by Natalie Sirna
photography by Melody Blazauskas
Claremont summer concert coordinator and local photographer Sonja Stump remembers fondly the evening of her favorite band’s 25th anniversary show at the Candlelight Pavilion seven years ago. Her favorite songs like, “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” sung by familiar voices, brought joy to the room. Over the years, Sonja has hired this band to perform at birthdays, weddings and graduation parties. She knew that her friends’ performances always guaranteed a good time. Nevertheless, it was not until she heard the sound of their Monkees cover song rouse the room that her night truly came alive. The normally calm and composed Sonja jumped to her feet. “I didn’t care what anyone thought—I had to get up and dance!” She made her way toward the music without a second thought. The band members’ highly respectable level of musicianship, coupled with their absolute love for performing, propels people like Sonja to gravitate toward their magnetic stage energy.
Gripping vocals, nostalgic ‘80s guitar riffs, and eccentric matching t-shirts are the trademarks of none other than one of Southern California’s favorite rock bands, The Ravelers. This rock and roll quartet consists of Hai Muradian (vocals, saxophone, flute, harmonica), Pat Naish, (vocals, guitar), Martie Echito (keyboard, vocals, key bass), and Rob Haerr (drums). Together, these lifelong friends have established a successful music career deeply rooted in trust, dedication and, of course, the love of rock and roll.
Emulating the sound and aesthetic of their biggest influence, The Beatles, The Ravelers stand on the shoulders of giants as they pay homage to the legacy of classic rock legends, all while introducing their audience to their own unique sound and original music. November 2019 marked the Raveler’s 32 year anniversary, and the musicians certainly come a long way since their first gig in 1987. “It was in a club in San Juan Capistrano,” Hai, their frontman, reminisces. “We had only enough songs to play about three sets and needed to play four, so we repeated the first set. You don’t want to do that. We could only hope that the people who were there were either drunk or didn’t remember…we’ve come a long way,” he says with his typical sardonic humor. Three decades later, Hai can genuinely laugh as he remembers what those early days were like. Since then, The Ravelers have performed at countless events, weddings and local venues across Southern California. In fact, says Hai, joking again, “Many couples who had The Ravelers perform at their wedding have since divorced.” Hai runs with that one, saying that it’s a “curse” to have them play at your wedding. Try the question again, and guitarist Pat Naish shows his satirical side too. “We take it as a challenge to see how many couples we can break up.”
The Ravelers stay true to their Claremont roots, and they are no strangers to the community as they have played everything from charity events at the Doubletree Hotel to dinner shows at the Candlelight Pavilion. If you’ve spent time in the Claremont area, you are bound to see the Ravelers drawing in a crowd with their beloved classic rock covers. Hai says, “[The Ravelers] are almost like Claremont’s house band. We’ve played 4th of July fireworks shows, Monday night summer concerts; we get to be in Claremont so much and play. I was made an honorary citizen of Claremont. It was really fun; the mayor came up during a 4th of July concert and gave me a wooden key to the city. That meant so much because of all the time I’ve spent here in Claremont.”
But make no mistake, Hai is not one to brag. The zany, charismatic frontman deflects any praise, once again letting it bead off him in self-deprecating humor, saying, “We never practice.” Those who know Hai are familiar with his propensity to use sarcasm and banter rather than inflate his ego. His tendency to downplay success attests to the overall easygoing nature of the Ravelers. And for the record, they do practice, they are prolific composers of their own songs, and they take great pride in their musical artistry.
The Ravelers influence spreads beyond just Claremont. At the University of La Verne, Michael Ryan, music instructor, known for his distinguished acoustic guitar performances with his own band, “Michael Ryan and Friends,” considers himself an “unofficial Raveler.” Hai occasionally visits Michael’s students, teaching them the “do’s and don’ts” of songwriting. He acts as a guest speaker in Michael’s songwriting class and gives constructive comments on their song projects. What advice would he offer to Michael’s students who want to start their own band? Hai gladly offers his wisdom: “You have to come up with a good name, you have to like the same music styles, find people you get along with,” adding, “I always thought I would be a good mentor to young bands, to go into their rehearsal rooms and listen to what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and give them advice. I thought that would be a fun thing to do.”
Every Thursday night, Michael and Hai play original songs for the dinner crowd at Walter’s Restaurant in Claremont. Here, you can see Hai showcase his saxophone, flute and harmonica skills, much to the enjoyment of the crowd. And if you ask, he may just compose an on-the-spot original song for you full of his typical punchy humor. A few personal facts, coupled with some simple chords, is all he needs to put together a laugher-provoking, albeit somewhat embarrassing rhyme all about you that your friends will no doubt never forget.
