Desert Rock Icon John Garcia on Pets, Vets, and Rock & Roll

By Bruce Fessier

John Garcia has sung for massive crowds at Coachella and Ozz Fest. He opened for Metallica as lead singer of Kyuss, the pioneering desert rock band featuring three future members of Queens of the Stone Age.

He also performs magic at the Palm Springs Animal Hospital. At that unobtrusive complex next to a Vons market, Garcia works on operating tables as a veterinary technician.

In his two incarnations, Garcia, 51, has experienced adulation and adoration. Pet owners have loved him for helping to save animals. International rock fans have transcended cultural borders through his performance of songs depicting the desert experience, like “Whitewater,” “Green Machine” and “Our Desert Home.”

Garcia also enjoys a little bit of heaven in Morongo Valley, where he drives a one-and-a-half-mile dirt road to get to the house he shares with his cat, Chip, his dog, Lexi, his 12-year-old son, Marshall, and his wife, Wendy, who works with him as a vet technician.

Madison, his 19-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, joins them from Wisconsin each summer for escapes to Big Bear Lake on Garcia’s 1970 Glastron boat.

Photo by Lambeth Palmore Clarke

But Garcia’s joy has been tempered recently by what he calls “a crisis in veterinary care.”

Before the pandemic, the Palm Springs Animal Hospital had four veterinarians. Now they have one, Dr. Peter Henein. The hospital owner, Thrive Pet Healthcare of Austin, Texas, is offering scholarships to 100 of its employees to study and become veterinary technicians. But the pandemic also created a shortage of vet assistants and, when cases skyrocketed from people adopting more pets to cope with isolation, a crisis ensued. Local social media groups, such as Next Door and Dogs in the 760 carry posts from pet owners decrying their inability to get appointments with veterinarians.

Garcia will be headlining a benefit concert September 17th at the Palm Springs Art Museum to help mitigate that crisis.

Photo by Lambeth Palmore Clarke

Photo by Lambeth Palmore Clarke

Amy’s Purpose, a charity formed in 2020 by Yucca Valley resident DeAnn Lubell to find ways to keep animals healthy and safe, asked Garcia to help raise funds to provide scholarships for students interested in becoming vet assistants.

The Personal and Career Education division (PaCE) of College of the Desert in Palm Desert offers a course to train veterinary assistants, but it costs more than $3,200 in fees and takes almost nine months of study and hands-on training. In response, Amy’s Purpose arranged to pay tuitions for PaCE students committing to work locally.

The Palm Springs Art Museum offered its Annenberg Theater and Atrium at discounted prices for the benefit, titled “Pet Love and Rock & Roll.” It also will feature Billy Steinberg, a Songwriters Hall of Fame member from Palm Springs High School.

Steinberg, who will sing his songs ranging from “Like A Virgin” to “True Colors,” has played the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert. But this is Garcia’s first chance to perform in one of the Coachella Valley’s premier theaters.

Kyuss World fans making a pilgrimage to the Sky Valley city sign.
Fans come from around the world to have their photo taken at that sign
because of the Kyuss album, Welcome to Sky Valley.
Photo courtesy of Kyuss World

That opportunity has re-invigorated him after a two-and-a-half-year layoff that recently ended with a concert before 1,500 people at the Knockdown Center in New York.

“New York and Amy’s Purpose have catapulted me from going from this (veterinary) office to the studio to start writing,” he said in a recent interview at the animal hospital. “We’re sitting here talking about this because of animals and music. It’s incredible. What a combination.”

Garcia, who grew up in North Indio, started singing with Kyuss at desert parties powered by generators. Led by future Queens of the Stone Age front man Josh Homme on guitar and Brant Bjork on drums, Kyuss became the first band to break out of the Coachella Valley commercially. Dave Grohl of Nirvana touted them as his favorite group. Their first albums, “Wretch,” “Blues for the Red Sun” and “Welcome to Sky Valley” became cult classics that still attract new fans. They are credited with inventing the stoner rock genre with their deep, lava-like guitar sound and Garcia’s melodic, angst-laden vocals.

Even after the success of Kyuss and subsequent bands including Slo Burn, Unida, Hermano and Vista Chino, Garcia pursued his passion for veterinary care. It started with high school summer jobs at a Palm Desert pet store, the Canine Spa in Cathedral City, and the Humane Society of the Desert in North Palm Springs. He volunteered to assist Dr. John Howarth at an Animal Samaritans spay and neuter clinic between Kyuss tours and Howarth later asked him to fill in for two weeks as a vet tech. He has been working as an unlicensed vet tech ever since.

He attended College of the Desert with plans to transfer to UC Davis to become a veterinarian in 1997 after a major label deal for Unida fell through. That plan ended when Sharon Osbourne offered $125,000 for Slo Burn to open for Black Sabbath at Ozz Fest in San Bernardino.

