Remembering Craig Yerkes
Craig Yerkes was barely a teenager in the early '80s when Guitar Player magazine purportedly called him a “seasoned pro in jazz, funk and country styles.” Yerkes gave a far more modest assessment of his talents as a guitar prodigy when, in 2006, he told San Diego Troubadour he was “a rock guitarist doing a bad imitation of a jazz guitarist.”
But there's no denying that Yerkes—a consummate “guitar player's guitar player”—was widely considered to be one of the best axe men in San Diego, thanks, most recently, to his work with The Grams.
Yerkes died on Saturday, June 28, after being involved in an apparent car accident in North County. According to media and police reports, witnesses estimated Yerkes' car was traveling around 100 mph when it veered off Camino Del Rey in Bonsall and collided with a tree. He was 40.
In the days since his death, Yerkes' family, friends and peers have shared their grief over the loss of someone regarded as a kind soul, a magnetic personality, a doting father and an exceptional musician.
“Craig made us all laugh more,” Chuck Schiele, singer/guitarist for The Grams, wrote to CityBeat in an e-mail. “He made us all better musicians. He had a way of showing us that cool was about being good and not acting cool. But the part that means the most to me is that our friendship greatly exceeds our music. And he was this way with everybody.”
Remembrances have popped up everywhere from The Grams' MySpace page to CityBeat's blog (Lastblogonearth.com), including heart-wrenching messages from Yerkes' sister Jackie, son Brent and wife Elise (Grams' violinist/singer “Sweet Elise” Ohki). In addition, several local musicians have posted their memories and condolences, including Lee Coulter, Joe Rathburn, Wayne Riker, Jefferson Jay, Kelly Bowen, Matt Silvia (SweetTooth) and Danielle LoPresti.
According to the 2006 Troubadour interview, Yerkes spent much of his life in San Diego County, first performing alongside his sister Marcia Claire (a prominent local musician herself, playing bass for Citizen Band, the Cindy Lee Berryhill Band and the Cathryn Beeks Ordeal, among others). He was influenced by guitarists like Al Di Meola and Steve Morse and played with several bands over the years while also writing about local music for the “San Diego Music Scene” website and San Diego Troubadour.
In 2003, Yerkes co-founded The Grams with Schiele and Ohki (Yerkes and Ohki married the following year). The Grams went on to score three straight “Best Americana or Country” nominations at the San Diego Music Awards, winning the category in 2006 and 2007.
In April, The Grams released their second studio album, Love Factory, and planned to tour extensively in support of the album, including multiple shows at the San Diego County Fair scheduled for this week. Instead, the music community is grieving for one of its brightest talents.
“Every music partner I've ever had was tremendous but Craig was the most special and magical,” Schiele writes.
“Half of what I saw him play could be defined as ‘impossible.' I should know, I had a front row seat for almost 5 years playing music with him. In my opinion, [calling him] ‘the best in San Diego' is a serious understatement.”
Yerkes is survived by his wife, Elise, and two sons. Details regarding memorial services were still pending at press time. —Nathan Dinsdale
View from a stool
It was Friday night, 10:30 p.m., across the street from The Casbah. My friend and I spied Seattle's hottest new export, Fleet Foxes, looking like mountain men and chilling on the corner before their set. Then we noticed a teenage girl, maybe 14, adorably punk-rock and riding a skateboard. The band noticed her, too, as she wobbled awkwardly across Kettner Boulevard.
It was clear we were all thinking the same thing: No way that kid's going to skate down that steep hill. But she did.
Still waiting for the signal to change, we watched Fleet Foxes as they watched her. Then, in near-perfect unison, they exclaimed “Ohhhhh!!!” The girl ate it on the railroad tracks.
It sucked for her (she lived), but when we crossed the street, it was a bonding moment with the band. We shook our heads together at her foolish courage. Later, I used our unusual meeting as an excuse to chat up drummer Josh Tillman about Fleet Foxes' sudden fame and glory (from an extremely favorable review on Pitchfork to a recent No. 1 spot on the CMJ 200 charts).
“It's crazy,” Tillman said, exhausted from the day's long haul from San Francisco. “And the backlash has already started with the alt-weeklies in Seattle.”
Backlash? Seattle, what are you thinking? You should be giving these hairy boys a key to the city. They are, in a word, sublime.
Sure, their wooly outfits and beards were out of place on this San Diego summer night. And when one of the guys started bowing an acoustic guitar, my friend quipped: “What is this? The soundtrack to Into the Wild?”
