Tucson sounds: Little Cat the Lionhearted
Plus your weekend in local music
Sometimes you start noticing a band or artist you've never heard before in live music circles and you start wondering who the "new kid" is. And then you check them out and they're pretty damn good. And then, if you're lucky enough to be a music writer, you can ask them who and why and what they're all about. Perks of the trade.
So, with that in mind, meet the "new kid." Introducing Little Cat and her big, big dreams.
Julie Jennings-Patterson: I’ve only recently started noticing your gigs popping up on social media and gig flyers. But certainly you didn’t just appear, fully formed, out of the ether! How long have you been in Tucson? Are you from here or fields beyond, as it were?
Little Cat (aka Bethanne Elise): “My stage name comes from Little Cat mountain which is the mountain I grew up on near Tucson, in the beautiful Sonoran desert. I’m as native as they come. Raised in the middle of the desert, jumping over cacti and howling with coyotes.
“I had a torrid love affair with NYC for a handful of years, and I love to travel but nothing compares to the magic of the Sonoran Desert. I’ve always been a wanderer but the desert light always calls me home.”
JJP: What's your musical origin story ?
LC: “My mother is a classically trained pianist and from the time I could walk, I danced. Music has always had a profound effect on me physically. I trained as a dancer throughout my childhood and still dance today. It wasn't until many years later, in my 30s, that I began wanting to get serious about learning the guitar.”
JJP: I picked up bass at the ripe old age of 40, so I know what you mean. It’s kind of the most punk rock thing ever to learn as a fully-formed adult. But how did you fall in love with music in the first place?
LC: “My mother is responsible for my love affair with music. If she wasn’t belting out Beethoven, Rachmaninoff or Scott Joplin on her baby grand piano she was blasting Johnny Cash, Emmy Lou Harris, Hank Williams or CCR on the sound system.”
“Music was a constant part of my growing up and seems woven into every fiber of my being. I first picked up a guitar about 6 years ago shortly after becoming a company member with ZUZI! dance. I had a relentless desire to teach myself the guitar.”
“Music and dance are very interconnected for me and I’m convinced that my return to the dance world awoke those deep woven music fibers. I had recently finished graduate school, was teaching full-time and my children were still quite young so making time to practice challenging. I would lock myself in the bathroom for as long as possible and play until my fingers went numb. I became obsessed with it.”
“A couple years later a friend gave me a baritone ukulele and it was love at first sight. The guitar progress was slow but eventually I started writing songs. I wrote one and thought it was pretty decent and then another one would fall out and pretty soon I had songs coming out of my ears, each one unveiling more layers of myself.”
“Songwriting can be trippy territory. I have learned more about myself through my songwriting process than just about anything I’ve embarked on as an artist. It’s as if these songs had been living inside me all along and I finally gave them permission to come out.”
JJP: Once the muse decides you’re on her distribution list, the songs keep coming! There’s a famous Tom Waits story where he tells the muse “Excuse me, can’t you see that I’m driving? Visit me when I’m at my piano or leave me alone and go bother Leonard Cohen!”
Have you been in bands prior to playing solo? How did you evolve into your current sound and style?
LC: “I have always been kind of a lone coyote when it comes to my art but I love collaborating! It’s terrifying playing solo and I make a lot of mistakes. There’s no one up there with me to hide all my mess-ups but I seem to thrive in that kind of vulnerability, at least with my art.”
“I’m getting better at covering up my mistakes and I’m such a smart ass that I usually laugh it off anyhow. I don’t take myself too seriously which takes some pressure off. It’s been an interesting journey witnessing how my sound has evolved.”
“I never paid much attention to my voice until a few years ago when a friend mentioned to me that they liked my yodel. I was sort of confused because I didn’t realize I was yodeling nor that I could. From there I started paying closer attention to my vocal range and over time my voice evolved into the twangy sad girl country/folky voice it is today.”
JJP: Oh, yeah. You’re in total Hank Williams, Jessi Colter, Patsy Cline, Buffy St. Marie, Karen Dalton territory and I’m so down for it. Speaking of which… Favorite artists and bands of all time? Currently?
