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July 2024
Vol. 23, No. 10

Featured Stories

Watson, Beldock & Beach: Eclectic Modern Folk and Blues… Probably

by J.T. MoringApril 2024

The Here and Now

Peggy Watson, Dave Beldock, Paul Beach.

If you’re driving through the back streets of Leucadia and you know where you’re going, you can snug your vehicle in beneath a low hanging tree (no sidewalks in these old beach neighborhoods!) and make your way through the leaves and birdsong to Peggy Watson’s house. That’s where the music happens. Sometimes it’s house concerts, but today it’s band practice, and we get to attend a session with Peggy, David Beldock, and Paul Beach as they prepare for their next concert on April 6 in Carlsbad.

The back room has seating scattered about, a high ceiling with lots of art, wood, and windows. The original painting for the A Good Life CD cover hangs on the wall. There’s a patio out one side and a big shady pine tree in the back, leaving lots of room for your imagination to fill in what sort of fairy world you might find if you head down that path. But we’re staying inside today and focusing on the music.

Paul has his big five-string bass running through a small amp. Peggy and David face each other on armless chairs. David’s fingers constantly explore his acoustic guitar neck between songs; Peggy puts aside her Guild unless she’s laying down one of her clean, flowing, finger-picked accompaniments. There’s a little digital recorder on the table to capture any ideas that might need to be revisited later. And the ideas are flowing!

There’s this one song that needs an ending. It’s fascinating to me to watch it evolve from a “song” to a “finished song” over a quarter hour. David has the lyrics, the basic melody, and the main guitar riff. Peggy knows her harmony part. The blend in the room is sweet. Should there be a third harmony? David shrugs; try and see how it sounds. How much movement in the bass? Paul tries a few things until it clicks. How many times to repeat? When do the harmonies drop out? Is there a pause? A tag? Decisions are made by consensus with little to no discussion. It’s more a case of “yeah, that worked!” Each iteration is more elegant than the last, until the last time, when everyone seems to recognize that the song has reached its potential. David checks the recorder to make sure it’s there for future reference. It reminded me of the back-and-forth captured on the old Jerry Garcia/David Grisman recordings: talented, enthusiastic friends sitting around the mic playing what makes them happy, trusting, and inspiring each other, not worrying too much about whether anyone else is going to like it.

You can listen to that last take here:

David notes this is their “favorite place to play.” Peggy agrees. They have a regular weekly session here. Though life keeps trying to pull them in other directions, the trio is the prime musical focus for each of them. A couple times a year they’ll do a house concert here, squeezing in 40 fans, maybe 50 if they overflow onto the patio. The room was designed and built as a music room, and the natural reverb is heavenly.

As we describe below, they’ve each been a lot of places and seen a lot of things, musically speaking. At this point, chasing fame and money is not high on anyone’s priority list. Creating and crafting beautiful songs is the thing. They’ve found an excellent vehicle for that in the band and are making the most of it. To fulfill its destiny, a song must be shared, via recording and performing. Each of those offers its own satisfaction, but I get the feeling that the biggest payoff for these folks is in the creative process happening today.

Then and There
Beldock, Watson & Beach is about ten years old, though the exact date of formation is lost in the mist. They do agree their first gig was the release party for A Good Life at the Swedenborgian Hall in 2015—one of its last, as that venue closed in early 2016. (The band recalls that gig being at the Swedenborgian Hall. Shared experiences and humor are two things that glue a group together.)

Peggy and David had been collaborating since the late 1990s, releasing an album together in 2007, though they continued other musical activities. David and Paul go back even further, from when Paul was a stand-up bass player for Bordertown (featuring David, CiCi Artemesia, Dan Conner, Glenn Goodwin, and Randy Renner). David and Paul, with Joe Rathburn and Roger Friend, also briefly conspired in The Wombats.

The Lineup
David, Peggy and Paul are emerging from the Pandemic Years at the peak (so far) of their creative output. They have each had more than average success in the music industry. They’ve invited long-time friend, collaborator, and shining star Deborah Liv Johnson down out of the desert to join them in their next concert.

Peggy Watson. Photo by Dennis Andersen.

Peggy Watson has gotten a lot of attention for her music, including a Troubadour cover story [add link] in 2009. She is a favorite of George Varga, music writer the San Diego Union-Tribune, who raves about her “purity of tone, pinpoint control, and glorious range….” That voice is the first thing that catches your attention, but the words of her songs are equally gratifying.

Anything is fair game for subject matter, but scenes from her life with emotional content and powerful current events are perennial themes. She is engaged in social causes (which these days spill over into the political realm) and that shows up in her music.

For example, “Walk with the Wind” distills John Lewis’ message of determination into a four minute song.

There’s so much to do, but we’re not alone
Simple human compassion will bring us home
Standing up for what we believe
Will keep the flame burning, let us all breathe

And love, love lives forever
We’ll do this together
Walk with the wind

 —“Walk With the Wind,” Peggy Watson & David Beldock

Peggy strives for a connection with her audience in all her songs, but for the social ones she hopes to inspire a feeling that will prompt the listener to take action. Making the world better through music.

Dave Beldock

David Beldock shares much of Peggy’s songwriting sensibility. He’s got plenty of romanticism, his own share of activism and a bit more quirky humor. (This is the guy who wrote “Clone,” which in my book is the perfect novelty song, with its bizarre—but relatable—storyline, brilliant musicianship, and plot twist payoff. He’s also the guy with a prototype song about a peculiar haunted submarine that so far has not made it past Peggy’s adamant veto. I wonder what would happen if they got a request for that on stage? Hmmm.) David also has a Troubadour cover story [add link].

