Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Brian Blueskye

Willdabeast is one of the best-known hip-hop artists in the Coachella Valley—even though he has not released any music or done any interviews.

However, thanks to a nudge from friend and collaborator Provoked, Willdabeast (William Randal) is now working to put himself out there more—including an upcoming music release, and a chat with me.

Willdabeast’s home in Sky Valley is off a dirt road, with a large dog standing guard over the property. After greeting me, he explained that he liked the location because it was quiet and beautiful. He said his love for hip hop began to develop when he was in the eighth-grade.

“I asked my mom to get me turntables for Christmas,” Willdabeast said. “… On Christmas morning, there was this big ol’ box, and I was like, ‘I got turntables!’ When I opened it up, it was a huge keyboard. I was like, ‘What?’ She opened it up with me, and there were these two buttons on it that made the turntable sounds. I was like, ‘Ugh! This isn’t it!’ But the cool thing about that keyboard is it had a multi-track recorder. I was in band in school and playing the trumpet, and I was able to record music.

“Going into high school, I started freestyling, and my friends noticed I had a knack for making beats. That was it—and I never stopped.”

I noticed a few musical instruments hanging on the wall of his living room; I’ve been told Willdabeast is a fantastic instrumentalist.

“My first instrument was the trumpet when I was in sixth-grade, and I played that for about two years,” he said. “Then I got into percussion, and by the end of high school, I was making beats and playing guitar. Out of high school, I was already doing gigs. I can read and write music, and I can transpose music, because trumpet is B-flat and all the other instruments were in C.”

He told me about This Is the Life, a 2008 documentary about the underground hip-hop movement in Los Angeles that came out of the Good Life Cafe.

“I was trippin’ out when I saw it on Netflix, because the people in it are so underground,” he said. “These guys deserve praise in every sense of the word for hip-hop. When shit started going super industry, they represented in the underground with conscious thought.”

When I talked to fellow local hip-hop artist Provoked a couple of months ago, Provoked told me about the battle-rap scene from about 20 years ago that also included J. Patron and Willdabeast. Willdabeast laughed when I brought it up.

“When we were young, it was super aggressive. If we heard you were rapping, we’d show up at your school and shit, being like, ‘Oh, so you’re rapping, huh?’ with one of those old school Pioneer boomboxes,” Willdabeast said. “We’d put the beats on and start going at it. If you didn’t respond back, you fucking lost. That’s how simple it was back then—but that was the battle scene. There was no rehearsing. You didn’t have time to write, and you had to do it freestyle where we’d talk about your girlfriend or some shit to hurt your feelings.

“I grew out of that shit real fast, though. I always wanted to make music, because I was a musician. The battle-rap scene was cool, but I didn’t want to waste my time on some negative shit. I had people showing up at my school to call me out, ‘WHO IS WILLDABEAST?’ I ran with a crew called Organics Crew that Mikey Reyes was also part of. This other crew made a diss track about us, and we reached out to them asking why they made it, and they were like, ‘Oh, it’s you guys?’ Our friends made a diss track on us without even knowing who we were!”

I asked J. Patron about the rap battles, and he confirmed the madness of those days.

“Provoked and I would battle, then we became good friends and battled the varsity football team at lunch in front of the whole school through a PA system; it was epic,” J. Patron said. “After that, kids from other schools would come over and get served. I remember Will started around that time, and he was—and still is—a fucking beast! He’s just so nice with the words.”

Willdabeast reiterated that those days are long gone, and that he now has different goals in mind for his music.

“I’m just all about making music. I want to do something that’s all about a message and not falling on deaf ears,” he said. “I’m not about telling women to shake their ass or do this type of drug, I want to make some conscious shit that will move you.”

While Willdabeast has released no music as of yet, he said that will change in the near future; one recording he plans on releasing is a collaboration he recently did with Provoked. He said he has recorded music going back to 2005, and explained why he has heretofore not released any of it yet.

“It’s all been practice to me,” he said. “Everything I make is practice. … It could just be bullshit or however I’m thinking about it. The way my brain works, when I’m doing this stuff, I’m focused on it, and I’m not thinking about anything else. It’s therapeutic. It always pushes me to keep learning.

“I’m developing a sound, and I think I kind of have it now.”

Willdabeast said he’s encouraged with the current hip-hop climate locally.

“I have to be excited with the direction of where everything is going right now,” he said. “There have been a lot of people coming together to collaborate and work together, and that’s exactly what we needed. That’s what the fuck needed to happen—and how we’ll grow this scene.”

Willdabeast will perform at Mikey Reyes’ Wordplay Wednesday/Desert Rhythm Project Album Release Campout on Saturday, March 30, at the Joshua Tree Lake RV and Campground, 2601 Sunfair Road, in Joshua Tree. Tickets are $45 at For more information on Willdabeast, visit

Josh Heinz is originally from Tennessee, but he's now a pillar in the Coachella Valley local music scene. He is the frontman for Blasting Echo, the guitarist for 5th Town, the founder of the Concert for Autism, and the host of Open-Mic Night at The Hood Bar and Pizza every Wednesday. See Blasting Echo Saturday, March 16, at The Hood during Dali Llama’s CD-release show. For more information on Heinz’s bands, visit and He was kind enough to answer the Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

Probably Christian recording artist Michael W. Smith. But my first real “rock” concert was Heart on their Bad Animals tour at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis, Tenn. I think that was 1987. I was 12.

What was the first album you owned?

