Derwood Andrews was happy to bring out his birthday present, a 70-year-old lap steel guitar, and a hat full of new tunes for an appreciative audience Dec. 27 at Rose and Buster’s Wine Tasting Room in Old Town Yucca Valley. The British ex-pat played from his latest CD, “Tone Poet Vol. II,” a baker’s dozen of original blues ruminations, front porch pickin’ and slidin’ and desert philosophizing; just a man and his no-apologies voice, no-excuses songs and a seasoned old guitar.
“In a band I was usually behind the singer, and there’s a certain power when you’re with a band,” he admitted before his set. “I’ve played in front of 10,000 people and it didn’t mean a thing. But this is frightening as hell to me, just sitting on my own, singing and playing.”
Andrews started playing guitar when he was 10 years old.
“The music of that time was Deep Purple. Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper and David Bowie. I sat in my bedroom for five years learning my craft,” he recalled. “My first guitar was a crappy Russian acoustic, and I scraped ‘Gibson’ at the top of the headstock with a penknife. It didn’t fool anyone. I’ve still got it, actually.”
Andrews grew up in Chelsea, Fullham, a well-to-do area of London, England. He left school at 16 for his first job — as the queen’s gardener at Kensington Palace, then as Princess Margaret’s private gardener.
“I just enjoyed being outside, mowing the lawn, getting a tan, ” he said, smiling. “And 1976 was the best summer England’s ever had; it was sunny for three months! But after that, I thought, ‘It’s never going to be as good as that again,’ so I quit.”
During this time punk rock was beginning, and a bunch of punk fans came to hear his first band, Paradox, at the Fulham Art Center because they thought it was a new punk band.
“We were basically motorcycle people, we had a lot of greaser friends, so there was this big, almighty punch-up between the greasers and the punks,” he recalled fondly. “But after the gig this guy came up and asked if I wanted to audition for his band the next day. It was Billy Idol, who wasn’t anyone yet, and I ended up playing with him for three years. It was good, we did a lot of touring. Then I had enough of that and I left to form my own band, Empire, which did absolutely nothing, it was dead in the water. But now that one album is hailed as an influence on the Washington, D.C. ‘emo movement’ in the early ’90s. It’s gratifying that after all that time, something you thought was irrelevant was an influence for famous people.”
After a successful band, Westworld, in Europe, Andrews and associates moved to Cave Creek, Arizona, in the early ’90s.
“That’s where I fell in love with the desert,” he said. “It’s a different desert, but it’s the same principle with the harshness, the terrible hot weather, the great storms and the beautiful sky. Then I moved to LA, dropped out of music for a while, became a motorcycle messenger. I met my wife, Stephanie, in a bar, Lava Land in Hollywood. We even had our wedding reception there.”
The couple were living in downtown LA when a friend told them about Pappy and Harriet’s. They started “escaping” LA every weekend to stay at the Pioneertown Motel. About 14 years ago, they decided to move to the Hi-Desert’s mesa.
The lap steel guitar Andrews is now playing, a birthday gift from Stephanie, puzzled him at first.
“It’s like giving a piano player an accordion; it’s totally different,” he said. “So I learned on my own, and I was back to discovering something new again, as I did as a child, sitting in my bedroom with a guitar. That excited me.”
Andrews put out a new album that’s getting playtime on KCRW and started playing around the Hi-Desert and in Los Angeles.
“I think I’m on a right path,” he said. “I’ve only got myself to think of, and if I screw up, I screw up. I’ve got nowhere to hide.”
Andrews’ next gig is Jan. 30 at the 29 Palms Inn.
A selection of Andrews’ music, including “Tone Poet Vol. II,” is available on www.cdbaby.com.