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Honky tonking grandma resurfaces

By Joel Bernstein, December 1999

The once-thriving L.A. country music scene is just a shell of its former self. Many of the artists who performed on three "Town South Of Bakersfield" albums headed out to Nashville or Austin. The few hardy survivors band together, and every once in a while manage to put out an album to remind us of the scene's past glory.

Patty Booker has been there since before it became the next "next big thing." She had one great cut on "TSOB Vol. 3," but nothing else until 1999. Her new CD, "I Don't Need All That" is a glorious dose of hard-core country.

In her early 40's, Booker is maybe country music's youngest grandmother since her hero Loretta Lynn. With her kids all grown she's ready to pay some attention to a career that she's always kept on the back-burner.

Booker grew up in California and loved to sing, but "I never really thought about a career. I just liked to sing. You have fantasies about being a star."

Booker was in college when she met Gary Brandon. They formed a band and for most of the '80's Booker sang in Orange County clubs five nights a week.

"In the early '90's I stopped performing regularly" to concentrate on raising her family, according to Booker.

In those early days, Booker met Jann Browne, a rising star in the area. "I used to go around to see her before she had her hits, and she kept coming to the gigs I was doing. She would sit in, and I would go to her gigs and sit in."

After Browne's brief national success (two Top 20 hits in 1989), she returned to L.A. where Booker remained friendly with her and Matt Barnes (Browne's guitar player and songwriting partner.)

With her kids finally grown, Booker says, "I was thinking about an album, but (Browne and Barnes) helped initiate it. (They're credited as co-producers.) I was wondering who I was going to get to help me with this. I had a couple of people in mind, and it just took off with them. To have somebody you've admired for so many years want to work with you is an honor."

Booker reflects on the once-great local music scene. "I wonder myself what made it so hot then and not now. Dwight Yoakam brought a lot of people in because he played with the punk bands. That's when it got into Hollywood. By the time Vol. 3 came out, it was already dying. A lot of people were leaving town. I couldn't find anything for a full band five nights a week now. That's another reason I went away from there. I wasn't making a living any more."

"If I could just do this, I would. Sometimes I work as a massage therapist. I do sewing and housecleaning." (Browne has a pet-sitting service.) "There was a time years ago when people made a lot of money playing clubs."

Booker is an illustration of the changing economics in the music world. "I've gone through 1,000 copies (of the CD) and just ordered another 1,000." A major label exec could add 3 zeros and still not sound as excited as Booker does. "Artists who've been there tell me if I were on a label I wouldn't be making as much money. Other people tell me I should be on a label because of better distribution."

Booker has never performed outside of Southern California, although she'd like to. She missed a chance to do a European tour with Browne and Chris Gaffney because her daughter was about to deliver Booker's first grandchild. Another tour scheduled for October fell through. "I should be looking for a manager and a booking agent. People tell me 'You're doing all right,' but I think someone else could do better. I just play one or two shows a month."

But even though she's never strayed from home, Booker is building a following with her own self-promoted disc. A couple of well-placed internet reviews attracted attention from radio stations, distributors and other publications and led to her receiving orders for her CD from Europe and Australia - places where her traditional country music is more popular than in its own homeland.

"To me, there's nothing better than hearing the pedal steel guitar and someone singing their heart out," Booker says. "When I was small my mom would take me to a place called Cal's Corral, and I loved hearing the sound of the pedal steel guitar. Some people hear that sound and they just think of rednecks. I hear that sound, and I come alive."