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Media Life: Leigh Stephens records new homage to rock-guitar instrumentals

Gunned-down Auburn paper pioneer’s marker now in place in Visalia
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Media Life columnist
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Reach Media Life’s Gus Thomson at (530) 852-0232 or gust@goldcountrymedia.com. You can catch Thomson tweeting at A_J_Media_Life or talking at 6 p.m. most Fridays on Dave Rosenthal’s KAHI 950 AM drive-time radio show. Thomson also is a regular guest on Capitol Public Radio’s “Insight” show.

 

 

 

Auburn resident Leigh Stephens has returned to the studio and emerged with a new recording that moves the music further forward – and further away from the Blue Cheer mystique – while tapping into some different directions with some new and old musical friends.
“A Rocket Down Falcon Street” is an instrumental nod to some of Stephens’ own electric guitar heroes – twang king Duane Eddy, distortion pioneer Link Wray and proto-surf player Dick Dale, for starters. They’re all guitarists who carved out their own niche in the early 1960s as Stephens was developing his own chops.
Stephens moves comfortably through a variety of styles for an instrumental CD that plays homage to influential axmen. There’s even a nod to Santo & Johnny, with a rendering of “Sleepwalk.”
One of the more emotionally-charged collaborations on “A Rocket Down Falcon Street” is the addition of saxophone player Johnny Colla to the song “Wild Blue Mavericks.”
Colla, a founding member and continuing presence in Huey Lewis & The News, had the memory tucked away for years of listening in on a rehearsal while Stephens was still a rising musician in a local band – far away from “Summertime Blues” fame in nascent-metal trio Blue Cheer and a ranking by Rolling Stone magazine a few years back in its Top 100 guitar players pantheon.
Colla recently let Stephens know about the inspiration he had provided in the 1960s to delve more deeply into music. Colla went on to help write some of the biggest hits of the 1980s, including “Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “The Power of Love,” and “If This is It.”
And he paid back some of that initial inspiration from observing that rehearsal nearly 50 years ago by adding some signature saxophone licks on the new Stephens CD.
Stephens also welcomes aboard Pete Sears for a reunion of sorts of their late 1960s collaboration as members of Silver Metre. A keyboard and bass player best known for his work with Rod Stewart and the Jefferson Starship, Sears dropped by Auburn several months back with Bay Area band Moonalice.
Auburn’s Eric Chun brings his multi-instrumental skills to “Main Theme and Calvera”, while Melissa Olsen, “Bald Head Fred” Rautman and George Michalski also contribute to “A Rocket Down Falcon Street.”
Song samples and purchase information are now cued up at leighstephens.net.

 

Monument now in place

Media Life readers learned last month about efforts in Tulare County to provide a marker for a recently rediscovered gravesite of pioneering Auburn newspaper editor John Shannon, husband of California's first woman poet, Eulalie. We're pleased to follow up on the column snippet with the good news that the marker is now resting in place at the Visalia Cemetery.

Cemetery employee Ron Greenlee gets the credit for using old burial records to locate the grave site. Tulare County history writer Terry Ommen receives points for inspiring him. Greenlee got going on the site search after reading about Shannon's bloody 1860 slaying. The new marker, including a photo of Shannon, was put in place in early March. Greenlee, a history buff, quarterbacked the work, collaborating with a local grave-marker maker. In Auburn, Shannon was editor of the short-lived Auburn Placer Democrat in 1854. At the same time, his wife Mary Eulalie Shannon had her volume “Buds Blossoms and Leaves” published in Cincinnati.

 

Reach Media Life’s Gus Thomson at (530) 852-0232 or gust@goldcountrymedia.com. You can catch Thomson tweeting at A_J_Media_Life or talking at 6 p.m. most Fridays on Dave Rosenthal’s KAHI 950 AM drive-time radio show. Thomson also is a regular guest on Capitol Public Radio’s “Insight” show.