By Eleni P. Austin
Teddy Quinn and I have been pals for almost eight years, and it felt like a kinship from the very beginning. Maybe, that’s because before we officially met, our paths had had crossed several times over the decades. We were both a couple of Laurel Canyon kids, each growing up in the swinging ‘60s, soaking up L.A,’s eclectic, artistic enclave. He attended North Hollywood High just ahead of my cousin, Lizzy, and the first time I saw The Dream Syndicate in 1983, his band, Telekin, were the openers.
These days, Teddy is known as the unofficial musical mayor of Joshua Tree. But his journey began in LaPorte, Indiana. He relocated, with his parents and older siblings to Laurel Canyon around the time he turned five. Precocious and undeniably adorable, he drew the attention of casting directors, and quickly began earning his keep as a child actor. Not only did he accidently invent a catchphrase in his first Bayer aspirin commercial, but throughout the ‘60s and early ‘70s he appeared in movies, starring alongside icons like Lana Turner, Doris Day and Don Knotts. He also had memorable turns in sitcoms like Bewitched, Courtship Of Eddie’s Father and My Favorite Martian.
As a teen, he segued almost effortlessly into a career in music. He cultivated a loyal following and garnered rave reviews fronting bands like The ‘80s, Telekin and Ministry Of Fools. By the early ‘90s, he was burnt out on the smoggy sprawl of Los Angeles. Along with best pal and bandmate Fred Drake, he sought refuge in the desolate surroundings of Joshua Tree.
In the High Desert, Teddy and Fred continued to ply their trade as musicians. Teddy was on hand for the inception of Fred’s Rancho de La Luna recording studio. Sadly, Fred passed away in 2002, but Teddy continues to carry the musical torch they lit together. Completely immersing himself in the in the artistic community, he earned the affectionate sobriquet of Joshua Tree’s musical mayor.
When Teddy wasn’t busy writing and recording his own music, he began hosting an Open Mic Night at The Beatnik Café. Around the same time, Pappy & Harriet’s proprietors Robyn Celia and Linda Krantz were looking to start a similar event at their joint, Johnette Napolitano (Concrete Blonde) suggested Teddy for the gig.
In the ensuing years he presented thousands of musicians, first-timers mixed with seasoned veterans and celebrated hit-makers like Elle King, First Aid Kit and Ke$ha. Shooter Jennings spent his wedding night at an Open Mic singing songs with his mom, Jessi Colter.
In 2016, Teddy stepped away from curating the Pappy’s Open Mic night and concentrated on recording his sixth solo effort, 1.11 (named for the day after his musical touchstone, David Bowie passed away). Health issues sidelined him for a bit, but he still managed to focus on creating his own art. Recently, he was approached by singer-songwriter and AWE Bar talent buyer Rachel Dean, to see if he wanted to resurrect the Open Mic night as a monthly event at the Yucca Valley venue. He readily accepted, noting “I love what Rachel is doing. She’s carrying on a tradition that helped create one of the best musical communities anywhere.” He continued “The (AWE Bar) atmosphere is a dream. Warm and elegant at the same time. Music lovers and musicians alike will be able to drink and dine in an acoustically ideal room while enjoying the performances. The stage is set with a backline of vintage amps and drums, so no one has to provide their own. I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones.”
Teddy and I recently caught up and it was an opportunity for me to ask a few burning questions.
Eleni: I’m sure that plenty of musicians in the high and low desert will be stoked to hear that you’re resurrecting your Open Mic Night on a monthly basis at AWE Bar. What was the impetus behind your decision?
Teddy: Thank you! It felt like a good time to get out there and when Rachel asked, I couldn’t say no. I have been a homebody for most of the past few years, apart from events at The Beatnik, so I hadn’t seen the inside of AWE Bar. Once I did, and heard the amazing sound system, I knew it was a good call.
Eleni: You spent a lot of 2022 curating a posthumous Fred Drake album. I’m sure that was bittersweet, to say the least. Can you talk about your friendship and what his legacy means to you?
Teddy: Yes, I’d been sitting with those recordings for the 20 years since his passing, so all of the music was very familiar to me. I think that it was getting to the point of needing to share it or risk having it remain unheard. We had been friends and sometimes collaborators for 20 years, so it was really a 40th anniversary of our friendship. The title, “I Give You Life,” from one of his pieces, is really true. He inadvertently gave life to us all, in a way. 2023 marks the 30th anniversary of our trip to the desert, from which we never returned. Now he’s out on the Otherworld tour and I’m sure he’s making incredible there, as he did here. For those who may not have known Fred, I think of him as the person who planted the seed of what has become an enormous music scene in the desert. I know there were others before us, but I’m talking about the turn-of-the-century, modern music community that has flourished in the 21st century.
Eleni: It’s been six years since your sublime 1.11 record was released. Do you have a new solo album in the works?
Teddy: Thank you so much. 1.11 came at the end of nine years at Pappy & Harriet’s, which included a lot of the musicians I’d play with over those years, so I look forward to seeing what happens next. I have several new songs I’d like to record. They seem to have accumulated during the years of semi-isolation. I snuck down to The Beatnik a couple of weeks ago, to play some of them, even the unfinished ones, for a small group of friends. I think they have a different character than some of my older stuff. I really just need to set myself up to record here at home again.
Eleni: You have led such an interesting life. Born in Indiana, a Laurel Canyon kid, a talented and prolific young actor and a well-respected musician. Have you ever considered writing an autobiography?
Teddy: We’ve all been living through interesting times for sure. I have started writing about my life in pieces. There is a book coming and a sort of autobiographical art film in the works as well. Thankfully, I started taking a lot of notes when I was very young and I have a lot of images and recordings too. When I’ve questioned whether it’s a story worth telling, I was reminded by my son that it’s a good thing the ancient Greeks didn’t say that.
Eleni: This ancient Greek concurs! Finally, you’ve made the high desert, specifically Joshua Tree, your home for nearly 30 years. Even as it’s become a popular, hip (shudder) destination, does it still contain the same magic for you?
Teddy: Things are changing, but the elemental things remain the same. Every day there is a very nice sunset, at least, and often, it’s spectacular. I’m not saying it takes 30 years to experience, but it’s important for visitors and newcomers to this place, not to rush into it, or through it. The best parts are revealed in the quiet moments, and it can take some time to unfold. That’s where the inspiration can get in and give the artist something to share with other people. People tap into that magic, but they can’t own it, or take it away. So yes, this place still has the magic that we originally came to love about it, all those years ago.
(OPEN MIC with Teddy Quinn debuts at AWE Bar on Sunday, December 18th, and will run the second to last Sunday every month. Sign ups start at 6pm. AWE Bar – 56193 Twenty Nine Palms Hwy, Yucca Valley)