Hmm … it’s hard to remember for sure. My first albums were bought on tapes. Maybe it was Heart's Bad Animals; maybe it was Guns and Roses' Appetite for Destruction; or maybe it was Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet. But I know that before those, I had a Best of The Doors tape, which doesn’t necessarily count as an album. That’s more of a compilation.

What bands are you listening to right now?

Besides practice recordings of new Blasting Echo songs and mixes from the upcoming 5th Town record, nothing specific. I’m kind of all over the place, certainly (including listening to) live Pearl Jam shows. I listen to a lot of local bands from our music community and bands from my time in Memphis—specifically The Subteens. Look them up. Find Burn Your Cardigan. It’s good stuff. I’m also lucky to have recordings from the last two Concert for Autism benefits, so l listen to a lot of those performances as well. Perhaps I need to commit to finding more new nationally known bands.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

EDM. I get why people are into it, but that’s not my thing.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

Neil Young. I’ve been a fan for a long time. I was bummed I couldn’t see him at Desert Trip. I just couldn’t afford it. Everyone I’ve talked to who was there for weekend two said it was incredible.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

I don’t think I have one, but I listen to a lot of movie and television scores. They just take me places in my head, and I love it. I enjoy works by James Horner, Michael Kamen, James Newton Howard, Thomas Newman, certainly John Williams and Hans Zimmer. Zimmer’s score for The Thin Red Line is my favorite. I also love the scores that Trent Reznor has done. Before he ever officially scored anything, he was doing instrumental pieces with Nine Inch Nails that were beautiful, moving and powerful.

What’s your favorite music venue?

Probably The New Daisy Theatre in Memphis. I only played it a few times, but I saw a ton of shows there. It's a small theater on Beale Street that holds about 1,000 people—nice and intimate for a theater.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

Since Blasting Echo is working on new material to record soon, most of the lyrics stuck in my head are my own—because I’m trying to remember them.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Certainly Pearl Jam. The lyrics and the music spoke to me in a very heavy way when they came out. It gave me an honest voice that I identified with, and that inspired me to follow suit by writing and creating my own music to deal with things going on in my life.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

I’m sure there are more important questions to ask more important musicians, but right now, I can only think to ask Stone Gossard from Pearl Jam: “Why has your dirty tone become less aggressive/crunchy over the years?”

What song would you like played at your funeral?

I don’t know. When I was younger, I probably would have said something somber. But now I think I would like something more celebratory of my life, my wife and my kids.

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

Pearl Jam, Vs.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

Blasting Echo, “The Light” or “It's Not My Time.” (Scroll down to hear them!)

March brings both the revelry of St. Patrick’s Day and increasingly warmer weather—which, given the relatively cold February we had, will be even more welcome than normal.

Oh, and March is also bringing a lot of great shows, too!

The McCallum Theatre has plenty going on in March. At 8 p.m., Friday, March 8, get in the Saint Patrick’s Day mood with The Irish Rovers. The Irish Rovers provide audiences with a good time featuring traditional Irish music; don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing and clapping along. Tickets are $25 to $85. At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 9, Grammy Award-winning vocalist Steve Tyrell will be performing. Tyrell has been a regular at the McCallum for 15 years now. After a dozen or so albums, appearances on soundtracks for films such as That Thing You Do and Father of the Bride, and other accomplishments, he’s guaranteed to put on a good show. Tickets are $48 to $78. Here’s an interesting one … at 8 p.m., Friday, March 29, actor Rob Lowe will be performing his one-man show Stories I Only Tell My Friends. He’ll reveal tidbits about his life in Hollywood and his acting career, which now spans four decades. Tickets are $65 to $150. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787;

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has a superstar-packed March. At 8 p.m., Friday, March 1, the former lead vocalist for Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers, Michael McDonald, will be performing. He’s collaborated with artists from Kenny Loggins and Van Halen to Grizzly Bear and Thundercat. He’s also won five Grammy Awards and charted with several singles. Tickets are $39 to $69. At 8 p.m., Friday, March 8, ventriloquist and comedian Terry Fator will take the stage. Ever since he won America’s Got Talent in 2007, he’s been a huge hit with audiences. Tickets are $39 to $79. At 8 p.m., Friday, March 22, classic-rock band Creedence Clearwater Revisited will be returning to the Coachella Valley. I’ve seen this band perform on three occasions, and the group—made up of two members of the original Creedence Clearwater Revival lineup and three other fantastic musicians—sounds just as good as the original. Tickets are $39 to $69. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000;

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has a couple of events of which you should take note. At 8 p.m., Friday, March 15, Latin-music duo Los Temerarios will be performing. Adolfo and Gustavo Angel have become Latin-music superstars since they started in 1978, earning a Latin Grammy Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Latin Billboard Music Awards. Tickets are $55 to $85. At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 23, Prince-tribute band Purple Reign will take the stage. I watched this band’s soundcheck one time, and I couldn’t believe how well this band does Prince’s music. Others have taken notice as well—the group appeared on The Late Show With Dave Letterman on New Year’s Eve in 2009. Tickets are $25 to $35. Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995;

Spotlight 29 has a couple of Latin superstars coming through in March. At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 16, enjoy a double bill of Voz de Mando and Kanales. Since the group began in 2002, Voz de Mando has released seven albums; recent single “Pa’ Que No Me Anden Contando” became a Top 10 Billboard Latin Music hit in the United States. Kanales came to the United States from Sinaloa and became a big star in Norteño-music world. Tickets are $40 to $45. At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 23, Latin-music duo Amanda Miguel and Diego Verdaguer will be performing. They are Latin-music legends who have been together since the 1970s. Tickets are $51 to $106. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566;