One of David’s roles is to take a song idea that’s wrapped in the primary colors of folk chords, and mix in those jazzy tints and hues that makes the music sparkle. “It’s never been as easy to write songs as it is with Peggy; I really appreciate that,” says David.

My father was a wealthy man, but not a strong believer
Who didn’t like religion much, and didn’t like mom either
Now I got all their money, though I wasn’t fond of neither
They said the best friend you could have was one that you could own
And so I bought a clone

—“Clone,” David Beldock

Paul Beach rounds out the crew. Peggy and David share writing credits on all the songs, but it’s apparent that Paul’s contribution to the arrangements is crucial to their identity. “I’m here to serve the song,” he says, be that with a steady pulse, snaky fill up the bass neck, or a third vocal harmony part.

Paul Beach

Paul has immaculate credentials, playing for years on the road five nights a week with the likes of the Association and Gary Puckett. He traces his musical roots to his mom (master of arts degree) and dad (PhD), and his early experience in boys’ choir. He shares David’s boyish (that sounds better than “immature,” doesn’t it?) humor; the two of them revel in an occasional fifth-grade joke and the resulting eye roll from Peggy.

Whereas Paul’s choice of musical endeavors was previously purely musicianship-oriented, now he places higher value in the companionship. Paul is right on board with the other two in their objectives of reaching their audience via the heart, and with the chance to uplift people in the process.

Deborah Liv Johnson will be joining David, Peggy, and Paul for their April 6 show as an equal partner. Peggy says, “Debbie and I have been best friends since 1981.” They first crossed paths at Leucadia’s Old Time Café and have remained friends (continuously) and collaborators (off and on) ever since. Peggy notes that Deborah was “one of the most famous folk singers around” San Diego before moving to the desert in 2004, a one-woman machine with tons of record sales, national tours, and impressive opening-act credits. David also holds Deborah in high regard. “She is very good on stage, man, she does this thing, and you’re interested.”

Deborah Liv Johnson

Deborah continued her recording in the Coachella Valley, but it took a back seat to her magazine editing career. Then came COVID, which hit Deborah hard. But now, with her day job retirement looming, “I’m ready to get back to creative things.” No better way to do that than with long time comrades in front of loving fans in the great acoustics of the Pilgrim Church.

Selected Discography
Wherever We Roam, Watson, Beldock & Beach 2023
Dreaming,  Watson, Beldock & Beach 2020
A View from There, David Beldock 2018
A Good Life, Peggy Watson 2015
Desert Moon, Deborah Liv Johnson 2008
Just Like You & Me, Beldock & Watson 2007
In the Company of Birds, Peggy Watson 2006
The Good and Bad of It, Deborah Liv Johnson 2002
Wild Grace, Peggy Watson 2001
A View from Here, David Beldock 1999
A Thousand Wishes, Peggy Watson 1998
Orion’s Skies, Peggy Watson 1995
Knee Deep, Peggy Watson 1992

Diary of a Song
Let’s follow a song from the time it was nothing to the time it made its way across the airwaves…

At the height of the pandemic, Peggy felt inundated by the anti-science sentiment seeping through society. She penned some lyrics and put them to a simple folky tune and called it “I Like Science.” It was true and topical and cute, but she found it musically boring. She took it to David, hoping they could find some interesting rhythm and do something completely unexpected with it. David came up with a quirky riff to anchor the song, which in turn inspired a jazzy vocal melody. Then came a bridge, Paul added his parts, and David came back with some harmonies and vocal flourishes. They refined the lyrics, and the song was ready for the studio. There, Dave Blackburn (producer of the album Wherever We Roam) added the “perfect percussion” on doumbek. You can listen here. Later, the group found their way onto the PBS game show Says You! (watch here), where there was talk of making it the theme song. And where Phil Procotor (of the Firesign Theater) “laughed in all the right places.”

Would you let a banker take out your kidney
Or maybe a blogger to do your brain surgery
How about a talk show host to treat your cancer
There’s an obvious answer

—“I Like Science,” Peggy Watson and David Beldock


COVID deprived the group of their performing momentum, and they’re considering how much of that they’re interested in getting back. They’re playing fewer gigs, but writing more songs, songs that are richer with their years of collaboration. But it’s hard to give up the satisfaction of audience connection. And a song is not complete until a listener takes it in and gives it a home. They enjoy playing the occasional house concert, library show, or Heroes Wood-Fired Pizza, and make it onto the Folk Heritage stage once a year or so.

“We do want our songs to be heard,” says Peggy. So they’re trying to balance that with the realities of the modern music scene. None of them wants to be webmaster or social media maven or brand ambassador, but those are roles expected by today’s world. Paul notes, “We have more control, but more responsibility. Music dies on the vine lacking skills to promote it.”

So they’ve built a new EPK (electronic press kit). Trying to define their sound. “Eclectic modern folk and blues … probably?” offers Peggy. “We play what we like!” answers David, more succinctly if less specifically. They’re looking at winery gigs. They’re navigating their way through the complicated world of college radio submissions. And they’re having fun in that sunny wooden room, making bad jokes and honing beautiful songs to share with you.

Peggy says, “We’ve got a … faithful following. That gives me joy.” Thanks, Peggy, the feeling is mutual!

Don’t Miss This
Watson, Beldock & Beach with Deborah Liv Johnson
Saturday, April 6, 7:30, Pilgrim United Church of Christ
2020 Chestnut Ave, Carlsbad 92008

Presented by San Diego Folk Heritage
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