Western music fans shouldn’t be terribly surprised if the 2017 Cowboy Festival marks the last time they can catch the three-part harmonies of Sons of the San Joaquin in Santa Clarita.
The Sons released their final album, “One More Ride,” late last year, and they just don’t get around much anymore.
“We’ve been down this road a long time,” singer-songwriter Jack Hannah told SCVNews Saturday.
The Sons will perform Friday, April 21, at the Canyon Theatre Guild along with Kristyn Harris, who is no stranger to the OutWest concert stage in Newhall and who, at 22, is the youngest person ever to be named Performer of the Year by the Western Music Association. (Order tickets here.)
Jack Hannah appears on SCVTV’s “Newsmaker of the Week” show, taped in William S. Hart’s living room in 2008.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Jack Hannah is 83, his brother Joe is 85, and Joe’s son Lon just turned 60, if you can believe that.
“Lonnie doesn’t age,” Jack said. But “we just feel like it’s very difficult for Joe to travel.”
Jack stopped short of saying they’ll never be back in Santa Clarita. “As long as we can get on the stage, we’ll keep singing,” he said. But he agreed it would not be wise to bet the farm on it.
“If we were millionaire Country singers, we’d have all sorts of people along to carry things for us,” he said.
Western music doesn’t work that way. If your wife left you and your dog died, you get on Country radio. If you sing about the land and the cattle and the hardships and the joy, you hop into your motorhome and hit the road.
For the Sons, it’s been quite a ride. Anchors of the city of Santa Clarita’s Cowboy Festival since 1994, their 30-year singing career has taken them from Visalia to Carnegie Hall to Switzerland and back again, with countless stops in between. They’ve got trophy cases full of awards to show for it, along with a bronze saddle plaque on Newhall’s Walk of Western Stars, some great memories and a passel of diehard fans.
>>> WATCH Jack Hannah on “SCV Newsmaker of the Week” (2008)
It was actually a second career for all three of the “Sons.” They had been high school teachers and counselors in the Fresno school system and worked cattle on nearby ranches in their off-hours. They’d always sung separately in church and at family gatherings; then in 1987 all three sang together for Lon’s grandfather’s birthday, and a trio was born. They took early retirement from teaching in 1992 and went full-time.
Two years later, the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival came along. Jack had been then-Assistant Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Pulskamp’s high school baseball coach in Visalia.
The Sons continued to work cattle in their off-hours and wove a unique brand of California history into Jack’s songwriting.
“California is a cowboy state,” Jack said Saturday. “People don’t realize it, but it is. California in its heyday was nothing but cattle. Livestock was king.”
Even today, California is No. 4 in cattle behind Texas, Nebraska and Kansas, with 5.15 million head as of 2015. Oklahoma comes in fifth at 4.6 million.
Within a 50-mile radius of Jack’s home in Fresno are numerous cattle ranches with anywhere from hundreds to several thousand head, he noted.
“Did you know that in California, cowboy boots are second in sales to tennis shoes? Yeah.”
The trio will continue to put on the Sons of the San Joaquin & Friends Christmas Celebration at the Visalia Fox Theatre, and “we will sing at the Heart of the Horse (Therapy Ranch fundraiser) until we drop dead,” Jack said.
Located in Clovis, Heart of the Horse is a therapeutic riding ranch that serves people with disabilities, not unlike Carousel Ranch in the Santa Clarita Valley.
It’s important now for Jack to spend quality time with his grandchildren – playing ball, teaching them, being there.
“You’re only a grandpa once,” he said. “I want to do those things.”
Meanwhile nephew Lon has started a new 5-member group, San Joaquin Junction. If Lon sticks with the “Sons” tradition or goes off in his own direction, Jack says he is OK with that.
The final album, “One More Ride,” features “several of my originals that have never been published,” Jack said. It includes new material recorded in 2016 in Fresno with a few cuts the group had recorded in Nashville.
It’s available on CD at TheSons.com.