‘Santa Rosa’ songwriter finds local inspiration
By MELODY KARPINSKI / Santa Rosa Correspondent
To Pete Stringfellow, Santa Rosa is a song. The country singer, 40, has turned a love for his hometown into music.
The lyrics to his hit song “Santa Rosa” pay homage to alma mater Piner High School, the Charles Schultz Museum and his family’s dairy ranch off Shiloh Road.
“I wanted to capitalize on being from wine country and be an ambassador of this area,” Stringfellow said.
He has gone on to maintain a busy cross-country career, continuing to perform while also directing multimedia for a Nashville social media company.
Although raised in Santa Rosa, Stringfellow’s roots lie further south. He was conceived in Bogota, Columbia, by a 16-year-old girl who was given an ultimatum: “Give the baby away or put it in a garbage can.”
A sympathetic aunt helped the girl reach Mexico, where Stringfellow was born. Five days later, Santa Rosa couple Laren and Georgia Stringfellow adopted the baby. They had recently lost their 2-year-old daughter,
Back to the States, doctors discovered that the baby was legally blind and told the Stringfellows that if they hadn’t caught it in time, he would have become completely blind.
Pete wore glasses throughout most of his childhood before switching to specialty contacts in the seventh grade.
“I had these really, really thick glasses, so it was always a challenge at school,” he admitted. Music became a refuge.
When Stringfellow was just 2, his grandmother enrolled him in a music appreciation class that introduced him to the piano. By 9, he was learning drums, and in high school added the guitar.
Country music was always playing in the background at his grandparents’ ranch, but during Stringfellow’s time at Piner, he dabbled in many musical genres. He was part of an R&B group called 2 Soul Solo and a hip-hop group called The Cali Boyz. He also was introduced to Charlie Daniels’ “Simple Man,” a record that became instrumental in his artistic development.
“That record really brought it home for me,” Stringfellow said. “Before I had kind of struggled with my identity as an artist, but none of it felt right until I heard that record and said, ’I want to do that.’”
Stringfellow majored in music at Santa Rosa Junior College and continued his education at Chico State University, earning a B.A. in recording arts and music composition. After graduating in 1996, he married his high school sweetheart, with whom he now has three children.
Stringfellow stayed at Chico State to pursue a master’s degree multimedia, his second love. His master’s thesis was a video that included sending someone back in time to save country music.
In 1997, Stringfellow made the move to Nashville, beginning what he calls an apprenticeship of sorts. “(It’s) paying your dues, singing demos for other people’s songs, playing gigs that aren’t necessarily sexy, but you’re out there playing,” he said.
During his time in Nashville, Stringfellow worked with artists like Reba McEntire, Brad Paisley, LeAnn Womack and Terri Clark.
“A lot of planets have to line up to really be in the mainstream, but you don’t know where you stand and you don’t know what you need to improve until you really burn in the fire,” he said. “But (Nashville) was a good time, and once I ‘graduated,’ I knew exactly what I needed to do to get to the next level.”
Over the years he has trained as an actor, and has been featured in movies and national television. He also produced and wrote music for groups like the hip-hop duo B.B. Swing, which eventually landed a recording contract. The record deal fell through, but Stringfellow retained rights to the master tracks.
“I was able to pitch them to different publishers, and lo and behold the first guy I pitched it to loved it,” he said. The music publisher offered him a single-song contract for his song “1440,” but later added several other songs from Stringfellow’s catalog. His song “Shada Boxa” with Jason Belz, has been featured in Hollywood productions that include both the movie “Meet the Parents” and “C.S.I. Miami.”
“I’m up to about 150 placements in Hollywood,” he said.
Starting in 2003, Stringfellow began splitting his time between Nashville and Santa Rosa, but believes staying close to home keeps his music fresh. “When I was in Nashville, I started sounding like everyone else, and it just drove me crazy,” he said. “I wanted to have my own sound.”
That sound is starting to get attention. While he broke into the local radio scene in 2004, Stringfellow’s latest single “Pole Dance” is now being played on radios across the country.
While the clever title may raise eyebrows, the fishing song is just one more example of Stringfellow’s creativity.
“I try not to do themes that have been overly done, but if I do, I try and come at it from fresh angle,” he said. “That way it’s unique, because otherwise it’s back to being ordinary and that’s no fun.”
Building on his regional bases in California and Tennessee, Stringfellow plans to release an album in Spring 2013. In the meantime, he is involved in community projects in several states and is director of multimedia for Nashville social media and technology company Moontoast. The startup has worked with clients like Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean and Keith Urban.
“Pete is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met,” said Brian Shepherd, Moontoast’s head of agency brand relations. “I always think there’s got to be more than one Pete with all he does. His ability to juggle multiple things is amazing.”
Stringfellow helped with a Moontoast project for the victims of the Aurora, Colo., shooting earlier this year. “Dark Night” composer Hans Zimmer released a song in honor of the victims, and Moontoast built an app that helped people donate to the victims’ families.
Local charity events are also a priority for Stringfellow, including a recent fundraiser for the Oak Grove school district’s arts and music program.
“Anytime you can make a positive impact on the community, I’m always for it,” said Stringfellow. “I remember when I was a kid and [musicians] came to my school. It changed my life. You have to give back.”
Stringfellow markets himself as PETE [stringfellow], using the letters of his first name as an acronym to help describe his work: “P” for performer, “E” for entertainer, “T” for technologist and “E” for evangelist.
“Your content has a longer tail because of the Internet now,” said Stringfellow. “People are still discovering (the song) ‘Santa Rosa,’ and it came out five or six years ago now.”
Balancing all of the spinning plates — family, music, Moontoast and traveling — can be challenging, but Stringfellow finds inspiration in his mother Georgia. She became a teacher at Steele Lane Elementary School and for a time was president of the Santa Rosa Teacher’s association.
“When we were younger, she went back to school to earn her degree and worked and raised us three boys,” he recalls. “She is such an inspiration for me. I have to give her kudos.”
Stringfellow also looks up to country greats like George Strait, Brad Paisley and Reba McEntire.
“(Reba) is a good example of how it’s done -she always has hits on the radio, she’s in Hollywood and movies, she has her own TV show, her own recording studio,” he said. “If I could have half the success that she’s had, I’d be dying a happy man.”
PETE [stringfellow] will join Wonderbread 5 as New Year’s Eve headliners at the Last Day Saloon on Monday, Dec 31. Details to follow; visit petestringfellow.com for more information.