The Sign That Inspired a Band Name
It's a familiar sign to many. Locals pass by it everyday on their long commutes and while running errands. Crossing from the low desert to the high desert on Highway 62 means a halfway point for some, and for those travelling from further distances, a cue that you're nearing your desert destination. That crossover link between the high and low desert sits somewhere between Painted Hills right outside of Desert Hot Springs, the twisting Morongo grade, and Morongo Valley, and somehow this sign has sat in the perfect spot to welcome visitors and locals alike to the quirkiness of the high desert throughout the years.
It was the familiarity of this sign that also inspired a band name 20 years ago.
A well-known figure of the high desert, musician, and former childhood actor, Teddy Quinn has called the high desert his home for over 25 years. On a weekday morning this June, Teddy and I shared some coffee time at Yucca Valley's Frontier Café to talk about his band—the band with the name so close our hearts at Cactus Mart—that he and a group of friends started 20 years ago.
In the mid-90's, Teddy Quinn had been living in a small apartment building in LA's Echo Park. Teddy loved spending time in the desert, and when the desert house he loved went up for rent, he decided to act on it. He started coming out to the desert for the weekends and regularly hanging out with a collection of creative friends—Joe Garcia, Tony Mason, Elia Arce, and Fred Drake—during his time away in the desert.
This desert home Elia and Teddy shared was the perfect place to host other creative groups, and one performance group called Sacred Naked Nature Girls (a group of 5 feminist artists of which Elia was directing their performance) camped at the property for a week. They were preparing for their final performance together which was going to be held at Highways in Santa Monica when Elia broke her foot.
Broke, and now with one of them literally "broken", Teddy and Elia just couldn't make the drive back and forth to LA feasibly work. The show must go on, so Tony, Fred, Joe, and Teddy started videotaping Elia reciting her performance pieces instead. The group of friends made a soundtrack to these recordings—a cacophony of sounds that included weird klanging-like noises and playing on instruments. This natural creative outlet the close-knit group of friends pulled together to help out one of their own inspired Joe give a name to what they were actually doing. Joe suggested calling themselves Dig Your Own Cactus based on the familiar sign they all drove past every time they came to and from the desert. It made sense to the rest of the group. The videotapes, meant to be shown in Elia's place at the final performance, were sent to Highways and Dig Your Own Cactus officially debuted.
Soon after, Teddy found himself wanting to be in the desert full time, so he quit his job in LA and took a barista/cook/music coordinator position at the newly opening Water Canyon Coffee Co, which these days, is now Frontier Café.
It was having this close connection to a great venue that allowed Dig Your Own Cactus to have its first live gig that November, and naturally, Water Canyon's first live music performance. It also just so happened to be Teddy's 40th birthday. The set consisted of songs by each band member, Tony, Joe, Fred, and Teddy, and performance pieces and poetry by Elia. Friends made the trip out from LA to listen to the music and celebrate Teddy, and a piece of local history was made.
Dig Your Own Cactus kept recording their songs and jams, and, at the end of that same year, Tony suggested they create a cassette. They did just that and Dig Your Own Cactus's Postcards from Joshua Tree was recorded and released.
A year later, while Tony and Teddy were house sitting for Victoria Williams and Mark Olson, who were married at the time, they took the opportunity having a small recording studio in that home to record the second album, Two. While the rest of the band was away doing their own projects, Tony and Teddy recorded that album in one week.
Soon Dig Your Own Cactus found themselves doing shows—something that made them a legit band. This gathering of friends that was only intended to be a small creative co-op was being invited by Mark and Victoria to play McCabe's in Santa Monica and playing the Viper Room thanks to an invite from earthlings?, and Josh Homme and The Queens of the Stone Age.
The last album they recorded was the one Teddy considers to be a real album, Design. Its album cover was a painting by Teddy himself and a play on Andy Warhol and counter-culture products with an incense box's brand name of Nag Champa replaced with "Dig Cactus". They recorded it at the Rancho de la Luna.
Water Canyon used to have an upstairs balcony. With furniture replaced by pillows and nicknamed the Love Lounge, the balcony became a regular gig spot for jam sessions, and whoever wanted to join in would play along. Jeremy's in Joshua Tree (now the Beatnik Lounge) and a tiny coffee house in Twentynine Palms were the band's other favorite places to play. Annual New Year's Eve Dig Your Own Cactus gigs at Jeremy's became a thing to look forward to for locals.
The band never really did stop playing. Around 2001, after band members started making other plans to just chill at home for New Year's Eve, Teddy was out on his own. So Teddy started solo work. Tony, Fred, Joe, and Elia helped him make his first album and he continued to make more. Fred passed away in 2002. Teddy had a son. Elia moved back to Costa Rica. They continued to play at Rancho de la Luna for a couple of more years.
Nowadays, Joe Garcia has a project called Urban Desert Cabaret and he plays every Saturday night at Landers Brew. Elia visits the States to perform but is busy teaching art at a university in Costa Rica. Teddy runs the Beatnik Lounge and lives with his son in a house close to—but just rural enough—Joshua Tree. He continues to enjoy his community of friends: Mark Olsen lives one house over and Victoria Williams has a home just down the road.
June 18, 2018
Cactus Mart is a Cacti, Succulents, and Plant Emporium located in Morongo Valley, California.