Ken Leighton and the Reader

Switchfoot, Dinettes, Queen Bees, ASCAP, Billie Joe Armstrong, Brandon "Tiny Doo" Duncan, Agent 51

Biilie Joe Armstrong at Moustache Bar
  • Biilie Joe Armstrong at Moustache Bar
  • Image by Flor Gonzalez and Victoria Villanueva

How Leighton came to the Reader:

It was the end of 1998 when I was told by then Reader music editor Jennifer Ball that editor/publisher Jim Holman wanted to have someone exclusively write breaking news stories about the local music scene.

I took on parts of the local scene I thought needed to be exposed. That would include the monopoly of Ticketmaster, which is no longer as big of an issue. We wrote about an abusive and tyrannical San Marcos bar owner. And we took on the monolithic radio conglomerate called Clear Channel (now iHeart Radio) .

Troy Johnson, music editor of City Beat was so pissed that I pointed out that the local show he hosted did not have the ratings Channel 6 said it had that he went on live radio to challenge me to boxing match. There was the City Beat editor who wrote that the Reader was being sued over a story I wrote about scam concert promoters who ripped off bands and ticket buyers at a parking lot show. There was no lawsuit.

Leighton's favorite stories he wrote for the Reader:

One of the first stories I did when I started three-blurts-a-week was about Switchfoot in January, 1999. I was happy to be the first local writer to cover Switchfoot, Jason Mraz, Sam Outlaw, and Daring Greatly, the Canadian-turned-Fallbrook band who were struggling with immigration issues just as they were breaking.

My background in music included working in publicity for Chrysalis Records (1976), Capitol Records (1977), North County concert promotions as Big Beat Productions (1980-84), Belly Up Tavern promotion/marketing (1987-99), Fiesta del Sol booking/fundraising (1999-2007) and owning the Royal Dive in Oceanside (2007-14). Writing for the Reader gave me the opportunity to do stories on the Penetrators, the Kinman Brothers (The Dils/Rank and File), and the Dinettes, almost four decades after I first met them.

I was proud that I had a part in naming a venue that still survives. I did a story that Alma Rodriguez, who had been struggling with oppressive landlords over her all-age venues, was opening a new, unnamed music venue. I used the phrase “queen bee” to describe her. My editor at the time, Robert Nutting, used "Queen Bee" in the headline and Alma ended up naming her venue Queen Bees.

But two stories I did on bar ownership explored how the music licensing agencies BMI and ASCAP can arbitrarily charge struggling bars as much as they want, to stay in business. Nobody oversees them. The stories started in 2000 and later with the plight of Ramona Mainstreet which quit music for a while because of the fees and lawsuits filed by ASCAP/BMI.

I loved covering the ska and punk scenes in TJ and the fully costumed 16-member bandas who would stop and play Ensenada in bars that wouldn’t even charge admission. But maybe my most famous Mex-music blurt was when Billie Joe Armstrong played TJ last year.

The one story that made my blood boil was the story broken by Channel 10 about local rapper Brandon "Tiny Doo" Duncan who was arrested at his home because of his artwork on his album.

It's a good feeling that you can move the needle. Brandon Parkhurst of Kut U Up said that an article we did 11 years ago helped him pull himself out of a lifestyle rut.

The most-read Reader music story of 2017 was the blurt on Anilee Griffin who booked Hensley’s Flying Elephant in Carlsbad and who booked and co-owned The Shakedown near the Sports Arena. I knew her parents before she was born. Everyone loved her.

The most inspiring music story I did had to be about the struggling 21-year-old mariachi musician who never gave up just as the immigration assholes closed in around him.

The biggest bang blurt I wrote had to be the 2006 story I did about Poway band Agent 51 which had been signed to Billie Joe Armstrong’s Adeline Records five years earlier. There was a marked similarity between Agent 51’s “She’s My Heroine” and Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” Threatened litigation from Encinitas-based Surf Dog Records and Agent 51 against Green Day and Warner Bros. Records resulted in a six-figure settlement. At least one band member used the money for a down payment on a house.

Holman allowed me to segue into news. The most moving story I did involved a drug addict who broke into St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Carlsbad and who turned himself in.

In the last year I was fortunate to break the news that a wave park is planned on the site of a defunct swap meet, that Fentanyl is now legally manufactured in Oceanside, and that Larry Flynt wants to sell vibrators in North County.

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