Garcia was reminded of that experience in May when New Yorkers began singing along to songs he recorded 30 years ago.

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“It was absolutely incredible,” he said in his hospital office. “I walked on stage, the crowd embraced me with open arms, and I lit in like there was no tomorrow.

“I was high two days from the show, going, ‘Fuck, man. We pulled it off. Still viable.’ There were rave reviews, but I was happier inside, just the way it made me feel being on stage again. That was incredible, walking out to this unbelievable roar of people going apeshit.”

Garcia feels veterinary care is his highest calling. He adores his animal patients as much as pet owners care for him.

“We had to put to sleep this calico cat, Lucy,” he said of a recent case. “Kidney failure. Wendy drew the blood. The kidney values were extremely high. The cat was dehydrated. A sweet, sweet cat, purring while I assisted putting an IV catheter in to euthanize her… purring… rubbing on me.”

“Knowing this is the last five minutes this cat is going to have with you, how do you deal with that? I loved on that cat like there was no tomorrow. This was the last time you’re going to touch a human being besides your owner, and that’s me. It kind of chokes me up because it’s tough. You have to detach yourself emotionally or it will drive you bonkers. But that was the best thing we could do for that cat.”

Photo by Tomoko Inoe

Garcia flashes back to some of his musical thrills: Being invited to practice at the La Quinta home of Mario Lalli, who organized the generator parties; being asked to record “Born Too Slow” with the EDM duo, Crystal Method, and singing it at Coachella; mixing an album with Unida at Cello Studios in Hollywood with Johnny Cash, Elton John and System of a Down in adjoining rooms.

“When I played in Mario Lalli’s living room, I thought that was it for me. I had such a deep respect for him that it felt like I got to play the LA Coliseum,” he said. “Then, when I played in front of a sea of people at Hellfest in France three years ago, I was on one stage in front of tens of thousands, and there are three times as many watching Steven Tyler on the other end of the property. I thought, ‘I’m going up against Aerosmith, and I still have this many people in front of me?’ That’s an incredible feeling.

Photo by Tomoko Inoe

Asked if he choose one incarnation over another, Garcia shared, “They’re two unbelievable feelings,” he said. “To try to dissect the feeling of walking on stage versus seeing someone care so much about their animal, knowing we helped Dr. Henein help save that animal – two incredible, emotional feelings.”

Tickets to “Pet Love and Rock & Roll,” featuring John Garcia, can be purchased at https://www.psmuseum.org/events/amys-purpose-22. For more information, go to Amyspurpose.net or e-mail Lulubell24@aol.com

To learn more about Billy Steinberg, go to Billysteinberg.com.

CONCERT TICKET INFORMATION:
What: “Pet Love and Rock & Roll,” a benefit concert and pre-show reception for Amy’s Purpose to raise funds for scholarships to the College of the Desert Partnership and Community Education course in Veterinary Assistant Certification.
Who: John Garcia and his Band of Gold will headline a mostly acoustic set of Kyuss classics and newer originals following an opening act with Billy Steinberg singing his Songwriters Hall of Fame catalog with vocalist Annie Bosko. Garcia and Bruce Fessier will do a short Q&A between sets. The hosted reception will feature wine and light hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction and a presentation of the first Amy Award to Lori Weiner, owner of the Pet Hotel at Barkingham Palace in Palm Desert and founder of the California Paws Rescue adoption service.
When: The open-to-the-public reception starts at 6:45 p.m. The concert begins at 8 p.m.
Where: The reception will be held in the Atrium among the art galleries of the main floor of the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 N. Museum Drive, Palm Springs. The concert will be downstairs at the museum’s Annenberg Theater.
Tickets: $50, $100 and $250, with half-off discounts to the latter tickets for veterinarians, available at https://www.psmuseum.org/events/amys-purpose-22. Individuals making a $3,200 donation for scholarships to the veterinary assistant course will receive two front-row seats. Five or more donations will be matched by the College of the Desert Foundation. The hosted reception is sponsored by Willie Rhine, co-owner of the Eight4Nine and 1501 Uptown Gastropub restaurants in Palm Springs and Willie’s in Rancho Mirage. On sale at the Annenberg box office, by going to www.psmuseum.org or calling (760) 325-4490. To donate without buying a ticket, send checks to Amy’s Purpose, P.O. Box 1427, Morongo Valley, CA 92256 or contact DeAnn Lubell at lulubell24@aol.com or (760) 831-3090 for electronic transfers.
More information: info.amyspurpose@gmail.com or Amyspurpose.net. To hear the music of John Garcia, go to https://open.spotify.com/track/1WPAQR4AGJq9LmZOI6KEax?si=9d725817a9ea4e40

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