The Retrobates at Rancho Nicasio January 2014, L-R Dale Alstrom, Ray “Slim” Green, Greg “Doghouse” Dunn, Emily Bonn, Pete Lind, Fiddle Ray Landsberg, John Tuttle, Mylos “Boogie” Sonka

Kevin McConnell, Mylos Sonka, Bryan Adams, Ray Landsberg, Bing Nathan, Garry Williams, Ray Green, Bob Akers at the Union Street Fair, San Francisco, 2010

Mylos, Bryan, Kevin
Bryan, Ray Landsberg, Johnny Cuviello (The Texas Drummer Boy)

Our Trailboss in the latest open-heel cowboy slippers

Zee Zee and Spex

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The Lone Star Retrobates is a boot-scootin’ wingtips-flyin’ dance band specializing in authentic West Coast Swing. If Jazz is America’s musical taproot, then this roadhouse-swing fusion is its west-facing branch.

Featuring trumpet, sax, twin fiddles, both standard and pedal steel guitars, drums and standup bass, rich four- and five-part vocal harmonies and even trick yodeling on demand, the Retrobates sashay from hot swing to honkytonk. Let’s say Ella and The Inkspots were to gig with Billy Jack Wills at the corner of Louis Jordan and Ray Price, and say Johnny Mercer and the Pied Pipers were sitting in — that’s the Retrobates in a nutshell. Oh, and with laughing gas piped in — these guys have a lot of fun.

The Retrobates show pleases all comers: retro-roots for the youth, jump-boogie for the hipsters, classic swing with new arrangements for granddad, and good tight original arrangements and vocal harmony for the many musicians who like to drop by and sit in on their shows. If they are not zootin’ it they’ll like as not be rootin’-tootin’ it or sliding easy-like into a belt buckle polisher.

With a freshly retooled show featuring a kicking all-star horn section — each horn man a bandleader in his own right — the Retrobates are making a stir in the Bay Area alt-country and retro-roots scene, with bragging rights on singer-songwriter Emily Bonn, swing veteran Mylos “Boogie” Sonka and big-band vocalist Ray Green.

In addition to fronting their own groups, Retrobates alumni have been band members or recorded with Wills brothers Billy Jack and Bob, Tex Beneke, Jimmie Rivers, Alvino Rey, Junior Brown, Freddie Martin, Ray Price, Bill Monroe, The Neville Brothers, The Sky Blue Band, Louis Bellson, Kinky Friedman, Frank Wakefield, The San Francisco Starlight Orchestra, Dan Hicks, the Hot Club of San Francisco, Lavay Smith, Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums, and many, many others.

They've made many radio and TV appearances, and have been featured at many west coast shindigs, including the Western Regional and the Northwest Regional Folklife Festivals, the San Diego and San Francisco Folk Festivals, the Grass Valley Bluegrass Festival and the California State Fair. They played a seven-year engagement at Paul’s Saloon in San Francisco. Then for 6½ years they circled up the wagons monthly at Marin’s premiere hotspot, the 19 Broadway Niteclub in Fairfax. They recently did a six-month engagement at the historic 23 Club in Brisbane. For the past three years they have been packing the dancers into the scenic Presidio Yacht Club near Sausalito, playing second Sunday afternoons monthly. They also currently appear regularly at Rancho Nicasio in West Marin County.


Mylos “Boogie” Sonka, the Retrobates trail boss, plays both steel and standard guitars, as well as the fiddle and tiple. He sings all vocal parts, though seldom at once. He has been an ace fancy yodeler since the tragic barbed-wire high jump accident. His main interest is western swing music, though back in the day he performed with bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, toured up and down the West Coast with The Frank Wakefield Band, and co-founded the seminal California bluegrass band High Country. He played with the jump vocal swing group On the Air over the years and with Dick Oxtot's Western Swing Express, and chopped Freddie Green-style rhythm guitar with the 17-piece Ray Simpson Big Band. He was inducted into the Western Swing Hall of Fame in 2012.

