Keeping the Blues Alive by Kirk Andersen

Keeping the Blues Alive

by Kirk Andersen

So many cities around the United States have been touched by the history of music and the musicians and businessmen and women who propelled it.  Unfortunately, either due to politics, commercial pressures/buyouts or the natural desire to find new music that is yours, these white-hot fires run their course and they flame out to embers.  Without the oxygen of people continually dedicated to preserving the music and adapting, these fires soon die down to mere memories.

Our story starts off with Otis Redding and the branches of the blues known as rhythm & blues and soul. Otis had started his career at STAX Recording Studio in South Memphis with Otis’ recording of “These Arms of Mine” in 1962.  Two years later Jim STewart & Estelle AXton (STAX took its name from the first two letters of each of the founders’ names) released Otis’ first album, “Pain in My Heart.”  The fire was kindled and began to take hold as listeners from around the world found a connection to the music and the artist.

During the same period a Mercer University (Macon, Ga.) graduate named Phil Walden had been booking bands for fraternity parties when he discovered and started booking Otis. Their relationship grew as did each of their careers. Beginning in 1959, Phil started managing Otis’ career.  As Otis’ career grew, Phil’s flame also grew as he branched out and started to manage Al Green, Sam & Dav,e and Percy Sledge. This led to Phil’s relationship with Atlantic Records co-head Jerry Wexler.

In 1967, Phil, together with Otis Redding, decided to pool their resources to buy a building and make a recording studio in Macon, Ga.  The idea was that Otis wouldn’t have to travel from Macon to Memphis to record.  They formed RedWal Music (again this was the first three letters of each partner’s last name, REDding and WALden).

Otis and Phil had chosen the block of four buildings off of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Macon, which will also become the home for our story. The stage was set for Otis and Phil to build out the recording studio and continue bringing hits to the masses with distribution from growing R&B label, Atlantic Records.

But before Otis could record there, Otis was taken from his fans and his business partner.  He and most of his band died on a chartered plane that crashed into Lake Monona several miles from the Madison, Wis., airport on Dec. 10, 1967.

“ (Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay” was Redding’s only single to reach No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100.  The song hit this zenith a month after he passed away. Phil was lost. He lost a friend.  He lost a career.

With the encouragement of Jerry Wexler, Phil shifted gears and joined forces with Atlantic Records’ first managing director, Frank Fenter.  Phil and Frank joined forces with Phil’s brother Alan (also an alum of Mercer University) in 1968-69 to move from an R&B label. They were hellbent on showing they could find rock groups for the new label, Capricorn Records( the name Capricorn came from Phil’s astrological sign).  Maybe the first lesson we can take away from this story is to believe in yourself and never give up.

In the early days of television, the 1940s saw the first serious efforts to produce a nightly newscast that would be broadcast to affiliates across the nation who would in turn broadcast that same nightly broadcast to their local viewers.  This idea took off and with the next 20 years, most Americans who could afford a television tuned in each night to see for themselves what was happening in their nation.  Those who could not afford a television listened to graphic details on the radio allowing their imaginations to paint those pictures.

During the late 1960s, scenes played on the nightly news of how African-Americans in the South were still being treated as less than human. These horrific images played across television screens regularly as festering negative regionalism mounted.  People were appalled.  As rhythm & blues and soul were coming out of Muscle Shoals, Ala., and Memphis, Tenn., to a mostly African-American audience, little other music with the regional flavor of the South made it into widespread distribution.

At the same time, the baby boomers were coming of age and hungering for new music. They had other regional musical acts which were growing out of the bubble gum from the ‘50s. Outside of Sun Records with country and Elvis Presley and the African-American oriented labels, the music that was brewing out of the heritage of the South was largely ignored.

The first artist that came to Phil’s attention after Otis Redding was Muscle Shoals session man Duane Allman. The same Jerry Wexler introduced Duane and Phil. Duane had tired of playing other people’s music and he left Muscle Shoals to go back to Florida to form a new band that would satiate the sound growing in his soul.  Steeped in the blues, but also with jazz, country and hints of the English blues explosion interpretations, Duane pulled together musicians that were also honing their craft in Florida.   In 1969, the Allman Brothers were the first target of Phil, Frank and Alan for their new rock label.

As the Allman Brothers Band started to mesh and feed an ever-growing fan base with relentless touring and the release of their first two albums, they released the seminal double live album, “At Fillmore East.”   The double album that was specially priced the same as single albums of the day, allowed Phil/Frank/Alan and Duane to see this live album soar to the top of the charts as No. 3 on Billboard’s pop album chart.

