By Barry Barbe

“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” – Aristotle

There are few people more closely associated to the Prescott music scene, and specifically Whiskey Row, than Don Cheek. For the past 17 years, Don has been entertaining an appreciative and dedicated group of fans in a variety of iterations.

Best known for The CheekTones, the group recently celebrated its 17th anniversary as well and continues to have full calendar of gigs at local venues including The Bird Cage, The Windsock, and The Raven, and also as a trio at The Back Alley Wine Bar.

“I was playing a regular solo gig at Coyote Joes, when I got to town, and hosting open mic, when they offered a Saturday night spot. To do that, I needed a band, and that’s how The CheekTones were born.”

Some of the original members are still with the group including guitarist Drew Hall, and Inesis Vitols on Violin. Currently, Nick Canuel and Scott Ellis round out the group on bass and drums, respectively.

The group’s playlist is a collection of the songs of their lives — The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, and more than a few of their own.

If you are not a frequenter of the Row, you can also catch the group on the plaza as part of the Prescott Summer Concert Series, putting on the biggest show to the most enthusiastic crowd of the season.

Growing up, Don’s folks were both educators and his father, Albert “Red” Cheek, was a musician as well. Don has spent his life following in their footsteps.

“My dad was the principal and teacher, and my mom taught third and fourth grade while we lived in Aguila.” Don spent most of his life in the Phoenix area, graduting from Peoria High School and later Arizona State. He would go on to instruct as a science teacher, retiring as the technology director for the school district.

Since his arrival in Prescott, Don has become a fixture on the music scene as host of the weekly open mic, introducing and mentoring new musicians by giving them an opportunity to showcase their sound to a grateful and receptive crowd every Thursday at The Bird Cage Saloon.

Being a self-taught musician himself, Don learned the guitar while sitting at his mom’s piano. There he learned guitar chords on his left hand, and piano chords with the right.

What followed was a variety of groups beginning in high school while Don honed his skills, creating his own nostalgic feel-good vibe.

Prescott continues to become known as a Mecca for musicians, whether they are playing currently, retired, or new to the experience.

“There are a lot of new players and venues in town. Somehow, someone must have got the word out that Prescott is a music town. The variety continues to grow with each sound having their audience,” Don said.

Open mic is a great opportunity for musicians who may be new to the scene, or perhaps looking to try a new piece they’ve been working on to showcase their sound.

“I can’t believe I’m still doing open mic after 17 years, but you get to hang with musicians, hear some new guys, and get to play a bit too,” Don said.

As with many, their first experience with Prescott was escaping the Phoenix summers, with a drive up the hill. Prescott Sky Y camp was home base for Don for many summers with fond memories of his father singing camp songs fireside. His dad was a horse wrangler for the camp, and Don would later serve on the Board of Directors for the Y’s Camping Services program.

Like his father’s campfire songs, Don’s originals tell the tales of life and memories whether real or imagined, with a storyteller’s ease that draws the listener into well-worn pages.

Whether it’s the first song he wrote, “Portales,” about coming across a wild woman in a town he’s never been, or a sentimental lyric about his aging father, “Where do we go.” Don and The CheekTones bring a unique hometown familiarity oft missing in larger locales with their loyal league of listeners being the beneficiaries.

Musician, educator, poet, songwriter, performer, mentor, storyteller, collaborator — sum of the parts that make up the whole.

Hear the full interview with Don Cheek on Jan. 20 on the Prescott Palette at noon — on KQNA 1130 AM.

For more information, visit or on Facebook.

Barry Barbe owns the El Gato Azul and Torme restaurants in Prescott, and is the energy and insight behind the Prescott Palette. His radio show, the Prescott Palette, is on KQNA 1130 AM, Saturdays at noon. Email:

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