  Emily “Zee Zee” Bonn leads her own band,Emily Bonn and the Vivants, and met the Retrobates backstage when they shared billing at a festival. They got to jamming and soon discovered she wanted to sing more swing and the Retrobates wanted her in their big-band-style harmony mix. Emily honed her original songs from busking in San Francisco BART stations, performing with her erstwhile all-female honky-tonk band, The Whoreshoes to touring Europe, the South and Canada with The Vivants. She currently makes frequent appearances in Bay Area clubs and festivals where she has become a popular opener for touring Americana artists such as J.D. McPherson, Wayne Hancock and Della Mae. As a featured vocalist with the Lone Star Retrobates, she finds inspiration from such pre-rock legends as Bob Wills, The Boswell Sisters and Louis Jordan.
  “Fiddle” Ray Landsberg, our musical professor, is a pint-sized saddle pal with ten gallons of talent. He has played with many well-known jazz and country artists. In the jazz field these have included Bart Bales, Dick Oxtot, Barbara Lashley, and Norma Teagarden. In country: Pat Cloud, Rhythm on the Range, and Fred Maddox. He also produced and appeared on the Melissa Collard CD, Time Changes Everything. Ray's fiddling has been influenced by Bob Wills and Louis Armstrong. His deadpan humor, often impossible to detect, is featured on Mal Sharpe's comedy record, The Meaning of Life, on Rhino Records. He is not on a record with Norton Buffalo but met him once. Recently Ray has recorded with Paul Mehling's Hot Club of San Francisco, Dan Hicks, the Monogram Boys, and the San Francisco Starlight Orchestra.
  John Tuttle moved west to California in the 1970s. He is an award-winning songwriter and brings an array of talents to the Retrobates: he is a solid four-to-the-floor rhythm man and he knows his way around big-band style swing vocal harmony—and he switch hits on accordion or boogie-woogie piano as required. John can frequently be heard playing around northern California and Nevada with the Quake City Jug Band ( His previous associations include The Jazz City Singers, The Les Moore Band, and Little Mo.
  John Bowman at Bowman Sound—A kind of a nice feller for a cowpoke to know, John not only lassoed us into his studio, but his PA wrangling has cut trouble off at the pass for us on a Gig From Sonic Hell or two, and we’re much obliged. He is so good he makes us sound better than we actually are! He has been doing live sound and recording since he was a teenager, from reel-to-reel to digital. He is a few days older than Mylos, which the Trailboss finds somehow comforting. Check out:
  Multi-instrumentalist Dale Alstrom has had his arrangements and compositions performed by numerous symphony orchestras, vocal ensembles and swing, jazz and rock bands. He has played with numerous big bands, including Freddie Martin, Alvino Rey, Ray Price and his Cherokee Cowboys, Tex Beneke, Louis Bellson and Walt Tolleson as well as spending a number of years playing and singing with various lounge groups in the Reno/Las Vegas circuit and Hawaii. He has played for many name acts such as Bob Hope, Jack Benny and Steve Allen. A bandleader in his own right, he is known by many as "Fairfax Sax", and has lead Dale Alstrom’s Jazz Society for over 30 years. Dale and his ensemble can frequently be heard with his daughter Alison Alstrom, a well-known Bay Area jazz singer.

  Ray “Idaho Slim” Green on trumpet and vocals. Ray has headed up his own outfit, the Ray Green Band, for the past ten years. He performs regularly as a big band vocalist with the Ray Simpson Band, with On the Air, and channels Louis Jordan equally well.

  Barry Lowenthal has recorded and toured with several San Francisco Bay Area bands and artists including two albums and a national tour with Steele Breeze. He has also recorded and performed with The KBC Band (Paul Kantner, Marty Balin and Jack Cassidy) as well as the acclaimed blues artist Alvin Youngblood Heart. Barry lives in Marin County, CA. and has a rehearsal studio in nearby Terra Linda where the Taz rehearse.
  Oakland native Stuart Yasaki is a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist who specializes in the music of the 20’s, 30’ and 40’s. He has performed with many Bay Area small groups and big bands, including The Musician’s Warehouse Big Band featuring Louie Bellson, Bob Enos Soundwave, and the J-Town Jazz Ensemble. For many years he fronted the Stuart Yasaki Big Band, a group dedicated to the preservation of the traditional dance band. He can occasionally be seen playing latin music, rock and roll, country, Hawaiian, and even Italian music. As he’ll tell you, if you run in to him frequently, “You have to travel in better circles.”
  The Rhythm Guitar Rotation: Originally Kevin, our take-off guitar man, covered rhythm guitar, but when he soloed, Fiddle Ray and Mylos would have to cover the job with cheesy fake rhythm chops on fiddle and steel. Several top-notch archtop rhythm guitar players, doubtless horrified, started asking to sit in, so it has evolved into a seat held down variously by Bob Wilson (who once recorded with Merle Travis), Bill DeKuiper (Swing Shift, On the Air, Hot House Swing Band, and others), Don Burnham (band leader of Lost Weekend Western Swing Band), and occasionally Dick Wilson (who once recorded with Duane Eddy), or our own genius webmaster-photographer Victor Landweber (website). You just never know. And Kevin? He's happier than a gopher in soft dirt because he gets to do more fills behind the vocals and join in on riffs with the horn section.
The Retrobates have played TV and radio shows, weddings and wine tastings, folk festivals from Seattle to San Diego, county and state fairs, venues ranging from the elegant San Francisco Fairmont and St. Francis Hotels to South-of-Market skuzz bars and juke joints—and most everything in between. Here’s a sampling of some we’d prefer to remember:

