It’s almost as
if Jon Crocker is trying to make up for lost time. The 24-year-old Ventura
resident didn’t even start playing music until he was 19, when many of his peers
in the music scene were already in their fourth punk band. But Crocker, well
known for his one-man-band style, has produced and recorded several CDs by
himself and just returned from his seventh tour in two years. It seems that he
has easily closed whatever gap may have existed between other local musicians
and him.

Not that it was
Crocker’s intention to do that. The tall, lanky blonde with scruffy facial hair
and a charming but slightly uncomfortable smile is uniquely self-driven. He
found music by chance while taking a piano course at Ventura College — then
quickly became a theory and composition major. Next he taught himself guitar,
accordion, mandolin, harmonica and just about every other instrument he could
get his hands on.

He started touring in
2003, not because he’d heard it was a good idea (in fact, he had no idea it was
something he could do on his own), but because he had a friend putting on a show
in Omaha, Nebraska, and he needed a way to get there, get back and then pay for
the whole thing. He figured if he just booked enough shows along his route to
Nebraska, he could break even.

He did. But first he
broke down. The transmission of his Mazda 626 burned up while he was crossing
the Rockies. In winter. He was stuck in Colorado for a few extra days and then
had to drive his newly-fixed car through a blizzard to get to Omaha in time. It
was a harrowing experience, he said, but one that prepared him for the six tours
to come, which were progressively easier.

That isn’t to say
that the subsequent tours have been without obstacles. Far from it. Booking
shows takes months — and even when they’re booked, plans change. Venues close,
other bands back out. In fact, Crocker’s signature style was born of a touring
mishap: two hours before he was scheduled to leave with a percussionist last
January, the other musician took ill. Rather than cancel the tour, Crocker
taught himself to play a drum with his right foot, control a keyboard with his
left, play guitar and either sing or play harmonica — all at the same time.

“The first few
shows were kind of rough,” he said. “That’s the good thing about playing
original music, though. Nobody knows when something is unplanned.”

He’s played in a
parking lot to an audience of one, in people’s homes and after a day of climbing
mountains in a foreign city. And he played during Katrina’s aftermath.

Crocker started his
last tour in August, just days after the record-breaking storm ravaged the area
where some of his family lived. After making sure his relatives were fine,
Crocker worried about other effects of the hurricane: first, his cancelled shows
in New Orleans and Gulf Port, Mississippi; and second, the rising price of gas.
He worried that this might be the first time he actually lost money on a tour.

But true to form,
Crocker made the best of the situation. He spent a couple extra days in Little
Rock, Arkansas, climbing the state’s highest mountain and then playing later
that night on the streets of Omaha, Nebraska, to earn money for gas and food. He
stayed on people’s couches or slept in his car rather than paying for hotels. “I
can go two or three days without a shower. I’ll be okay,” he said. And though he
spent significantly more on gas than he would’ve just a few months before, he
still managed to come home on top.

Crocker’s most recent
tour was also a success in other ways. It’s the longest one he’s accomplished,
and the fourth he’s done alone. And though the whole process may sound tiring,
he doesn’t have any plans to stop. Not only does he like the idea of getting his
music out, but he likes the actual process of being on the road.

“I love
traveling. I just like to explore new places,” said Crocker, who plans to take
his mandolin and a backpack to Europe this December; and then possibly start a
similar walking tour in the states after that. “A tour is a way I can do that
for free, or even make money.”

Which is why he says
the highlight of his recent tour wasn’t even a show: it was climbing Mt.
Mansfield to the highest point in Vermont. Up there, it’s as barren as a tundra.
And with a storm coming in, all Crocker could see was the dome of rock he stood
on and the clouds around him.

“It’s an
amazing feeling of solitude,” he said. “It was kind of cool.”