Back in the saddle
Jazzy cowboy-bluegrass-swing trio New West returns to Coffee Gallery Backstage Saturday
By Bliss Bowen 01/09/2014
Sometimes you can’t help but wonder what keeps bands hanging on through the years. Even those that appear successful are confronted with myriad financial, logistical and personnel challenges. For independent artists, those difficulties only multiply.
For New West frontman Mike Fleming, the critically acclaimed trio’s principal songwriter, it comes down to a visceral need: “Music gives voice to my soul.” Just as importantly, as he discovered when the band took a long hiatus after a demanding 2004 tour, he has more fun when he’s playing with bassist David Jackson and guitarist Raul Reynoso.
The musical chemistry between the three has been a compelling attraction for listeners since New West’s very first show at the Ice House in 1995. Fleming came from a folk-rock background, while Jackson was a highly respected country and rock sideman, and Reynoso a virtuoso bluegrass and gypsy-jazz guitarist. They found common ground in humor, a shared love of the American West and the music it’s inspired.
“There was synergy there,” Fleming recalls, “and it’s rare that you find that energy and synergy that we have. It’s pretty cool. When we got back together after that 2004 tour, it was as if we’d never stopped. It was even more fun.”
In 2004, they were still promoting their third album, 2001’s “Buckaroo Dream,” when they played 24 shows in 30 days — not an uncommon or overwhelming schedule for touring bands, which Fleming readily acknowledges. But road work raises tricky challenges when you’re dealing with mature professionals who are juggling various jobs and family commitments.
“That tour, I was going, ‘This is everything I wanted in my twenties,’ but it was just hard,” Fleming says. “Plus I had another job offer to become a supervisor in the city of Santa Clarita, so I went on and did that.” Occasionally gigs came their way, but Fleming stopped actively booking the band — until last year, after they all realized that they missed playing together. “When we were playing, we discovered we had more fun,” he says with a laugh. “I tell people the less we play, the better we get.”
They played about two dozen shows in 2013, and have a spate of performances lined up this month, including a Saturday matinee at the Coffee Gallery Backstage. More shows are in the offing, and they’re kicking around the idea of putting together a fourth album that would combine live performances with a handful of songs that they never got around to recording.
“When you’re trying to make a living at something it can be difficult, you can lose perspective,” Fleming says. “When [we] started New West again, it was for the joy of it.” n
New West returns to Coffee Gallery Backstage, 2029 N. Lake Ave., Altadena, at 3 p.m. Saturday; $15. Info/reservations: (626) 798-6236. cowboyband.com, coffeegallery.com