California State Fair Sacramento
Grass Valley Bluegrass Festival
Northwest Regional Folk Festival, Seattle WA
Western Regional Folk Festival CA
Bill Graham’s Shoreline Amphitheater w/ Patsy Montana
Oakland Festival of the Arts
San Benito and Sonoma County Fairs
San Diego Folk Festival concert and workshops
S.F. Folk Festival, Fort Mason—concert and guitar workshop
Jack London Square Oakland mayor’s rally
San Francisco State University concert
Luther Burbank Arts Center concert
Annual Stern Grove Concerts
Tuolumne County Wild West Film Festival
Grand National Rodeo—Cow Palace, San Francisco

KPFA-FM the “Midnight Special”
KQED-TV with Lone Star—San Francisco Public Library Benefit
East Bay Community Access TV—“On Stage” program with Lone Star
KQED-FM - Sedge Thompson’s “West Coast Weekend”
KKUP-FM, Cupertino CA

Moscone Center SF
Cast party for “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”
Marlo Thomas birthday party, with Tommy Tunes
Int’l Singer Sewing Machine Convention
Francis Ford Coppola filmcrew vineyard campout—filmed for documentary
Cascade Ranch dance-BBQ, Ano Nueva State Park
Campari Corporation party, Presidio Log Cabin, San Francisco

The Seahorse, Sausalito
Travis Marina Bar & Grill (AKA Presidio Yacht Club)
Rossi’s 1906 Club, Napa
Twin Oaks Roadhouse
Perry’s, Fairfax
19 Broadway, Fairfax
Fairfax Lodge
Little Switzerland, Sonoma CA
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
Old Western Saloon, Point Reyes
Rancho Nicasio, CA
Redwood Empire Swing Dance Club
Rosebud’s, Benecia CA
San Rafael Elks Lodge
Silverado Country Club and Resort
Sweetwater, Mill Valley CA
San Francisco and Peninsula:
23 Club and Dick’s Tower Brisbane CA
Fairmont and St. Francis Hotels
Fort Mason Plowshares concert with Patsy Montana
Lucky Luke’s, North Beach
Mariott’s Great America
One Market Plaza
Owl & Monkey
Paul’s Saloon, San Francisco—8 years as the house band
Pier 23 on Embarcadero
SF Scottish Rites Temple Western Dance Night
SF Public Library Artists Series
The Waterfront
Verdi Club's Woodchopper's Ball
East Bay and beyond:
Ashkenaz Summer Swing Dance Series
Bear’s Lair, UCB
Breakaway Dance Club
Freight & Salvage
Kensington Western Days, CA—Lone Star
Olympia Tavern, Fresno
Petty Officer’s Club, Alameda Naval Air Station
Terrace Room, Lake Merritt Hotel, Oakland
Western Swing Society, Sacramento

Lone Star at the St. Francis Hotel, San Francisco, December 13, 1990. Standing: Bruce Stelter, Johnny Cuviello,Mylos Sonka, Joe Yamamoto. Kneeling: Piper Heisig, Vance Terry
Billy “Longhead” Wilson—steel, Mylos Sonka—guitar, Bruce Stelter—guitar, Ray Landsberg—fiddle, Piper Heisig—bass  

Lone Star at the Freight and Salvage, L-R Tony Marcus, Paul Scott, Larry Lyons, Mylos Sonka

Lone Star at Grass Valley Bluegrass Festival, 1981, L-R Brian Godchaux, Tony Marcus, Paul Scott, Mylos Sonka, Larry Lyons


Mylos with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, Bean Blossom, Indiana, 1967. L-R: Byron Berline, Lamar Grier, Bill Monroe, Mylos Sonka.



Mylos sitting in with the Texas Playboys in April 1999, Leon Springs, Texas. L-R: Herb Remington, Leon Chambers, Mylos Sonka, Bob Rosenquist, Casey Dickens, Louise Rowe, Bobby Boatright. Photo by Barbara Martin
A recording of Mylos playing with Biil Monroe is posted on our YouTube page.
Mylos says: “I was in a local bluegrass band called the Dixboro County Brakemen and was with Bill and the boys at a workshop and a radio interview that afternoon to publicize the show. In the course of chatting about this and that, Bill asked Lamar Grier and me to come onto his band bus and asked me to sing something with him. Then he asked me to come onstage that evening and do a couple of guest numbers. The guitar man, Mitchell Land, was a good guitar player but did not play athletically, and after my song Bill leaned over and asked, ‘Why don't you stay out here with us and help keep rhythm?’ Of course he didn’t have to ask twice. I was in my early 20s and God Himself had just asked me to play rhythm guitar! The other guest was mandolinist Joe Fineman, a bandmate of mine who sang like Ira Louvin. Bill asked me to fill in on guitar on a couple of shows in Bean Blossom the following weekend which I was happy to do.”

