Soul Dogs Have Their Day

by James E. Fowler
L.A. Times Staff Writer
Some people rub each other the wrong way. And sometimes it's not their fault.
Some jobs naturally come with an inherent adversarial tension with another vocation - actors versus directors, pitchers versus batters, editors versus writers and musicians versus club owners.
Sharon Benson, owner of Coffee Junction, a coffeehouse in Tarzana, is also the lead singer, violinist, and guitarist for Soul Dogs, an acoustic rock band that's giving two live performances in the Valley this weekend.
Being on both sides of the fence gives Benson a different perspective.
"It definitely makes a difference when a musician is running the show," Benson says. "Being a club owner, I have expectations about the artists who perform here - mainly to be on time and to care about what they're doing.
"And being a performer, I know what I would want from a club owner."
Benson has been involved in many musical projects in the nearly 10 years she and partner Linda Sherlin have owned Coffee Junction. But none has been more gratifying to her than her current group. Besides Benson, the Soul Dogs are bassist Lewis Wolfe, keyboardist-percussionist Chris Colquhoun and drummer Robert "Wayno" Switzer.
The band's first CD, "Journey," is due for release this summer, and a song from the CD, "Love Yourself," made its national television debut on Feb. 22 on Fox-TV's "Party of Five."
"It was incredible to have our music recognized," Benson says. "To make on prime-time television was a major acknowledgment."
The Soul Dogs original music is both acoustic and percussive - extremely rhythmic tunes with Benson's violin and smoky contralto way out in front.
"Poppy's Voodoo," set to an infectious conga beat, and "Deep Inside of Me," a haunting love ballad, are other standout tracks from the new album.
The Soul Dogs will perform twice this weekend in the valley, but not at Coffee Junction. In fact, the band's gig Saturday night at the Riverbottom Cafe in Burbank is a rarity because the group does few club dates. Instead, Benson and company prefer the atmosphere of festivals and benefit concerts.
"Playing at Coffee Junction is hard for me because I have so many other things to think about," Benson says.
As for the other clubs, she says, "For me, I would rather give our music to a worthy cause."
During the last couple of years, the Soul Dogs' calendar has included gigs at the American Breast Cancer ride, L.A. Pride '99, the Carpenteria Avocado Festival, Children of the Night benefits and the Pershing Square lunchtime concert series.
The Soul Dogs perform Sunday in Woodland Hills at Mandi Martin's Pinball Marathon, a fund-raiser for charities, including Musicares, a music industry charitable foundation that helps musicians and other musical professionals in need.
Born into a musical family, Benson began playing violin at age 8. She started playing in bands soon after graduating from Grant High School in Van Nuys. Among her musical influences were singer-guitarist Bonnie Raitt and violinists Papa John Creech and Stephane Grappelli.
In the late 1970s, Benson left her day job in the medical field to work in the film industry, both as an actress and behind the camera. You might have seen her as one of the girls in the gym class in "Carrie." But music remained her first love.
"Music has always been what I wanted to do," she says. "I've been harmonizing with the radio since I was 3."
A frequent patron of the old Bla Bla Cafe in North Hollywood, she also dreamed of owning her own music club. That dream came true in September 1990 when she and Sherlin bought Coffee Junction.
Benson met Wolfe several years later when he produced a CD by her former band, Token Angel. They soon discovered they were musical soul mates.
"We think alike," Benson says. "It's like a double-brain thing going on."
On stage drummer Switzer and bassist Wolfe provide a solid rhythmic foundation for the improvisational talents of violinist Benson and pianist Colquhoun.
"I've always secretly wanted to be a female version of Jerry Garcia," admits Benson, "because he really knew how to jam and he was always willing to give it away."
Los Angeles Times "Valley Life" - March 3, 2000
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