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If You Go

Who: Frankie Boots, John Courage, Slow Motion Cowboys

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22

Where: HopMonk Abbey, 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol

Tickets: $15

Information: 707-829-7300, www.hopmonk.com/sebastopol

Frankie Boots grew up in Sonoma County and from an early age loved music, but it took him a while to get a band together and launch his career. Although he was learning Jimi Hendrix licks before he became a teenager, Boots says he didn’t play a show until he was 31.

“As soon as I got the bug for it, I dug deep into it and immersed myself in learning music theory, different approaches to songwriting,” he said. “It kind of took over.”

That was six years ago. Soon, Boots amassed an enthusiastic following, first in Sonoma County, then throughout the U.S.

His music isn’t easy to categorize – Boots’ songs are a blend of country, folk, rock and R&B and are often branded Americana.

The HopMonk in Sebastopol, where Boots and his band play with John Courage on Saturday, says on its website that Boots has a “penchant for painting vivid images of late nights, lost love, and the grittier side of life.”

In an email interview, KRSH deejay Bill Bowker described Boots’ music as “enjoyable, original, essential and plain entertaining. It’s an extremely rare occurrence that someone walks away from one of his performances without a smile on their face.”

Yet words alone don’t do justice to Boots’ effusive music. He’s got a soulful voice and is a natural born storyteller, and his up-tempo songs get his exuberant fans dancing.

Boots, 37, spent his childhood in Petaluma and lived in Sebastopol from ages 12 to 18, his formative years, he said.

As a young teen, he often hung out at Petaluma’s Phoenix Theater where for hours he’d listen to up-and-coming bands.

In the early 1990s, Boots, whose given name is Matt Vrankovich, was into grunge and would shop for CDs at Cotati’s Back Door Disc and Tape.

Buying a CD was a commitment that required saving up his allowance. “It would take me two hours to buy one CD,” Boots recalled in a phone interview earlier this month.

“Some of my favorite music was stuff that I would maybe not really dig in the very beginning. I remember getting Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ when I was 12 or 13. I didn’t understand it,” he said.

But he stuck with it and eventually came to love the album. Around the same time, Boots was learning to play guitar.

“Hendrix was my guy. When I first picked up a guitar it was because of Jimi Hendrix,” he said. “I couldn’t play an entire simple song but I could play the intro to ‘Little Wing.’”

Boots graduated from Analy High School, then put down his guitar and got a job at Borders in Santa Rosa. He aspired to be a writer, composing short stories and essays, and enjoyed working in a roomful of books.

“I was one of the first employees there, building bookshelves before they even opened,” he said. “I got all these discounts on books and got immersed in a lot of different writers.”

He didn’t really touch a guitar for almost 10 years, he said, and picked music back up when he was about 26.

Boots may have been a late bloomer but was a quick study. Typically he writes on his own, accompanied by an acoustic guitar or piano, then refines songs with his bandmates and producer.

If You Go

Who: Frankie Boots, John Courage, Slow Motion Cowboys

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22

Where: HopMonk Abbey, 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol

Tickets: $15

Information: 707-829-7300, www.hopmonk.com/sebastopol

“I’m always trying to get to what I think could be a better,” he said. “I like to whittle away at it. Sometimes the song comes out great, but most of the time it’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears. I’ll go through 20 different drafts until I feel it’s ready.”

Boots’ most recent album, “Pagan Ranch,” was released in late 2016 and produced by John Courage at Gremlintone, Courage’s Santa Rosa recording studio.

A highlight on the album is the twangy song, “Lost Getting Lost,” which sounds like something Johnny Cash would have written if he’d been born a half century later.

It begins: “Well, I’ve been to Santa Rosa and to the Florida Keys, just about everywhere in this great country that you can get on four wheels, get on two feet.”

The songs of which Boots is most proud of are “Everything We Ever Knew” and “Blue Eyes,” he said.

“Both have a deep personal meaning for me, yet folks still tell me they have a similar story. As a songwriter that’s the ultimate goal and reward, to pour your soul into a song but leave enough room for someone else’s too.”

Courage, a mentor to many local musicians, plays in Boots’ new band, along with Francesco Echo and Dan Ford. Courage and will also be playing with his own band at the Dec. 22 HopMonk show.

As much as he loves Sonoma County, Boots likes to keep life fresh, so two years ago, he moved to New Orleans.

“I’d been to New Orleans a couple of times. It’s unlike any other city in the world. My fiancée and I sat up on the levee one day and watched the river and the ships and the sunset. We figured it would be fun, very different from Northern California.”

Boots now lives in New Orleans’ Bywater district, adjacent to the French Quarter.

“The music scene down here is incredible,” he said. “You can play every single night of the week, and people will still want more.”

Though he hasn’t become a superstar, Boots now makes a living solely from music, “which feels really good.”

He returns to Sonoma County a couple of times a year to play his favorite venues, from the HopMonk to Petaluma’s Mystic Theatre.

Above all, his goal is to remain true to himself. “The main part about writing a song is following your inspiration,” he said. “Sometimes I think that can be difficult in the ever-changing music industry.”

Boots finds “a lot of joy waking up everyday doing what I love to do. Even if I’m not where I want to be yet — I’m not playing theaters and I don’t have a bus — I’ve got a band and that’s great for me.”

Michael Shapiro writes about travel and entertainment for national magazines and The Press Democrat.

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