LC: “Oh boy, this is the ultimate rabbit hole question for me! I admire so many musical artists/genres anything from classical to punk rock and then everything in between. I grew up swooning over Patsy Cline, Les Paul and Mary Ford and Elvis. My heart will always belong to Freddie Mercury and Queen, my first true die hard loves. Next in line would be my lover boy Robert Smith and The Cure. The list is bottomless.”
“Lately I have found myself revisiting and listening to a lot of Waylon Jennings, Emmy Lou, Chet Baker, Cat Power, Bikini Kill and Laura Marling.”
JJP: Ha! A fine mashup indeed. Any favorite Tucson musicians or venues so far?“
LC: “I’m head over heels about our music scene and have been blown away by all the ridiculous talent Tucson holds. As someone who is relatively new to the performance side of the music scene, I’ve been really impressed at how inclusive, non-competitive and supportive the fellow musicians have been. Lots of love and support going around which is rad.”
“From one native girl to another, I’d have to say my all time favorite local musical artist is Linda Ronstadt. She was a staple in my household growing up and I’ve always loved her artistic diversity and outrageous vocal range.”
JJP: Long live the Queen, man!
LC: “As far as venues go I’ve been playing regularly at Crooked Tooth Brewery which I love. They have a wonderful, warm and inviting vibe. Always a good time! I’m looking forward to branching out and playing new venues this year. It’s always super scary going to a new venue but as I mentioned before, I live for that vulnerability thrill in my art and usually walk away learning something new which I can apply towards the next time.”
JJP: Those folks are pretty great. Tell us about your past as far as recording, touring and the like.
LC: “Well my past is pretty present. The past five years I’ve been cranking out songs on napkins and old receipts, trying to get better on strings, raising my kids, teaching full-time and posting video recordings of my songs to social media. I have written well over 30 songs and I’m just now at a point where I’m trying to figure out what to do with them all and how to record.”
JJP: Nice! I’ve been playing for almost nine years now and haven’t cracked a dozen songs yet, so mad props.
LC: “I bought some basic recording equipment last summer and am committed to relearning my Scarlett interface. I love the production side of art but, man, it’s time consuming and sound engineering is a whole other art form and skill in itself. For now I’m just playing with GarageBand and will be throwing down some bare bone tracks onto my SoundCloud, hoping the pieces will start to fall into place.”
“As far as touring goes, one day I’d love to take my songs traveling on planes and trains but as for now I’m more focused on getting my stuff out there locally and making connections. I can be a bit of a recluse especially when the adulting world takes over, however I’m making more of an effort to get out at least a couple times each month and listen/support/meet our local music makers.”
JJP: What else are you up to these days?
LC: “My main goal for this year was to be brave and go perform around town. In November of last year I think I performed my seventh solo show. As of today I’m on my 16th music performance so that’s been really cool! I think I’m getting to a place in my sets now where I’m a little more comfortable with the technical side of things such as which dials to turn on my amp and which wires need to go where. This has allowed me to go deeper into my songs when I’m performing.”
“New goals include releasing album(s), continuing to gig around town, and practicing my strings. I’m also playing with the idea of incorporating my dance choreography into my music. I might mess around with a music dance video in the near future and see what happens.”
JJP: Oh, my! Any thoughts on the prospect of what "success" looks like to you as a musician both creatively and financially? Thoughts on the state of live musicianship and the music industry as a whole?
LC: “I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember however it was only recently, maybe in the past eight years or so, that I recognized and identified as one. I have always made art whether it be dance, singing, theater, music or visual arts. I make art because I have to. It’s been my survival space so I think of success differently than some might. I’m successful because I’m still here, and still making art.”
“I think there is a great deal of hope in making art and to be hopeful in a world that can be as despairing as ours, well yeah, I think those are incredible success stories. I do it for myself and no one else. The fact that I’m now getting paid to play my music in public and people are responding positively, has been a surreal experience! I’ve spent the last five years locking myself in my tiny bathroom and/or sitting on my bed recording and posting song videos to social media.”
“The past few months I’ve received incredible feedback from audiences and no one has yet to throw rotten tomatoes at me, so that’s cool, although that’d be pretty punk rock. I love singing and performing so I’m happy and grateful that people enjoy listening along.”
