If I could describe Marcus Leary in a word it would be “persistent.”
Whether it’s in promoting his music or in expressing his opinions, the 46-year-old country singer doesn’t hold back. Born in Compton, raised in Arvin, and currently residing in Dallas, Leary learned from a very early age, outside the home, what it was like to be the outsider — at least at first.
“For me,” Leary said, “being black and being raised in Arvin that is predominantly Hispanic and white, I’m used to being the only black person in a room. I know how people embraced me being raised in Arvin. It doesn’t affect me because I know what I can do.”
Growing up in Arvin provided him the self-confidence that has helped him persevere — personally and professionally. It’s also a source of his strength. He was incredibly active in sports and music all the way up to his 1989 graduation from Arvin High.
His adopted mother, Carolyn Leary, was a Christian school teacher who also worked at Arvin High and who was incredibly supportive of Leary’s talents. His friends — including his Arvin alumnae— and family continue to support him to this day. He’s reciprocated his gratitude to his adopted hometown in his latest single, “Arvin, Forever in My Heart.”
“Somebody told me on Facebook, 'When are you going to write a song about Arvin? I’ve always wanted to hear a country song about Arvin …’ That’s when I sat down and thought about it and thought about it. I got ahold of my songwriter friend (Bill Diluigi) … who does melodies and such and I said, ‘Let’s make this song an Arvin song.’ We sat down together and I started throwing him these ideas — lyrics — and came up with a melody. (We) started adding all this stuff about Bear Mountain and the Bear Mountain Cross and magic was made.”
When Leary sings about La Nora's drive-in or the Bear Mountain Cross (the source of the song’s biggest hook), his lyrics evoke images and memories to anyone who’s spent any significant time exploring Arvin. (Including me: I graduated from Arvin High in 1991. Go Bears.)
But that warmth you feel when remembering the location of the idyllic memories of your youth? That’s universal.
“I wanted be the first one — or at least one — to write a song about Arvin,” Leary said. “You hear songs about Bakersfield but not about Arvin.”
Leary got his start performing in church in his youth and got into country music by listening to his adopted mother’s old country records. But it wasn’t until years later in the mid-1990s, while working as a butcher at Food 4 Less on White Lane — a skill he learned at Arvin High — where he got the first glimmer of what was to come.
“I was working with cowboys (there) and they would listen to country music all day.” Leary said. “So after a while, hearing this music all day long, I started learning the words to songs. The first (one) was Merle Haggard’s ‘Big City.’ I learned that song back to front.”
“Karaoke was starting to get big and I went to a redneck bar and they couldn’t believe that I could sing it so well that the place went crazy. You could hear a pin drop. But when when I sung that song, you’d think I was a celebrity they way they treated me. I was hooked. So I put two and two together and said, ‘I have a knack here. I might have something in my hand.’”
Not one to take his natural, smooth vocal timbre for granted, Leary soon started taking voice lessons and performance training — as well as his continuing education via karaoke.
Recently, a lot of contemporary country music has fused with rap, as well as resulting in a whole-new brand of country/rap crossover bands. It’s a fusion that doesn’t seem poised to last in Leary’s opinion.
“Here’s my thing. This is me: I came up the 1990s, with the George Straits and the Clint Blacks, where (country music) was traditional. They were singing songs that were telling the truth, singing songs that mean something. Tight jeans, boots and trucks aren’t real country. Real country is telling stories about someone leaving you, or falling in love with someone like the old Johnny Cash and George Strait songs. That to me is real music. For someone who loves hip-hop, they might say that the hip-hop in the 1970s is real music and the music today is just bling and rings and how many tattoos you can get. That’s the argument for every genre.”
“The business is so up and down. Next week (country) could be all traditional again … People want to hear something real. People love real music.”
Producers have asked Leary to conform and adapt to fit to the mold of the flavor of the day — more Cowboy Troy and less George Jones. For his part, the tempting promises of “overnight” success are compromises that his own integrity won’t allow. Even if his staying the course means staying where he’s at, career-wise. Trusting that quality, talent and musical honesty don’t recognize boundaries or time. Without the constraints of blind ambition, Leary has found a sort of freedom without having to pander.
