Some musicians can be coy or vague about the meanings and intentions that inform their songs and recordings.

Not Willie Hines, in this case.

“Basically, she picked me up and dusted me off,” said Hines, a recovering alcoholic who’s endured multiple eye surgeries and temporary blindness. “She saved my life.”

The veteran rock musician makes the inspiration and motivation clear with the title of his new album: “Letters to Maria” was released on Oct. 26 (

The recording was inspired by the impact Maria Rocha had on Hines.

They met in the 1980s — when Hines was a member of Modesto’s glam-rocking Jet Red (1984-92) — and re-connected in Stockton, where Hines lived for 12 years, in 2014. Now residing in Modesto, they reach their fourth wedding anniversary on Nov. 29.

Hines plays the new songs and “busts out” some familiar Jet Red stuff Saturday at the Whisky Barrel Tavern in Stockton. The singer and guitar player is supported by former Jet Red drummer Steve Brown, Lodi bassist Bruce Beck and Jim Parras, a Modesto guitarist.

Hines, 63, once a self-described “full-blown alcoholic,” re-met Rocha on Feb. 29, 2014, when he was introducing his previous album (“Whatever”). Somewhat auspiciously, it was Rocha’s birthday.

“She made me wanna be a better person,” said Hines, a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. “I had a spiritual reckoning. It’s kind of cliche, but I lived it. It’s just one of those things. We finally landed at the right age, I guess.”

Hines, who’s known Rocha for 41 years, opens “Letters to Maria” with a more characteristic, guitar-powered rocker, “(I’m Not Waiting for) the Heartbreak.” He closes it with a stark piano/bass ballad (“The Tenth Song”). A poignant profession of love, it was given that title simply because it’s the album’s 10th track (he originally had planned 13).

“I see no reason for this night to end,” he sings on “The Tenth Song.” “The moon responds like a long-lost friend/Writing our names in the stars/Constellations like cars pass us by in our sea of dreams.”

The new recording is a stylistic departure for Hines: Acoustic-based, including mood-setting violin and cello.

It’s “Americana,” he explained, citing the “major, major” influences of folk-country singer-songwriters Ryan Adams and Jason Isbell. The glam-rock styles of Queen and Mott the Hoople helped define Jet Red’s sound and attitude.

“I wanted to drop the accoutrements,” Hines said of “Letters to Maria,” produced and recorded between May 2015 and May 2018 in Cotati and Modesto. “Cut to the chase. All killer. No filler. But I can’t leave out the rock ’n’ roll parts.”

He assembled his Jet Red friends ( to make the record: Drummer Billy Carmassi, bassist Brad Lang and guitarist Johnny Feikert. “A lot of acoustic guitars,” Hines said. It’s no reunion — the last was a 25th-anniversary show in 2015 — but it’s close.

The 10-song, 40-minute album includes twangy, uptempo folk-rock (“Let’s Not Waste Time”); “On Fire,” an upbeat pop-rocker with tight vocal harmonies and acoustic and electric guitar solos that dates back to Jet Red days; and the violin- and cello-accented “This Is Our Love.”

After the last of three surgeries for detached retinas in 2013-14, Hines was “legally blind for a month.” He focused on songwriting: “Love songs,” he said of the new album’s genesis. “The songs came once a day. Every day.”

That led to the mellower Americana vibe.

“Everything I’ve ever written has been on acoustic guitar or piano,” Hines said. "This time around … they followed me into the studio.”

“This Is Our Love,” “Let’s Not Waste Time,” “Standing at the Altar” and “Don’t Let Go” inscribe the arc of their relationship.

“I just want to be the man you want/To dispel those ghosts of yours that haunt,” he sings during “In the End.”

Despite the trend toward “streaming” and other digital forms of music, Hines is keeping right on.

“It’s a calling,” he said of his rock ’n’ roll DNA. “It’s not a hobby. We’re lifers. I have a responsibility. Why would I quit?”

Hines appreciates the high-tech advances in recording technology. He’s philosophical about where the “stream” is heading.

“The internet is the radio,” he said. “Everyone wants to listen to their record collections on it. It’s kind of reverted to the Hank Williams days when he sold records from the trunk of his car. The technology has changed. But it’s the same principle.”

Hines, who grew up in Modesto and owned Stockton’s independent Replay Records store from 1990 until 2011, also has led the Face Cards and several incarnations of the Willie Hines Band.

He now works part-time for the Stanislaus County Public Library while Rocha, who has a 19-year-old daughter, operates Laura Bell and Co., a Modesto antiques business.

The acoustics will be a bit pumped-up Saturday night

“I’ve got to bring out some rockers,” Hines said. “After singing 10 songs about my wife. I’m not trying to put people to bed or anything. I call her my muse. I wasn’t even dog-paddling (in 2014). I was like a ‘found puppy.’ That’s how she described me.”

Ready to roll

Bill Stevens, Stockton’s always-ready guitar man (rock, jazz, country), leads a trio that opens for Hines’ group Saturday.

He plays electric guitar and is joined by drummer Dave Mompean and bass player John Wise.


Contact music and entertainment writer Tony Sauro at