“Regarding the financial aspect of this question, I believe wholeheartedly that people should be financially compensated for their work. I’ve been an educator teaching the arts to children for over twenty years. I didn’t go into the field because of the money, I did it because it’s a passion. There tends to be a lot of toxic positivity out there exploiting those who do what they’re passionate about, specifically related to education and the arts; as if the gratitude of doing what one loves should be compensation enough...um, life is expensive.”
“School supplies, art supplies, hours of practicing/planning, and music equipment are all expensive essentials. We need to pay our teachers and working artists the compensation they deserve. Period.”
“Honestly I don’t think too much about the music industry as a whole but I do think a lot of artists are taking matters into their own hands and creating platforms for themselves. I’ve run across so many great local and international artists on social media platforms. I think social media has been a big game changer for many artists to get their work seen and heard.”
“There is a ridiculous amount of talent out there and I’m always psyched and inspired to see those artists get recognized. Self-promotion is time consuming but I’m finding that it’s worth the effort as it’s been leading me to the right people and places.”
JJP: Favorite moments playing live music?
LLC: “This past March my mother turned 82 and I had a gig the night before her birthday so my siblings, family and a boat load of friends all came out to celebrate. It was the first time she had heard me play a full two hour set. She was always the one playing music for us growing up so it was a special honor to return that musical gift to her on the eve of her birthday. I got the crowd to sing her 'Happy Birthday' which was pretty sweet!”
JJP: Weirdest gig?
LLC: “One time some random dude, who had been drinking, came up to me in the middle of my set and started dancing like he was at a rock show. Like he was straight up rocking out right next to me. Considering that I play mostly slow sad girl acoustic songs it was freakin’ hilarious. He kept requesting that I play The Byrds or The Stones. I felt like I had my own little strange dancing Bez from the Happy Mondays.”
JJP: Sadly, I think I know who you mean. God bless his weird, enthusiastic little heart. What’s up next for live shows?
LLC: “I have a few actually! I’ll be playing at the Hitching Post in Bisbee on August 12 for Pirate Weekend, then Crooked Tooth next Friday, August 19 and Saint Charles Tavern on October 7. Probably lots more between now and then, too, so stay tuned. I’m excited to be this busy with my music! I’m hoping to keep this gig streak going!”
JJP: Good luck, dollface! You’re off to a fabulous start.
Little Cat plays the Hitching Post in Bisbee on Friday, August 12 at 8 p.m.
If this Van’s rocking…
As mentioned previously in this space, there are some big, big plans afoot to continue the legacy of late Naked Prey founder and solo artist Van Christian. But in the meantime, a lot of old friends need to simply say goodbye, raise a glass and share stories both sordid and sublime.
To that end, some of the usual suspects and assorted Tucson misfits will be gathering at a place Van took turns loving and loathing across the years, the Tap Room at Hotel Congress, to spin records, say a few words and maybe play a live song or three.
Local music mensch Cliff “Chick Cashman” Taylor and David Slutes are hosting along with Van’s son Dillon Christian.
Vandango at Hotel Congress takes place this Friday, August 5, at 6 p.m. at the Hotel Congress Tap Room.
Bobfest at Che’s!
Tucson’s local music scene would be nothing without local music fans and Bob Friel is one of those beloved familiar faces, the kind of guy who’s seemingly at every show, always with a kind word to spare.
But good Sir Bob recently had a severe stroke, which has taken him out for the count for a bit and it’s time for the bands and scene folks he always supported to throw some love back at him. That’s the inspiration for Bobfest, a fundraiser this Saturday at Che’s Lounge featuring a solid seven-hour lineup of live local music, art for auction, band merch and that good old fashioned Che’s patio ambience.
The show begins at 6 p.m. with none other than the Pork Torta and runs till well past midnight with Greyhound Soul closing out the evening.
Other bands include the Demons, Quiet Please, the Rez Tones, Leila Lopez and Brian Green, Shit Knife, Ox and Bonus, B Cinco, and a little two piece outfit called Spitegeist that features a certain local music writer you might know.
I can’t promise my set will be as amazing as the rest, but rock critic Lester Bangs used to play music sometimes too, so if nothing else, there’s a tradition to uphold.