Again tragedy struck Phil as Duane Allman, the band’s leader and driving force, passed away later that year in a motorcycle accident in their adopted hometown, Macon.

Willie Perkins, former road manager for the Allman Brother Band, published “No Saints, No Saviors: My Years with the Allman Brothers Band” through Mercer University Press in 2005. In the book, he recounts that first lesson: don’t give up.  He wrote about the funeral of the driving force of the Allman Brothers Band, Duane Allman.  He tells that even though everyone was lost due to the clarity of Duane’s vision and leadership being stripped away, that after the funeral they knew they would carry on FOR Duane.

The rest of the band picked up their instruments for the first time since his passing and played for Duane.  The music, and the magic, was still there.  At a band meeting in the following weeks, everyone felt it and agreed that they must find a way to carry on. All of the business types said that without Duane, the band was done. But the musicians had kept the faith in themselves and picked up and worked hard to reinvent the project.

The following year, the band’s de facto leader, bassist Berry Oakley, passed away from another motorcycle accident and the band and its management had to pick themselves up again and reimagine themselves. In 1973, adding Chuck Leavell on keyboards and bassist Lamar Williams, they released “Brothers and Sisters,” which provided the band’s biggest hit singles, “Ramblin’ Man” and “Jessica.”  The album was recorded over three months at Capricorn Sound Studios in Macon. It was a revamped recording studio but in the same building that Otis Redding and Phil Walden envisioned.

The ensuing years saw hubris, increasing alcohol and drug use. The 1970s recession, along with the ever-changing appetite of the American music listener, sealed the fate of the Allman Brothers Band and Capricorn Records.  A lack of vision, control and a cohesive plan by many entities that should have been working together meant that seeing and reacting to change never successfully happened.

The Allman Brothers Band did finally recapture its lost success in the late 1990s. Separately, Capricorn Records relaunched in Nashville with Phil and his son. Bands such as Widespread Panic, Gov’t Mule, Cake, 311 and Kenny Chesney all signed with the reborn Capricorn and worked hard for success. This chapter for Capricorn closed in late 1990s when Phil sold Capricorn to Volcano Records.

This article is a two part article in cooperation with the Cascade Blues Association and the Washington Blues Society. Part 2 in the June Washington Blues Society’s Bluesletter holds my interview with Mercer University’s senior vice president of marketing communications and Chief of Staff Larry Blumley, who was in charge of overseeing the renovation of the Capricorn Recording Studios. Larry was also charged with completing the renovation project into what I saw that winter day in Macon. It moved me to write these two articles, hoping to bring some of that insight back to the Pacific Northwest music scene.

So what does a story about a Recording Studio in central Georgia have to do with the great work that both blues organizations are doing in the Pacific Northwest?  I was going to bury this idea within the words of the articles to plant subliminal seeds in the minds of like-minded readers.

My hope is that like-minded musicians and business people here in the Pacific Northwest who have had the fires of successful music burn so brightly and fall into the same embers as did Macon might see how another town in central Georgia fanned their embers back into flames. Not by themselves, but as a collective. All working together to bring their talents to the table and to work on filling the holes left by people and projects that have passed. These bright flames haven’t left us. They are there as embers, waiting for you and me to put ourselves to the task to continue to work together to rekindle those lost flames.

The list of artists who have grown their flame is numerous in Oregon.  The Helio Sequence who signed with Sub Pop; Brad Wilk and his funk metal drumming with Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave; Portugal. The Man; Sleater-Kinney; Cool Nutz and The Kingsmen to name a few.

The music industry people in Oregon are either homegrown or come from the music industry outside of Oregon but now call Oregon home. Music fans from record stores to halls of fame to promoters all currently working to push the stone up the hill.

Lisa Lepine was one we lost in 2016. The Oregon Music News called her, “… mentor, manager, publicist, promotion queen, friend …”  Someone who realized that it takes the musician and the business person together to make success.  Her comment in a 2011 interview stated it so well: “The national scene had imploded.” She went on to talk about how she saw it here. “(The) local scene to be authentic and do their expression in a pure way.” The old guard is gone and the internet has opened up a new way of doing it and people don’t know how.  She was there to help them find their way.

