Visiting Los Angeles this summer, I knew I would come across a multitude of talented street performers. The one who marked me most is musician Charles Rangel, also known as the “Dime Store Novelist.” I noticed him on 3rd street Promenade in Santa Monica as he was playing lap guitar while trap tapping to “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles. I was in awe. He played lap guitar so naturally and effortlessly, although it looked difficult to do.
Charles Rangel currently performs in the Los Angeles area and in Las Vegas. You would think by the way he plays that he was born with a guitar in hand. Surprisingly, the 27-year-old musician only started street performing at the age of 20. “I was a band geek in high school, and I wanted to be a rock star. When I was around 20, I was getting out of college,” he said. “I was taking these music classes. I wanted to play and start working, no more sitting in a classroom. That’s when I started street performing.”
He said performing on the streets has given him freedom and the ability to control how much money he makes. “The better you get, the more people give you money, the better you feel about your craft,” he explained. “Street performing is a great way for people to be interested in your music. It brings really cool opportunities throughout the years.” It was on the street that he heard about a stage competition by Rolling Stone magazine back in 2011. He submitted his songs, and was featured in four issues of the magazine. He won and got to perform at the Rolling Stone party.
His music can be described as delicate instrumental rhythms that make you want to lay back and enjoy the breeze—they are borderline romantic tunes. Some tracks also have lyrics and a bluesy-rock vibe. Seeing him perform live, I could only wonder where he got those lap guitar moves. “I was just strolling through a music store in Orange County and some guy said ‘Man, you have to go check out this guy here, he plays lap guitar.’ I watched him play and asked him how he does it. I began listening to him and did it,” Rangel said. “I took it to the street and played the same riff over and over again until some bum yelled, ‘play something different!” He said street performing is what keeps him going. “The style I play on my lap is 95 per cent self-taught. I began making things up with it. I have to create techniques on how to play.”
As much as he enjoys street performing, he said his goal is to tour and to make a good living writing songs. “I want to exert a lot of energy on stage. My number one goal is to tour independently or with a band,” said Rangel. His creative process is rather interesting. He said he can write 10 songs in a day if he wanted to. “When I’m driving, I’ll play the instrumental in the car and sing over it, that’s how I wrote most of my songs,” said Rangel. Anything can inspire him, he said. “What I hear in my dreams is f***** awesome and I have no idea how to recreate it so I wake up and hum it into my phone.”
Rangel also performed in Montreal. He toured across Canada with Canadian rapper Nova Rockafeller who hired him as her guitar player in the fall of 2015. They toured with All Time Low and Set it off. “Set it off was like my favourite,” said Rangel. “I really enjoyed watching them perform. That tour was a very good experience—it made me want to be a rapper actually.” When he’s street performing, his favourite spots to play are in Texas at the SXSW music festival and the Santa Monica Pier. “Performing on the Santa Monica Pier, there’s just something romantic about it. The ocean behind you, couples are holding hands… it just creates an atmosphere,” said Rangel.
How does he want his music to make people feel? “I want people to feel really good and take their clothes off. That’s what first came to mind,” he said. His advice to street performers: “Be courteous and respectful to other musicians, have fun and don’t set up in my spot.”
Rangel is currently working on a new album.
Check out Rangel’s music at www.charlesrangelmusic.com.