The North Bay All-Stars: Don put together a house band of top touring and session players to support the many featured artists who performed at the Wednesday Night Ramble when he served as music director at the Empress Theatre in Vallejo, CA. The band is currently available for bookings and can cover a wide range of music from Roots Rock, Americana, and Blues, to R&B, Funk, and Jazz. North Bay All-Stars regulars include Mike Emerson on keys, T Moran on drums, Matt Silva on guitar, and Don on bass and vocals. Leah Tysse, Keta Bill, Kevin Hayes, Erik Schramm, Eamonn Flynn, and Tony Lufrano, frequently join the All-Stars, along with numerous other special guests.
Don left the Empress in July of 2016 to pursue more music projects. He’s available for live performance, studio projects, private instruction, and audio consulting.
Danny Click: In December of 2010, Don teamed with Danny Click, a world-class guitarist and singer/songwriter from Austin, whose CDs, “Holding Up the Sun”, “Life is a Good Place”, and “Captured Live”, have found there way onto indy Americana and Country charts. The band set up shop at the Sleeping Lady, a tiny, intimate venue in Fairfax, California, playing weekly with a growing list of California music heavyweights. Helping “keep the Lady awake” as the Hell Yeahs! are Kevin Hayes and Ernest “Boom” Carter sharing the drum chair, “Violin Femme” Adrienne Biggs, Mike Emerson on keyboards, and Jon Mitguard on pedal steel and harmonica. The band recently recorded their second live CD – this time all acoustic with a string section – at Mill Valley’s 142 Throckmorton Theatre. March of 2015, they headed for producer Jim Scott’s Plyrz Studio in Southern California and recorded their current studio album, “Holding Up the Sun”, which is currently rising on the independent charts and receiving national airplay.
Don was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and grew up loving music, but especially Rock’n’Roll—Elvis, Chuck Berry, Rick Nelson, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Del Shannon, Dion and the Belmonts, Duane Eddy, and Buddy Holly, to name a few, were early influences.
Don started playing guitar at age twelve, beginning with surf music by the Beach Boys, the Ventures, the Surfaris, and Dick Dale. When the Beatles broke big in the States, Don starting learning as much of their music as he could. In 9th grade in Portage, Michigan, Don joined his first band, the Revelations. Don sang and played guitar, Bill Welch also sang and played guitar, Dave Maracek was the bass player and Charlie Leeson was on drums. Dave died in a swimming accident in Florida a few years later. The Revelations played junior high school dances and pool parties. Later, Steve Thomson replaced Bill and Tom Jepson replaced Charlie. The band was renamed the Rooks. In 1965 and 1966 Don was in 10th grade and his band was called 1984 (after the Orwell novel). Steve Thomson played bass and sang, Don played guitar and sang, Jim Camp was on drums, Greg Steele played lead guitar. And George Voss played the Farfisa organ. Loren Eaton later replaced Greg, 1984 won numerous “Battles of the Bands” They also played college plenty of fraternity parties, clubs, and school dances. In a life-altering moment, Don, Steve Thomson, Don’s sister Joy, and her friend Kathy Hahn sat in the front row at Olympia Stadium in Detroit to see the Beatles in the summer of 1966. Don’s fate was sealed after that show. From the beginning, Don’s parents were always very supportive of his music. His early bands frequently rehearsed at the Bassey home. His father’s construction company van doubled as the band vehicle once Don got his driver’s license. In 1966, Don was recruited to replace Greg Russell, lead singer and bassist in a group of college guys who called themselves the Upper Hand. Other members included Bill Hannapel, Phil Long, and Jim Klerk. The band played lots of college parties and were regulars at theTimber Ridge Ski Resort. Don formed the band Tax in 1968 with Jim Camp, Van Vandiver on guitar and vocals, and Dave Edel on guitar and vocals. Tax played clubs, school dances, and frat parties. Don and Neil Harding started the Sea of Tranquility during the summer of 1969. The first lunar landing was that summer, hence the band name. Neil had played in one of Kalamazoo’s finest bands, the Tiers. The area’s top booking agent, Gary Smeltzer, had managed both Don’s and Neil’s previous bands, and suggested the partnership both Don and Neil. By coincidence, Don and Neil phoned each other at the exact same time to talk about starting a new band, having never spoken before. They shared a love for Byrds tunes, tight harmony, and jangly guitars. Van Vandiver signed on to play guitar and add another voice to the mix, and the late Jim Klinger from the band, the Library, played drums. Soon after that, Richard Ruster replaced Van and for a brief time, Bruce Carr took over for Jim on drums. Later that same summer, it was decided to create a new version of the Tiers. Smeltzer sought to combine elements from some of the top young bands in Michigan, all of whom were lead singers as well as songwriters. Along with Neil and Don, original Tiers co-founder and leader John Blowers rejoined to play guitar, trumpet, organ, and sing. Mark Hallman, formerly of the Velvet Machine, was added as the dynamic singing drummer, and finally, the soaring lead vocals and guitar work of Randy Underwood from the legendary band the Thyme completed the line-up. While capitalizing on the name recognition they had earned as the Tiers, it was decided late in 1969 to change the name of the band to Touchstone. Touchstone enjoyed considerable popularity for the next two years, recording one record and playing numerous concerts and festivals throughout Michigan, including shows at the Grande Ballroom and the Roostertail in Detroit. They shared the stage with the Byrds, Bob Seger, Alice Cooper, NRBQ, Iggy and the Stooges, the Rationals, Brownsville Station, and many other top acts.