Pappy and Harriet’s is the place to be in March … or, well, any other time of the year. At 8 p.m., Thursday, March 21, Cold Cave (upper right) will be performing. Cold Cave is a project of Wesley Eisold, of the bands American Nightmare and Some Girls. Eisold was born without a left hand, which means he does not play an instrument—but he excels as a vocalist. He’s also a published writer. Tickets are $20. At 8 p.m., Sunday, March 24, cosmic-country band Green Leaf Rustlers will take the stage. The band features Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, Pete Sears of Jefferson Starship, John Molo of the Phil Lesh Quartet, and Greg Loiacono of The Mother Hips. A “cosmic-country” band should definitely be a hit at Pappy and Harriet’s. Tickets are $30. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956;

The Purple Room has a diverse list of events for March. At 6 p.m., Saturday, March 2, powerhouse cello and vocal duo Branden and James (below) will be performing. The duo features America’s Got Talent finalist Branden James, a classically trained tenor, and cellist James Clark. Tickets are $35 to $40. At 6 p.m., Saturday, March 9, Scot Bruce will be performing the songs of Elvis’ early years. Bruce is a regular performer at Disneyland and is considered one of the best Elvis-tribute acts in the country. Tickets are $30 to $35. At 8 p.m., Saturday, March 23, get ready to laugh in tribute to one of the most iconic comics who ever lived when Joe Posa stars as Joan Rivers. He’s an impersonator of many stars, including Michael Jackson and Liza Minnelli. Tickets are $30 to $35. Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-322-4422;

Matthew Morrison is a quadruple threat: His résumé includes acting, dancing, singing and songwriting—but the Broadway star is best known for playing Will Schuester on the TV show Glee.

Morrison will be performing at the McCallum Theatre on Thursday, March 21.

During a recent e-mail interview from London—he was unable to speak on the phone as his tour took him to Europe and Asia—Morrison discussed his stints in Broadway musicals such as Hairspray, South Pacific, Finding Neverland and others.

“Performing on Broadway, to me, was the big stage that I was preparing for years in advance,” Morrison said. “When something is your passion, I believe there’s no room for fear. I took that mentality into each role I was fortunate enough to attach myself to. There was a lot of pressure when I was offered the role of Link Larkin in Hairspray, but I’m thankful for that, as it prepared me for my biggest challenge yet, and that was The Light in the Piazza. All I can do as an actor is prepare as best as I can, in order to deliver the best possible performance. … Luckily for me, I feed off of the energy in the room, and I truly believe because of that, I was able to handle the pressure of performing on Broadway, even early on in my career.”

His 2015-2016 performance in Finding Neverland was well-received by audiences.

Finding Neverland was a true pleasure for me throughout the process,” Morrison wrote. “From the beginning stages of watching the tryout runs at A.R.T. in Massachusetts, to working with Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus during rehearsals, all the way through my last show in January 2016—there was an unspeakable energy that lured me to performing each night. There’s always a little bit of wonder about how the audience and Broadway community will interpret a musical of this kind, but I truly believe that this production was special in its ability to connect with audiences of all ages. I, like many others, have always had an attachment to the story of Peter Pan, and I think that alone was enough (of a) reason to deliver each night.”

One of his earliest performances on Broadway—back in 2000—was in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

“That production was my last supporting role in theater, and it prepared me a lot for what was to come,” Morrison said. “A Broadway show is demanding and challenging to any artist, in my opinion, and our job is to make sure it doesn’t seem that way when we perform. The story is entertaining in whatever production it’s told.”

When Glee premiered in 2009, it quickly became a hit with young audiences—and the first season was nominated for a whopping 19 Emmy Awards. Morrison said he was surprised by the reaction.

“I think everyone was in the beginning, to be honest,” he wrote. “Ryan Murphy is such a talented writer, producer and director, and he had such a strong vision for this show, along with Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan. I strongly feel that Glee was the most socially relevant program for its time, connecting with audiences on all levels. The storylines, characters and music clicked in a way that was so unique for television, and still is today. I’m truly proud of what that show accomplished on a social level. I hear day after day just how much that show changed lives.”

Thanks to his time on Broadway, Morrison discovered his ability to sing jazz songs, as well as American standards.

“As a Broadway actor and singer, your voice is trained to tell a story and emote in a wide range,” he said. “I’m a huge fan of American standards and the ‘feel’ of the legends from the ’60s—like Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. These standards they sung told beautiful stories, and that is why I connected with them so much. When I’m up onstage during a concert, connecting with an audience by singing these songs, it brings me back to the Broadway stage. Many of these songs were also sung throughout Broadway shows, so there’s a natural connection there as well.”

Morrison released two studio albums, both during Glee’s run; his most recent, Where It All Began, was released in 2013 on Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine’s 222 Records. I asked him if there was any new music from him forthcoming.

“Music has and always will play an integral role in my life and career,” he said. “The only thing that changes is where I see myself, and how I can authentically deliver a message to my audience. All I can say right now is that I’ve been working very hard on creating a project that is relevant to my life as father, and I look forward to sharing it in the near future with everyone.”

There is one Broadway role that Morrison said he still wishes to play—and if you listen to his version of that play’s title track on Where It All Began, you’ll realize how perfect he’d be in the role.

