I was born in San Diego, Calif. My earliest memory is of our family, Mom, Dad, and sister Sue, and other relatives standing by the radio when president Roosevelt announced that Japan had surrendered to the United States during World War II. What I remember most is everyone telling me to hush up so they could listen. I was fortunate to have a loving family to raise me and my earliest memories of music are of my Mom playing records of the Ink Spots, Nat King Cole etc. and my Dad playing Sons Of The Pioneer, Roy Rogers and other Western style music. I enjoyed it all but only thought music was for listening to, not for playing. We were a low/med class family and I still remember how jubilant my Dad was because they sold our house for $10,000 in 1948. They needed the money so my dad could start a restaurant food supply business in Southern Oregon.
We packed the car and a rented trailer and the whole family ended up renting a house overlooking the Rogue River in Gold Hill, Oregon. I still remember it was $75 per month. The town was and still is only about 1,000 populations or so. There was only 1 pretty girl in the whole town and all us boys were in love with her; Dixie Lee Walker. When I was about 10 my mother decided to get me piano lessons, to keep me out of trouble I think. The guys made fun of me but I enjoyed it. Finally something I could do well. For the first time I realized that music was for playing, not just for listening to. The only teacher in town was Mrs. Swan, a very stern lady around 80, who would tap my fingers with a long stick when I made a mistake. To pay for my $3.00 lessons, my dear Mom made a deal with her to commute students in that needed a ride. The genre was classical and pop. Later I was told that I was her only student who could play “Flight of the Bumblebee”, which gave me some confidence that I wasn’t totally worthless. I liked the attention it got me playing the Christmas shows at the grange hall in town, plus my parents showing me off to friends. Mrs. Swan was disturbed about one thing telling my Mom: “Ronnie changes the endings of most songs and you just don’t do that to the great classics”.
Around 1952 or so I tuned in our radio to a Portland, Oregon radio station. For the first time I heard music that rocked my soul. I asked my Dad what kind of music it was and he said; “nitwit music”. I actually thought that was the name of the genre and remember saying; “I like that nitwit music” Actually it was just good ole Boogie Woogie. I remember also loving to hear the Grand Ole Opry and liked some of the music. Anyway, when my Dad’s business went belly up they decided to move back to San Diego.
San Diego, Calif. I arrived just in time to meet the beginning of the Rock n’ Roll explosion. My parents were horrified when they heard me pounding on the piano like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. But that’s where I was headed loving the new Rock n’ Roll. My favorite stuff wasn’t heard much on San Diego radio so us “cool kids” would tune in to Harlem Matinee out of Los Angeles with Hunter Hancock hosting. I remember saving my lawn mower and paper route money to catch the bus and go downtown to check out Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps at the Pacific Ballroom. I was blown away and hooked on Rock n’ Roll…still am. Except for playing piano at a few parties and at friend’s houses, I still wasn’t a performer and had yet to even try singing. In 1957 I graduated from Hoover High School and promptly joined the Marines, mostly to get away from my Dad, who was too strict for me. (USMCR) Although I never faced any combat, the Marine Corps boot camp taught me that, since I got through that I could do anything I set my mind to.
After the Marines…it became party time. Cruising around in my lowered 51 Mercury, joining The Carioca’s, a combination car and social club. It was all about parties, girls, and custom cars. But I still wasn’t moved yet to play live music. Yea, I still played bluesy piano for friends, but not in a band. It seemed that when our beloved president, John Kennedy, was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963, the party was over, which it was for me for a year or so.
My first chance to play live music finally came in 1965 when I had met guitarist/singer Bob Mosley. (Later Moby Grape bassist/singer) I used to check out his band playing at his uncle’s bar. Since there was a piano right next to the stage, I used to pound on it with the band but didn’t know how to amplify it without getting feedback. Then one night the drummer didn’t show up. I hadn’t played drums in my life but jumped back there and gave it my best. Bob thought I sounded better than his drummer and suddenly I became the new drummer. I was working as a swimming pool salesman and got our sales manager to back our band. He fronted us enough money to include a set of drums for me, and I practiced every day in a little room for hours on end. Most drummers on the rock n’ roll scene were not really rock drummers except for Willie Kellogg. (Most were actually converted jazz drummers) Willie was playing at the Red Garter in Ocean Beach with Joel Scott Hill, and the Strangers. (Joel later played with Canned Heat & The Flying Burrito Brothers) I was fortunate to get Willie to give me some drum lessons, that strong back beat style he had. Our band, The Misfits, landed a gig at the Red Coat Inn in San Diego, for Monday nights only. We packed the place and ended up being the new house band. We played shows around town, and appearing on Ch. 8 “TV Dance Time” on Sat. mornings. In our first year we found ourselves opening for The Rolling Stones. It was fun hanging out with the Stones back stage and watching Joel Hill trading guitar licks with Keith Richards.
