California Feetwarmers return to Perch and the Gorbals
By Bliss Bowen 05/08/2014
Next time you spot a band busking on the street, bend an ear their way and listen. They might surprise you.
California Feetwarmers, now regularly playing in clubs across Los Angeles, started out as just another band busking on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. At the time, guitarist/vocalist Jeff Moran, banjoist Patrick Morrison and washboard player Carlos Reynoso were playing with Captain Jeff and the Musical Chumbuckets. After they befriended horn players from the Petrovic Blasting Company, they discovered their mutual passion for early 20th-century jazz and ragtime and started playing together.
“In the early days of [the Feetwarmers], four of us would just busk at Third Street almost every day for months,” Morrison explains. “That was a big part of us learning songs and developing our sound and not starving [laughs]. That was late 2012, early 2013, like September maybe ’til February.”
As they stepped up from the curb to the stage at clubs like Joe’s Great American Bar & Grill, Sassafras, Seven Grand and the Gorbals (where they perform every Thursday), they were embraced by the swing dance community, which will not only turn out to hear them on a weeknight but also dress up for the occasion. Their fans include old-time musician Frank Fairfield; Phil Alvin, who sang on their self-titled album debut last year; and Keb’ Mo’, who invited them to play on his new album “BluesAmericana.”
“It was pretty random,” Morrison says, recalling how the Feetwarmers popped up on the blues artist’s radar. “He saw us at a birthday party we were playing at. At the time he was working on this track [“Old Me Better”]; he wanted something different for it and he heard us and thought we would be good. So he hired us to do our thing. He just sent us the track, we put our stuff on it ourselves, then we sent it back and he liked it.”
In addition to Morrison, Moran and Reynoso, the Feetwarmers include tuba player Brandon Armstrong, trumpeter Charles De Castro, clarinetist Joshua Kaufman, drummer Dominique Rodriguez and trombonist Justin Rubenstein. Despite varying musical backgrounds — Petrovic Blasting Company’s Eastern European Balkan music vs. the Chumbuckets’ Western swing — they’re bonded by the joy they feel in the music, and the freedom it gives them to solo and improvise. Joy is the key element; their sets buzz with vitality and an infectious sense of fun that transcends their music’s historical origins.
“We’re not like a museum piece,” Morrison says. “We’re really a dance band, playing for dancers. That’s what we do.”
California Feetwarmers wrap up their residency at Perch, 448 S. Hill St., downtown Los Angeles, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday; call (213) 802-1770 for champagne brunch details. They also perform at the Gorbals, 216 5th St., downtown LA, 10:30 p.m.-1 a.m. every Thursday; call (213) 488-3408 for info. californiafeetwarmers.com, perchla.com, thegorbalsla.com