The Magical Mezcal of the Mojave and Its Founding Wizards

By Lisa Lynn Morgan
Cover photo: Brandy Lee Dyess

Magic has, at long last, been captured in a bottle. The award-winning Rancho De La Luna Mezcal is as much a product born from the agave of Oaxaca, Mexico, as it is from the legendary song smithing, collaboration, and kinship cultivated over 30 years at the Joshua Tree recording studio it is named after. At the helm are the highly revered musicians, Dave Catching and Bingo Richey.

ABOUT RANCHO DE LA LUNA: If the walls of the Rancho could sing, you’d hear the music of Daniel Lanois, Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters, Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Josh Homme, Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, Eagles of Death Metal, Mark Lanegan, Arctic Monkeys, Iggy Pop, Kurt Vile, Victoria Williams, earthlings?, UNKLE, Masters of Reality, Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, The Duke Spirit, Desert Sessions, and so many more. Here, recording artists glean from the collective creative energy that has saturated the walls over time where rock and roll’s favorite sons and daughters have divined riffs on instruments that lay in wait for the next artist to wield.

Founded by Catching in the early 90s with the late, great, Fred Drake, Rancho De La Luna has become the Holy Grail for musicians around the world. Richey worked beside Catching and Drake from its earliest conception. Bands and artists have stayed at the studio/house for weeks at a time while they record,
and Catching has hosted them with food, camaraderie, barbeque, and of course, libations.

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THE MEN OF THE RANCHO MEZCAL: David Catching: The Memphis born axe wielder helped start Queens of the Stone Age (QOTSA) with Joshua Homme. They worked together on a single called, “18 AD’ for a compilation record called, Burn One Up. Catching played with QOTSA from 1997-2000, and went on to play with earthlings? (a band he formed with Fred Drake), Mondo Generator, Eagles of Death Metal (2003-2017), the late Mark Lanegan. In 2013, Catching and Richey formed Mojave Lords, a band whose show with earthlings?, inside Joshua Tree National Park, August of 2021 (a fundraiser for Joshua
Tree National Park Association), sold out within an hour. That concert and a follow up concert at Pappy + Harriet’s, was part of a documentary, “No New Normal,” described on IMDB as “Mojave Lords and earthlings? – Underground musical bands from the California high desert embark on their first concert after COVID shutdowns on music venues. The bands are testing the new evolving concert regulations by playing on exterior venues and fighting harsh environments, playing a concert inside Joshua Tree National Park – Indian Cove Amphitheater – and the desert’s iconic Pappy and Harriets venue. The No New Normal concert documentary tells a story of musicians endurance and a selection of live songs that showcase the spirit of the Californian desert music scene.”

“I met Bingo when he first moved to Joshua Tree and started working with Tony Mason at Rancho De La Luna,” Catching shared. “I would go to Pappy + Harriet’s every Sunday to see the Sunday Band featuring Bingo, Victoria Williams, Travis Cline, Ray Woods, Carol Ann Crandall, Bobby Furgo, and a lot of other amazing friends/musicians. Bingo and I became fast friends. He is one of the smartest, coolest, funniest people I have ever met.”

“As far as roles go in the Mezcal partnership,” Catching shared, “Bingo is the brains behind Rancho Mezcal and does all the heavy lifting. I help host events and spread the word.”

Bingo Richey, raised in Kansas, learned to play guitar along with bluegrass, country, rock ‘n’ roll, and everything that was on the radio. “My first recordings in the early 80’s were pretty experimental,” he shared. “I was working with circuit bending, RadioShack keyboards, and even getting into the early stage of digital audio with augmented Betamax four-track stereo recording. Since then, it’s a long story. Fast forward through decades of bar gigs all over the world, and land with me in Joshua Tree in early 2000. I’ve worked with some wonderful people in my life so far: John Cage, Holy Modal Rounders (member), and a lot more. Then, all of a sudden, I’m learning patch bay renovation, engineering and next-level tape recording with Fred Drake and Tony Mason. I’ve gotten to play with Victoria Williams, Thrift Store All-Stars, Mojave Lords, and many of our illustrious Rancho alumni and colleagues worldwide.”

“David and I made friends right away,” Richey added, “because we had some common friends, a lot of common interests, and we’re both awesome people that like to have fun and make weird sounds.”

Richey sees Catching’s role as the “face of the company…(Catching) helps spread the word about all our fun shenanigans, AND he pours a lot of mezcal for the awesome bands and artists that come to work with him on music. I handle all the business stuff… It’s kind of like the group Wham! UK. David is George Michael, and I’m the other guy that does all the computers and shit.”

THE MEZCAL: The Rancho De La Luna Mezcal “…has been judged exceptional, and rightfully so. Smooth, warming, and delicious, it invites camaraderie across the board by avoiding the overly ‘smokey’ trap of many upscale Mezcals. Considering the volume we pour, our guests definitely share my enthusiasm.” – Ray Rodriguez, lifetime restauranteur and co-owner of Casuelas Cafe and Cork Tree restaurants in Palm Desert, California.

