Interview | Hanging Out with Tucson Folk Artist, Don Armstrong

Don & Victoria Armstrong. Photo from Don Armstrong & the Whiskeypalians’ Facebook page.

On Music & Fatherhood

JF: We have mutual friends now who are navigating this for the first time—as musicians and songwriters navigating a family, like Bekah and Matt, for instance. What was it like for you, coming up as an artist, but also as a husband and father?

DA: Going back to that Buddhist principle, here. When I met Victoria, I thought that she couldn’t have children. I remember we’d been together for about six months, and she’d told me, ‘I’m ready to have children now. I want children.’ I was really surprised, but I wanted her to have this.

Like a week after she conceived, she knew. It’s like she knew. After her death, some people got in touch with me who had known her long before I did and told me that something she’d always wanted was a family.

Both of our kids like music. Joaquin was a drummer ever since he was a little boy. But, they were never really into what we were doing when they were growing up.

Once or twice, Joaquin would play drums along with us, and he was really good. He was still in high school, too. We just knew all of these people, like the McGarrigles, and they would get their whole family to play music.

I thought I’d love to have a musical family like that, and it just didn’t work. Celeste felt she didn’t have the talent, although she did, and she was the queen of karaoke. If there was a karaoke night someplace, she had this little sponge microphone and even while she was driving, she’d be singing into it.

Actually, three years ago when I played Caffe Lena, Joaquin joined me on stage. He texted me and told me that he wanted to sing a song with me, and it made me nervous because it was like, Caffe Lena is where I go to church, you know?

We never really sang together—maybe once at a party. I didn’t know how this was going to go, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings if it didn’t work out. He wanted to sing this Beatles song, ‘Two of Us’, that Victoria and I used to sing.

It was a Thursday night that he got into town, and the show was on Saturday. We had Nick & Luke there that night, and Tom Mitchell, and there were expectations to meet. I took him out to dinner, then we went back to where I was staying and tried the song. I figure I’d know in one line.

I did know in one line, and it worked. It was great. It was really, really fun.

JF: Joaquin joined you for ‘Bowl of Dust’, too, right?

DA: Yes, he did. Nick & Luke, too. They behaved themselves on that. I feel like that was in 2019.

JF: It was, just a handful of months before everything changed. It feels like we’ve gone through a decade, not a year.

DA: The thing is, you just have to wipe 2020 just completely off. Just add a “one” onto everything because that’s when the world started picking up again. For a lot of folks, their entire livelihoods could have been compromised by the pandemic.

I remember being afraid because a lot of my bread and butter is playing retirement homes. In the middle of the night at the beginning of March, I remember sitting up in bed and thinking I’m going to lose all of my gigs. Then, the next day the phone calls started coming. It was scary. Thankfully, I somehow kind of held it together.

JF: It was serendipity.

DA: It was. Just kind of stringing along and along. It wasn’t easy. David Bromberg covered Victoria’s ‘Lovin’ of the Game’ during that time, though. That was good. I’ll have to check my royalties on that. [Laughs]

Words by: Jonathan Frahm