One day just for fun I came to a Misfits rehearsal with a song I wanted to sing. It wasn’t very good but I now had the singing bug and had to learn. A few months later I decided to record myself singing separate from the Misfits and set an appointment at a studio in San Diego. The session included Gary Puckett on guitar, (later became Gary Puckett and the Union Gap).
Here’s a funny story. During our time playing at the Red Coat Inn, drummer Ron Bushy would sit in with us on occasion. (Later joined Iron Butterfly, playing drums on In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.) So I got to know him a bit. Late one night I somehow ended up in Pacific Beach at an apartment where he lived with his ex wife and sister. I was in bed between his ex wife and sister, Karen. In walked Ron, saw us and just said hello, and then got a beer out of the refrigerator. That was it, and just as well because it was completely innocent, as I was just crashing with them. It was truly the 60’s.
About a year later the Misfits traveled north to play near San Francisco at a place called the Inn Room in Belmont. I was armed with my demo record and ended up setting an appointment with Tempo Productions’, 21year old A&R man, Sly Stewart. (He later changed his name to Sly Stone; “Sly and The Family Stone”) With Sly listening to my demo and interviewing me, he gently told me that Ray Charles already covered my demo, You Are My Sunshine, but also that he thought I had my own style of singing, kind of reminding him of a “hip Ricky Nelson”. Sly then invited me to a recording session where he was producing a group called “Us”. But first we stopped by his house, actually his Mothers’, a beautiful brick house in S.F. He went downstairs and brought back a paper bag full of weed and we got ripped. He then handed me 3 pieces of paper of 3 songs he had partially written and challenged me to complete them and get back to him. Then we went to a studio and viewed “Us” recording a song. I don’t remember what they sounded like but I never did attempt to finish the songs, as I had no idea of how to write a song yet
In 1967, back in San Diego, Bob Mosley called me from San Jose, CA and asked if I would like to drive up and play drums for a really cool band that he and some of his new friends from Seattle were forming. (They were also listening to other drummers) At the time I was making a good living in San Diego selling swimming pools plus doing drumming gigs. I also was about to get married, plus was nervous about leaving San Diego with no gigs set up there, thus no income, so I passed. Oops, missed that party.
In 1968 I married my girlfriend, Joyce. We had two wonderful children, who now are happily married with kids of their own.
In 1970 I joined a new powerful roots rock band, Jamul, on drums and singing, which was led by San Diego based guitarist/lead singer, Bob Desnoyers. Bob inspired me into writing songs for which I’ll always be grateful. (Bob has since passed away) Sunrise Over Jamul and Movin’ To The Country got some airplay, but Bob’s killer version of John Loudermilk’s Tobacco Road got the most. On bass we had John Fergus, playing a punchy groove style that was easy to lock into. John also wrote a song I loved, Nickel Thimble. Later we were fortunate to add a great harmonica player/singer Steve Williams, making our trio now a solid 4-piece unit. We did very well packing the clubs and ended up making an album produced by Richard Podolor with Gabriel Mekler as executive producer. (Same team who produced Steppenwolf & Three Dog Night) Jamul, title of band and album, was named after a small town East of San Diego. It got national attention reaching #93 nationally, as listed in Billboard magazine.
I was fortunate to have included 4 songs I wrote for the album. One of them, Sunrise Over Jamul, was named “newcomer pick of the week” in Cashbox magazine. Another song included was a funky cover of Little Richard’s; Long Tall Sally. After Richard heard us playing it at the Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood, CA., he asked for us to back him performing his first music video in Washington DC. This became part of Barry Richards TV Production, DVD now available. Besides Little Richard, backed by Jamul, it featured many top acts like Alice Cooper, Bob Seger System, Humble Pie, Fats Domino, Muddy Waters, The Byrds, etc.