And there was Greg “Slim Lively” Johnson. I never got to meet Greg. In talking with musicians, music industry people and fans of the blues, all I ever heard was his unselfish way of supporting everything about the blues. From the Cascade Blues Association itself to all of the surrounding musical events and fundraisers to the personal effort he put into mentoring musicians and helping fellow CBA board members and association members learn about their passions and learn how to help others. His photographic documentation of so many concerts and events inspired others to take up and share what they could in giving back to the music.

All of us can’t start a recording studio, record label, music club or band. Part 1 of this article shows you what Phil Walden and Capricorn Records and the Capricorn Recording Studio have been through.  The roaring flame and then the seeming dead embers made people think that the studios and all of that history are too far gone.

I challenge each of you to think about what talent you have and to bring it together with other like-minded people who can work with the art and the business. Maybe your burning love of the blues by night gives way to a career in the civic section. Maybe you’re on the board of a preservation foundation and can direct funds to historic buildings with musical heritage. Don’t give up. Find a path to a concerted effort to bring your vision together with others to remember those before you who made Oregon music so fantastic. What would Slim Lively do?

Spotlight on Kent Drangsholt

Spotlight on Dave Leiken

by Kirk Anderson

Hey, let me talk to you about this band …

Fifty years ago, 1972 produced many events that still shake us. Arab terrorists murdered 11 people at the Summer Olympic Games in Munich. President Nixon visited China claiming China was a rising world power. The Los Angeles Lakers became the NBA champions, USC went undefeated in college football, the Boston Bruins took the Stanley Cup, the Dallas Cowboys beat the Miami Dolphins to win the Super Bowl, the Oakland A’s took the World Series and Jack Nicklaus took the U.S. Open.

The most popular movies of 1972 were “The Godfather,” “Diamonds Are Forever,” “Dirty Harry,” “Clockwork Orange” and “Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex.” There were only three major television networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) back then and Home Box Office (HBO) was launched in 1972. Yeah, no cable … no streaming. Everything outside of the newly launched HBO was television using off-air antennae.  The most popular television shows were “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Mary Tyler Moore” and “The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie.” Some of the best fiction books of 1972 were “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” “The Odessa File” and Herman Wouk’s “The Winds of War” with top nonfiction books being “The Living Bible,” “I’m OK, You’re OK” and “Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution.”

Music topping the charts was Don McLean’s “American Pie,” “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green, Nilsson’s “Without You,” “I’ll Take You There” by The Staple Singers and “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young. The best blues rock albums of 1972 were “Eat a Peach” by the Allman Brothers Band, Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes” and Bonnie Raitt’s  second album, “Give It up.”

Nineteen seventy-two was also the year that Dave Leiken started his life in music promoting.  After losing money trying to promote 1970s artist B.J. Thomas (best known for “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” from 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” movie with Robert Redford and Paul Newman) in Canada and Seattle, Dave was wondering if he made the right decision to leave his father’s business and strike out on his own.

Turns out that Irwin Harris, director of public events at Oregon State University, at that same time wanted to bring BJ Thomas to Corvallis. The show was a success and Dave followed his gut and spoke with BJ’s manager.  He booked other shows on the spot. “The survivor” survived his first brush with professional death.

KVAN DJ Bob Ancheta remembers this time frame as a time when he received a call from a young Dave Leiken wanting to promote the Tower of Power’s “Bump City” LP.  Both men were in the early throws of lifelong careers helping to cultivate the music scene in Portland and the Pacific Northwest. In my interview with Bob, he mentioned several times that in later years Dave and his concert promotions company, Double Tee, was willing to stick his ear and neck out for new musical acts that needed some early help in reaching their audiences.

With Bonnie Raitt receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2022 Grammy Awards in the coming year, it’s appropriate to mention that before her career took off, Dave had found ways to get Bonnie onstage around the Portland area.  He had connections in the media and used them to elevate the visibility of an artist he knew had talent. It seems he knew that if he could get people to hear her, they would gravitate to her vocals, bluesy guitar prowess and infectious smile.

KINK radio’s “The Portland 50” podcast sheds light on the top 50 people from all professions that dreamt, built and championed the innovation, growth and uniqueness of Portland. In 2018 Peggy LaPointe interviewed Dave Leiken. As Peggy was talking about the many bands that Dave supported early in their careers, Dave also talked about Jimmy Buffet’s early career.

