July 12, 2006

Pappy & Harriet's remains standing

Eric Burdon among legends who have taken stage at historic site

Bruce Fessier
The Desert Sun

Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace isn't just a musty historical landmark. It's the pantheon of a vibrant high desert music scene.

Queens of the Stone Age, Eric Burdon, Donovan, Camper Van Beethoven. This is the home venue for rock legends who live in the Morongo Basin.

And that scene was saved on Tuesday when the wildfire passed by Pappy & Harriet's.

When U2 producer singer songwriter Daniel Lanois was performing at the now fire-endangered saloon in 2004, it was almost expected that his friend Burdon would show up. Lanois lives in New Orleans. Burdon sings "The House of the Rising Sun" about New Orleans. So Burdon did show up and he did sang "House of the Rising Sun."

Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin recorded the song "29 Palms." And he stayed at the 29 Palms Inn earlier this year. But he didn't sing in the 29 Palms Inn lounge. He drove to Pappy & Harriet's and sang seven songs at that rustic Western saloon.

Dave Lowery, leader of Camper Van Beethoven and the more recent alt rock band Cracker, is hoping to hold his second annual Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven Campout Sept. 8-9.

Pappy & Harriet's isn't just a place for old cowboys. Its diversity is what makes it so legendary, the public radio station KCRW in Santa Monica often tapes shows for broadcast from there.

Young people, old people, middle-aged hippies. They all mix comfortably at Pappy & Harriet's with an appreciation that the music is honest. It's organic.

It was founded in 1946 by a group of investors including Roy Rogers to serve as a place to make cowboy movies. When television came in and they stopped making "B" Westerns, it fell into disuse, but attracted artists and eccentrics who liked the idea of living in a place that was literally a fantasy land.

A group tried to turn it into an amusement park in the 1960s, but the plans by designer Will Hanson never got off the ground. Tumbleweeds and manufactured amusements just didn't fit.

The '60s troubadour Donovan used to sing there in the late 1970s and early '80s, but the place became known as a biker bar around that time.

Pappy Allen and his wife, Harriet. bought the saloon in the mid-1980s and Harriet ran it by herself after Pappy's death in 1994. But it was Robyn Celia and Linda Krantz who brought in the big-name entertainment and fostered the growth of new talent when they bought the club in 2004.

Now emigrés from Los Angeles and San Francisco are coming to the desert to try out new material at Pappy & Harriet's. The palace offers songwriter showcases and jam sessions with the "house band" Thrift Store All Stars.