Ken Leighton 8 p.m., Feb. 21
RIYL: Darius and the Magnets, the Sham Saints
- "Like Cleopatra" · July 15, 2012
Inception: San Diego, 1990
Influences: Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Warren Zevon, Elvis Costello
Darius Degher was a postmodern eclectic long before it was cool, fronting the psychedelic 1980s San Diego band Darius and the Magnets with Michael Packard (“With those cool haircuts!”), who released an EP and then a single on Big Time Records of Australia.
The Magnets frequently showcased the sitar, a sound forever reminiscent of the sixties, thanks to George Harrison bringing the Indian stringed instrument, taught to him by master player Ravi Shankar, into the music of the Beatles.
After leaving San Diego, Degher played and recorded with Warren Zevon (Sentimental Hygiene, Bad Karma, etc), before embarking on a solo career and releasing several CDs, beginning with Cardboard Confessional (Gold Castle/Capitol Records). Several of his CDs still feature the sitar
“I do still feel pretty good about those sitar parts,” says Degher, who once played the instrument on a Warren Zevon song. “It’s funny, I almost sold it when we first moved to Europe, but Ravi Shankar’s sitar tech talked me out of it, when I was trying to sell it to him. That’s one of three encounters that I’ve had with the great Ravi Shankar, without ever meeting him. It was also his son Shuba, now deceased, who taught me how to play, in a UCLA ethnomusicology class. And his daughter went to my old high school, San Dieguito High.”
The video for the Cardboard Confessional song “White Boy Raving” was aired on MTV’s 120 Minutes show, making Billboard Magazine’s Top Twenty Video List. His second solo CD, Garage Sale of the Soul, was released on F-Hole Records in 1997.
In 1998, Degher moved to Sweden and taught college creative writing, as well as taking up a new sideline as a poet. His Swedish band Burning Bridges released one CD and performed at numerous festivals and clubs around the country from 2000 to 2005.
In 2012, having returned to Leucadia, Degher released his first full-length in around eight years, the Coyote Cantos, recorded at Little Parthenon Studio in Leucadia and Sweet Sixteen Studio in Malmö, Sweden.
One track features his old sitar. “The sitar hasn't gotten that much attention in ages, it was ages before that. Mostly, my records are about my balladeer thing. It's funny, though, [former KGB DJ] Jim McInnes just uncovered a tape recorded at My Rich Uncle's in 1982, as part of the Homegrown CD that year. Evidently, at KPRI they had to bake it for 24 hours to make it playable, like some ancient archaeological artefact. He's sending it to me in the coming days. That will definitely have sitar on it.”
His daughter Cleopatra Degher was 20 when she released her own debut EP in summer 2012.
Darius Degher's sixth solo CD Eleven Story Strum was released in May 2015, featuring songs about the Mars Rover, a murder at a Burger King, and even referencing the Spanish Inquisition. When I mention to him that it sports a more western/sagebrush vibe than one might expect, with lots of storytelling, kinda Harry Chapin in a ten gallon hat stuff, Degher notes "Aren't my story songs a lot darker and edgier than his?"
"It seems the whole local singer-songwriter community is stuck on happy-shiny-beachy love songs. No rough edges allowed. They're young, and some sound great. But I never see any who are lyric-forward. I continue to fly the flag of the Dylan-Simon-Mitchell-Zevon-Costello school of song craft, but it seems that's being swamped over by a much more banal zeitgeist. I'm not suggesting they sit around reading Dostoyevski and Faulkner all day, but they've gotta know that there's a bigger world of songwriting out there."
Degher debuted a new band in 2016, the Sham Saints, featuring Michael Packard from Darius and the Magnets, "playing together again after some decades," says Degher. "You never know what's gonna happen in life. I'm excited about a whole batch of new songs I've been writing. Michael and I are trading lead vocals and guitar solos and singing lots of harmonies." The band also features Gary Reed Johnson on drums and Mark Windrum on bass.
2017 saw the release of Laughing at Time, featuring seventeen unreleased Darius and the Magnets songs recorded between 1983 and 1985. Another Magnets track, "Saturday at 3PM," was heard that year in the film Pitching Tents, which is set in 1984.