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Page Brownton and The Mojo Navigators

Reformed but Unrepentant!

By Michele Murphy

Approaching the rustic and whimsical dwelling of local treasure Page Brownton and his lovely wife Gael, one is greeted by a magical, mythical homestead handcrafted by Brownton himself using found treasures and antiquities collected over many years. A musician, philosopher, and carpenter, Brownton has cultivated a slice of heaven in the Santa Cruz Mountains that is befitting his colorful character. He carries the patina of the years on his face, lines softened by the thoughtful kindness of someone who’s been around, seen it all, and still has a zest for creativity as he embarks on his sixth decade as a proud folk musician.

As a college student in the 1960s, Page followed the course of the Anti-War and Civil Rights movements. Most significantly, he gravitated towards the folk music movement, and subsequently, its transformation into the folk rock/psychedelic music revolution. While attending UC Berkeley, he formed a folk trio called The Outlanders and seized every opportunity to perform publicly. After transferring to San Jose State, he helped form the San Jose State Folk Music Club, which existed until 1965, at which time it succumbed to the rise of psychedelic rock and roll. He planned to use his degree to teach English, but when Jorma Kaukonen and Paul Kantner, who were teaching at Benner’s Music Store, moved to San Francisco to form the Jefferson Airplane in August of 1966, he took advantage of the vacancy, and for the next 15 years or so supported himself by giving guitar lessons instead.

“Traditional American music, often referred to today as ‘roots music,’ exerted a fascination upon my generation,” Brownton said, “a blending of the rhythmic forms and idioms of black country blues and gospel music with the archaic mountain balladry which comprises the cultural heritage of the people of the British Isles and their descendants in the rural subcultures of the American South. As a generation, we collectively tapped into that source of primordial music; it inspired everyone.” Brownton describes having a fascination and reverence for the songs of “the old weird America.” He said, “We looked around at one another and saw reincarnations of mountain men, cowboys, riverboat gamblers, outlaws, soldiers, farmers, pioneers…thus I myself became old and weird at an early age.”

Brownton moved to the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1969, and in 1975 he began building his house. Doing carpentry work and raising children largely occupied his time for the next 25 years, but he was able to make time to sing at the Renaissance Faire, the Dickens Fair, and at the local Highland Games. In the 90s he got involved in the Santa Cruz Bluegrass Society and the Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival, which provided him with opportunities to meet musicians and play for grateful fans of that genre.

In 1997 Brownton collaborated with some other San Lorenzo Valley musicians to form The Mojo Navigators. The band has gone through many permutations, as bands do, and the current lineup includes core members Al Astrella (guitar) and Roscoe VanHorne (bass). Brownton’s musical relationship with Astrella has persisted, off and on, for over 20 years, and with VanHorne since 2008. The cohesion that flows between them in live performance is heartwarming. Joined by Beth Ann LaBarba (vocals) and John Burton (drums), The Mojo Navigators have tapped into that wellspring of primordial music that inspired a generation of pickers and singers. Offering a unique blending of visionary psychedelic lyricism with the imagery and spirit of traditional Americana, country blues, gospel, and old-time Celtic roots music, The Mojo Navigators will grace the stage for a special show at Michael’s on Main on Friday, March 11 from 5:00 to 7:00 pm.

Michele Murphy is a singer-songwriter who has lived in the Santa Cruz area since 2005 when she migrated West from Buffalo NY to the beautiful San Lorenzo Valley. An avid music lover, she is entrenched in the local music scene both as a performer and a fan.

Photo by Peter Woodward, Brittwood Creative

Featured photo left to right: Page Brownton, Beth Ann LaBarba, Roscoe VanHorne, John Burton, and Al Astrella

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One Thought to “Page Brownton and The Mojo Navigators”

  1. Barry

    Albert Astrella – great to see you in print!

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