Benefield: The legendary Santa Rosa DJ is donating part of his music collection to support Artstart – The Santa Rosa Press Democrat | Candle Made Easy

On Wednesday morning, I stood in what passes for the back yard of the Artstart studio and warehouse in south Santa Rosa and picked up a small, random portion of a box of vinyl.

I pulled out album after album in this order: Louise Mandrell, Louis Armstrong, The Police, Tina Turner, the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack and the Hollies.

It was the most random mix imaginable.

The next record in line was by BB King and Bobby Bland.

“Oh, this is a great album,” said album owner Bill Bowker.

He then begins to recall seeing King and Bland at the Whiskey a Go Go in Los Angeles several decades ago.

“That live show made another album,” he said.

This is the experience of flipping through records and mountains of CDs with a guy who’s spent the last 42 years DJing in Sonoma County and has spent most of his nearly eight decades listening to and reveling in all kinds of music .

Bowker retired from KRSH in December, ending a 27-year stint at that local station, where he hosted the show Blues with Bowker.

After about six weeks he promptly retired. He now hosts two weekly shows at KRSH – on Wednesday and Sunday evenings.

But he’s going through these shows without a significant chunk of his professional (and a bit of his personal) collection because he promised he would at the first-ever Artstart Yard Sale.

The sale is in its inaugural series on Saturday at the Artstart studio and warehouse in south Santa Rosa.

Organizers have a number of things that are unique to their operation: Finished artwork and tons of art supplies. But they also have things you might find at an average sale: an outdoor lounge chair and a couple of table lamps.

“It’s just such a great hodgepodge of interesting things,” said Jayne Burns, president of Artstart’s all-volunteer board.

“We have been blessed with people who have donated their art supplies, we have art from former trainees, we have fine art, we have furniture that hasn’t been sold,” she said.

But the real prize on Saturday will surely be part of a legendary local DJ’s personal/professional record collection.

“I was in the process of clearing out my office as I had been at KRSH for quite some time. My office had a small closet that I’ve put music in over the years,” he said. “There’s no way I’ll be able to keep these in my house.”

So Bowker, who had long dreamed of Artstart benefiting from one of the radio station’s fundraiser Backyard Concerts series, pledged the spoils to the nonprofit, which also happens to be the radio station’s back fence neighbor.

So if you’re looking for a copy of Terry Allen & The Panhandle Mystery Bands ‘Just Like Moby Dick’ or Ahmad Jamal’s 1960 ‘Happy Moods’ record or George Shearing’s ‘Bossa Nova’ release date of 1963 then the Saturday sale could be for you.

Additionally, if shoppers get it right, they can catch up with Bowker himself, who plans to staff the sales station for part of the day on Saturday.

I asked if he thought that knowing it came from his collection would make buyers more willing or willing to pay for an unknown artist—if there was some kind of automatic seal of approval for it.

“Maybe. No yes. The answer is yes,” he said.

“Jayne could have just said, ‘CDs for sale,'” he said. “But if I show up, they might ask… ‘What do you think of that?’ But I get a little nervous because I want other people to like what I like.”

Bowker has spent his decades-long career with that attitude. He is revered among musicians and peers for bringing the spotlight to the aspiring people and promoting names that have not yet achieved household status.

Now he’s using his musical taste to do the same for other types of artists.

Artstart was established in 1999 and is a training program for public art and artist apprentices. You’ve almost certainly seen her work, even if you didn’t know it was her work.

The poppy and wildflower murals at Casa Grande High School, “Dreamers” at Montgomery High, the mosaic panels on the bench in Children’s Memorial Grove in Spring Lake Park, and the mosaic dragon along the Prince Memorial Greenway Trail are all by Artstart.

And the “fish statue” at the entrance to the Prince Memorial Greenway Trail was created by longtime Artstart director Mario Uribe with the help of Artstart apprentices.

The program not only offers young artists between the ages of 14 and 21 an artistic education, it also gives them a taste of the practical: interacting with clients who commission pieces.

It also pays them.

“We pay our trainees and that’s where a lot of our donations go,” Burns said.

“We want them to see that there are viable careers in art, and we want them to take learning and the work of creating art seriously, and we think it helps compensate them,” he said you.

Going through his notes on Wednesday morning as he and Burns tried to figure out how to sort and sell them, Bowker kept coming across titles he remembered fondly.

I asked if any part of him wanted to smuggle some home.

“As we go through them now, I think maybe they could go back to my car,” he said.

He’s joking – sort of.

“I won’t do it,” he said. “I won’t do more than 20.”

If you want that Ahmad Jamal record, you better show up early.

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or On Twitter @benefield.

Leave a Comment