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Monday, February 12, 2024

'Never gonna get back to normal': Cancer halted his touring. But he's not done making music

[Repost from AZCentral; by Ed Masley, February 8, 2024]

Jon Rauhouse had been hoping to get back out on the road with Neko Case in 2024.

The multi-instrumentalist from Phoenix has played steel guitar, banjo and more in Case’s touring band for more than 20 years, but had to pull out of a summer tour in 2021 while undergoing treatment for the prostate cancer he’d been diagnosed with earlier that year.

When he agreed to the tour set to launch on March 13 in Missoula, Montana, he was “feeling really good,” he says. “And then the bottom dropped out of my adrenal glands.”

Those glands “control your heart rate, your blood pressure, your temperature, your digestion, all this stuff,” he says. “It was, like, literally killing me. Now, I'm OK. I take one pill in the morning, one in the afternoon. I get through it, go to sleep and do the same thing the next day. I'm gonna have to do it forever. So I won’t be able to get back to touring with Neko.”

The pills have helped a lot, he says, but not enough to put his body or his bandmates through another tour.

“I have to take these weird pills twice a day and they have all these side effects and I just can't do it,” he says. “Not on a tour bus. I can still do shows. I'm playing in the Sunpunchers. I'm playing with Blaine Long. I'm playing with Norm Pratt, doing a bunch of studio stuff. I'm making more records. But I'm never gonna get back to the normal of what my life was.”

When Rauhouse said he couldn’t do the tour this year, Case volunteered to build a tour around him.

“She said, 'Look, I'll tell you what. We'll do a short tour that starts in Phoenix, you do as much as you can and then go home when you can't,’” he says. “I think she missed me. I know I miss her.”

Rauhouse has been keeping busy on the music front

That tour isn't happening, but Rauhouse has been doing all he can to get back to some semblance of the life he knew and loved before cancer made so much of what he used to do impossible.

“I have really good days,” Rauhouse says, “and really bad days.”

Last year, Rauhouse recorded a great new album with Long titled “One Day Will Never Come Back," released by Fort Lowell Records in November 2023. He and Long will be playing selections from that album with a 10-piece band in a special matinee performance at the Dirty Drummer on Sunday, Feb. 18.

In January, he recorded eight songs with the other members of Sleepwalker, a band he used to play with in the ‘90s.

Neko Case is tracking part of her next album with Rauhouse in Phoenix

And Case says she’s planning on coming to Phoenix before the tour starts with recording engineer Jeff Gallagher to track Rauhouse’s parts for her next album.

“She's like, 'I'll just have Jeff come in and set up his recording rig with some good mics in your living room and do it,'" Rauhouse says.

"I'm like, 'That'd be great with me. I’ll play in my pajamas.' That's better than sending me to Vermont and getting a hotel room, renting a car and all that stuff. So it's working out. It's just all different. And I do feel guilty that people are making concessions.”

Rauhouse may not be on the open road, but his music is going international

The normal life he once enjoyed included tours with not just Case but Jakob Dylan, Billy Bob Thornton and Iron & Wine with Ben Bridwell.

In addition to playing on albums by Case, Thornton’s Boxmasters, Calexico, Dr. Dog, K.T. Tunstall, the Old 97's and Giant Sand, he's done several albums of his own since he started playing steel guitar in the late ‘70s.

He’s still doing session work. He’s just doing most of it out of Sonic Piranha in the Coronado neighborhood of Phoenix.

“I have a buddy of mine who's a producer out of New York,” Rauhouse says. “Every three or four months, he calls and has some project he wants steel on. So I do it at Sonic Piranha and mail it off to him.”

He’s been doing the same thing with his friend Jim Kaufman, a Phoenix-born producer now residing in Los Angeles.

“He had some country guy from England that ended up with a No. 1 song in Australia, No. 2 song in the U.K., big in Japan on one of the songs I did,” he says. “So that was really cool.”

Recording an album with Blaine Long was 'a great experience'

He’s especially proud of the album he and Long recorded after raising nearly $6,000 in an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.

That allowed them to cover the studio time and assemble a stellar assortment of backing musicians, from Steve Berlin of Los Lobos and Rachel Flotard of Visqueen to Jesse Valenzuela of Gin Blossoms, Mitski organist Ty Bailie, and Lindsay Cates and Megyn Neff, who play with Rauhouse in the Sunpunchers.

“It felt really good to just go, ‘OK, this is what we're gonna do and this is how we're gonna do it,” Rauhouse says. “And it was such a great experience. I didn't feel the need to have anybody who wasn't pleasant on the record.”

Long, a singer-songwriter who famously appeared on NBC’s “The Voice” in 2016, has been playing with Rauhouse for four or five years.

“Maybe two years before COVID, just out of the blue, he contacted me on Facebook Messenger and said, 'Hey, I'm doing a New Year's Eve show at Tarbell's. You want to play?'” Rauhouse says. “We did it, had a blast, and I've been playing with him ever since.”

They even started their own podcast, the Musician’s Guide to Everything, with guests including Thornton, Case and Jakob Dylan.

The music on “One Day Will Never Come Back” is a true collaboration, with Rauhouse producing songs they wrote together at Sonic Piranha.

“A lot of it was his meat and I just put some seasoning on it,” Rauhouse says. “But ‘One Day Will Never Come Back,' I wrote that one and he seasoned it a little bit for me. And then he wrote the instrumental because I'm the instrumental guy."

Rauhouse is also recording a solo album of steel guitar instrumentals

Rauhouse says he’s also working on a solo album of steel guitar instrumentals, much of it based of recordings he’s stored on his phone.

“When I come up with a riff, I'll just turn that note recorder on my phone on,” Rauhouse says. “I have (expletive) back to 2012 on there, so I was going through all that stuff and found four or five songs that are really good steel guitar songs. So I'm gonna do those and write a couple new ones.”

“I found the last song we were working on,” he says. “I didn't realize we’d run the whole thing, just me and him, on the phone. It’s two guitars doing harmony picking, like Speedy (West) and Jimmy (Bryant). It's not steel guitar. It's two guitars. So I took it to Sonic and had him sweeten that up with EQs. Then I called Tommy's son and got him to play bass on it. And I got John Utter on drums.”

He’s doing his best to release all the music he can.

Releasing new music and 'counting time'

“I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I feel like I'm counting time here until the end,” he says.

“I don't know that. They're not telling me that. But I don't have a great diagnosis. I'm fine. I just feel like I need to get these things out, for some sort of twisted reason that the cosmos might care. But I don't think the cosmos will care.”

Beyond just documenting his ideas for the cosmos, making music gets him through the tendency to let the darkness get the best of him at times.

“It helps a lot,” he says. “And if it's with other people, it helps even more, because I've come to realize I can sit and noodle and do all this stuff by myself, but it's not near as fun as just having one other person there to bounce stuff off of — you know, trade ideas and stuff like that.”

How to see the Jon Rauhouse and Blaine Long release show

When: 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18.

Where: The Dirty Drummer, 2303 N. 44th St., Phoenix, Arizona

Admission: Free.

Details: 602-840-2726,