Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dreamin' Wild : The Emerson Brothers


Big dreams can begin anywhere. Even in small farm towns like Fruitland, Washington. It was here in the 70's that two brothers, Donnie and Joe Emerson, would daydream through their after school chores in the fields. They'd hurry each other up so they could get into a 16 track recording studio their father Don Emerson Sr built for them.

" I'm dreaming basically of thousands of people hearing what we were creating. My mind was open to all kinds of things." Donnie remembers.

"I could see they had talent. " Don tells me. We're sitting in lawn chairs outside the log wood studio not far from a two-lane highway that leads through an indian reservation, over a lake and eventually to an interstate exit about 60 miles from Spokane. Don relives a conversation he had with his teenage sons 35 years ago.

I said "Well, what do you want to do?"
I says "Do you want to milk cows or something?
That's the only thing you can make money at today"
They said "We don't want to milk cows. We want to play music."
"Ok" I says.

Donnie and Joe walk into the studio with their dad. There's olive green carpet on the floor and ketchup red carpeting on the walls. In the corner sits a pile of instruments including an old moog synthesizer.

"Oh gosh Joe, " Donnie says. " I see us right now playing together in here."

"And you correcting me on my drumming." Joe adds.

Don Sr had purchased his sons the best instruments for the studio. In all, it was about a $100-thousand investment. And this was the 1970's. Then he took out a second mortgage to turn the old dairy barn into a concert venue.

"It's a vision that my dad saw --that it would be cool for all of us to enjoy together and share with other people," Donnie says.

I tell Don Sr. I didn't know of a lot of parents who would go to such lengths to support their kids's dreams.

"Oh no." Don laughs. " I don't think they would either. Personally, they probably thought I was crazy. Honestly. "

When the self-pressed album Dreamin' Wild came out in 1979,  Donnie talked Spokane's PM Magazine into coming out to the farm. There in front of the cameras, the boys showed off their skills on tractors and hauling pipes.  Joe said of his dad:"He's been supporting us you know. He's been putting his money out for us and someday it will pay off and we'll be providing for him."

It didn't work out that way. Not even the brothers' classmates bought copies of the album. Thousands wound up in cardboard boxes sitting in a closet. Don Senior doesn't like to talk about how much money he lost on the dream but the Emerson farm, once 1600 acres of fields and timber stretching far off into the distance is today just 65 acres.

"It's just the way life goes," Don says.

His son Donnie feels like he had a role in losing in the farm.

"To say I don't miss the farm and I don't mind losing it, I would be lying to you. Cuz it was a gift to be on this farm."

In most cases this is where the story would end. As a cautionary tale about reality's way of destroying a million dreams for every one that comes true. Except this story --like an album--has a Side Two. And it's all thanks to that cheesy album cover.

"I wish I still looked like that." Donnie says holding the record.

"What are you talking about?" says balding Joe. "I wish I looked like THAT!"

In 2008 an amused record collector named Jack Fleischer bought a sealed copy of Dreamin' Wild in a Spokane antique store for $5. He uploaded the song "Baby' on his music blog and word began to spread. Within years Dreamin' Wild had become a cult classic.

Today when Joe listens to the album he says he gets a sense of amazement.

"It's like wow I see it now as little genius. He's a little genius. Not just because he's my little brother but there is a sense of genius happening."

Donnie doesn't take all the credit.

"I think I was definitely a conduit in a sense. Cuz I never worked at it .They just kinda came to me . I mean songs just came like it was nuthin' to me."

Donnie stills play some of the songs in a band with his wife. They perform regular gigs at the Red Lion in Spokane. The brothers jammed on an upbeat version of "Baby" in front of me.

Light In The Attic records has now re-released Dreamin' Wild and Joe hopes the record is well received and sells. Maybe the boys can take care of their old man like they promised more than 30 years ago. Not that Donnie Sr expects to ever get paid back for what he sees as a father's duty.

"You can have all the money you want but if you don't help your kids out, it's all in vain. You have nothing to pass on." He says.

Any regrets at all I ask?

 "None whatsoever." Don Senior says. " I would do it again. It's been a lovely life."


  1. Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of the Dreamin Wild album. You all are our heroes right along with mom and dad. God bless ! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Sincerely Joe Emerson

  2. The pleasure is all ours, Joe. Hope you can make it to the UK soon, and don't forget to bring Donnie!