“A main source of inspiration has come from Gene Kelly. He was an all-around entertainer and talented individual. A production of Singing in the Rain would be an honor to be a part of,” Morrison said. “The title song is one I perform at almost every concert. It’s my way of attaching myself perpetually to the story.”

Matthew Morrison will perform at 8 p.m., Thursday, March 21, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $80 to $130. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit

In 1974, a young guitarist named Craig Chaquico joined the newly formed Jefferson Starship, and remained with band through the transition to Starship. He left the band in 1991 and has been performing as a contemporary jazz guitarist ever since.

Craig Chaquico will be playing at the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort and Spa on Saturday, March 2.

During a recent interview, Chaquico explained how he became a founding member of Jefferson Starship.

“Jefferson Airplane broke up and stopped performing together in 1972. … Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady did Hot Tuna, and Grace Slick and Paul Kantner did solo records,” Chaquico said. “I actually played on their solo records, and my own band had a recording contract on their label. The idea was to maybe start a new band, and we went out on tour as Jefferson Starship before we recorded anything. My band opened, and I played in both bands. After that, I expected to go back to college, but we were like, ‘Man, we all had such a great time playing together! Let’s form Jefferson Starship and do an album.’ I said, ‘Shit yeah! Let’s do that!’ After that first tour, we went into the studio and recorded Dragon Fly. Everything that I played on went gold and platinum.”

Chaquico was a teenager when Jefferson Starship began, and he wound up putting off school.

“That was sort of my higher education; I was learning from the best,” he said. “When we did the first Jefferson Starship album, there were eight members, and each of the members had distinct personalities. I don’t think any record executive thought anything was going to happen for us. … The solo albums were interesting, but they weren’t commercial success stories. I don’t think they expected gold and platinum albums from us. They looked at our band like, ‘Whatever!’ But think about it: What record executive in 1974 would say, ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea! Let’s get a black violin player in his 50s, a pot-smoking guitar player in his teens, and put them together with some Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service people, add a member of the Turtles, and then put Pete Sears in this band!’? That was the beauty of it. We weren’t a A&R person-conceived band.”

The band became Starship and released the huge hit yet oft-maligned “We Built This City” in 1985.

“Starship was very pop, and it started to rely a lot on keyboards and not so much on guitar,” Chaquico said. “I’m a team player, and I’ll play on every song whether it has a lot of lead guitar or not. We started doing songs like ‘We Built This City,’ which has gotten a lot of bad press over the years, but if you listen to the beginning of that song … all of that computerized stuff and rocket science was pretty new. … Peter Wolf was our producer, and he co-wrote a lot of our songs. The original idea for the song was how there were no places for rock ’n’ roll bands to play anymore, (as pop) was turning into a lot of DJs and disco. The idea was a protest against computerized music, but it was the biggest computerized song on the radio, which I found ironic.”

While Starship enjoyed popular success, headlining shows with Foreigner and Fleetwood Mac, the band started to receive critical backlash.

“To me, it was like trying to send Apollo 13 around the moon and bring it back safely—it was high-tech computers everywhere,” Chaquico said. “It was interesting to me, but that period of time had its good things and its bad things. We had three No. 1 singles in three consecutive years, in the course of about 15 months. That was the good part. We got to go to Japan and Europe to play concerts—but it had a double-edged sword, and it bit us in the ass. We got criticized for ‘We Built This City,’ and it made No. 1 on the list of 50 Worst Songs in the World or something like that. Peter Wolf was also on the list at No. 3 for (producing) Wang Chung’s ‘Everybody (Have Fun) Tonight.’ I called Peter and said, ‘Dude, you’re on two of the worst songs of the world, and I’m only on one!’ On one level, we have to be proud, but it also bit us in the ass.”

Members eventually started leaving the band, and Chaquico had to decide whether to stay in a band that was decreasing the presence of guitar.

“I was told by the management not to write any songs, because we weren’t going to do any more rock,” he said. “At that point, I said, ‘All right, guys, I have to bail. Because what do you need me for?’ I didn’t ask for a lot of money—just to make sure I received my royalties for the earlier stuff. They broke up, didn’t have another hit and were dropped from the label.”

Becoming a successful jazz musician didn’t happen without difficulty, and he had problems getting his first solo album, Acoustic Highway, a label to release it in 1993.

“My now-ex-wife became pregnant. During the pregnancy, acoustic guitar started becoming more welcoming around the house. I thought maybe I should mellow things out,” Chaquico said about the transition to jazz. “I started playing more and more acoustic guitar, and it was suggested to me that I just record that. Ozzie Ahlers, who used to play in the Jerry Garcia Band, started working with me, and when my rock band didn’t pan out, he heard me playing acoustic guitar and had some ideas. He gave me a demo of his keyboard ideas. We started recording our acoustic music, and everyone passed on it, because they didn’t know what it was.

“I went to a new age label, and they said it had some rock and blues, and I should play it for a rock label. I went to a rock label, and they said they heard more new age. I went to a blues label, and they said it sounded more like jazz and rock. But a new age label called Higher Octave liked it and said, ‘We like it the way it is. We hear all that stuff, but we like it.’ They put me together with a great producer to remix it. It ended up being Billboard’s No. 1 New Age Album of the Year.”

Craig Chaquico will perform at 7 p.m., Saturday, March 2, at Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort and Spa, 71333 Dinah Shore Drive, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $50 to $90. For tickets or more information, call 951-696-0184, or visit

On March 10, 1997, Rodney Patrick McNeal went home during his lunch break, around 12:30 p.m., to take his wife, Debra, to a doctor’s appointment.