After Buffet graduated college, he worked for Billboard Magazine and then as a first mate on a yacht in the Key West area. The area’s vibe helped introduce Caribbean rhythms to Buffet’s laid-back rock ‘n’ roll style.  Buffet had been playing mostly around Florida when he made one of his first forays out of the area, with Dave and Double Tee booking two shows at Euphoria Tavern in east Portland. Ticket sales started slow, but Dave faithfully plied his trade.  Dave relates that he came back into the office on Monday morning to find out that his hard work was paying off as both shows had sold out. Two more shows were added and they both sold out, jump-starting Jimmy’s confidence and helping to propel the viability of his recording reach.

If you’re in the Oregon music scene, it’s nearly impossible not to know, or know of, Dave Leiken. I first talked to Dave when I was exploring the music scene around my article on the Allman Betts Band playing at Roseland Theater in September of 2021. As one of the many pieces of the business puzzle that Dave has put together over the past 50 years, he is also owner of the Roseland Ballroom. With all of the pain that music venues have felt during the COVID-19 pandemic, I wanted readers to understand how music venues play a part not only in the shows, but in helping create and feed the music community, allowing for these concerts.

I was on the road to cover another concert when Jason from Double Tee called me back for an interview about the venue. As we talked, he understood how I wanted to make Roseland part of the article and Dave took time out to help. I had already written an article several years back about seminal Atlanta music promoter Alex Cooley, and the more I spoke with Dave, the more I realized his part in helping make the Portland and Pacific Northwest music scene what it is today. He was kind with his time, but he also was really direct when the information in my question wasn’t completely clear. Quintessential Dave Leiken.

In my research, I saw a Nov. 9, 2009, article by Michael Mannheimer in Willamette Week in which Dave’s quote pegs who he is to a T. “We’ll never be the darling of the people. It’s probably not in my nature,” Leiken says. “I’ve never marched with the crowd, and I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve been successful. The crowd doesn’t work very hard. I go to work every day. The crowd sits around telling each other how cool they are.” I think he has a point.

Dave Leiken is the President of Double Tee Concerts (the name derives from a play on the spelling from Dave’s enjoyment of golf with the double T’s standing for Top Talent — Top Talent=TT=Double Tee. Started 30 years ago in 1992, Double Tee Concerts is Oregon’s oldest and largest concert company. Dave estimates conservatively that Double Tee has done 150-175 shows per year and when it used to make sense did about 15 arena shows per year. Are you doing the math yet? Just listing all of the artists he has promoted at multiple venues across Portland and the Pacific Northwest takes multiple pages, double columned and ranges across the genres of music and entertainment.

Terry Currier is the president and owner of Music Millennium, Burnside Records and Burnside Distribution. Music Millennium is recognized as one of the top 10 record stores in the United States. As the Oregon Music Hall of Fame website notes, Terry is also “… respected and revered locally and nationally for his unflagging support of the Pacific Northwest’s music industry and for innovation in the music retail industry.” Very much cut from similar cloth as Dave Leiken.

There are already several articles about the facts of Dave’s past 50 years in the music industry. Although the extensive and varied chronology of the events through the past 50 years is overwhelming and important, I was especially interested in what other people in Portland’s and the Pacific Northwest’s musical scene thought about Dave professionally and how he affected music in the area. Everyone I reached out to for this article was very generous with their time in sharing their thoughts about Dave and his part in the music scene. Only a small portion of these interviews made it here due to space limitations.

Terry shared several thoughts that supported Dave’s quote from the 2009 Willamette Week article quoted above. Terry related that Dave never tried to dominate the local music scene as so many other majority business promoters across the country did. Dave always paid the artists whereas the history of live music is full of stories of artists playing and then being double-talked or threatened out of their due pay.

Promoting longer than anyone else in the area, Dave didn’t always take the whole pie. Many times he chose to promote acts that met the guidelines his ears laid down and left other parts of the pie for other promoters. Terry said Dave seemed to take pride in being independent. He turned down offers from national companies to buy out Double Tee and the Roseland Theater. Dave being true to himself, true to the music scene and the ideals of the region protected the local scene from this corporate raiding, giving all of us the chance to feel a more organic and varied music scene.

Terry remembers as Dave was starting his own ticketing platform, FastTix, that Dave would often hand-deliver tickets to Music Millennium and other stores to sell. Do you remember when there were hard copy, pre-printed tickets and having to go to a record store to buy them? Dave was the guy delivering them.

Dave continued to build the platform through the iterations we are now familiar with.  It had to be the best thing in town as national competitors started pushing their way in and Dave decided that this was not a fight he wanted to fight. During a particularly aggressive national growth strategy campaign by his contemporaries, Dave sold FastTix.

