California Cowboys Again within the Saddle – Occasions-Herald
The California Cowboys have been together almost longer than Rosalyn and Jimmy Carter. Okay, maybe it just looks like this.
While the former president and his bride celebrated their 75th anniversary on July 9th, the Solano County country band has been doing their thing behind frontman RW Smith for 38 years. And in an industry the size of Texas – or at least Montana, infamous for egos – that’s an eternity. And, perhaps even more miraculously, with minimal personnel changes.
Bassist Bill Mooney was one of them while longtime Vallejoan left for a touring band in Southern California. Like a musical boomerang, however, the 63-year-old returned to the herd of cowboys when COVID-19 set its spurs into the country.
“All in all, we’re pretty good,” said Mooney on the phone on Monday, fresh from the River Rock Casino gig on Saturday and longing for a semi-private, semi-public gig that Saturday outdoors at the Pioneer Tap Room in Fairfield.
Mooney joined the California Cowboys in 1998 – “before the turn of the century,” he joked.
After six years, he jumped to the Do Wa Riders in LA, lured, admittedly, by paychecks.
It was a band that traveled a lot, across the country and up and down the east coast.
“It was pretty cool. Basically, I did it for the money, ”said Mooney, playing the opening of Pixar’s“ Cars ”and a handful of Disney-sponsored events, among other things.
“We did a lot of interesting things,” said Mooney.
After 13 years of street wear, he had the offer to start his own band – “Diablo Road” – in the officially iconic, but now COVID-shutdown Saddler Rack in San Jose. It was a glorious 13-year run, Mooney said.
“I’ve been home every night now, the money was good, and I didn’t have to bring any equipment,” said Mooney.
Out of the blue, Smith called him in March 2020. The cowboys needed a bass player. And Mooney was back. But not on stage. COVID hit and apart from a private pool party with the band on one side of the yard and the host family on the other, not much happened in 2020.
The phone slowly started ringing. And the California Cowboys have 40 dates on the books, Mooney said.
“Hopefully things will come back. We’ll see, ”he said.
Though Mooney states that “it’s a mercenary business,” Mooney acknowledges that the music void has changed attitudes for years.
“It’s funny being out of work for so long,” he said. “Before (the pandemic) there were concerts and you thought, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this’ or ‘It’s a long drive and the money is questionable’. Now it’s like: ‘We’ll do that. Book it.’ I no longer do things that I used to complain about. It’s just nice to play again. “
Vacavilles RW Smith, founder of the California Cowboys. (Courtesy photo)
Pandemic or not, Mooney believed the California cowboys would survive. Smith always made sure of that.
“I’d say it’s all about the quality of the product,” said Mooney. “We are basically filling the niche in the market. There aren’t hundreds of country bands in the Bay Area. If we were in Texas we would just be a different country band. It’s mostly R&B and blues and rock, stuff like that. There aren’t a lot of country bands. I think that’s part of it. And we are good musicians. “
Mooney is thrilled that the two upcoming local gigs – Saturday in the Pioneer Tap Room and September at Vacaville’s Creekwalk – are taking place outdoors.
“I feel a lot more comfortable when it’s outside,” during COVID, he said. “Even though everyone in the band has been vaccinated, you just feel a little safer. You never know what you’re going to be thrown into. “
Originally from New Mexico, Mooney put together a touring band that ended up doing a number of West Coast dates, including the high-profile, but long-defunct Talk of the Town in Vallejo.
With so many appearances in Northern California, Mooney decided to settle here “because Vallejo was the cheapest rental in the Bay Area. So it made sense. And our booking agent had an office in Fairfield. “
Fortunately, he says, the days of standing on a stage surrounded by chicken wire – it happened in Texas – or having a club owner selling cocaine for cash are seemingly over.
“Gigs are usually pretty good now,” he said.
Another flashback. It was West Virginia at the sound check.
“We played ‘Roxanne’ from the police. And this guy comes out of his office: ‘I don’t want to hear anything about this punk rock BS here!’ “
Mooney laughed. You can’t always make everyone happy, not even during the sound check.