Instead, the San Bernardino County probation officer found Debra, who was six months pregnant, dead in their bathtub. Submerged in water, she’d been beaten and stabbed before being strangled to death. The words “Nigger Lover” were written on the mirror (Debra McNeal was a Native American), and the house had been ransacked, with several firearms stolen.

Patrick and Debra’s marriage had been rocky at times, and police visited their home following domestic disputes at least twice in the months leading up to Debra’s death. According to a 2009 court document, a San Bernardino County deputy sheriff went to their residence in December 1996 after a domestic-disturbance call. Patrick and Debra appeared upset at each other, but no arrest was made, although two handguns were taken for safekeeping. In January 1997, a deputy responded to another domestic disturbance, after Patrick reportedly took Debra’s purse to prevent her from leaving.

Tension was high on the day of the murder, too. According to Debra’s son, Marcus Frison, the day before, Debra got upset with Patrick regarding some leftover pizza, and she took a knife to the family’s sofa. On March 10, Debra decided it was time to seek some professional help and called Kaiser Permanente to schedule a counseling appointment. On that day, she and Patrick spoke on the phone three times. They discussed the appointment, and apparently had an argument over money, although Patrick’s co-workers never heard him with a loud or hostile tone of voice.

The last known person to see Debra McNeal alive was a friend, Terrylyn Walker, who went to visit Debra around 9:15 a.m. At 10 a.m., while Debra was on the phone with Kaiser, someone she apparently knew entered the home, according to the Kaiser clerk.

Patrick McNeal got to his office somewhere between 7:30 and 8 a.m. that morning, and from 10 a.m. to noon, he met with clients. Patrick’s computer records show him working on a report shortly before noon; records also show he made a phone call to Debra around that time to find out the location of her appointment. The call was not answered.

Two of Patrick’s co-workers rode in an elevator with him at approximately 12:10 to 12:15 p.m. He then made the 2 1/2-minute walk through the parking lot to his car, and the eight-minute drive to their home.

Police arrived on the scene, after Patrick McNeal called 911, at 12:32 p.m.

There was no forced entry into the McNeal residence. There was a blood trail leading from the master living room through an entryway, into the kitchen and then into the master bedroom. The waterbed was punctured and leaking water, and there was an odor of bleach and/or other cleaning products in the master bedroom and bathroom. A bloody footprint on the carpet came from a dress shoe that did not match any of Patrick McNeal’s shoes. Hairs and fibers on Debra’s body also did not match anything from Patrick.

Yet in 2000, Rodney Patrick McNeal was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder. He’s been in prison ever since—and his case has captured the attention of the California Innocence Project.

Since it was founded in 1999, the California Innocence Project, a clinical program at California Western School of Law in San Diego, has helped free 30 wrongfully convicted inmates, and it currently is working on the cases of 13 people who remain behind bars, including that of Patrick McNeal.

“(Debra McNeal) was strangled, beaten, stabbed and thrown in the tub,” said Raquel Cohen (pictured right), an attorney representing McNeal with the California Innocence Project. “For years, all the evidence has shown the timeline doesn’t add up giving Patrick enough time to commit this crime. He still got convicted.”

Cohen said the domestic disputes between the McNeals helped the prosecution make their case against Patrick.

“They had some marital problems and some domestic-disturbance calls, but nothing that was too serious,” Cohen said. “They had arguments resulting in the police saying, ‘Hey, you guys need to calm down.’ Juries are unpredictable; Kim Long’s case was also very similar, where they attack the character of the defendant and say, ‘They are a very violent person, and there’s only one person who could have committed the crime,’ and (prosecutors) don’t have any other suspects.”

Kimberly Long is a California Innocence Project success story. The Independent first covered her case back in 2015; she was convicted of the 2003 murder of her boyfriend, Oswaldo “Ozzy” Conde, in Corona. In 2016, a Riverside County Superior Court judge reversed her conviction—which, like McNeal’s conviction, was largely based on the couple’s history of domestic strife.

“That’s really the evidence they had against him during his trial,” Cohen said about the McNeal case. “There was a bad relationship, and he found the body. But there’s a timeline issue, and it becomes, ‘Where were you at what time?’ Patrick had a lot of hard evidence—the last time he modified a document on a computer, and co-workers riding down (with him) in an elevator. The worst-case scenario has a neighbor placing him at home at 12:15 p.m.—and that is the worst case for him and best case for the prosecution. That’s not enough time for him to commit the crime, clean up—and (Patrick McNeal) had no blood or bleach on him—and then call the police.

“It just doesn’t add up.”

The California Innocence Project has put forward another suspect in the murder of Debra McNeal—Patrick McNeal’s half-brother, Jeffrey Todd West.

“A few people have come forward saying that (West) confessed to the crime,” Cohen said. “He was a very bad person. He had killed other people and served time for it in Nevada; I believe he might be locked up somewhere right now. He has a history of choking people. He poured gas on his ex-wife, and there are chemicals involved in this case. … He told people that he killed Debra after it happened, because he was worried about Patrick’s future. We presented that to the court … and unfortunately, they found the witnesses were unreliable for a number of reasons.”

