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Behind the music: Josh Yenne

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The Hollywood legend goes something like this: The pretty young woman is working behind the counter at the soda shop, dreamily wiping glassware and minding her own business. A famous, but unrecognizable movie mogul walks in and orders a cola. Instantly struck but the young lass’ beauty, he signs her on the spot for a million dollar contract, and a star is born.

Well, we all know better now.

But something like that really did happened to Sonoma resident Josh Yenne. He was working in Petaluma’s Tall Toad Music store, when in walked some of the members of Mazzy Star, the band known for its 1994 hit “Fade Into You,” who were playing that night at the nearby Mystic Theater. They got to talking, learned that Yenne played pedal steel guitar, and invited him to sit in during sound check. Then they invited him to play at that night’s show.

A week later, he was playing with them at the Coachella Music Festival.

While that is a true story, it is not quite as simple as that. Yenne has been playing music all his life. When not gigging (over 100 shows a year), he is with his wife Rachel at the home they own here in Sonoma. He teaches guitar, still works for Charlie at Tall Toad, and stays very busy with his first love, music.

He has lived in Sonoma County for 18 years, and they bought their home a little more than six years ago. He has been here long enough to land roles in no fewer than four bands. The Sonoma-based bands are the Straw Wattles (guitar and vocals) and Twang Ditty (pedal steel and vocals). A Napa band called Obsidian Son employs him as a bass player. The Misner and Smith band, out of Davis, has him playing both electric guitar and pedal steel.

Mazzy Star is where Yenne hangs his musical hat. He has traveled throughout North America and Europe with them. The band was asked to participate this past June in the Vivid Live Festival in Sydney, Australia. While there, Yenne and Mazzy Star played three nights at the iconic Sydney Opera House. Of the Sydney gig, Yenne said via email, “Truthfully, the shows were great, and it was amazing to look out and know that I was playing probably the most famous music venue in the world.”

Yenne is one of many professional musicians who will occasionally receive calls from artists and producers who need help. That could be in the studio, or it could be on the road. Yenne has filled both roles during his career. When the artist is touring and trying to save a little cash, they simply hire cats like Yenne to fill in. If a producer is looking for a certain sound for a record, Yenne might be that guy.

When asked about his early musical influences, Yenne mentioned, “Improv music like Grateful Dead, Phish, jazz when I was first starting at age 17… along with Beatles, of course.”

He said that his favorite pedal steel player is Lloyd Green. When asked about his favorite solo of Green’s, he named the recording Charlie Pride made called “Live at Panther Hall,” when Green played in Pride’s band. Of Green’s efforts on that record, Yenne points out, “pretty much every note he plays on that live recording is flawless.”

Of course, playing live to an audience is what most musicians live for. Yenne mentioned that he really enjoys playing at SF’s Warfield Theater and LA’s Wiltern Theater. Interestingly, he also said, “Truth of the matter is, though, once you’re actually playing the set you could be anywhere – at least I could.”

Yenne then brought it back home by adding, “I’ve always been heavily into acoustic music… acoustic guitar was and still is my main love above all else. Nothing beats sitting on a Sonoma porch, drinking a good wine, and strumming tunes on a nice guitar. Nope, not even the Sydney Opera house, really!”

Look for Yenne at the next show you attend. He’s the bearded fella holding the Telecaster, with that lucky look on his face.