It’s list of prestigious validations back that assessment up:

SILVER Medal (2023 San Francisco World Spirits Competition)
GOLD Medal (2023 Beverage Testing Institute)
GOLD Medal (2023 San Francisco World Spirits Design Competition)
SILVER Medal (2023 Bartender Spirits Awards)

Photo: Dave Catching

Bingo Richey & Dave Catching. Photo courtesy of Majave Lords

The concept of making their own liquor springboarded from a suggestion to get a liquor endorsement to subsidize the amount of alcohol being poured in hospitality at the Rancho. Richey, known for his hustle, responded, “Why get an endorsement? Let’s make our own liquor.”

How does one take an idea like that and bring it into fruition? Partnership and hard work – a concept few are better at than these two music crafters.

“I learned about the spirits business by working in the spirits business. I learned about making mezcal by working alongside our Master Mezcalero, Carlos Méndez Blas,” Richey shared. “He is fourth generation mezcalero. His mother and grandmother were both widowed, single women who helped revolutionize mezcal as an industry, and as an art. The story of artisanal and ancestral mezcal is a long one. Mezcal was illegal to produce or sell up until the mid-1990s.

Our production partners were instrumental in that accomplishment, as well as in the formation of growers and producers’ unions. We are all very proud to be partners.”

“Rancho De La Luna Spirits is a privately held company,” Richey noted, “but a couple of our publicly vocal members are renowned musicians/producers Butch Vig (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage) and Peter Buck (R.E.M.).” Also vocal about the Rancho Mezcal is famed restauranteur and James Beard Award Winning Chef, Christy Vega. “She says it’s her ‘favorite mezcal in the world,’” Richey added. “Rancho De La Luna Mezcal is the house brand for Casa Vega in Sherman Oaks (est. 1958).”

Photo: Tiny Pony Photo Booth

“Rancho de La Luna Spirits has been a story of rapid growth leading us through many transitions,” Richey continued. “We are positioned to sponsor live music events on a continual basis all over the US and in several different countries. Much of that support focus will be for local live music events in different towns and cities: open mics, new band nights, and Industry nights are a great place to show love for our community of venues, musicians, and hospitality workers. We’re also gearing up with many key retail chains. We ALWAYS love to visit mom and pops too. It’s a fun job.”

As with music, Richey is a self-taught entrepreneur. “I continually study business and contract law,” Richey explained. “I handle all our corporate and business management tasks. I read all the fine print, usually a few times, and I ask a lot of questions. Then we pay lawyers to make sure we’re not f*&%! anything up. I’m learning about business by reading, studying, working my ass off, and making a lot of mistakes. Some of my favorite informational resources have been Investopedia, MIT’s Open Courseware, and various trade journals. We also have an incredible board of directors with decades of formal business and law experience. Every step of the way has been an invaluable education.”

Together, Richey and Catching are poised to enjoy success in multiple ventures that surround the recording studio and its mezcal. “Rancho de La Luna Recording Studio, RDLL Spirits LLC, RDLL Records/Media Company LLC, RDLL Holdings LLC, RDLL Licensing LLC, are all the tip of the iceberg for the fun stuff we’re now able to create and facilitate.”

Photo: Dave Catching

SWEET RELIEF MUSIC HOUR: Richey and Catching have never shied away from offering support to the community of Joshua Tree or their music community. One project that is deeply important to them is The Sweet Relief Music Hour. The RDLL team has put a lot of time into building a channel to support the non profit, Sweet Relief, that was initially formed to help pay medical bills for renowned musician, Victoria Williams. Williams was diagnosed with MS while on tour with Neil Young in the 90s. After her diagnosis, a group of friends assembled an all-star album of Victoria’s songs, Sweet Relief, which alleviated much of her medical debt. Vic, aware that there were many musicians like her -unable to afford medical expenses and compromised in their ability to work- donated some of her proceeds from the album to found Sweet Relief Musicians Fund. Sweet Relief Musicians Fund provides financial assistance to all types of career musicians and music industry workers who are struggling to make ends meet while facing physical or mental health issues, disability, or age-related problems. *

“You’re always just one paycheck away from a bad day,” shares Richey on the video promo. “It’s nice to know that you’re not alone in times like that. To have Sweet Relief step in like that…it’s just a contagious vibe to see Vic take all that she got as love from people with her own health issues, and then just turn around and give it back to people who she thought might need it more.”

The Sweet Relief Music Hour (SRMH) will be a monthly, one-hour program, hosted by Steve Agee, that centers around musical performance. The program will include interviews with the artists that are performing, as well as featuring good news reports from artists that have been helped by Sweet Relief in the past. In conjunction with the musical artists for each show, Sweet Relief Music Hour will invite up-and-coming, local, and unique artists, as well as venerable masters of the form to design the posters, commemorative merchandise, overall vibe and set design of each episode. The merchandise will be available for purchase through the Sweet Relief Music Hour website and remain in the catalog ad infinitum to allow fans and collectors to discover and enjoy the ephemera associated with their new favorite show, for years to come. The performances will be presented in conjunction with McMenamins Live Music and Events who have offered
several of their best performance venues, along with booking management, and accommodations for the SRMH show performers. The show looks to go into
production this summer (2024):

Photo: Scott Witter

Photo: Per Schorn / Nele

Photo: Dave Catching

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