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Plenty of pluck: After leaving Santa Cruz in the '70s, Lacy J. Dalton built a successful career as a country star. She returns to town this weekend.

Lacy J. Dalton Comes Home to Santa Cruz

The country music star on growing up and helping out.

By Don O. Marino

As the '70s were dying down, a local singer/songwriter named Jill Croston renamed herself Lacy J. Dalton and moved to Nashville to become a country music star. Not an unsual story—except that she succeeded. A string of Top 10 hits later ("Takin' It Easy," "Everybody Makes Mistakes," etc.), she would come to be known as "country's Bonnie Raitt" (People magazine) and "one of the most distinctive country singers of the '80s" (All Music Guide).

Backed by a team of Santa Cruz natives (Jim Norris, Craig Owens and Jim Lewin, known collectively as the Dalton Gang), Dalton, who currently resides in Virginia City, Nev., will be doing a homecoming show of sorts at the Rio Theatre this Saturday. Jimmy Jackson, guitarist for the Trailer Park Troubadours, will be sitting in, and quick-witted, off-the-wall singer/songwriter William Strickland opens the show. Dalton says she'll begin her set with some old favorites and then move on to some new material. "I've had a tremendous change in my life," she explains. "I was with the same man for 22 years, and that relationship has ended. I think some of the things I've written about that experience are probably some of the deepest and most important things I've ever written."

METRO: Tell me about your move from Santa Cruz to Nashville. That must have made for some culture shock.
LACY J. DALTON: I was quite miserable [in Nashville]. I had a lot of wonderful friends, but I was so homesick for the west, I thought I was gonna die. The consciousness of the people is very different. There's a real sense in the South of distinction between races that does not exist in Santa Cruz. You could be purple; you could have feelers, wings; you could have cloven feet and a forked tail and probably be accepted in Santa Cruz. I think the people who came into the far West had a pioneering spirit and a sort of an independence of other people. They had to, because there were long distances between ranches, and people had to be very self-reliant here. They didn't necessarily give a damn what the guy next door was doing—they were going to do it their way. I like that. I belong in that, because I've always been different, and I've learned that that's a wonderful thing. I remember as a kid, I just felt like I had two heads, and then I realized that two heads are better than one! (Laughs.)

What made you feel different?
Well, I remember when I grew up in high school in Bloomsburg, Pa., the kids all called me the beatnik, because hippies hadn't quite happened yet, and I was so different. My whole life was painting and drawing. I hadn't started playing the guitar yet, but I was really an artist, and I had different ideas about things; I had different feelings about things, and at the time, that was very uncomfortable. I thought maybe there was something wrong with me, and later I realized that what I thought was wrong with me was the thing that was most right about me.

Tell me about the Let 'em Run Foundation you've established in Nevada.
I live in an area where the largest contiguous herd of wild horses in the United States lives. It's why I moved here to the mountains. As soon as I moved up here, I realized the wild horses were in a great deal of trouble, because civilization is encroaching upon them in leaps and bounds. They can no longer migrate in their normal patterns, and a lot of them are being hit on the roads, where they're a danger to themselves and to the motorists. I live not far from the road that comes up from Reno to Virginia City, and at that corner, I saw about six wild horses hit and killed there. What happens is that when the horse is hit, it's usually not killed. It usually lies there and thrashes in agony for hours and hours before the deputies can come out and kill it. They become so incensed with pain and so full of adrenaline that it often takes six or seven bullets to kill them. I've seen these grown men get down on their knees and cry after they've had to kill them. I just watched that for long enough, and I finally called my friend Carolyn Cartinelli and said, "You know what? I can no longer sit by and watch this happen." So we formed the Let 'em Run Foundation (, and the goal of that is to create a huge, 100,000-acre sanctuary for this herd of horses, to manage the herd, so that it doesn't overpopulate the area, where they'll starve to death.

Your sense of caring definitely comes across in your songs.
I think if you ask any little kid when they're about 4 to 7 years old, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" they say they want to help people. Because we're tribal creatures, I think there is a will to help one another. Everybody has challenges. It's what makes us who we are, and if we don't have 'em, we're not much of anything. The message of my songs has always been, "Yes, you're having hard times. I've had hard times, too. I've managed to get through 'em. This is how. If I can give you a leg up with this song, that's what I want to do." That's what's important to me. Fame isn't really important to me. I need to make a living, but money isn't really my motivation. My motivation is, "Been there, done that, got the long-sleeved hooded nightgown and will share it with you if you're cold." That's why I do music.

LACY J. DALTON AND THE DALTON GANG play Saturday, Nov. 24, at 7:30pm at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $21 in advance. Call 831.479.9421 or go to

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