Venice-based guitarist Christopher Hawley rolls into The Cabin on Saturday night
Bandleader working on a reggae album
Venice Beach-based guitarist and songwriter Christopher Hawley performs in Utah so often he may as well be called a local.
“I’ve come close to buying a condo there a few times,” said the leader of the Christopher Hawley Rollers band. “Luckily I’m only an hour-and-a-half plane ride away.
Hawley, who will perform Saturday at The Cabin, does have a guitar that he considers a Beehive State resident.
“I bought it in Utah a couple of years ago, and I leave it there when I go back to California,” he said with a laugh. “So I made that commitment.”
Joking aside, Hawley’s relationship with the state is more than just a once-a-year fling.
“I’ve been grateful to come to Utah every month this summer,” he said. “Utah has really opened up so I can play music for people at Gracie’s in Salt Lake City, and The Cabin in Park City. California is sort of going in that direction, but I’d rather be in Utah right now.”
Hawley has also made connections with Utah-based musicians, including those who play the Park City circuit.
“It’s so incredible to play with musicians here in Utah, who have learned my songs and have added these incredible harmonies,” he said. “Greg Friedman adds things that I always miss when I play my songs in California, and bassist Marsha Bloom is another person I really enjoy playing with. And when I play with these great artists, they put so much energy into my music. It’s just magical and that’s why I love coming through Utah.”
Some of Hawley’s gratitude stems from not having regular gigs during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I try not to think about the last year and a half, because it just makes me sad,” he said.
To fill the time, Hawley honed his playing skills in Baja, Mexico, and played for tips on the Venice Boardwalk down the street from his home in California.
“I was writing a lot of new songs, and those opportunities gave me a place where I could play those new songs and get my fingers on the strings,” he said.
Throughout the years, Hawley has written a slew of songs and recorded a string of albums, which include his 2017 studio disc, “Stories,” and his 2018 live album, “Zona Sur,” which was recorded during his tour in Costa Rica.
The albums are available on Spotify and other streaming platforms, he said.
Hawley is currently working on a new studio album.
“It’s going to be a full-on reggae album,” he said. “I’ve always had reggae tunes here and there on my other albums, but this album is exclusively reggae songs.”
Hawley connected with Carlton “Santa” Davis, the drummer for Bob Marley & the Wailers and The Aggravators.
Davis has also performed with Jimmy Cliff, Burning Spear, Peter Tosh and Black Uhuru, and is currently Ziggy Marley’s drummer.
“He’s the drummer on my new album, and brought in some other musicians, including Ziggy’s keyboard player, Jawge Hughes,” Hawley said.
The album will feature all original songs, including the remake of Hawley’s “Rise and Shine,” which he released acoustically a few years ago.
“I think we’re going to change the band name to Jah Rollers,” he said.
Although Hawley enjoys writing and recording albums, there is nothing like playing live, so he makes sure he plays songs that connect with the audiences, he said.
“One of the last times I played The Cabin, there was a group of people from West Virginia, so I played (John Denver’s) ‘Country Roads,'” he said. “It’s like their anthem, and the group loved it. After that, I could’ve played pretty much anything I wanted.”
When Hawley comes to The Cabin, he also knows people want to get up and dance.
“So I’ll dig into the funky side of my catalog — ‘Nine Tattoos’ and others that get people moving,” he said. “I do kind of plan the set list for each show, but I always leave room for spontaneity.”
In order to be spontaneous, Hawley makes sure his musical chops are up to speed.
“I try to listen to everything I can, and I try to play with musicians who are better than I am, so I can learn new things,” he said.
Recently, Hawley has been performing with jazz and blues singer Barbara Morrison, who has performed with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Dr. John.
“She has a regular Tuesday night thing she does out here in L.A., and she invited me to sit in, so whenever I’m in town on a Tuesday, I’ll go and play,” Hawley said. “Her guitarist, Charles Small, is a funk and blues master. So I get to listen to them. He lets me plug into his amp and I get to do a few songs with them.”
Hawley never thought he’d have these types of opportunities when he first started playing guitar when he was 12.
“I just took things one step at a time,” he said. “I was super grateful for each opportunity that came up, and I still am to this day.”
Hawley considers having the opportunity to play at The Cabin one of those special opportunities.
“People from Utah and all around the world gather there,” he said. “The Cabin is where many of the locals go on a Saturday night. And there are people who are from out of town who figure out that’s where they should be. People have come each month, and have brought in more people. There is so much corporate tastemaking out there, so when something happens organically, it means so much more.”
When: 9 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 14
Where: The Cabin, 427 Main St.
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