Randy Granger is a man of the Southwest. He is a journeyman musician and singer, best-known for his Native American flute-playing, who has lived most of his life in New Mexico in the Southwestern United States in the land of sage and mesquite, hawks and rattlesnakes, deserts and canyons, the Rio Grande River and stunning sunsets. The music on his latest album, A Place Called Peace, reflects that Southwestern lifestyle, his American Indian heritage and his belief that world peace begins within each individual.
Granger’s focus on his last four albums has been instrumental music showcasing his wooden-flute playing, but on disc and on-stage he always gives his audience a taste of his vocal abilities. His background includes tours in rock and jazz bands, acclaim in the nu-folk movement, and expertise as a guitarist and percussionist (most recently playing the metal hang drum which allows melodic notes as well as rhythmic beats).
For more information on Granger, go to www.randygranger.net (or his myspace or facebook sites). His CDs can be purchased at his site, at major online stores such as amazon.com and cdbaby.com, or at a variety of digital download locations such as iTunes and Rhapsody.
To explore his heritage, Granger had his DNA tested and discovered his ancestry includes American Indian tribes (Chol, Athabascan, Apache, Comanche and Dogrib) and Europeans (the Basque region of Spain as well as Germany – many Germans settled in Texas and New Mexico in the 1800s). To his surprise, his lineage also includes smaller percentages from India, Mongolia, Afghanistan and the Americas (the ancient Mayan original inhabitants).
“There have always been stories in my family that in the 1800s we had Apache and Comanche ancestors who fled to the mountains of Northern Mexico to escape U.S. Army persecution, and those tribes began living with the natives already there. Supposedly my
great-great-grandfather on my mother’s side was a ‘seer’ and a member of the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico’s Copper Canyon where he lived until he found his wife with his best friend, accidentally killed him and moved to New Mexico to start a new life,” Granger explains.
The music on Granger’s A Place Called Peace album includes much inspiration provided by his native heritage. “Chaco Moon Meditation” captures Randy’s experience of exploring the Chaco Canyon ruin site where a thousand Anasazi people lived more than a thousand years ago (he plays a reproduction of an ancient Anasazi flute on the tune). On “Ghost Dancers” he uses a double-barreled flute (notes on one side and a drone sound on the other) and a buffalo drum to pay tribute to a tribal dance that long ago was believed to reclaim Indian ancestry, but also led to many deaths when it was outlawed by the Army. “Apache Tears” reflects the sadness from when the remnants of that tribe hid in rugged and desolate mountains and canyons, sometimes eating their moccasins and cactus thorns to stay alive. Granger wrote “The Dog Star” after he performed at the Gila Cliff Dwellings (in protected rooms that tourists are not allowed in), where he felt he could smell the ancient fires burning and sense that tribe’s long-ago activities. On a wall overlooking the Western sky, they had carved constellations, and on the drive home Granger looked up into the night and saw Sirius (the dog star) just as it had appeared on the wall. “Ancestor’s Ocean Voyage” is his musical tribute to the natives of Asia who floated rafts over kelp beds to reach the Americas in ancient times.
Granger’s Southwestern lifestyle also influences his music. “Rio Grande Lullaby” is his tribute to the major river of the area (only a half-mile from where Randy lives) and also to his ancestors who have lived in the region for more than a thousand years. “At night I sometimes feel as if I can hear the native women singing to their children.” The tune “Double-Barrel Train Wreck” uses the double-barrel flute as a solo instrument to capture the sounds of an old locomotive colliding with a Native flute. Granger explains, “I wanted to explore some extreme possibilities on this instrument and push its capabilities to the next level by ending the song imitating a blues-guitar solo.”
One song on the album is different because it features lyrics and comes out of Granger’s folk background. “Za Zee Za Zu Zing” is the title and the nonsensical chorus, although it is not difficult to envision an ancient tribe chanting the refrain while building elaborate cliff dwellings or pyramids. The album title, A Place Called Peace, was taken from the lyrics which describe peace as “a great party...where the people are happy to be alive.” It features the hang drum (rhymes with “gong”), which looks like two cooking woks glued together to form a spaceship-like shape. “The song’s message is how good it would be to stop wars, but, essentially for that to happen, we must first find inner peace.”
Granger was born during a thunderstorm in the small oil-field boom-town of Hobbs in southeastern New Mexico, where the flatness of the plains are visually broken by thorny mesquite trees side-by-side with oil derricks and pumpjacks. Granger has been making music all his life. He began singing when he was just a few years old, often while driving throughout the Southwest with his father, a construction contractor. Randy beat on pots and pans as a child until his parents finally got him a drumset when he was ten. He went on to win awards for performing in his school bands and choirs. When he entered high school he also began playing guitar. Soon he was performing professionally at private parties (by himself and in the country-rock band Speed Limit), and began teaching music.
Granger went to college on a music scholarship and got his AA degree, played in the college jazz group, performed in the community theater pit band, sang with an opera company, and even delivered singing telegrams for a florist. He traveled to Los Angeles, explored the rock’n’roll music scene, and performed at Disneyland before returning to New Mexico where he moved to Las Cruces to attend New Mexico State University and get his BA degree in journalism. He toured extensively and recorded with his rock bands Two Fields Burning and The Peat Column (both bands performed almost-exclusively Granger compositions).
He also spent some time in the medical field. He moved to Albuquerque and became a licensed massage therapist (using music during his sessions), organized blood drives, served as a “simulated patient” to teach health care professionals, monitored federal parolees for substance abuse, and worked for the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico as a health educator. He continues to donate performances regularly at clinics, hospitals, therapy centers, hospice facilities and shelters for the abused.
But performing music professionally has always been the primary focus of Granger’s life. In addition, he has composed music for many years and has been commissioned to write pieces for dance companies, other musicians, radio programs, documentaries, short films and websites. After Granger disbanded his rock group, he became a solo performer and recording artist, first in the folk field and then expanding into the Native American world-fusion arena. Inspired by Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and Steve Earle, Granger recorded three albums as a folk singer (Skywatching, The Rio Grande Set and This Old Man). As he began concentrating on his native-flute playing, and added the hang drum to his performances, his recordings have become more instrumental-oriented with only occasional singing and guitar playing (Cloudwalker, The Roswell Incident and Winter Colors). Granger’s music also appears on the International Native American and Wood Flute Association compilation CD Clear Water Reflections alongside R. Carlos Nakai, Coyote Oldman, Joseph Fire Crow, Kevin Locke and many others. Granger has performed at major flute festivals and American Indian music gatherings all over North America. In addition, Granger is a poet whose works have been published in magazines and literary journals. He now lives in Las Cruces, 50 miles from the Mexico border.
“I get much of my musical inspiration from spending time in the wilderness -- seeing a hawk soar, cloud shadows on a mountain, sunrays filling a canyon, a flowering prickly-pear cactus. But most importantly it is the quiet, the stillness, the serenity that soothes my spirit and fills my soul. Physically and spiritually, I was created by the Southwest.”