"Singing's my main thing," says Joe Leonardi, squinting against the sun streaming through the large windows of the geodesic dome he built in Sisters. On April 22, the weekend of his 71st birthday, he will be fronting the band Whychus at an open bash. He calls Whychus a country rock band that also includes Mark Ryan on harp and guitar.
The house is spacious and somewhat like a spaceship just lightly touching Earth between a little valley on one side and what he refers to as a moonscape on the other. He says the geodesic dome is what he came here to build, a vision that began in 1972. It uses one-third of the building materials for three times the interior space. He talks synergy, a word very important to his late friend Buckminster Fuller.
"Bucky was into geodesic domes," says Leonardi, referring to the famous architect from Los Angeles who coined the term "Spaceship Earth." Fuller passed away in 1983. At the time, Leonardi was director of media arts at the Long Beach Museum of Art, a post he held for 15 years before moving to Sisters in '83/'84. He founded the media arts department at the museum.
Beginning with reel to reel technology in the '60s, he became one of the most talented early editor-producers in videography. "Way back in the day, I bought my own equipment and I really took to it naturally," he says. However, many know Leonardi as a musician. He's been a part of the JZ Band for 10 years and plays regularly at The Belfry in Sisters, pulling in a cast of world-class characters to join.
As he talks about music, his accent sounds somehow foreign yet familiar and on closer listening, it's a vintage Brooklyn accent by way of Long Island and the East Village of NYC. Leonardi left New York in 1968. He laughs now about the $40 per month apartment he shared with three guys on East 9th St. "We each paid $10," he says. "Filmore East was around the corner."
Since moving to Central Oregon, he's seen the youngest of his five kids raised and now Jesaca, the baby, has returned from living in Sedona and is planning the party on April 22. The beautiful blond has her father's crystal eyes and zest for life. She's expecting a new baby. "I'm an artist and he's an artist," she says. "We understand each other that way." She also knows her father's warm heart. "He likes to feed people," she says.
Leonardi is reading "Sacred Economic" by Charles Eisenstein and "The Inner Matrix," by Joey Klein, a book his daughter Anastacia Armstrong recommended, about living a meaningful life connected to spirit, combining ancient traditions of East and West with science. Leonardi, a reflective soul, is touched by some ruefulness, as lessons learned too late tend to capture the imagination. His dream for the future is learning how to live the good life and keeping close with family and friends as well as focusing on his music. "I'm turning a leaf musically," he says. He's starting another group with Mark Hatcher, his son-in-law.
We talk about Sedona, his five children (Dean, Joey, Anastacia, Jennifer and Jesaca), the metaphysical, channeling, energy, matter and illusion. His mind is open. "Even now ideas come through," he says. He thinks of Bob Dylan. "How could any human write something like that?" he asks. He shares a few lyrics from one of his new songs:
Confidence deep down inside
Confidence rising to shine
Fear and doubts melt away
Self assured in all I say
Silent knowing who I am
No you can't - Yes I can
Life gives me what I need
Exactly when I need it
Is what I want, what I need
Know my truth and heed it.
"A lot of growth has come to me," says Leonardi. "Having faith, so many things fell into place."
Whychus will be playing at HarmonyHouse in Sisters on Friday night, April 22, along with many special guests, including Anastacia Armstrong, Dennis McGregor, Brad Tisdel, Mixed Nuts, Doug and Katie Cavanaugh, Mark Ransom, Doc Ryan and Mark Hatcher. It will be an evening to celebrate and enjoy life. Catch Leonardi before that at the Belfry in Sisters on April 16 with the JZ Band.
"Let's Party for Leonardi"
Friday, April 22, 6:30 p.m.
17505 Kent Rd., Sisters