about their draw, which from my experience is almost unheard of these days. And she often does this at her own expense, since the bands she hires are guaranteed a certain minimum, which she, not Tio Leo’s, pays out of her own pocket if the door charge doesn’t cover that amount. Furthermore, I’ve witnessed this situation up close and personal when our band, Blue Largo, played Tio’s with the Rick Holmstrom Band and The 44s, respectively. In spite of both these shows being incredibly musical, soulful, and passionate, and featuring two of the most renowned guitar players in the world today, Rick and Johnny Main, the turnout was light, and RosaLea lost money on them. But I never heard her complain or try to negotiate with the band to take less because they didn’t have a big enough draw. In spite of her personal financial loss, I never heard her complain, but rather witnessed her being just as excited about the music, maybe more so, as she was when she first booked the show. Regardless of her own situation, I never saw RosaLea proceed with anything other than the same sense of professionalism and integrity that she exhibited that night when she was working the door for Black Market III at that dive in Oceanside, a decade ago. She’s always looking out for the band!
I don’t know Liz Abbott as well as I know RosaLea, nor have I known her for nearly as long. In fact, I was first introduced to Liz by my friend Tim Mattox, who writes for the Troubadour, only two years ago, at the San Diego Blues Festival. But I’ve known about the Troubadour itself since Liz, her husband, Kent, and two others, established it in 2001, and I always thought it was a super hip music rag! My earliest memories of the Troubadour are seeing it on the magazine rack at Gelato Vero on India Street and at Moze Guitar in La Mesa, two of my regular haunts in San Diego over the past three decades.
When Liz, along with three others, started the Troubadour it was primarily dedicated to bluegrass and folk music, which I admittedly don’t know much about or have a major interest in. But yet the publication always caught my eye and interest. Even if I wasn’t intimately familiar with whoever was on any given month’s cover, I was aware that this was a publication about roots music in San Diego, and that in and of itself gave me an appreciation for it, since whether it’s bluegrass, folk, country, blues or jazz, in my not so humble opinion, it’s all roots music, as opposed to pop, which is completely on the other side of the cultural spectrum.
I also thought the name “Troubadour” was such a great name for a music publication, even better than Rolling Stone! I love the concept of what a troubadour is and represents, and it’s a word that I both love seeing in print and hearing it roll off someone’s tongue. In fact, I recently wrote a song called “Soul Meeting” about my love for my wife, Alicia, and have a line in there that goes, “Bob Dylan was a poet from an earlier century, a roaming troubadour, singing love songs for you and me.” For me, it’s a romantic word, which conjures up traveling musicians from ancient Europe, to Woody Guthrie and Lightnin’ Hopkins.
Over the past several years Liz and company have expanded the Troubadour’s musical realm to include quite a bit of blues, which is my forte, and jazz, and I’ve been thrilled to see many of my friends and peers, such as Taryn Donath, Laura Chavez, Sue Palmer, and Steve Wilcox featured in their cover stories. Beyond Gelato Vero and Moze Guitars, I’ve been seeing the Troubadour at San Diego’s most popular blues venues like Tio Leo’s and Proud Mary’s, and it’s always cool to be out seeing someone play and picking up the latest issue to take home and read.
Since the pandemic hit, financial concerns forced Liz to cease printing the Troubadour in hard copy, but she has continued to publish it online, in beautiful color, each and every month. And the quality of the writing and artists featured is as strong as ever. They even put us, Blue Largo, on the cover of their August 2020 issue!
Liz has dedicated the past 20 years doing what she does, religiously and relentlessly, month after month, year after year, in order to give San Diego a quality publication that features and promotes local roots music, which has been an invaluable source for promoting such a multitude of our local musicians. The San Diego Troubadour was recognized by the San Diego Music Awards last year, in August, with a Business Industry Award. And like RosaLea, they ain’t getting rich from it! It’s all about the love and the passion!
In closing, I am personally as proud that San Diego has a genuine local roots music publication in the Troubadour, as I am proud that we have a real jazz and blues radio station in KSDS. It says a lot for our city! So thank you, Liz, for giving us that!
Note: Eric Lieberman submitted this article, unsolicited, right after the Pandemic hit and everything closed down. We appreciate the recognition from a musician’s point of view and are grateful to him for all the nice things he said. I have been sitting on it for awhile, waiting for the right moment to publish, and now the time has come. —Liz Abbott