Terry went on to talk about how Dave did not only ply his professional trade, but also took a genuine interest in the music scene by selecting local acts deserving of exposure for opening slots for nationally headlining acts. He provided the Roseland Theater to other regional acts to give them the chance headline and to get their music out while teaching them how to grow the art of their business. For most of his life, he went out to see live music every chance he could. He wanted to hear the bands, yes, but he also wanted to see the audience as they left the show. Were they smiling? Were the excited?

Dave’s devotion to the music community saw him hosting the early Oregon Music Hall of Fame ceremonies at the Roseland Theater. Dave also has worked with the Oregon Music Coalition, recognizing the legacy of all stages of music in the state of Oregon. During the pandemic, Dave also came out to join other luminaries in the Oregon music community to raise money for the local venues and artists hardest hit by the pandemic shut down and its aftermath.

Janeen Rundle, co-founder of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, is the organization’s director of music programs and scholarships. She coordinates music education opportunities through Oregon Music Hall of Fame workshops, assemblies and scholarship opportunities to those pursuing musical studies.

Her memories of Dave are that he has always had a keen ear and eye over many genres of music that she feels stem from his musical soul. An incredible comment that shines a light not only on his professional prowess but how he never forgets to stay true to the gifts that music has given to him.

Janeen also shared and echoed similar comments in other interviews for this article that Dave saw talent that needed an extra push in the Portland market and did something positive about it. Although having to listen to the sometimes out-of-the-norm ideas from a band’s management, Dave would work with Janeen and other music community leaders to dial in cross-promotions with entities such as Music Millennium, Tower Records, KUFO, KINK, KGON, etc., to execute exciting promotions in record stores, over the airwaves and on site at the Roseland to increase attendance.

In understanding that live music isn’t just about the coliseum, theater or even club gigs, Janeen relates that from the beginning Dave would personally attend the College Scholarship Performance and Awards, which used to be held at Jimmy Mak’s and now is at Tony Starlight’s. This demonstrated his support for helping others become more excited and giving them the opportunity to get a rounded education in music without Dave ever coming out and making it about himself. He always showed his support in ways more tangible than just attending.

Marc Baker also goes back more than 30 years with Dave.  Marc is an industry insider, host of the long-running “Church of NW Music” show on KBOO and president of the Portland insurance firm Elliott, Powell, Baden & Baker, which measures as one of the top three independent insurance firms as rated by the Portland Business Journal.

Marc promoted several shows and formed a concert company at Oregon State University in his younger days. Moving back to Portland, Marc worked radio primarily in Oregon, when he began to manage the local band Crazy 8’s. An acquaintance in the business called Marc regarding needing an opening act for a headliner he had just booked and Crazy 8’s was a natural. The show was booked and next came promoting. This is where Marc reached out to Double Tee, which he had already worked with to promote local shows. Marc was also on the board of directors of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame for eight years that again crossed paths with Dave.

He made one comment that stuck with me. In describing how he viewed Dave’s influence on music in the community he said that if the Pacific Northwest music scene was a large pond, and if you were to take a large rock and throw it into the middle of the pond, you’d see the ripples move out in all directions, affecting everything in that pond.

He describes Dave as a survivor as a promoter, venue owner, label owner, publisher.  Dave is a supporter of the blues, rhythm and blues, all genres of music and the musicians behind them — often when no one else in town had the horsepower to do good. Marc followed that comment saying that Dave has the passion that others lack.

Double Tee sold more entertainment tickets in Oregon than any other promoter and stayed intact and relevant during the great promoter consolidations of the early 2000s. Dave and everyone interviewed had long lists of accomplishments that showed Dave’s commitment to the community, to music and his own feeling of the best way to conduct business. Below are but a few.

  • Pollstar rates the Roseland Theater as one of the top-10-20 venues of its size in the world. The Roseland was originally built in 1922 as the Apostolic Faith Church until the building was converted into a music venue named Starry Night in 1982. In the early 1990s an unfortunate turn of events for Starry Night turned out to be the start of good fortune for Dave when Double Tee optioned control of the operations in 1994 and purchased Roseland in 1996. Keeping the faith that he was in the right place at the right time, in 1997-98, Dave started a $2 million-plus renovation of the facility, upgrading the sound system, façade and layout into the Roseland Theater of today. Performers regularly compliment the facility and staff for the quality of its sound.