Chronology – 1978 to 2015
After completing a six-year hitch in the Navy, Don wasted no time aligning himself with musicians that were ready to get out and work in the San Francisco area. Tony McDaniel and Nancie Mac, a husband-and-wife singing and songwriting team, asked Don to join them and help start a band. With Bobby C. on guitar and vocals and Paul Grant on drums, Evergreene was formed. The band worked numerous venues around the Bay Area and developed a solid following. After a little more than a year, Don, Bobby, and Paul left Evergreene and hired Mark Dzugan, a fine singer and guitarist, to form Kahootz. They added Keith Laverty, a long-time friend of the band and music aficionado, as their sound engineer and stage manager. In the spring of ’81 Neil Harding, who had been living and performing in Texas, moved to California and joined Kahootz. The band was known for its tight four-part harmony and intricate guitar work, but soon grew apart. Don and Neil left the band in late ’81 and formed an acoustic duo, concentrating more on the kind of songs they had played together in Touchstone. Sadly, Mark was killed in a car accident in December, returning home from a Kahootz gig. In 1980 and ‘81, Don spent many Sunday evenings jamming with a group of Vallejo musicians at Red’s, a good old-fashioned pizza-and–beer joint. Doug Strobel, Dan Bent, John Brazil, Paula Amen-Judah, John Milner, and the late Will Seibel were all regulars at the Sunday gigs. A couple of chance meetings at Red’s led to long and rewarding associations with two of Vallejo’s finest musicians. Rich Irwin, a local guitarist who achieved notoriety in the ‘60s Bay Area bands The Torquays and The Overbook Express, and Guy Arrostuto, a Vallejo legend on Hammond organ and piano, have partnered with Don in a variety of musical settings over the years. Guy was forming a new band to work a steady club gig beginning New Year’s Eve of ‘81. Don, Kristy Barber (now Juliano), and drummer Jim Carrington formed Guy and Company. They worked a five-night-a-week gig for six months straight. At the same time, Don and Rich were hanging out, sharing musical ideas, and honing their harmony skills together. Rich’s expertise in restoring and maintaining vintage Fender gear continues to benefit Don today, as his vintage amps, like Don, are aging and in frequent need of repair. Don and Neil, frequently joined by Rich, worked two nights a week playing acoustic gigs as the Twang Brothers until Neil moved back to Michigan in the spring of ’82. Bobby C. soon took Neil’s spot in the acoustic setting. Don culled their stage name from a Michigan band led by Steve Vandenberg and Randy Underwood in the early ’70s. Following the end of the Guy and Company run, Don reunited with Bobby C., Paul and Keith in a revamped version of Kahootz. Billy Gross had replaced Don on bass in the last version, so Don switched to guitar. Skip Doyle had also been added on keyboards. After a series of club dates, Kahootz finally broke up in late 1982.
1983 T&N Express: Don briefly reunited with Tony and Nancie Mac in their show band: Don on guitar and vocals, Armen Boyd, sax, Steve Nelson, drums, Gary Creller, bass. Oscar Derosier, trumpet and violin. Guy Arrostuto and Friends: Don, Rich, and Bobby C.: guitar and vocals, Ed Wheeler: bass, Gary James: drums (as with Guy, Rich, and Bobby C., Don has continued to work with Gary throughout the years). Frank’s Brother: (Guy’s brother is Frank, hence the name): Don: bass and vocals, Bobby C. and Don Fox: guitar and vocals, Steve Trovao: drums 1984 Foxx: Bobby C. and Don Fox, Steve Trovao, and for a short time, Nancie on vocals. Don Fox and Nancie left to be married. Foxx continued as a trio, later to be joined by Bob Kinney on guitar and vocal.
