When he was notified that he’d been selected for the Stockton Arts Commission’s Career Achievement Award, singer-songwriter Dirk Hamilton had a range of reactions.
“It means I’m old.”
“There’s probably a lot of mad musicians because they didn’t get it.”
And more thoughtfully, “This is really cool. Stockton really is my hometown.”
Even though he grew up in Sacramento and came to Stockton to start his senior year at Lincoln High School, Hamilton considers himself a Stocktonian.
“I’ve always been in touch with a bunch of people from Stockton that I met here mostly in school,” Hamilton said. “I’m only in touch with one person in Sacramento where I spent all those years, my whole childhood. It’s mystical.”
Or mystifying or maybe just Stockton’s good fortune, because the city is tattooed on Hamilton’s heart.
He calls it “my hometown.”
It’s where he made the best friend of his life, the late Waldo Holt. It’s where he returned after he was burned out by the Los Angeles music scene, where he’d recorded four albums for ABC and Epic Records between 1976 and 1980. It’s where he went to work counseling troubled youth before rediscovering his love of music.
Bass player Eric Westphal, drummer Peter Hackett and guitar player Gary Roda were the local musicians who backed his second incarnation as a singer, and the band is getting back together again after 30 years, performing Nov. 2 and 3 in 8 p.m. shows at the Blackwater.
First up, though, is Saturday’s STAR Awards.
“I’m very flattered and honored,” Hamilton said. “No other city ever gave me anything.”
Maybe because he never connected to another city as he did to Stockton, although there are many cities in Italy, where he’s performed every year for 30 years, that welcome him as a native son.
“One of the first times I went to Europe, I spent a lot of time in Germany, Austria, England, all kinds of places,” Hamilton said. “The last place I went was to Italy. It felt like Stockton. I got off the train and there’s an Italian guy there to pick me up to start doing my gigs. In a couple hours I felt like this is my place, these are my people. I feel at home with Italians, how they roll.”
They’re loyal fans, too, which is why he continues to trek there every year.
Hamilton still keeps up a heavy touring schedule, playing whatever strikes him on any given night. His manager urges him to play his old music, but he prefers newer songs, especially since he’s now writing with his son, Chavis, a recent graduate of Berklee’s School of Music in Boston.
“He’s a better natural musician; he passed me musically,” Hamilton said. “He’s got a good melodic sense. He writes a different way.”
Hamilton writes most of the lyrics, although Chavis occasionally contributes.
Chavis came up with the line, “When window shades start leaking dawn,” and Hamilton added “And all your good friends are stolen and gone,” creating a song about a heroin addict.
It’s dark, but sometimes life is dark, and Hamilton isn’t afraid to confront anything.
For years he’s written about the need to take care of Mother Earth and one song he wrote, about the Sandy Hook school shooting, was so emotional he couldn’t perform it in public because he broke down at the words, “20 baby souls.”
Taking risks is what made Hamilton the musician he is, from leaving L.A. and record deals to reigniting his career on his terms.
It’s a career that’s lasted into a fifth decade, and one Stockton is now celebrating.
The other Stockton Arts Awards honorees:
Patron: Niska Yudnich
Business of the Arts: John X. Fernandez, Jr.
Volunteer: Tim Ulmer
Arts Education: Joan Calonico
Music Education: Elizabeth Sanders
Comet: Eric Urbina
Cultural Arts: Wang Seng Thao
Literacy Arts: Mary Jo Gohlke
STARlight Youth: Adelisa Creighton