He also created a smaller venue downstairs from the main performance theater called Peter’s Room. This can serve as a smaller capacity venue for bands on the way up or as an extra gathering place streaming the performances from the main stage above.

  • 1994 Autzen Stadium in Eugene. One of several Grateful Dead shows Dave co-promoted with Bill Graham Presents. This one sold 102,000 tickets, making it the largest concert gathering in Oregon.
  • Prince on Aril 30, 2002, at the 2,800-seat Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The show lasted three hours and was followed by an after-party show at the Roseland Theater lasting until 3 a.m. Both Bob Dylan and Pearl Jam, to name a few, also played shows at larger venues in town and then came over to Roseland to play more intimate after-show parties.
  • Early U2 at the Foghorn.

“To stay relevant, you have to care, you have to be involved in the minutia to stay on top.”

Dave Leiken

Sept. 7, 2021

The Blues Journey photo by Debra Penk

The Blues Journey

by CBA staff

While searching for the house of Oregon’s “Swamp Donkey” blues-band leader, Johnny Wheels, it was easy to get lost in the high hills around Willamina. But when finally meeting the singer/harmonicist, that ‘lost-ness’ evaporated. Johnny’s steady, blue-eyed gaze gives the comforting impression of someone knowing exactly where he is, and where his journey is taking him. And 25 years of propelling his own wheelchair around have given an upper body strength to back up that sense of a solid presence.

We’d promised him our interview wouldn’t last more than an hour. Yet, after two-plus hours of conversation, we apologized — we hadn’t factored in the time spent enjoying our laughter together.

Besides Johnny Wheels, there are two current band members who, in January 2020, were in the band’s line-up on the “Journey to Memphis” (to the annual Memphis International Blues Challenge): Brandon Logan (guitar) and Taylor Frazier (bass). Other past members in that line-up were Michael Rabe (guitar) and Doug Knoyle (drums). Out of hundreds of other IBC contestants, The Swamp Donkeys came in at No. 8! New additions to the band are Beth Poore (sax), Rich Dickson (keyboards) and Dennis Ayers (drums).


Johnny Wheels’ journey started early in life. He sat watching his dad’s band rehearsals with other men. Quietly. “If I made any noise, I had to leave,” he explained. Yet his high-tenor, musician father also gave him basic lessons on drums and some brief structures on guitar. But just when he was starting to get traction from those lessons, his father was killed at work in an industrial accident. Johnny was 6 years old.

“Yet that hurt more, because even then I really felt that my mother and my younger sister would need me to help the three of us.”

His father had left behind for Johnny both an elevated musical sense and a variety of instruments. Although he focused on the drums, it gave Johnny a chance to also try a bit of everything. And he let his singing challenge himself against what was playing on the radio:  “Trying to match my voice to songs and then recording those to see if it was any good.”

“But playing around with the harmonica really didn’t do anything for me … um, I mean way back then anyway. Of course.” (Mutual laughter)  He also benefited from his dad’s band friends checking in to encourage his musical desire. It was in such a wholeness of community that he grew up.

Yet a few years later, sadly at age 12, a grievous accident left him with his C5 and C7 vertebrae severely damaged, resulting in paralysis from his chest down. He spent months in therapy, both in Portland and at the Shriner’s hospital in San Francisco. At age 14 he was able to return to school and promptly looked for others to play music with. At 20, he was able to get others to join more seriously.

JW: I didn’t know chords very well, I don’t read music, I have no music theory training at all. So I just keep learning.”

CBA: Once, in an interview, Miles Davis said “I used to love playing the romantic melodies of pretty love songs. So, I stopped playing … romantic melodies of pretty love songs.” That sounds like the truth of artistry you constantly invoke: Don’t get comfortable? Continue to push yourself and just keep learning, moving.

JW: Yeah, if you’re not learning, you should quit playing. In my opinion, anyway. I mean, once you think you’re the best? What’s left? And a lot of people who think they’re the best never come to the reality that they aren’t. Even locally there are a handful of harmonica players I can show you who could leave me in the dust. In seconds. Those guys, really good. But they haven’t taught themselves they’re that good. They just keep trying to get better. That, is an artist.

It’s like when I met up with Nick Clark in Memphis, one of the nicest guys ever, very unassuming. And yet, when he picks up a harmonica he is just so good, he will blow you away. And still, he’s genuinely humble. He never tells you he’s good, other people say that about him.  I don’t feel I play that much better than anybody else. When I go to see a show, I’m watching the other band to see how I could improve.