1985 The Roadsters with Bobby Walker: Don met Bobby Walker, a talented singer/guitarist/drummer and Michigan transplant, at a Napa, California music store in 1985. “Bad Bob”, as he was known by his musician friends, hosted jams at a Napa club on Sundays, so Don showed up a few times. Bobby has been known for years as the leader and driving force in The Roadsters. Other Roadsters stalwarts include John Fittapoldi, Sean Allen, Arnie Green, Bobby Santa Cruz, Dallen Santos, Jimmy Walker (no relation) and Jack Vance. Don has been called many times over the years to fill the bass slot on Roadsters gigs. Bobby has relocated to Texas, where he is enjoying a fine solo career. The two hooked up in 2002 for a Roadsters reunion gig, and along with Sean Allen and Willy Jordan, raised the roof on Downtown Joe’s in Napa. Don played bass on three of Bobby’s CDs, “Masque”, “Alone in the Rain”, and ”Git It”.. The Twang Brothers: The name came from a band made up some of Don’s old friends in Michigan. Don, Neil Harding, Rich Irwin, Bobby C., Steve Trovao, and Lloyd Burchette all logged time in the West Coast version of the Twang Brothers in the Eighties. Don, Rich, and Bobby C. still get together occasionally for acoustic jams and recording projects.
1986 The Detroit Disciples: Don started working with Paul Burke and Ian McMurray as a founding member this enduring Sonoma County band. Don had a hand in the development of many of the McMurray–penned tunes on their first CD “Stare Down the Dog”. While the line-up around Ian and Paul has changed often, all of the players, past and present, have remained great friends and get together frequently for “reunion” shows. Over the years, Don, his pal Tom Miller (Alameda All-Stars and the Gregg Allman Band), and Steve Hays have all occupied the Disciples bass chair. Colin Campbell, Tommy Thompson (Alameda All-Stars and the Gregg Allman Band), Dr. Joel Rudinow (Elvin Bishop), and George Landreth are all part of the Disciples keyboard army. Jim “Mudslide” Malcolm, Marke “Jellyroll” Burgstahler (also of the Alameda All-Stars and Greg Allman Band), Evan Morgan, John Rowe, and Mark Stevenson, have added their guitars to Disciples studio tracks and live performances. Don worked on some of the tracks for the Detroit Disciples CD “Saving Grace” with Harry gale running the ProTools rig at Rte. 44 Studios in Sonoma County.
George T.Gregory Band: George’s sax and vocals were complimented by brilliant guitar work from Sean Allen and Bobby Crutcher’s drums. Don played with GTG in the early Nineties and reunited with George and Sean, along with Paul Revelli and Eamonn Flynn, for a San Francisco show in the spring of 2011. Guy Arrustuto and Friends II: Guy Arrostuto, veteran blues artists Johnny “V” Vernazza and Gary James, and Don held down a few regular gigs in Vallejo, California in the late-Eighties and again in the early Nineties.
1992 Kevin Russell: Don first saw the Russell Brothers, Kevin and Brad, perform along with drummer Andy Doerschuk at the Solano County Fair in the summer of 1992. After an introduction by music promoter Scott Foster, Kevin asked Don to sit in at one of his Tuesday night jams at the Fourth Street Tavern in Marin County. Brad was moving for L.A for some session work and touring, so Kevin asked Don to fill in on some gigs. Thirteen years, later, Don and Kevin are still playing together in the Kevin Russell Band. Along the way, Kevin introduced Don to producer Mike Varney, which led to the Little John Chrisley CD sessions, produced Steve Gornall’s “Steppin’ Out”, and hired Don to play bass on a few tracks from his “Trip to Heaven” CD in 2000. One of the benefits of working with Kevin has been the opportunity for Don to work with some of the best drummers in the business. Over the years, Kevin Hayes (Robert Cray Band), Mike Vanderhule (Soulmotor), Billy Lee Lewis (Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings, the Tommy Castro Band), Ed Michaels (Alvin Youngblood Hart), Dean Johnson (Starship, Dick Dale), and T Moran (the Daniel Castro Band) have held the drum chair in the Kevin Russell Band.