That’s Hai’s forte. He is not the only Raveler, however, who composes original songs. Martie has been songwriting since he was 12 years old and, like the other members, considers himself a lifelong musician. More reserved than frontman Hai, Martie expresses his softer and deeply creative character through his own personal songs. Martie wrote and recorded a demo of Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” which appeared on one of Michael Ryan’s CDs and has been covered numerous times by Michael, with Martie and Hai singing back-up. He often dedicates this touching fan-favorite to his wife. Michael, who has worked closely with Martie and recorded five of his CDs at his studio, can certainly attest to the keyboard artist’s ability as a musician. “He’s a great sound engineer and fantastic musician and singer. I can always count on his excellent musicianship.”
Instilling a sense of community in the crowd by creating a fun and exciting environment is what the Ravelers do best. On-stage jokes and sarcastic banter exemplify their laid-back nature, and show how the Ravelers are not ones to take life too seriously. “We have a great time just enjoying the moment,” says Pat. “Everyone always says, ‘You guys look like you’re having a great time up there.’” Although Pat and Rob tend to be the quietest of the bunch, their joyful on-stage presence and infectious showmanship demonstrate they are truly just kids at heart doing what they love. “For me, it’s like boys night out; it’s a nice escape,” says Rob. But their performances are just as much an escape for their fans as they are for them. It is one thing to hear your favorite old Beatles song on the radio, but an entirely different experience to witness live playing. Hearing each individual instrument blend harmoniously into the another creates a cohesive sound that is a special experience for Ravelers fans.
Putting on a memorable show is easy when you have your best friends playing by your side. The relationship among members is one of respect and admiration, light-hearted humor and jabs aside. Sometimes, it is like a family jibe session with an audience watching. Altogether these musicians exhibit a closeness that can only come with a 30-year bond. Hai— and this time he is serious—notes how the friendship dynamic has changed over the decades. “I think it’s grown in a really positive way; the bond that you get playing music with somebody for that long—we are actually like brothers. We bicker once in awhile, we love each other, we get along great, but most importantly we love playing music together.” Times have changed, but the beauty of playing music together is that it forms lasting connections, and The Ravelers certainly embody the spirit of this through their friendship. The love of playing music is at the root of The Ravelers’ success as well as what ultimately brings them together. “All of us have a desire to perform,” says Hai, and it is this desire that has kept The Ravelers alive throughout the generations. “We’ve been doing this so long that when we first started playing, ‘50s and ‘60s music were oldies; now ‘80s music is considered “oldies.”
Like any good friendship, the Ravelers can depend on each other confidently, on or off stage. Pat notes, “[The Ravelers] are usually pretty tight, and that comes with time.” Bouncing off his comment, Hai adds how it’s “almost weird if someone makes a mistake.” Their chemistry is inherent in how they execute even the more difficult songs with professional ease. Their covers have included everything from the Beatles, to Led Zeppelin, to the Cars. They skillfully integrate their own unique flare while still preserving the spirit of the original. It is a seemingly difficult feat that the Ravelers accomplish effortlessly.
Off stage, the Ravelers exhibit the same dependability and camaraderie. For drummer Rob Haerr, being able to rely on his friends has impacted his life for the better. “There have been ups and downs in my personal life, and these guys have kept my head above the water. We think of each other as brothers, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Being able to rely on the bond built through a shared love of music truly attests to the strength of their friendship, as well as to the power that music possesses.
Each Raveler is united by his whole-hearted love for playing music; it has gifted him with friendship, decades of memories, and a platform to bring a community together. They return the favor by giving the audience the opportunity to dance, sing, be joyful with one another, and, perhaps, return to a simpler time in their lives as they experience the nostalgia of hearing their favorite songs. “For me,” says Pat, “I still get excited about playing with my buddies, getting paid for something I love to do.”
Take it from the Ravelers, and do what you love. For them, it has brought not only success but deep personal fulfillment. For Hai, music is what drove him to persevere. “Playing a gig is so fun; this is what I live for. If it weren’t for music, I would be like a shell, with relatively nothing to look forward to. Let me tell you if I ever can’t play, it’ll be a real drag . . . I’ll turn into a real jerk.”
Luckily for their fans, the Ravelers do not plan on retiring anytime soon, even though some have hit 70. For these guys, the purpose they derive from performing is much too important to give up. Together the Ravelers cultivated decades of musical success and have entertained three generations of fans. They have stood the test of time, both in popularity as well as remaining friends, and anyone who witnesses one of their electric performances will be in for a memorable night filled with new, yet nostalgic renditions of their favorite rock and roll anthems.