CBA: And finding the spot where you could fit that in.

JW: Yeah, and to me it’ll be a quite a while before I could agree with the people who tell me I’m “really good.” If someone wants to say that? I appreciate it and I’m grateful. Yes, I can play, but it still feels like a long road ahead. The journey.

CBA: When you and the band are on stage, it seems like you all are goofing around a bit, making jokes to each other. Yet still, there’s always the music on top that grabs the listeners.

JW: Yeah, it’s the same with all my bands, every version of my bands. You won’t be playing with us if you’re not sharing the fun, the joy of it.

So here’s my quick history of how I developed bands. When I was playing in Lincoln City it got to where that band was fading after the harmonica player died — a guy I idolized. I loved him.

Each show, I’d been allowed to sing a few songs with the band, but only singing. In one of the bands the leader said I needed to do more than just sing. So I started learning a bit of harmonica, watching Ronnie Shellist’s online lessons. But that band fell apart and the leader came to me to give the schedule he’d set for a lot of gigs. And he said, “That’s all yours, now form a band. I’m leaving and we’ve been the only show in town.”

So a guitarist helped me get a drummer and a bass and we started doing the gigs. And I got more incorporated as a singer and started playing some harmonica as well.

Then, closer to home, around 2006 in Willamina, a friend had a recording studio and needed a singer. So by getting myself involved, that became the first band that was my project. While still playing in Lincoln City. We did that for a couple of years, usually with a changing line-up of musicians: bassists, drummers, etc. I was singing and playing more harmonica.

My ass often got kicked because the musicians were usually 30 years older than me and really knew how to play. And weren’t going to just let some kid come in and take over. They were going to give me a lesson until I learned. So I stayed out of the way, and respectfully waited until they invited me to come in.

Sometimes I hear myself playing guitar parts, like Brandon’s. It’s easier than mimicking what another harp player does. Sort of a conversation. But it’s more about just the feel of those parts — finding the feeling.

A lot of it has to do with my disability, something I try to absolutely hide while we’re playing. My diaphragm is completely compromised. The injury is enough near the uppermost part of my spine that it limits my feeling and my movement.

And the lungs are still compromised, but working. I’ll run short of breath but when it gets too short, I’ll just stop and recover. I don’t really know what it’s like to breathe normally after being this way for 25 years. So I can’t tell you how I sing differently, yet I’ve also learned that not just my voice but also my body is an instrument, almost like an accordion. And you’ll see me doing this (bending forward and slightly sideways) to get projection, to get longer notes, to force howls and screams. It puts a strain on me to really, really work at this. And for that “machine gun” sound it’s not draw/blow, draw/blow, but just fast draws.

Harp players always talk about “tongue blocking.” I don’t know anything about it, I can’t do it and I don’t know if I ever want to learn. (More mutual laughter.)

So, back to the bands: I started wanting to play my own gigs. There used to be bands here in Willamina, or Dallas, or Sheridan, to go in and see all the time, every weekend. But that was gone by the time I was playing music. It had just died out.

So a friend and I started an act — acoustic versions of songs, mostly electric, that we liked and started doing them our own way. We played songs from RadioHead and Alice in Chains, John Fogarty, everything. Especially Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jonny Lang.

I grew up on Van Halen, AC/DC, Motley Crue, Judas Priest. My favorite band has always been KISS. But Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s video of all the blues artists he’d met on tour was something I HAD to have, and I bought it the day it came out. That was a great revelation, even though all music has influenced me.

Anyway, that led to a venture with friends into songwriting. The one thing you always have in common, even with someone you really don’t like? Music will always touch your soul, always moves you in some way. I’ve only met a very few people who aren’t touched by music.

CBA:  It can sometimes lead to the spiritual within us.

JW: Yeah, it goes way beyond all of us. Part of my blues upbringing was when in school I discovered Blind Willie McTell. His voice and style are so his own. Here’s him singing blues. (Taps a recording.)

(After listening) That … his voice! I’ve never heard anything that’s made me feel like that before. And that was it! I was in love with that music. And you can’t fake that, it’s a feeling. That down-there feeling of just keeping on anyway. After time going through things, I didn’t stop. So much there I couldn’t figure out. When I had the accident, I said put me in a wheelchair and just let me go, I want to get on with life.

I try to listen and learn by myself, but practicing is only done with others, and almost always only on stage. Applying what I’ve learned. That might not turn out good, but the next time’s always better.

