Dave Mathis Blows That Harp With A Vengeance

By Laurie Morrisey

When you talk about great harmonica players in our area you hear names like Bill Rhoades, Jim Wallace, Mike Moothart, Curtis Salgado, Paul deLay, Arthur Moore, Mitch Kashmar, Hank Shreve, and Dave Mathis. Dave is a long time staple in the Portland music scene, with a career spanning over 40 years.

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Dave Mathis (photo by Tony Kutter)

“I started playing professionally in the mid 70’s–acoustically and electric in duos’ and band settings. I also did a half hour TV show on channel 8 called ‘Eight Lively Arts’ in the 70’s.”

Dave says his love of the harp came after hearing Sonny Boy Williamson and the Yard Birds. “I knew I wanted to play blues harp. Once home from Vietnam, I started to check out the local music scene. Brown Sugar was always my favorite. I had done some Shakespeare in high school and later a part in a production of The Fantastic’s, so I wasn’t afraid of getting up in front of people. After doing a few parties and club gigs, I knew I wanted to play harp and sing in a band.”

Dave describes his style as Chicago with some West Coast jump/swing. He plays both diatonic and chromatic harmonicas and also sings. For the last six years Dave has played with Michael Osborn and the Drivers. The band consists of Michael Osborn, lead guitar and vocals; John Moore on drums; and K.G. Jackson on bass guitar and vocals.

Basically self-taught, Dave taught himself to play harmonica by listening to records. Later he took several lessons from Paul deLay and studied with Howard Levy for a week in 1989. He says his musical influences include Sonny Terry, Little and Big Walter, Sonny Boy #1 and # 2, Paul deLay, Norton Buffalo, Mitch Kashmar and Kim Wilson.

Dave’s talent has been recognized with two Muddy Awards for Traditional Blues Act while he was with Sheila and Backwater Blues.

He can be heard on four CD’s: Traditional Blues with Kelly Joe Phelps; Blues Police with Steve Cameron; The Glamorous Life with Michael Osborn and the Drivers; and In Your Face, which is assorted tunes he has done over the last 20 years.

Dave has also played with several bands, including; The Beaver Trail Boys (western swing band) in the late 70’s; Liquid Blues for 20 years (rocking blues); Kelly Joe Phelps for four years (traditional acoustic blues); Shelia and Backwater Blues for four years; Blues Police with Steve Cameron; K.G. Jackson and Dave in a duo and band format; and Terry Robb and Dave in a duo and band format. “Playing 20 plus years with the Liquid Blues Band—Stan Sherer, Frank Solari, Kelly Stites, Jeff Ommert and Ron Ferrante—was a good experience musically.”

In closing, Dave says, “Everybody that I have played with over the years has been an influence on me, as well as my music. It’s reflected in my style of playing.” He says all the musicians in Michael Osborn and the Drivers have years of experience and “there’s a lot of talent. I love this band and its blend of original and cover tunes. Even with three of us singing, I get plenty of opportunity for good vocal work for myself, and we have a good time up there.”

For a current list of where you can hear Michael Osborn and the Drivers, visit their website at http://www.checkerboardrecords.com/

Posted in Cascade Blues Note, Interview