Last Thursday evening I attended the final “It’s Cooler Up Here” event located at the train park in my hometown. A type of farmer’s market mingle where locals brought their dogs and lawn chairs to enjoy the August evening and some live music.
The large turnout of Ridge inhabitants was pleasantly surprising and it included many acquaintances I hadn’t seen since my high school graduation or earlier.
ECV put on the barbecue, Feather River Ale was served in plastic cups, and many the attendees at the event danced to local band Spy Picnic.
As expected, small talk with some old friends was a little awkward and the local beer was still as heavy as I remember but something unanticipated happened that increased my buzzed excitement from the small-town gathering.
I’d lost count of how many trips to the beer stand I’d made but while distracted on my phone in line, I recognized the hook of Spandau Ballet’s song “True” coming from the band playing 30 yards away. Now I won’t lie, I didn’t know the beat until Nelly sampled it in 2004 with his hit single “N Dey Say,” a very important hip-hop song in the soundtrack of my adolescent development. But the soft 80’s rhythm that’s carried over decades later, has become iconic and fills all listeners with a floaty feeling that might even take them back to their senior prom.
This version being played, however, was one of the most notorious Paradise anthems to have ever been recorded, one that I hadn’t heard in many years.
Few rappers (or musical acts in general) have come out of the Paradise/Magalia area but in 2006 Scott Shaw, then 43, recorded and released the infamous track “Pine Cone Homies”. A narrative of a gangster trying to live in Paradise that also pays homage to the Ridge by including references to Ridgeview High School, the Feather River and the annual Donkey Derby. The song also warns outsiders of shit that goes down with its simple yet powerful chorus, “You don’t mess with the Pine Cone Homies.”
It took a second to register that the band on stage was playing the same rap song that had been remembered and forgotten throughout my growing up on the Ridge.
First I felt disbelief, then somehow it made sense and I managed to scream along with Shaw in the final chorus, “I’M A PINECONE HOMIE STRAIGHT OUT MAGALIA.”
[Editor’s note: I do not nor have I ever lived in Magalia, but do retain tentative plans to retire to DeSabla]
As a commercial painter by day and rockstar MC by night, music has been Shaw’s passion for many years now but he doesn’t consider himself much of a rapper. He also didn’t back in 2006 when he recorded the song.
“Rap isn’t my favorite genre or anything I’m good at, but a bunch of things came together to influence the song,” He explains.
Way back in 06, he’d hired a kid onto his paint crew who moved to the Ridge to avoid gang activity in Sacramento. Scott watched the young man unsuccessfully try to continue his gang banger lifestyle within the retirement community of Paradise. At this time in his life, Shaw also owned a commercial recording studio in town where he would help produce local bands. It was here that for the first time he played with loops and samples that most hip-hop music uses.
Amused and inspired, the man with over four decades of guitar experience hit the studio and drew from aspects of the painter’s life to create the dialog for his first and only rap song to date. With his friend and notable ridge musician Big Mo, singing the hook, the infamous “Pine Cone Homies” was born.
“I worked pretty hard to make the story about the local gangster and tried to include as many local references as I could,” he says, “It took me three to six months of picking it up and putting it down, but then I got serious and completed it.” Distributing the finished project proved difficult at first. Among Shaw’s circle of musician friends, hip-hop wasn’t a widely listened to genre. “My favorite band is Rush,” Shaw laughs, “What was I going to do with this rap song?”
Fortunately, he found real exposure for the track after he submitted it to Z-Rock anonymously.
“It got fairly heavy rotation on the radio and just became a hit,” he explains, “Next thing you know, I’m hearing it in people’s cars driving by and I thought ‘I wonder if they know it was recorded by a geeky white guy?’”
The song was an instant banger in the area. It was very popular among the Ridgeview students who heard their schools shout-out and someone told Shaw it was even played at one of the Paradise High Proms. Success.
Originally, I heard Pine Cone Homies on a burned CD in a friend’s portable player and was stoked as hell. I was 13 when Shaw released his track and probably heard it within that year. Kids these days will never understand the pain of hearing a cool song and not being able to immediately identify who sings it. Pine Cone Homies would make sporadic resurgences throughout my schooling at Paradise High but I still didn’t have a clue who sang it and if it was actually serious.
I recall teachers talking about how the Paradise Pine cones were a real gang and to this day Shaw isn’t positive if they are or not. “I heard someone make a joke about the name and I thought it was too funny,” he explains.
Since his solo track was so popular, Scott decided to try and incorporate it into SpyPicnic’s setlist among their rock covers and other original content. Unsurprisingly, local crowds love the new extended dance version and have been known to join in singing whenever it is played.
The track might be satirical and many listeners might have missed that but it demonstrates how cult-like followings can come about even in small-town settings like Paradise. The fact that the song’s popularity grew due to its circulation of physical CD’s and radio play, makes the history of the anthem that much more glorified.
I asked Scott if he plans on making a sequel to the hit, or if he hasn’t done it because it’s too iconic to be topped. “Every once in a while I’ll get inspiration to for a sequel, but I haven’t put anything together yet,” he chuckles, “I think I’d call it Dean Road.” Until the release of the follow-up, listeners can download the song online or even see Spy Picnic play it live around the area. It’s become one of the songs they’re most known for and on Thursday they proved they aren’t afraid to perform it in front of the Paradise Police station because even after all these years, “You don’t mess with the Pine Cone Homies.”