Around 1973 I started recording song demos with my favorite guitar player and friend, Jerry Raney, (Beat Farmers), and other good players.
In 1975 and I was playing piano in this honky-tonk called “The Crossroads”, in Spring Valley near San Diego. I met Cajun singer and player Joel Sunnier, who later approached me with the idea of putting a group together with him. With Joel on accordion and guitar, Michael T Lawson on bass, Stan Welsh on lead guitar, and myself on drums and singing, we organized `Little Rock’. I was very impressed with Joel’s unique Cajun/Country/Rock style. We played some gigs and I very much enjoyed the experience.
By 1976 I was mostly living in Los Angeles working during the week, then driving back to San Diego on weekends to visit our kids. Our marriage slowly crumbled and finally ended after 10 years. Recognizing our differences, Joyce later re-married and I was appreciative we all got along when I visited. (There’s a song on my album, called J Marie, about me trying to convince her to move to L.A. with me that I wrote before we divorced.)
In Los Angeles I was becoming a studio rat of sorts. At first I lived in Hollywood but later found a perfect little guest house in Kagel Canyon, just North of L.A. that is a good place to rehearse, write and record. (I still live here in 2014) In 1984 I put a working rock band together; Ron Armstrong Band. I sang & played electric piano, plus guitar, bass and drums. It was fun playing in clubs around Los Angeles but I still wasn’t ready yet for anything more. Since I was getting burnt out playing clubs, doing the same songs over and over, I decided to just concentrate on recording and abruptly got out of the club scene.
Through all these years I’ve kept writing and making more song demos in studios. I would always run out of money before I could finish them the way I wanted. I never gave up because I would always come to realize how to do them better next time. Around 1992 when high quality recording equipment prices came down enough. I jumped on that train and started buying my own gear and eventually recording more songs. Most of my time was spent working days so I could pay for my musical endeavors.
Fast forward many more years with the same ole same ole, and around 2003 I met Will Ray, a fine guitarist who gave all my demos a good listen and encouraged me. He recorded some amazing guitar tracks with me, offered some good recording tips plus referrals like Steve Duncan. I then met & recorded with many other very talented players, singers, and engineers in the Los Angeles roots rock/country scene. People like Mark Christian from Merle Jagger. (See credits) The weakest link in my recordings was my own lead vocals. But after all these years, around 2007, my new vocal tracks had the spark I couldn’t create before. The origin of this breakthrough began with, of all things, an acrobatics class. I had a membership to an exercise club. One day I hit the acrobatics class, which had about 95% women. It was fun jumping up and down to ZZ Top while staring at all those cute ladies in their tight outfits. I started including that routine at home, without the ladies of course, before I rehearsed or recorded. It became a great way to get loose before recording a vocal track. I switched to a hand held mic., Shure SM-58A, so I could be free to move around instead of singing into a stationary mic. I started getting better vocal performances. Another major improvement in my recordings was to add my favorite rock drummer, Kenny Aronoff.
Yea I’m now an old man but just beginning my solo career. The reason I’m not burnt out is simply because…I haven’t done it yet. It’s all new, exciting and fun to me like when I was in my 20’s. The reason I wasn’t successful before is…I just wasn’t good enough yet…no excuses. At the fall of 2012 I decided that before I play live I should produce a good solid music video. I asked around to find a videographer to work with. Guitarist Billy Watts referred me to videographer Dalen Muster. We got along great and I did my first music video with him – Old Folks Boogie. It was posted March 2013 and now – Sept 2014 – has over 61,000 views. There are now 4 videos up on my YouTube Chanel, with a 5th one now being edited. The new one is from a song I just wrote this year, Jan 2014, called Blending. (A song about how all the world’s races are beginning to form into one race, “One World, One Love, Why Not One People.” I wanted a good female soul singer to blend her style with my Country Roots Rock style. Kenny Aronoff recommended Carmel Echols, who earlier this year he performed with and was included in Ringo Star & Paul McCartney’s The Beatles TV special. I love the way it came out including the video
Now it’s time to Rock n’ Roll live. I’ve been rehearsing with some really good players to do just that.
See you out there hopefully soon!!!