Kevin Russell, Dean Johnson and Don at Biscuits and Blues in San Francisco. photos courtesy of Richard Brusky
Don often teamed with Kevin for his Guitar Summits at the legendary Lou’s in San Francisco. These shows always attracted big crowds, with Kevin sharing the stage with some of the Bay Area’s top guitarists. Tommy Castro, Johnny Nitro, Daniel Castro, Ron Hacker, Chris Cobb, and Steve Gornall, to name a few, traded licks with Kevin. The Hollywood Blondes: The legendary Crockett party band hired Don in 1992. Tim Kirkhouse, Ralph Alvarado, and Tom —- had some memorable shows, always staying just under the radar. Tim also played in the Blue Collar Blues Band with Don and Steve Gornall for many years.
1995 – 2000
Steve Gornall: Kevin Russell introduced Don to fellow Detroit guitarist Steve in 1994. For the next ten years, Don played frequently around Northern California with Steve’s Blue Collar Blues Band. Don also traveled to Michigan with Steve numerous times for Detroit–area shows. Don plays bass and contributes some vocals on Steve’s two Golden Gate Records releases, “Steppin’ Out”, which also featured Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Pugh from the Robert Cray Band and dear departed friends Stu Blank and Jim Boggio. “Electric Bible of the Blues” featured Steve’s original drummer from Detroit, Vinnie Scalabrino, and Tom Burke on Hammond B-3. There have been numerous BCBB members over the years, including Paul Revelli, Tim Kirkhouse, Mike Emerson, Tom Burke, Joel Rudinow, Lee Enos, Tommy Thompson, Tom Miller, Kevin T. White, Dave Zimmerman, Vinnie Scalabrino, Kenny Welk, Tim Gornall, Ralf “Yevo” Jeworowski, and Tom Flisner.
Black Jack: Former Dynatones and Johnny Nitro and the Doorslammers sax man Tony Perez put together a rockin’ San Francisco club band in 1995 with Scotty Johnson and Michael Quinn on guitars, Don on bass and Ed Michaels on drums. Don and Michael also recorded and performed together in the Michael Quinn Band. Don met long-time Kevin Russell Band drummer Mike Vanderhule while working with MQ. It was also during this time that Scotty and Don formed an alliance with singer-songwriter Julie (Miller) Medeiros, and producer Ernie Medeiros.
Little John Chrisley: Producer Mike Varney called Don to play bass on Little John Chrisley’s eponymous CD on Varney’s Blues Bureau International label. Also on the sessions were famed drummer Aynsley Dunbar, guitarists Michael Lee Ferkins, Scotty Johnson, Andy Mazilli, Varney, with Stu Blank on keyboards. Brad Russell played bass on two tracks.
The Alameda All-Stars: Over the years, Don has been called to fill the bass slot when long-time AAS bassist Tom Miller had other commitments. The Bay Area’s longest-running rock ‘n’ roll carnival, the All-Stars held their 30-year reunion in 2010. The All Stars line-up of Tommy Thompson, Tom Miller, Mark McGee, Marke “Jellyroll” Burgstahler and Preston Thrall, all alumni of Gregg Allman and Friends, often featured original AAS members Brad Gillis of Night Ranger and Dan Chauncey of .38 Special.
Bob Hopkins: The NHT Story: Bob is the award-winning lead guitarist for the E-Stock Band and the Particles, as well as an in-demand recording engineer and producer. Bob was at a Roadsters gig in 1995 and struck up a conversation with Don during a band break. It turned out that Bob was a talented designer as well as a shredding guitarist, and asked Don to come out and visit him at his gig designing audio gear at NHT (Now Hear This). It turns out that the company, which designs and manufactures award-winning home and professional audio speakers and electronics, is made up of a bunch of musicians, engineers, and music junkies. One of it’s co-founders, Chris Byrne, was the road manager for Dr. Hook in the Seventies and went to school with Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Ken Kantor, Chris’ former partner and NHT-co-founder, is one of the country’s leading speaker designers, and a talented producer and engineer in his own right. Ken produced some memorable tracks featuring Don, Bob, Mike Kirschmann, Matt Garfein, and Don’s son Justin. Don was hired to work in the engineering department the week after his visit with Bob, and worked for the company for fourteen years , the last 7 as the Pro Audio Manager. If a musician had to have a day job, not many could beat consulting with the top artists, producers and studio owners on the planet. The E-Stock Band: The band members were all employees of NHT, and played at company parties for years, as well as the monthly jams at the office. At the 2004 CES convention in Las Vegas, they played in a “Battle of the Bands” with five other “corporate” bands and went home with the top prize. Special guests at the gig were Jeff ”Skunk” Baxter and Matthew and Gunnar Nelson. The E-Stock Band is: Don, Bob Hopkins (the Particles), John Johnsen, drummer for prog-rock band Miles Helm, Mike Kirschmann, leader and chief songwriter for the Christines, Chris Byrne, Kevin Frazier (Davey Pattison’s Big Muddy), Jay Doherty (Sinister Dexter), and Jeff Coates. NHT’s chief acoustical engineer Jack Hidley was the mastermind behind the band’s sound system.
