Actor, Singer-Songwriter and Storyteller
Ronny Cox’s Wikipedia entry describes him as an actor, singer-songwriter and storyteller, but as far as he’s concerned, “storyteller” definitely comes first.
He confirms it while delivering one fascinating anecdote after another about his music career, his myriad stage and screen roles, and even his marriage to Mary, his high-school sweetheart.
In concert, Ronny captivates with stories spoken and sung, employing that age-old art form to forge connections he can’t as an actor.
“I love acting,” he insists. “But not as much as music. With acting, there’s an imaginary fourth wall between you and the audience. With my show, a profound one-on-one sharing can take place.”
Personally greeting arriving audiences, he sets a tone of warmth and familiarity even before taking the stage.
“I want it to feel like when we were kids sharing stories and songs with our family,” he says, adding, “To me, the story is as important as the song.”
[read more] He didn’t begin telling his own until he hit 50, when he took a break from acting, went to Nashville and got a record deal. He learned songcraft from the label’s hired guns; they liked his knack for creating vivid, cinematic imagery — a byproduct of his work in productions from Deliverance, Bound for Glory, RoboCop, The Onion Field, Total Recall and Beverly Hills Cop I and II to the final season of TV’s Nashville.
Obviously, Ronny’s guitar-strumming “Dueling Banjos” scene in Deliverance wouldn’t have become one of filmdom’s most iconic moments if he couldn’t connect as an actor. But he’s proud that his debut role, and many since, came because he could play.
Born in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, Ronny began calling square dances at 10 with his dad. That led to performing throughout high school in Portales, where they’d moved when he was 13, and college at Eastern New Mexico University. First, it was western swing; later, he embraced the “folk scare.” He also performed shows containing only Mickey Newbury songs.
But for decades, acting paid the bills. He began at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage, where he worked as a production intern while Mary earned a doctorate in chemistry from Georgetown University. By graduation, they had two sons. During her post-doctoral residency at Manhattan’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Ronny made his Broadway debut.
Then came Deliverance, and his first series, Apple’s Way. He’s since played dozens of “men of authority: bad guys and presidents and all those Robocop and Total Recall characters.” But Cop Rock, the police procedural/ensemble musical series from Hill Street Blues creator Steven Bochco, inspired his return to music.
“It was a miserable failure,” Ronny notes. “But it’s the only show I’ve ever been in where every cast member came to work every day, whether we were called or not, because we couldn’t stay away. I realized then how much I missed music.”
He combined his talents for the 2017 film Pure Country: Pure Heart, with Willie Nelson. In it, he sings an original, “Silver City.” Another, “I’ll Waltz You Home,” is on Nashville’s final soundtrack, as well as his 2012 album, Ronny, Rad and Karen, with Radoslav Lorković and Karen Mal. On that version, his timeless tenor goes melancholy, as if he’s addressing Mary, who died on the 50th anniversary of their first date.
Since then, he’s emphasized singing, often at events such as the Folk Alliance International Conference; Woodyfest, in Woody Guthrie’s Okemah, Oklahoma, hometown; or Florida’s 30A Songwriters Festival. He’s also recorded 10 albums, a DVD (Songs, Stories … and Out & Out Lies) and an audio autobiography (Dueling Banjos: the Deliverance of Drew); 2017’s Lost in the Words, Lost in the Music was recorded live.
“I never feel more alive and vital than when I’m performing in front of an audience,” Ronny reveals.
That album’s “Bus to Baltimore,” about Alzheimer’s disease, earned him a 2018 Roundglass Music Award for creating “socially responsible music for wellness, environmental consciousness and peace.”
But Ronny isn’t resting on his laurels. He’s still recording and touring, while occasionally convincing strangers he’s not their uncle — or, as one woman insisted, her gynecologist.
“I almost never get recognized as an actor, but people think they know me,” Ronny says.
Once they hear his stories, they will.
Autodidact Lenny Pickett was born in Las Cruces New Mexico in 1954. He began his career at 14 playing saxophone and clarinet in bars and on the street in the San Francisco Bay Area. He toured through the 70’s with the legendary Oakland based r&b group Tower Of Power. He moved to New York City in 1981 and worked through the 80’s as a saxophonist and an arranger for David Bowie, The Talking Heads and Laurie Anderson, among many others. He is currently musical director, for NBC’s Saturday Night Live, where he has been playing the saxophone solos since 1985, and leading the band since 1995.
He has also composed music for experimental dance and theater, including collaborations with choreographers Steven Petronio, Charles Moulton, Bebe Miller, Yoshiko Chuma, James Sewell and the opera “Welfare”, with filmmaker Fred Wiseman and poet David Slavitt. He also contributed compositions for Alan Ginsberg’s recording “The Lion For Real” and William Burroughs’ “Dead City Radio”. His concert music has been performed by the Kronos Quartet, the New Century Saxophone Quartet, the New York Composers Orchestra, and others.
In 2012 he recorded an album of his music with The UMO Jazz Orchestra in Finland. The 1986 recording of his music, “Lenny Pickett with the Borneo Horns”, was described by Downbeat magazine as “a brilliantly creative use of acoustic instruments.” He is currently teaching in the Jazz Studies Program at New York University, where he has been teaching since 2004.
Don Lesmen Chavez
A golden alto saxophone was his trademark.
But Don Lesmen could have played 20 to 25 different instruments.
Few musicians could match his style.
