During several summers following high school, I, like nearly every teenager in Orange County, worked at Disneyland. Early in my career, one of my pals introduced me to another coworker in the parking lot. Actually, this new acquaintance was crawling out of the rumble seat of a 1939 Packard, if memory serves me. And as if to interpret the behavior, my friend said, “This is Ralf Reynolds. His grandma was ZaSu Pitts.” Since I already had a dear Uncle Ralph Reynolds living in Downey, the name was easy to remember. The silent film star link sealed it into my knowledge reliquary.
But Disneyland yielded to other jobs and the years fled breathlessly. I forgot about Ralf Reynolds until somehow Facebook resurrected us. We’ve cyber-howdy’ed. Then came a Facebook post announcing a musical performance starring the Reynolds Brothers right here at the Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena! I had to go.
The Reynolds Brothers, Ralf and John, and their cohorts Marc Caparone and Katie Cavera, turn out to be a most genial, lively, historically attuned band that specializes in American music of the 1920s and 1930s. Ralf is the maestro. He plays washboard, which is really a Rube Goldbergian percussion system. John plays a gleaming silver guitar that looks like it must have been designed for the film The Rocketeer. Marc heralds coronet, muted by an assortment of plungers and cupcake toppers. And Katie strums a cool cat bass, as well as warbling songs like, “Was That the Human Thing to Do?” Their effect is lovingly G-rated (well, maybe PG), informative, energetic, and completely pleasing.
The Coffee Gallery is a ten-minute walk from my cottage. As I headed over, I chided myself, “Why don’t I ever go to events at this place?” It’s intimate, accommodating 50 people. You pay admission to manager and impresario Bob Stane at the door to the rear room and enter an oblong space containing a stage, trompe l’oeil backdrop, plastic chairs and tables. It’s dark and cozy and you don’t even have to buy any drinks. But of course there are coffees available, and on this night a guest chef was barbecuing pulled pork. The patrons are of all ages. It’s an easy place to feel happy.
The Reynolds Brothers perform regularly at California Adventure at Disney in Anaheim. The Coffee Gallery Backstage offers an eclectic performance series. Information and reservations are available at 626.798.6236 or coffeegallery.com.