In 2005, West pleaded guilty to a double-homicide in Nevada. Both West’s ex-wife, Janice Williams, and Charlotte Lazzie, an ex-girlfriend, testified regarding West’s violent nature. Ebony Grant, the half-sister of both Patrick McNeal and West, also talked about violent attacks by West, including an incident during which she was choked. Grant said West told her a week before the murders of Debra McNeal and her unborn child that he believed Debra was destroying all of his stuff, and that he would “kill the bitch”; according to the California Innocence Project’s website, West also confessed to Grant after the murder. Cary McGill, a co-worker of West, said that West confessed the murder to him, stating that Debra was ruining Patrick’s future and that he had to “handle the bitch.”

However, the court denied all of this new evidence—and Patrick McNeal remains behind bars.

“We are kind of at a roadblock, but we’re still investigating whether or not West told other people who might be more credible, or whether or not West will confess—which would be ideal, but I don’t know if that will ever happen,” Cohen said.

“There were a lot of issues at the evidentiary hearing with the witnesses who said West confessed, (whom) the judge found not to be credible. For instance, Cary McGill, who came forward saying that West had confessed to him, failed to appear on the first day; he had some issues with work and didn’t appear. When he showed up to testify, the court threw him in jail. When he got on the stand, he was in custody and was pissed—he tried to help somebody and ended up with a failure to appear (charge). The court found him not credible because his demeanor was just irritated.

“There were a lot of bad things that happened at that hearing that turned the case to deny the petition and keep Patrick in prison.”

The Independent was given about 10 minutes to talk via phone to Patrick McNeal, who is currently serving his sentence of 30 years to life at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi. During the phone call, he expressed extreme frustration with his conviction.

“It’s so hard for me to believe at times,” McNeal said. “I told them during the interview that I made phone calls that day that were on the phone record, and I walked out with other probation officers from my job. I can’t make all that stuff up. … My phone-call records make it impossible for me to be at the murder, along with the probation officer I walked out with. They were ignored, or there were excuses made for phone records.”

McNeal said his attorney failed to adequately defend him during his original trial.

“He told me that he was going to question them on the timeline and do all of this and that. He didn’t do anything that he told me that he was going to do and just said, ‘The defense rests,’” McNeal said. “When I asked him about that, he said, ‘Oh, well, that’s just how I like to do my cases, and there’s no need for me to do it. The prosecution didn’t present their case.’ I was completely blown away.

“By that time, it was too late.”

Cohen said that even though McNeal’s case is currently at a standstill, they remain hopeful that he could be freed one day soon.

“He’s very optimistic; he checks in on his case regularly, and he knows that we’re sort of at a dead end,” Cohen said about McNeal. “We have a clemency petition pending with the governor, where we’re hoping (Gov. Gavin Newsom) sees this evidence and commutes his sentence or grants him a pardon. That’s one big hope he has going forward. Obviously, we talk about other ways we can break this case open. But … we all know West is very dangerous, so we’re all very cautious about it, and we’re hoping there are other people who will come forward. All of our (main) hope right now is with our governor’s office, and we’re hoping the new governor will take action on this and see there’s no way for (McNeal) to have committed this crime.”

Patrick McNeal said he wants more than just his release from prison.

“Getting out is, of course, the No. 1 goal, but I wouldn’t be satisfied just by getting out,” he said. “I can’t believe that a reasonable person would look at the case with all of the phone calls and the blood evidence (and think I did it). If you put everything together along with the fact no one ever said that I was the one who did this, along with where I worked as a probation officer—I would have to have had a co-conspirator in the Probation Department for someone to make phone calls from my office to my home and not tell the police about it—it’s like nothing makes any sense. Would I really tell a fellow probation officer, ‘Hey, I’m going to go kill my wife. Just in case the police come after me, can you make these phone calls from my office?’”

For more information, visit

Meagan Van Dyke is a multi-talented performer. She’s been in College of the Desert musicals In the Heights and Little Shop of Horrors; she was an on-air Disney Channel host; and she performs in Trio NV with Nick Sosa and Doug Van Sant of the Flusters. Catch Trio NV every Saturday night at the Miramonte Indian Wells Resort and Spa. For more information on Trio NV, visit Meagan was kind enough to answer the Lucky 13; here are her answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

I’m a little embarrassed to say the Backstreet Boys was my first concert, but the boy-band pop-scene was huge in the late ’90s, and I was just another 10-year-old who succumbed to the sounds of five guys singing love songs.

What was the first album you owned?

Boyz II Men’s II. I can remember listening to it on repeat in my bedroom. I always find myself attached to lyrics that are romantic and poignant, and when you pepper in flawless harmonies, I’m a fan for life.

What bands are you listening to right now?

I have a very eccentric playlist, but I’m currently listening to Brandi Carlile, Janelle Monáe and H.E.R.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

I enjoy a lot of different music, but I’ll never understand the culture of heavy metal. If I can’t understand the words because the lead singer is screaming, I’m shutting it off!

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

Ben Platt. He’s a Broadway star and has one of the most mesmerizing voices I’ve ever heard. I’d love to just sit and listen to him sing.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

I’m a musical-theater nerd. My guilty pleasures are the soundtracks for most Broadway musicals. Currently, it’s Dear Evan Hansen and Waitress. I’m also a huge fan of just about anything from the ’80s. Foreigner, Journey, Hall and Oates—they still get blasted in my car.

What’s your favorite music venue?

The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. There’s nothing better than enjoying music under the stars.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

Let ’em live while they can. Let ’em spin; let ’em scatter in the wind. I have been to the movies; I’ve seen how it ends, and the joke’s on them.” Brandi Carlile’s song “The Joke” has a strong message, and if you haven’t listened to it yet, you should!