But Fleet Foxes' music—spectacularly intricate, five-part vocal harmonies set against a backdrop of '70s-era, baroque folk-rock (think Crosby, Stills and Nash)—is like that crazy kid skating down the steep hill: bold and beautiful, with nary a thought about the end of the ride.—AnnaMaria Stephens
The Enrique Experience
Flip Cup isn't an Olympic sport, but if it were up to the folks at VAVi Sport and Social Club, it would be. They staged a tournament at The Tap Room in Pacific Beach as part of their “Ultimate Happy Hour Series,” and ultimate it was. Teams lined up around regulation-size tables and furiously flipped away.
“Sean, what the fuck is wrong with you?” one teammate screamed to another as he fumbled. Another yelled, “Focus, focus, focus!” at the top of his lungs. The stress in the room was so thick—it was like a scene straight out of a Viet Cong POW holding pen. A light dangling from the ceiling added to the effect.
I had to take a breather, so my friend Claire and I ended up down the street at Bub's Dive, where the motto is “proudly kicking people out since 1998.” I ordered a tall can of PBR (at $4.50, one of the best deals on Garnet Avenue), and Mitch the bartender told Claire, “You're beautiful—are you Aztec?”
“No, I think they're extinct,” she replied.
An all-female game of tug of war—mud pit and all—was playing on a flat screen, followed by the no-less-tawdry “Secret Lives of NFL Cheerleaders.”
When Claire started flirting with some random guy, Mitch got upset. “That's inappropriate behavior, and I will not stand for it!” And so a new legend was born: Mitch the bitch.
Later, back at the tournament, it was the moment of truth—the final battle between The Shits and The Tummy Snakes. The crowd went crazy as The Tummy Snakes came out triumphant, and VAVi mascot Leroy the Liger roared like he has never roared before. —Enrique Limón To find out more on VAVi's upcoming events, including “Human Pac-Man,” check out govavi.com.
The Kinsee Report
Indian food, mango juice mixed with champagne, and ragas played by a guy sitting cross-legged on the floor with a sitar set the mood at the Passage to India Gala at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park last Friday night.
A sparse crowd of MoPA's mostly older members mingled and eventually gathered around the main attraction: photographer Fredric Roberts, a short, round older man whose stories about his Humanities: Images of India exhibition (on view through Sept. 7) were as colorful as his photos.
Roberts isn't like most starving-artist photographers. Before he picked up a camera, he was one of the top dogs at the National Association of Securities Dealers.
“I started out loving the money stuff,” he said, “but by the time I got out of it, I hated it, so I got as far away from it as I could and I went to see people who I thought were enormously rich in a very fundamental, very real sense.
“And I spent a lot of time with them,” he said, pointing to a photo of a group of teenage girls in bright shawls staring intensely into his camera. “I don't just go in and shoot like some—I won't say what. You know, Susan Sontag wrote a book called On Photography, and she said the biggest jerks in the world are travel photographers, because they walk around putting a camera in your face and it's very demeaning.”
Instead, Roberts says, he spends weeks at a time in Indian villages with his subjects to get the kind of intimate photographs for which he's now famous. The travel and time he's able to spend in India, however, is a luxury he openly acknowledges is a result of the very wealth he now claims to despise.—Kinsee Morlan
Last Friday, June 27, the Dreamcatcher room at Viejas Casino was the site of the 2008 Cuervo Black U.S. Air Guitar Championships, one of 24 regional competitions leading up to the national finals in San Francisco on Aug. 8.
One might assume that the crowd would consist primarily of metalheads who spend their afternoons playing endless guitar solos at Guitar Center, but the modest crowd was a mixed bag: some college dudes, yuppie couples and even some senior citizens looking for a temporary distraction from video poker.
Audience members were invited to join the festivities alongside the touring professional competitors. Unfortunately, all the locals pretty much stunk (although “Medium to Fast Eddie” earned bonus points for best stage name). The pros had the benefit of experience (both on stage and in their costume selections), and they largely proved superior in their attention to technical detail. For instance, there's no guitar chord that can be played by “giving the goat,” which seemed to be a popular move among the novices. Second, there is no such thing as a guitar with a 5-foot-long neck, so rein in those arms. But the worst culprits were the ladies who simply performed stripper dances but with no stripping involved. As one judge put it, “There's no pole up there.”—Dryw Keltz