When I asked Teddy Quinn to tell me about his life, he didn’t know exactly where to begin.
The host of the famous open-mic nights at Pappy and Harriet’s and the Joshua Tree Saloon, and the owner and founder of Radio Free Joshua Tree, is a colorful figure of the high desert, and he’s been in the entertainment business for more than 50 years. In fact, the story of Teddy Quinn begins in Hollywood in the ’60s, where he was a child actor who made appearances on Bonanza, Bewitched and General Hospital. He also had a recurring role on the short-lived sitcom Accidental Family.
“I retired of my own free will when I was about 12,” he said in a recent phone interview from Joshua Tree. “I was more interested in rock ’n’ roll, poetry and art. I wasn’t really into TV. Even before that, I was always into music; I grew up on The Beatles, of course.”
Throughout his childhood, Teddy would act as a DJ for his older siblings; he also began writing songs at an early age.
After his “retirement,” as his adulthood years began, Teddy tried to establish himself as a musician in Hollywood, eventually ending up in a band with Fred Drake, who would become his close friend and confidant. The two of them made regular trips to Joshua Tree, and fell in love with the high desert.
“We would always try to go to the Joshua Tree Inn and try to get the room that Gram Parsons died in, and we’d go visit Cap Rock in Joshua Tree National Park, where the unsuccessful attempt to cremate (Gram Parsons) happened,” he said.
He and Drake eventually made the move to Joshua Tree, where they co-founded the famous Rancho de la Lunarecording studio 20 years ago, which they co-owned until Fred Drake’s death in 2002. Teddy handed his portion of the studio to Eagles of Death Metal guitarist Dave Catching, who is still the owner and who lives at the studio.
When I asked Teddy what it is that makes him continue to stay in Joshua Tree, I could feel his love for the high desert in his voice. “I’m sitting here in my room looking outside at this beautiful sky, the mountains surrounding me, the desert, and the vastness of what I’m looking at outside. It just feels like it’s open to all possibilities,” he said.
Teddy fell into doing open-mic nights about 10 years ago, on Monday nights at Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown, and on Tuesday nights at the Joshua Tree Saloon. The open-mic night at Pappy and Harriet’s, in particular, is known for luring in local musicians and residents of Joshua Tree. Some of the performers Teddy tells me about: a retired man who served in the Marines with the late George Jones, a harp player who has been known to sit in through the night, a couple in their 60s who both play accordions, and a variety of other local musicians.
“I never know what to expect,” he said. “The variety is always completely amazing. I’ve never once left there feeling disappointed, and I’ve always left surprised every time.”
Teddy told me about one night when a young woman asked to sing.
“I had no idea who this girl was; all she told me was her name was Leslie. She got up and sang, and all the employees from the kitchen ran out, asking me, ‘Do you know who that is?’ And it ended up being Leslie Feist (Feist), who at that time had the No. 1 hit song in the world.”
He also has a story about how he and a friend of his played a cover of “19th Nervous Breakdown” by the Rolling Stones, at first completely oblivious to the fact that Theodora Richards, daughter of Keith Richards, was sitting at one of the tables with friends.
“I went up to Theodora and told her, ‘I hope it’s OK we were singing your dad’s song,’ and she said, ‘It was fucking brilliant!’ It was just a funny convergence of things,” he said with a laugh.
Ted said he advises potential performers to get there early for either of the open-mic nights, as the lists tend to fill up—usually before he even arrives. He also recommended that those who make it on the list be patient and hang out through the entire thing.
And if you’re planning on just showing up to observe, chances are you’re going to have a really good time.
Teddy Quinn hosts an open-mic night at 7:30 p.m. on Mondays at Pappy and Harriet’s, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956. He also hosts the open mic at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays at the Joshua Tree Saloon Grill and Bar, 61835 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree; 760-366-2250. For those who don’t get up to Joshua Tree, you can hear Teddy on Radio Free Joshua Tree at www.radiofreejt.com.