The upbeat, airtight, three-part family harmonies of the Sons of the San Joaquin are being heard in a lot more places these days. This sound has carried Joe, Jack and Lon Hannah from church and community gatherings to places like Switzerland, where traditional cowboy music is even more revered than modern country music. In the Arabian Peninsula, they found enthusiastic receptions from people who regard their own traditions to be a close parallel to our cowboy heritage.
And on Saturday, December 31, at 3pm, the Sons of the San Joaquin will take the stage of the Visalia Fox Theatre for their annual Christmas concert.
The Sons of the San Joaquin sound first took shape in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where the Hannah family had moved from depression-era Missouri. “There were some prominent cattle ranches there,” says Jack, “and that’s where our romance with cowboys began. Our dad became a fan of the Sons of the Pioneers back in the 1930s, and he’d sing a lot of those songs. We learned our first ones from him, and became great fans of theirs, too.”
Joe and Jack performed with their family at local gatherings and eventually began traveling on weekends while pursuing degrees in education, playing some professional baseball, and becoming schoolteachers. Jack was a high school counselor and coach. (He was named baseball “Coach of the Year” for the Western Region United States in 1980.) Joe was a junior high teacher and coach. The brothers have each performed as church soloists, and in opera and musical theater.
Lon became a second grade teacher and also had experience singing in church, in musical theater and with the Bennett Consort, a college vocal group often compared to Manhattan Transfer. In 1987, he approached his father (Joe) and Uncle Jack to ask that they sing together for his grandfather’s birthday celebration. Almost by accident, the Sons of the San Joaquin were born.
They gained a needed break when Lon met cowboy singer Gary McMahan at a Western Music Association convention. He invited the trio to perform at the 1989 Elko Nevada Cowboy Poetry Gathering. There they ended up singing on stage with Michael Martin Murphey, who invited them to join him on his “Cowboy Songs” album.
In 1992, Joe and Jack were able to take early retirement from teaching to pursue the Sons’ growing career full time. Lon took leave of absence from teaching before resigning in mid-1993.
Their television appearances include the “Grand Ole Opry,” “Austin City Limits,” “Nashville Now,” “American Music Shop,” “Prime-Time Country” and “Old Time Country Music.”
Since 1992, the Sons of the San Joaquin have recorded several albums, one of them being “Gospel Trails,” which features some of the Hannahs’ favorite hymns. One of the selections, “In the Sweet By and By,” features a special appearance by Dale Evans Rogers as lead vocalist.
Tickets are $19-$23, and are available at the Visalia Fox Theatre box office or by visiting www.foxvisalia.org.