As a junior in high school, he organized the Lesmen Chavez band in 1933 – the year that Carl Cramer, the Albuquerque High bandmaster, selected him as a member of the New Mexico band that represented the state in the Chicago World’s Fair.
His band played its first professional gig the night Prohibition was repealed -Dec. 3, 1933
-at the Blue Ribbon Night Club on Isleta Boulevard Southwest. He changed his name, and the name of the orchestra, to Don Lesmen after World War II because, he said, it was easier to market the band for country club dances and society weddings with a more stylish name. And the orchestra became renowned in the region for its swing and sophisticated jazz.
Lesmen suspended his band, formally, in the 1960s, and devoted most of his time to his business, the Don Lesmen Music Center. He played occasionally, but his band was inactive for years because he “hated rock and roll,” said his wife, Emily. Lesmen revived the band in the 1980s when audiences welcomed back the big band sounds.
“Music was his life. He was active until the (Lou Gehrig) disease wore him down,” said his wife. “One of his last performances was in the Coronation Ball of the 1987 Miss USA Pageant in Tingley Coliseum.”
She said: “He had simple tastes. He either walked six miles a day or swam 40 laps.
“He loved to travel. We went everywhere as a member of the Winnebago Club. He appreciated the sunsets, the forests and the wildflowers. We also went on a couple of ship cruises. We toured the Caribbean islands two years ago.”
The Don Lesmen Swing Band has made its first tape. The tape has 15 numbers and was produced by Broadway Production · Studio. The band plays at the Coronado Club once a month and is directed by Lesmen, who played the saxophone when he was at Albuquerque High School and has had bands ever I since 1934. A vocal cord ailment now prevents him from blowing his horn, but he is on the bandstand as the leader. He said he has recovered from colon cancer which required surgery in March 1987. The band’s managers are Carl Webb and Dave Gonzales. Lesman ran a music store for 26 years which he sold to Mark Padilla and Freddy Pohl.
Lesmen passed away at age 72 of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Albuquerque Journal – Carlos Salazar, Staff reporter
PIMENTEL AND SONS
At the age of 14, Lorenzo Pimentel learned how to handcraft beautiful traditional guitars in his brother’s shop in Mexico. After marrying his wife, Josefina, Lorenzo moved his family to Albuquerque after falling in love with the Sandia Mountains. He began making guitars in a violin shop. In 1950, he opened his own store in Carlsbad, New Mexico. He eventually moved to Albuquerque and continued to construct guitars the traditional way-cutting the wood, crafting bone nuts and saddles, shaping the bridge and fingerboards and assembling the necks. Lorenzo always believed in innovation and he constantly pushed the boundaries of guitar construction and materials. He passed this passion and commitment to excellence to his sons, Rick, Robert, and Victor, who embraced their father’s legacy and today continue to make, by hand, unique and exceptional instruments. Pimentel & Sons has grown into a company known worldwide.
Pimentel & Sons have earned the Hispanic Heritage Month Distinguished Honor Award, the Governor’s Award for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts, and an Invitation to the Smithsonian Institute’s Festival of American Folklife. For over 65 years Pimentel & Sons Guitar Makers has become synonymous with traditional, handcrafted musical instruments. Generations of musicians have played and appreciated the world-renowned Pimentel guitars that capture the spirit and culture of New Mexico.
Lorenzo and Josefina Pimentel Founders,
Rick Pimentel, Robert Pimentel, and Victor Pimentel, Master luthiers (Guitar Makers),
Hector Pimentel Guitarist and Gustavo Pimentel Guitarist
Music Industry Professional
During the time in 1958 when I was attempting to earn a teaching degree, I landed a part time job at the educational music department at May’s Music, located at the 500 block of Central SW, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There I typed out and organized sheet music titles, processed orders for Independent School Districts, made bid proposals for instruments and even attended Bid Openings at Albuquerque Public School Board. Eventually, I helped sell and even went to schools in town and rural places to rent out band instruments for student’s beginning classes. I met musicians at their events and homes and took instruments for them to try out right on the spot. Two years later, at Riedling Music, for fifteen years, then at King Music, for another fifteen years, I continued that system which proved successful, in that I needed to keep track so as not to meet the same musicians at different night clubs. On 3 X 5 cards, I noted names, addresses, phone numbers, their talents, and other information. It helped to suggest replacements when band leaders needed and requested help or remind them of available stock items. I still have that file. I considered my customers and their families as friends whom I continue to be in contact and reminisce the golden, over thirty years in the music life around the state. And I feel as if I have many friends in Heaven as well! I’m almost the last man standing!
An antidote: Once, as a drummer needed a part which I couldn’t find, I suggested to him to go to my former employment-store and tell the clerk: Look in the bottom drawer and there is what I need.” The clerk asked: “How do you know? Charlie said so!” Another time, a music store owner from Grants came in, jokingly furious, saying: “A Guy who wanted a discount stated if he didn’t get it, he would go to Charlie!” Of course, the store owner knew who the customer was talking about!
My greatest quest is in appreciation of the talents, perseverance, discipline, and with all that is found in every musician I have had the privilege in meeting, the best in New Mexico and many others elsewhere. Of course, I am mostly grateful to my wife, Lucy. She has had the greatest patience and forbearance for a guy who could not musically entertain a soul for five minutes and his instrument was his mouth!
Mark & Polly Padilla (Lesmen's)
Music Industry Professionals
Owners of Don Lesmens Music & Lesmens Pro Audio for 34 years for a combined total of over 60 years