“I’ve been at this thing since I was 24 years old. I’m 46 and I enjoy performing. there are a lot of artists that can make a decent living just performing regional or local. If you’ve got a good following, you don’t have to be going across the country in big arenas and do all that thing. There’s a lot of pros and cons, and we’re in an era (where) you don’t need a record label; I think there’s a few folks that are successful without them.”
Leary and his Fifty Buck Band will return to perform at the Kern County Fair at 9 p.m. Sept. 29 on the Main Plaza Stage. His music is available on iTunes, Amazon music, Google play and Spotify.
The last time the ferocious local post-punk band If It Kills You performed was three months ago, bidding farewell to their drummer, Matt Salkeld.
They’ve since reformed with new drummer Cass Faulkenberry, and the band seems primed to use their new momentum to burn up the stage. Their fiery brand of aggressive hardcore runs the gamut of dynamics and soaring feels in a way I haven’t seen since Choirs patrolled our local stages baptizing their fans with their own sweat. It seems fitting: Both Faulkenberry and guitarist Justin Martin played together in that band.
Along with bassist Mikee Lee, the trio will be returning to Sandrini’s Public House this Saturday as a warm-up for more out-of-town shows and the upcoming release of their dual 7-inch single of “A Lifetime on the Phone,” which they will be sharing with San Fransisco band Song For Snakes.
Faulkenberry is ready to get back on stage after being on hiatus for health reasons for a spell.
“To be with these guys, it’s just absolutely so much fun,” Faulkenberry said. “I mean, we have a good time, we get along and the music is fantastic. I would have to say I’m probably sitting better than where I was, comfort-wise, playing music. And talent-wise I’m better than I’ve ever been, because I’ve been working with these guys for three months (rehearsing) three hours, two to three times a week. It’s been the gauntlet.”
Also on the bill are Modern Wives and young upstarts Magic Mammoth whose sound is both magical and mammoth. Also, It’s funny to think that between the members of Modern Wives and If It Kills You, they’ve pretty much one-degree played with just about every musician in Bakersfield in their thirties.
If It Kills You, with Modern Wives and Magic Mammoth, 9 p.m. Saturday, Sandrini's Public House, 1918 Eye St. $5; 21-and-over show.
Is there a more appropriate name than Black Sabbitch to capture the anarchic darkness of an all-female Black Sabbath tribute band? The name just exudes attitude and dares you to look onto the abyss. But don’t let the cheekiness fool you: They’ve got the goods. The band members nail their respective parts and left-handed guitarist Blare N. Bitch has a unique style that would make Tony Iommi proud. This show also marks the debut of singer Sarah Pinzon.
The band concentrates on material performed by the original Sabbath lineup of Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, drummer Bill Ward and bassist Geezer Butler. Sorry Dio fans, those expecting to hear “The Mob Rules” will have to look elsewhere.
But when it comes to respecting the material, look no further. There’s a reason why Sabbath fans list this group as one of their favorites: They get the feel of what made Sabbath so powerful — it was the swing behind Ward’s drum feel. Sabbath was four Birmingham lads with an affinity for jazz who ended up inventing heavy metal.
“We don’t even call ourselves a tribute band, we just wanted to play these songs,” said drummer and band founder Angie Scarpa. “Our band has an identity, they’re not our songs but we feel very protective of them. When we play them, we want to play them with authenticity and respect. They’re sacred to me.”
They’ve got the chops of seasoned players — Scarpa is a fantastic drummer — and the devotion of super fans. This band delivers, and fans of Sabbath should figure out what shade of black they’re going to wear. But all joking aside, if you’ve owned any Black Sabbath album — even the Dio ones — catch this gig. Prepare to be schooled.
Black Sabbitch (The Female Black Sabbath Tribute), with Sapphic Musk, 7 p.m. Friday, Temblor Brewing Co., 3200 Buck Owens Blvd. #B. $10; 18-and-over show.