What band or artist changed your life? How?

I’m definitely inspired by the Motown, funk, soul and R&B eras. Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Donna Summer, Smokey Robinson, Amy Winehouse and Lauryn Hill are all musicians who have changed my life as an artist.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

I’d ask Diana Ross what inspired her to be the amazing performer that she was and still is today.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

An ’80s classic, “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” by the Simple Minds.

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. The entire album is a classic, soul-pouring novel that I never get tired of.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“When Will Then Be Now?” by The Flusters. Support local music! (Scroll down to hear it!)

On Saint Patrick’s Day, you can always expect to hear Celtic music in some form—including, most likely, some music by renowned Celtic punk band Flogging Molly.

Flogging Molly is currently on tour and will be stopping by Morongo Casino Resort on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day—Saturday, March 16.

When former Fastway and Katmandu frontman Dave King started Flogging Molly in 1997, he entered uncharted territory by combining punk rock with Celtic music—in America. The first album, Swagger, released in 2000, was well-received by critics, and the second album, Drunken Lullabies, released in 2002, reached Gold status.

During a recent phone interview, guitarist Dennis Casey said starting a Celtic punk band was a unique challenge.

“The hard part for me was being a loud guitar-player,” Casey said. “It’s a bit of a challenge to mash all those instruments together, and less is more when you’re playing with so many people at the same time. I think we were just bringing the passion and the energy to the show. That was pretty infectious to people. In traditional Irish music, if you go back and look at where it came from, it came from people sitting around in living rooms having some drinks, entertaining themselves and dancing. We just amplified that.”

In 2017, Flogging Molly put out its sixth album, Life Is Good, which took six years to make.

“There were a lot of things happening in the band on the business side—the changing of management, agents and all the boring stuff like that,” Casey explained. “It takes time out of your schedule when you’re trying to write and record. Dave’s mom died; my father died; and it was a combination of all those things that delayed us—and also inspired the record.”

The title may be a bit misleading, given the many challenges the band and its members faced while making the album.

“You need context, and you need to hear the record. Most people think ‘Life Is Good’ means caviar, champagne, yachts, excess and all that,” Casey said. “It couldn’t be further from the truth, and there’s a lot of irony in it. Dave’s mother dying inspired a lot of that. … I think it’s sort of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm. The title track is about Dave’s mother dying. It’s way deeper than the first image you might have. It’s hard to hear the sarcasm in it, but it’s there. Dave has always been writing about the horrible things in life but also (shining a) positive light on things as well.”

Flogging Molly has performed often with fellow Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys, which started in Boston around the same time as Flogging Molly.

“(Dropkick Murphys) are wonderful guys, and we’ve toured with them about three times,” Casey said. “We got along great. There’s a lot of comradery. We were jumping onstage playing together, and it was a really special time, and I’m glad we got to do it. I know we share a lot of the same fans, and I think that’s a nice gift.”

In 2015, Flogging Molly started the Salty Dog Cruise, an annual cruise in the Caribbean, which has included bands such as Gogol Bordello, The Specials, NOFX, Less Than Jake and many others.

“I was personally thinking, ‘OK, we’ve really lost our minds.’ I thought that only old people who drink piña coladas and play shuffleboard go on cruises. I had never been on one, and I was stereotyping,” Casey said. “We marched on, and I’ll never forget when I got on the boat for the first one, and I met two people from Belgium. And I was like, ‘Whoa! Belgium?’ It was so exciting, and I rethought the whole thing.

“It formed into this wonderful festival on a boat. There’s a sense of community. So many relationships are made from it, and the vibe is so great. It’s turned out to be one of my favorite things to do all year. It’s funny how that turned around. I tell people, ‘I defy you not to have a great time.’ It’s just about 20 to 30 bands playing punk rock with all the booze you can drink and the food you can eat. People think it’s going to be debauchery and mayhem, but it’s a really communal fun time. It’s a vibe I can’t explain, but it’s there.”

Flogging Molly will perform at 9 p.m., Saturday, March 16, at Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon. Tickets are $45 to $65. For tickets or more information, call 800-252-4499, or visit

“Everyone talks about rock these days,” Keith Richards once said. “The problem is they forget about the roll.”

Well, local musician Cody White has most certainly not forgotten about the roll.

White and his band, the Easy Ride, are now gigging regularly in the high and low desert, and have started to stand out with a ’70s-inspired rock ’n’ roll sound. During a recent interview in Desert Hot Springs, White seemed laid back and smiled a lot while talking passionately about his music.

“It’s a lot of the old rock ’n’ roll I love,” White said. “I’ve been known to say that I was born in the wrong decade, because ’70s rock ’n’ roll is my bread and butter. Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and that kind of stuff is where I gathered upon when I was a young guitar-player. I’m also a fan of Radiohead, and I draw a little bit from that.

“Most of my lyrics are pretty politically driven, so I hear about something that pisses me off, and I write a song about it as my therapy or whatever you want to call it.”

White played as a duo with drummer David Driver before bassist Samantha Clark recently entered the picture.

“It took us about two years to get a solid rhythm section,” White said. “David has been playing with me forever. Trying to find a bass-player was a nightmare, and we were playing as a two-piece for a few years. I figured I wanted to play more stripped-down than (force) something that was going to sound so-so or (have) people playing in the band that don’t fit what we do.”

White grew up near San Luis Obispo and credits his parents for introducing him to the music that inspired him.

