Driving up the California coast to his home in Seattle last week from Los Angeles, where he played a rare concert, it was a family affair for veteran ukulele-wielding folk-punker Carmaig de Forest. His wife Diana Froley was at the wheel, and as they pulled over in a rest stop for him to conduct this interview, his two young children got busy capturing imaginary animals on Pokemon Go.
“I sometimes miss my musical life,” said the ex-San Franciscan. “But when my first kid was born, I just stopped — stopped trying to tour and make recordings, because my second act had begun. I’m a stay-at-home parent now.”
Three decades ago, the crew-cut-sporting de Forest, who plays San Francisco next week, ran this town. Or at least received a lion’s share of its nightclub bookings, thanks to the bratty insouciance of his Alex Chilton-produced 1987 debut disc “I Shall Be Released” (recently reissued by Omnivore Recordings as “I Shall Be Re-Released,” a 39-track 30th anniversary edition) and an odd clause in Bill Graham Productions concert contracts, which stipulated only one stage clearing per three-act night.
That meant zero gear allowance for the opener, which was often a comedian. “So when BGP booking agent Ken Friedman first saw me playing ukulele at Berkeley Square, he said, ‘We need you to open for Gang of Four — a New Wave band would get murdered, but someone edgy like you should work,’” he said.
De Forest had no grand designs. He was merely a performance-art student from UC Santa Cruz who incorporated the unlikely uke into his shtick. But in the early ‘80s, a professor introduced him to Mabuhay Gardens impresario Dirk Dirksen, who immediately saw the genre-defying potential of cynical acoustic scorchers like “I Don’t Wanna Go to Your Home Town” and “Crack’s No Worse Than the Fascist Threat.”
He simplified his sound because his mentor, late raconteur Spalding Gray, had streamlined his theater piece: “He just sat at a desk onstage and told stories, and that sounded really smart to me,” says de Forest.
Then the singer fell for Froley — who had written him a glowing fan letter — and followed her to Baltimore, and eventually Seattle, where her job in health and human services had taken her.
“I still do some music,” he says, “Like this after-school program with kids, singing folk songs. Maybe it’s the buzz around the Omnivore reissue, but I’m getting a little itchy about songwriting again, though…”
A few hours later, dad sends a fatherly photo from the rest area: “Guess they found a lot more than Pokemon!” reads the caption on a shot of his kids’ hands, balancing a giant praying mantis they caught. “It’s this family stuff that’s got my attention right now,” he shared.
IF YOU GO
Carmaig de Forest
Where: Make-out Room, 3225 22nd St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Aug. 13
Contact: (415) 647-2888, www.makeoutroom.com
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