Musical enigmas don’t come much bigger than everybody’s favorite bar band, The Rugburns. Their raucous brand of indie rock has brought the band to just about every watering hole in Southern California, all the while helping them create about as many stories as they did songs. But the band’s beauty always lay in their inherent dichotomy-beneath what seemed to be a flippant exterior was a disarming depth of talent.
While The Rugburns still play shows from time to time, the band’s greatest triumph is what has emerged from its still-smoldering ashes. Frontman Steve Poltz went on to write the gigantean “You Were Meant for Me” with Jewel and release three albums of his own, while his sidekick, Gregory Page, amassed a staggering 18 solo albums and introduced the world to talents such as Tom Brosseau. Lucky for us, Page and Poltz’s first encounter was thankfully not a indication of what was to come.
“I heard about this group that was playing just down the street from my apartment,” recalled Page. “So I ventured down, and there was Steve and his partner in their underwear pouring beer on themselves. It was the most ridiculous thing I had ever seen, but little did I know at the time that I would become best friends with Steve and join the band a few months later.”
It seems that Page was almost destined to make a career out of playing music. In fact, it was Page’s mother who really set the standard for her son. As an ambitious young lady living in London, she became the singer for the first all-girl beat band and was subsequently signed to EMI. In true 1960s form, the group toured extensively and played shows with artists ranging from Johnny Cash to The Beatles-an experience that even led a very young Page to singing a song while sitting on Paul McCartney’s lap.
But despite all this, it wasn’t music that caused the Page family to leave Britain for America. Rather, it was the recently instituted immigration quota system. As an English transplant living in San Diego, Page took years to finally pick up a guitar. But when music resurfaced in the family, it did so undeniably.
After six years in The Rugburns, the band’s two main antagonists eventually started to explore their own musical paths. And, in so doing, an outfit that had worked hard to forge a reputation for frivolity, subsequently spawned two of the most enthralling and seductive troubadours to be currently touring the U.S.
“That’s a very interesting way to look at it, because I have never actually made that observation,” mused Page. “When we were in The Rugburns I was always trying to encourage Steve to play more of his solo shows because he could see myself stemming off and making a career as more a solo troubadour-type performer. I think the timing was right because we inspired each other quite a lot at that time.”
Inspiration also came by way of a small San Diego coffee shop called Java Joe’s. Not only did it provide a home away from home for the two Rugburn refugees, it also nurtured careers for the likes of Lisa Saunders, Jason Mraz, Tom Brosseau, and a singer-songwriter named Jewel. While the early ’90s were a dynamic time musically for San Diego, Page stressed that it was a creative hotbed on a small scale.
“Most people come here to retire, they don’t come here to forge an artist career,” explained Page. “It’s funny because we’re all transplants from somewhere else. Steve’s from Canada, I’m from England, and Tom is from North Dakota. It’s a small place in the creative sense, so when someone new rolls into town, we all know about them within about 48 hours.”
In that kind of close-knit, creative community, friendships are quickly forged and collaborative opportunities ultimately arise. Page gave Mraz his first show in town and produced several of Brosseau’s initial recorded offerings. But instead of looking at it as a different creative outlet, Page feels that his production work is simply an expression of the relationship between recording and songwriting.
“For me, recording and songwriting pretty much came together at the same time,” he explained. “As I wrote songs, I recorded them. I was one of the first musicians in San Diego to have a home studio. So, along with recording myself, I started recording anyone else who wanted me to : It’s really like having a musical affair with somebody. You get to experience a different perspective and through that you can learn so much.”
While production has allowed Page to make an undeniable musical mark, it’s songwriting where he reigns supreme. To spend an evening in his company is like sitting in a living room with your best friend. His engaging songs and endearing banter are free from pretense and latent with cause. He makes being a singer-songwriter looks easy. Which begs the question: “What’s it really like to be a troubadour?”
“I like to think of it as being independently wealthy,” chuckled Page. “You’re completely independent of wealth.”
Gregory Page will play Goleta’s Mercury Lounge (5871 Hollister Ave.) Thursday, July 17 at 9 p.m. Visit myspace.com/mercurylounge for details.