Ray “Slim’' Green
Emily Bonn
Larry Lyons
Bruce Stelter
Pete Charles
Bryan “Spex” Adams

Tony Marcus
Stephanie Davis
Kevin Wimmer
“Fiddle” Ray Landsberg
Mark Mazerek
Bryan Godchaux
Joe Yamamoto
Paul Shelasky
Jeremy Cohen

Vance Terry
Gene Tortora
Billy “Longhead” Wilson
Willy Williams
Jay Riley
David Philips
Joe Goldmark
Mylos Sonka

Bob Wilson
Mylos Sonka
Dick Wilson
Kevin McConnell
"Dirty" Richard Sazlow

Joe Kyle Jr.
Pud Zippers (Paul Scott)
Bethany Raine
Beth Weill
Piper Heisig
Greg Dunn
Bing Nathan
Steve Strauss

Phil Wood
Ray “Idaho Slim” Green

“Snakebite” Ken Jacobs
Jim Rothermel
Spencer Hollis
Brian Campbell
Steve Deutsch
“Curly” Bob Akers
Dale Alstrom

Pete Devine
Barry Lowenthal
Johnny Cuviello
Peter Lind
Chris  Carpiniello
Bing Nathan
Piper Heisig
Tom “Pep” Peplinski

John Tuttle
Olivier Zyngier
Don Burnham (of Lost Weekend)
Victor Landweber (LSR webmaster)
Bill DeKuiper
Billy “Longhead” Wilson

Bob Beifuss
Sylvia Herold
Connie Doolan
Erika Alstrom
Piper Heisig
Patsy Montana (wrote “I want to be a cowboy’s sweetheart” and was the first female million seller in country music)
Fred Maddox (The Maddox Brothers and Rose)
Lonesome Chuck Wheeler
D. L. Menard (The Cajun Hank Williams)
Rusty Richards (The Sons of the Pioneers)
Don Burnham (Band Leader of Lost Weekend)
Mitch Woods (Rocket 88s)
Peter “Pop” Walsh (Stompy Jones)
Scott Lawrence (Stompy Jones)
Carolyn Martin (The Time Jumpers)
Pam Brandon (Lost Weekend)
Jim Passard (The Lost Cats)
Rusty Evans (Ring of Fire)
Shorty Joe Quartuccio
Melissa Collard

