Dave Catching would rather you asked permission before touching his beard. Ever since the Eagles of Death Metal guitarist let his whiskers sprout into a magnificent long white growth, people have been drawn to it. EODM leader Jesse Hughes calls him "the Santa Claus of boogie-woogie," while friend and drummer Barrett Martin refers to Catching as "the Gandalf of desert rock."
What Catching didn't expect were all the drunk dudes who want to run their fingers through his fuzzy, ZZ Top–like beard. "That's the weirdest thing," he tells Rolling Stone with a shrug.
Fortunately, inappropriate beard groping was at a minimum as Catching celebrated the release of his debut solo album, Shared Hallucinations Pt. 1, with a mini-festival of desert rockers this past weekend at Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace near Joshua Tree. Among those joining him onstage were Hughes, Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, drummers Rat Scabies (the Damned) and Martin (Screaming Trees, Mad Season), and singer-guitarist Alain Johannes.
All had recorded tracks with Catching for Shared Hallucinations, a five-year project that is his first release since he survived the 2015 terrorist attack on an Eagles of Death Metal show in Paris, where 89 people were killed. Catching was the last survivor led out of the Bataclan theater.
"This weekend is really special," Hughes tells RS. "This is the first time Davey's doing something like this after Paris. I'm very proud that we used our band as a means to rehabilitate, and it's working. This weekend is Davey's opening day of 'I'm better.'"
The album is designed less as a personal spotlight than a gathering of tracks recorded with various friends during random visits to his celebrated desert studio Rancho de la Luna. Catching says he aimed for the record to mirror the format of the Pebbles and Nuggets collections of classic garage-rock and pop singles.
"Each song has a little bit of a different vibe," says Catching, also a founding member of Earthlings?, a psychedelic desert rock band. "I just do it at my house, so I have a little more freedom to just do what I want – which is basically turning on weird stuff and going for it."
Johannes compares Shared Hallucinations to Josh Homme's ongoing series of Desert Sessions albums, where the Queens of the Stone Age singer-guitarist invites players – from Mark Lanegan to PJ Harvey – to the desert for musical experiments at Rancho de la Luna. Johannes is a frequent Homme collaborator and spent time in both Queens and EODM.
"It's just the magic of being at Rancho, and his magic of bringing people together," Johannes says of Catching and his studio. "All these artists collaborating in the spirit of Rancho – I hope he makes it a habit."
Rancho de la Luna was co-founded by Fred Drake and Catching in Joshua Tree in 1993, and soon became a creative center for the rising desert rock scene that birthed Kyuss, Queens and more. After serving as Homme's guitar tech on tour with Kyuss, Catching performed often with Queens of the Stone Age, and played on Rated R and Songs for the Deaf.
Several acclaimed albums have been made at the studio, including Iggy Pop's Post Pop Depression, produced by Homme. The studio and the desert rock scene was prominently featured in Dave Grohl's HBO series Sonic Highways.
"The amount of creativity and music that's been done out there is astounding," says Martin. "I've worked in studios all over the world and I've never felt it like I feel it out there. I don't really know why. It's just something magical about the place, because it's not brand-new awesome equipment."
On Saturday, Pappy & Harriet's was sold out, with Catching performing with his side-project Mojave Lords. Johannes joined them to recreate the new album's "Pretty Bird," closing with a fiery guitar duel, though Catching insists, "There's not much of a duel when he's involved because he is absolutely the best musician in the world."
Scabies performed the Mutants, and Van Leeuwen played a set with Sweethead, the band he leads with his wife, singer Serrina Sims. The night ended with a jam session featuring Catching and various players.
"We were just handing the guitar off for each other," says Van Leeuwen. "As long as you hit the right note at the end of the song, everyone's happy."
At about 1 a.m., Van Leeuwen declared, "Boots Electric, motherfuckers," announcing the arrival of Hughes, fresh from a fast drive into the high desert from Los Angeles.
Hughes stepped onstage with new EODM bassist Jennie Vee and began praising his bearded guitarist: "He's not merely a legend. He's not merely a god of rock. ... He's one of my best friends and one of the best persons I've ever known."
Clad in a white suit and red tie, Hughes led the band through an impromptu four-song set, beginning with Bowie classic "Moonage Daydream." The band ripped through riffy EODM tunes "I Only Want You" and "I Want You So Hard," and closed with a ragged, euphoric take on the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar."
For his own set at sundown, Johannes performed solo songs, including "Making a Cross," his track from 2001's Desert Sessions Volumes 7 and 8. Dressed in black desert padre attire, he strummed hard on a cigar-box guitar. "Dave Catching's album is rad," Johannes tells the crowd. "I'll buy you a copy if you don't have the money."
It was just a day after Johannes attended the funeral of Chris Cornell, a close friend at least since he co-produced the late singer's debut solo album, Euphoria Morning, in 1999. He dedicated the song "Unfinished Plan" to Cornell. "It's like losing a brother," he says.
It was a full night of music, even without the U2 fanatic who had been calling Pappy & Harriet's for weeks, certain that his favorite band would be joining Catching at the celebration. They'd performed with the EODM players in Paris at the end of 2015, and the fan demanded confirmation from the woman answering the phone at the club, says Catching: "He called again today: 'Is U2 playing?' She's like, 'Dude, I told you. They're on tour. ...' And he's like, 'They have a night off tonight in Houston.' She's like 'No, they're not going to play.' He says, 'Is the Edge going to show up?' 'No, I just told you!' 'Maybe Bono – they're friends, right?'"
Catching claims no personal relationship with U2, but says he is deeply grateful to the band for inviting the members of Eagles of Death Metal to join them onstage in Paris just weeks after Catching and the others escaped the terrorist attacks at the Bataclan. "Those guys did make it easy for us to play music again," Catching says. "I don't know if I would have jumped right back into touring. They were very, very cool to us."
In recent days, he's had the bombing outside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester on his mind. The attack killed 23, including many young female fans of Grande. "It's horrible. Such innocent little kids, and for no reason," he says, standing in the desert night air. "Hopefully at some point mankind will make some sort of agreement with each other to not murder innocent people or anyone."
A happier recent memory is an Eagles recording session with Kesha for her upcoming album. They completed two tracks.
"She used to come to Eagles shows when she was 16," says Catching. "She was always a big fan. Then I remember we got back from Europe ... and she was on every magazine cover when we landed from a tour. It was really amazing."
Catching will be back on the road with Hughes and EODM in June. The future is open-ended, says Hughes: "We're the tightest we've ever been, and you can see it in the music now."