“When I was growing up, I was raised more on rock ’n’ roll and country music, so that all somehow mixed,” he said. “The album I remember listening to the most when I was a kid was The Beatles’ Rubber Soul. That was the rock album I remember listening to over and over when I was a kid. My dad was a huge Frank Zappa fan, so he’d play Zappa albums in his truck when my mom wasn’t around. My mom was a radio DJ and had a folk-music show when I was a kid growing up in the ’80s—James Taylor, Jackson Browne and stuff like that. I got pulled on air a couple of times. It was voluntary and her once-a-week thing.”

When he was just starting as a songwriter, White said he had a problem with believing in himself.

“My biggest thing was always confidence, because I was a guitar-player since the age of 15. I had no problem sitting onstage and playing guitar,” he said. “But when it came time to craft my own stuff, lyrically and musically, there were probably piles of songs that went by the wayside, because I didn’t think they were good enough. It’s part of the whole songwriting process. I had a good friend who told me to write a song everyday just for the discipline, and out of that, you’d end up with a couple of songs that were worth something. It took a look time for me to be confident as a songwriter.

“I think for me … it’s about what you feel the most passionate about. Every person is different. Writing love songs has never been my forte, but whenever political and social-justice issues hit me hard, that’s where I’m passionate and where the good songs come out. Keith Richards said that when he got stumped trying to write a song, he would play a song by someone else, and something comes out of that. Samantha and David are also a huge part of the songwriting process, and the songs are definitely shaped by the rhythms and the bass lines they add in. It’s taught me to play and arrange songs in a whole new way.”

White told me about an interesting show the Easy Ride recently played.

“A friend of mine did this show up in the high desert called Quema del Diablo, which is a South American Catholic traditional festival that’s known as the Burning of the Devil,” White said. “Last year, they did it bigger than before and had two stages; it was an outdoor show in the middle of December in the high desert. That was really fun. But the local shows down in the low desert have also been fun, because there are people who still want to hear rock ’n’ roll. It’s inspiring when you see where the industry is going with rock ’n’ roll these days.”

For more information on Cody White and the Easy Ride, visit

When The Righteous Brothers released “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” in 1964, it changed the music industry forever, creating the term “blue-eyed soul.”

The Righteous Brothers will be appearing at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino on Friday, Feb. 15.

You can’t talk about rock ’n’ roll without “You Lost That Lovin’ Feelin.” It’s been included in soundtracks (most notably Top Gun) and has been cited by music critics for decades; it captures awe whenever it’s played on an oldies radio station. The group scored another hit a year later that was almost as big with their cover of “Unchained Melody.”

After two breakups—one in 1968 and another in 1976—The Righteous Brothers reunited in 1981 and stayed together until Bobby Hatfield passed away in 2003. In 2016, Bill Medley started The Righteous Brothers again with Bucky Heard and began touring again.

The Righteous Brothers accomplished a recording industry first related to “Unchained Melody.” It appeared again on the Billboard charts in 1990 after being featured in the 1990 film Ghost. They re-recorded the song … and that version also made the Billboard charts.

During a recent phone interview with Medley, he discussed the two versions of the same song on the Billboard chart.

“It kind of started when ‘You Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ was in the movie Top Gun, and we realized that if they would have released it again, it would have been a hit all over again,” Medley said. “When ‘Unchained Melody’ came out, and the radio stations started playing the hell out of the record, they weren’t up to releasing it. So we went back in and re-recorded ‘Unchained Melody’ and put it out. It was a hit. They were playing the original and buying the new one, so both of them went up the charts.”

Medley said that although it was successful, in hindsight, the re-recording was probably not a good idea.

“You really can’t and shouldn’t mess with a record once a record is made,” Medley said. “Even though I produced the original ‘Unchained Melody,’ I knew how to produce the next one, too. But you should probably leave well enough alone. Financially, it worked, but I don’t think it was a good idea to do. You just can’t capture the magic that a hit record has. Nobody knows what that magic really is, which is a cool thing. Even though it was a hit, and you’re going in the studio to re-record it, you still don’t know what that magic, is and you can’t dupe it.”

Famed producer Phil Spector worked with them on “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” and “Unchained Melody” using his “wall of sound” recording technique.

“I don’t throw this word around too much, but Phil Spector was a genius in the studio,” Medley said. “He was brilliant at what he did. I think with ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,’ he just made a record you could never dupe. It was the perfect storm. It was an incredibly written song by Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, and Phil Spector’s production of it was phenomenal, and I think Bobby and I did a pretty good job on it.”

The 2016 return of The Righteous Brothers was warmly received, and the new duo has been consistently on tour since.

“It’s been phenomenally successful. Bucky does a great job,” Medley said. “You can’t replace Bobby, and we’re certainly not trying to, because he was one of a kind, but Bucky is doing a phenomenal job of filling in for Bobby. He’s a great singer; he’s a great guy; and I really love him a lot.”

The Righteous Brothers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. Medley discussed his feelings on its status in the industry today.

“I don’t think everybody in the business has the need or should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” he said. “I’m thrilled to death that we are, and I understand one of the criteria for being in there is that you brought something to the industry that wasn’t there and opened up a new door. Bobby and I opened up a new door for blue-eyed soul. I think it’s all OK, but I think it’s getting watered down. Sticking up for the rappers, I they belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but they should have their own hall of fame too.”

The Righteous Brothers will perform at 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 15, at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, in Indio. Tickets are $29 to $59. For tickets or more information, call 760-342-5000, or visit