Daniel Castro: Daniel is one of the finest guitarists and singers in the business. His show is always a groove fest, with a rotating cast of characters that included mainstays T Moran (Jefferson Starship, Daniel Castro) and Andy Doerschuk (Corby Yates, Rick Derringer, Leslie Wes, Kevin Russell) on drums, and Mike Emerson (Carlene Carter, Elvin Bishop) on keyboards. Don joined a roster of bassists in Daniel’s band that includes Artis Joyce, Steve Evans, Burton Winn, Kevin White, and Glade Rasmussen. For the big shows, the Horns of Dilemma, Michael Peloquin and Tom Poole, added the extra punch to Daniel’s dynamic music.
Jessie Turner: Along with her husband, drummer/writer Billy Lee Lewis, nationally acclaimed singer/songwriter Jessie Turner put together a dynamic band that featured the amazing Pamela Delgado (Blame Sally, the Pam and Jerry Show) and Nancy Hall (the Curios and Neil Young’s Greendale) on vocals and percussion., Jon Preuss and BZ Lewis on guitars, and Don on bass and vocals.
Ira Marlowe: Ira’s songs have been described as “four-minute movies”. His lyrically provocative and melodic tunes have are interpreted in the studio and on stage by Ira on guitar and vocals, and his band, which included Paul Revelli (Carlene Carter, Angela Strehli, Chuck Prophet) on drums, Roger Linn (Leon Russell) on guitar, and Don on bass and vocals.
Volker Strifler: The long-time member of the Ford Blues Band formed a new band in 2001 to show off his talents as a guitar player, singer and songwriter. He has long been a respected sideman to an impressive lineup of other artists such as Robben, Pat and Mark Ford, Lowell Fulson, Chris Cain and many more. For close to ten years, Don played bass with drummer Gary Silva (Elvin Bishop, Albert Collins, Norton Buffalo) in the VSB rhythm section, along with the killer horns of David Schrader (San Francisco Saxophone Quartet, A Case of the Willys, Shade, the Pointless Sisters) and Carl Bowers (A Case of the Willys, Shade) , and Chip Roland (Steve Kimmock, Zero) on keyboards and lap-steel guitar. The band’s CD *The Dance Goes On” was released in 2006 and won world-wide acclaim.
Liz Kennedy: Since St. Patrick’s Day of 2009, Don has been performing and recording with San Francisco- based singer songwriter Liz Kennedy. Joel Jaffe, co-owner of Studio D in Sausalito, plays multiple roles as producer, stringed instrument specialist (guitar, Dobro, lap steel, pedal steel, and mandolin), vocalist, and songwriter. With Billy “Shoes” Johnson (Santana, Joyce Cooling, Frankie Beverly and Maze) on drums, the amazing Omega Brooks on backing vocals and percussion, and Eamonn Flynn (Zigaboo Modeliste, Michael Franti, the Commitments) on keyboards, Liz and her Clean White Shirt Band recently completed recording her fourth album.
Lucas Ohio and the Shamblers: Don was introduced by his friend Doug Strobel to singer/songwriter Lucas Ohio Pattie in early 2009. Soon after this first meeting, Lucas called Don to help him start a band . With the help of Don’s bandmates from the 80’s, Don Fox and Steve Trovao , the current Shamblers line-up was formed.
The ArKay Band: Named for the late, great East Bay Bluesman Rick Kellogg, the ArKay Band can take you back to your Rock, R & B, and Blues roots with their extensive song list. Big party fun with these guys. Don joins Bay Area veterans Dick McDonough on drums and guitarists Dave Garfinkel and Paul Lezniak. They claim to know THOUSANDS of songs.