BLUEGRASS BREAKDOWN MAGAZINE: “Lone Star is an acoustic western swing band. This kind of music works well acoustically and Lone Star does an especially nice job of it. The double fiddling of Tony Marcus and Brian Godchaux is beautifully tight and evocative. The sweet soaring sound of twin fiddles is as pretty a tone as you’ll hear in country music. Mylos Sonka has always been one of the Bay Area’s best country singers and it’s good to hear his stylish sounds in such a good band. I like Lone Star’s non-imitative but dedicated and respectful treatment of older country music.”
— Robbie Macdonald, “The 1981 Fall Grass Valley Festival in Retrospect,” Bluegrass Breakdown, vol 7 No 6 Nov/Dec 1981 
MAL SHARPE: “I myself, aside from running a production company, am a trombone player and play with traditional New Orleans jazz bands. Many “trad” players have, over the years, sat in with or been part of Lonestar. Traditonal jazz is one of the main tributaries of Southwestern music, so it should be no surprise that traditional musicians and swing musicians blend in with the Lonestar sound. It’s not at all unusual to find trumpet, clarinet, and trombone players from many of the Bay Area jazz bands dropping by Paul’s Saloon to jam with Lonestar on a Sunday evening. These sessions always seem tremendously healthy for both styles of music. I highly recommend the Lonestar show for its musicianship, vocal harmony and the joy that they exude while performing. They are a very entertaining band to watch… Recently I used several members of the band on a KQED TV production entitled “Hello, Columbus.” [which aired nationally on PBS]. They perform very thoroughly under unusual shooting conditions, but I guess with a name like Lonestar they should have an agreeable affiliation with shooting!””
— “Man on the Street” Mal Sharpe is an icon of broadcast and TV production. “Hello, Columbus” won a Grammy that year.
FAITH PETRIC: “I have known Mylos Sonka and Lonestar for over ten years…. The music they perform is of cultural and historical importance. To hear it live, performed by such top musicians as comprise Lonestar will enormously inform and enrich the lives of all who hear them.”
— Faith Petric, SF Folk Music Center and Sing Out! Magazine, 1987     
TONY RICE: “This is wonderful music. There’s various groups that try to play it, that have all the chops but not the feeling and the understanding of it. You guys are the real thing, and it’s real good to know that this music is being done the way it should be. It’s a great band.”
— Tony Rice at Paul’s Saloon, San Francisco     
BILL HOOL: “I appreciate hearing musicians having a good time working things out. Too slick I don't think is all that fun (though your ‘slick’ sounds good too). Watching you guys interacting with the music and each other while having fun provides a really enjoyable experience. I could go for more. I don't think musicians on your level can do too much on-the-spot improvising, rearranging, redoes, and noodling around—you are at that level. The audience feels a part of something being constructed by great artists.”
— Bill Hool, one of our greatest fans     
BARBARA MARTIN: “I know these guys—they are great players. Check ’em out!”
— Barbara Martin, Western Swing Monthly     
PAUL LIBERATORE, MARIN INDEPENDENT JOURNAL: “What comes through … is a genuine love of this brand of authentic Americana. For fans of western swing, the complete CD will be something to look forward to.”
— Paul Liberatore, Marin Independent Journal music critic, reviewing the Retrobates EP release.
MITCH WOODS: “This is the best band in the County!”
— Mitch Woods (Mitch Woods and the RRocket 88s) June 2011, Presidio Yacht Club, Sausalito
CAROLYN MARTIN: “To Mylos, Thanks to you and your fabulous Lone Star Retrobates. You guys are wonderful and super talented… a great band!”
—Carolyn Martin, Time Jumper and Hall of Famer, July 2011     
JOSE SEGUE: “Louis Jordan with Stetsons and steel guitar—They play cowjazz, honky-tonk, bop, swing and whatever else they can get away with as long as people are hittin' the dance floor.”
—Jose Segue of     
“Thank you for making the Country Western Dance and Firehouse Chili Cook-off a HUGE success. Thank you so much for playing… everybody loved you!”
— Abby and the Bodega Bay Grange Hall Committee     
“Just an over the top performance. I believe you guys do this every other night, and it sure shows. You guys are consummate professionals. I know that I speak for everyone who attended last night when I say that you guys were awesome! Please pass the praise and thanks of Fairfax Lodge 556 to your band-- for an unforgettable night of music!”
— Michael Paynter, Larkspur     
Posted on the Lonestar Retrobates’ Facebook Wall: “Wow you guys are so good I felt like I was in a movie. Pristine accomplishments! Great Show. You’re bound for the Waldorf Astoria I think”
— Beebee Simmons, a Bay Area TV producer     
“YEEEHAWWW!!! Here come those Retrobates again!! …Join Marin's premier Western Swing/Barnyard Boogie band for dancin' & a-carryin' on…”
—Local “Music Vibe” Online Events Calendar     
“You guys are definitely the band of my dreams. Love ya!”
—Pollyanna Jitterbug Jones, posted on the Lonestar Retrobates Facebook wall     
“I hate country music, but I love you guys!”
—And bless their hearts, this is one we get real often at the bandstand.    
“The Lonestar Retrobates - This fantastic Western Swing band is a must see act. But be prepared: you will have to fight your way onto the dancefloor wherever they play, because they know how to swing!
—Miracle Mule Newsletter #2 June 15, 2011     
“For a rip roarin’ good time join The Lonestar Retrobates when they play at 19 Broadway in Fairfax. They play barnyard bebop and swingin’ cowboy jazz.
—Larry Carlin – Carlton’s Corner June 2010    
“Emily sounds like she comes from Memphis Tennessee or Macon Georgia on her rootsy debut CD, “Songs from Alabama Street.” The young multi-instrumentalist plays guitar and banjo and sings in a laconic drawl that’s as homespun as a gingham bonnet. She’s been mentioned in the same breath as Gillian Welch, Neko Case and the Be Good Tanyas. On the strength of the seven engaging original songs on this auspicious first album of acoustic Americana, she deserves to be in that company. Click to read the entire review.
—Paul Liberatore, “That Was 2011 – The Year in Review,” reviewing the 10 best local albums of 2011
“A world class dance band!”
—Doc Kraft, Bay Area bandleader - January 26, 2013    
“Western swing veterans … boasting a boogie-woogie attitude.”
—Charlie Swanson, Pacific Sun, December 27, 2017