Still, there are always those who’re much better than you. But if they look down at you because of that, they’re just bastards. That can be why choosing who to listen to, to learn from, is so important.

Oddly, one of the most uncomfortable things in the world is learning how to just be yourself. Maybe that’s why the band plays how we play. Our set-list? No set-list. Never.

CBA: When you search to find the right band members? What’s your first question?

JW: “Are you any good?” (Laughing.)  Of course, there’s going to be some frauds and failures, but I don’t want to talk bad about anyone. It’s best when it’s someone I can learn a lot from, and who wants to learn from me. I’m not shy about telling someone “Hey, that’s not the right chord.” They may not like it, but it usually turns out I was right.

Also, I’m not going to steal someone’s bassist or drummer. But if it happens naturally? I’m going to roll with it. So that’s how Taylor joined us on bass. In the “Memphis” line-up, we’d met Brandon and Michael on guitar a few years earlier and their band was fizzling out, so we asked them to join us. And we got busy playing at lotsa gigs. Hey, after waiting forever to get this circle of really good musicians? Let’s just play songs we already know and that’ll be our only practice! And, it was.

Then Brandon and I talked about “Journey to Memphis.” He had tried with several bands that came up short. So we tried at Waterfront and lost to Fenix.

And yet, that’s why we started playing just the blues. Since then we’ve reopened a little. Playing everything, including country, but we love the blues and we’re good at playing it. And it’s not enough to just play the harp, you’ve got to SAY something with it. Still, I don’t want to sell myself. Just watch and you can decide for yourself. I don’t sound like anybody else.

CBA: Who do you regard as your mentors?

  • Jim Belushi’s a good friend who got me with Dan Ackroyd (“a master class!”) and in three seconds with Jim I learned how to really be on stage!
  • Rae Gordon, now on the National Board of Women in Blues.
  • Ben Rice I’ve known for a long time.
  • Drummer Tony Coleman and guitarist Ty Curtis both shared important advice for Memphis.
  • And the under-appreciated guitar legend, Robbie Laws, must be included

The byword for us in PDX? “We’re different.” And because we’re ourselves, we stumbled into the final 8 in Memphis!

CBA: Quite a list! What do you see going on with blues now? And what can be done to keep it going?

JW: We see a lot more young people dancing to our music. And, well, the world right now is perfect for the blues, because that deals with sadness and despair. The blues can also be pretty religious and somebody’s gotta keep this stuff going. The world’s history is in the blues: We’ve all been slaves, we are all slaves right now to a monster that could probably destroy us. We need to unite together to listen to this music, just to feel better. I’d like to go back to small bars, 50 to 100 people, and sell tickets. Makes it easier to interact with the audience.

CBA: What else might you want to say about the “Memphis Journey?”

JW: An incredible journey, it really helped shape us. The Cascade Blues Association has been a big help, and with what’s going on with Greg Johnson, I hope to give some inspiration that you can just keep going. And keep fighting!

That’s what the CBA keeps doing. It’s the best for all of us. But we need to help it keep growing.


News from The Blues Foundation - September 2021

News from The Blues Foundation
September 2021

International Blues Challenge

We are in countdown mode! After a year’s hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all eager to gather at the 2022 International Blues Challenge (IBC), scheduled for Jan. 18-22 in Memphis. Many of you are preparing for your local blues challenges in order to send your winning band and/or solo/duo artist(s) to the competition.

Keeping the Blues Alive Awards

The Keeping the Blues Alive Awards (KBAs) are always a highlight of the International Blues Competition.  In 2022, the KBAs will be presented on Jan. 21.  KBAs are awarded exclusively to non-performers based strictly on merit and are selected by a panel of blues professionals. Nominations are accepted exclusively from blues societies that are current Blues Foundation affiliates, past KBA recipients and current members of The Blues Foundation Board of Directors. Additional information about eligibility requirements and the nomination process can be found on the Blues Foundation’s website  Please submit your completed KBA nomination and all required documentation to Keisha Moore-Alston at or by mail to The Blues Foundation; 421 S. Main Street, Memphis, TN 38103, by 5 p.m. CST on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021.

Blues Affiliate Survey Results

Thanks go to all of you who completed our Blues Affiliate Survey.  While your responses didn’t reveal any real surprises, the information provided will help The Blues Foundation as we develop programs and strategies to respond to your current needs. Based on your feedback we learned:

  • When asked whether their memberships have increased or decreased over the past five years, 46% of responding affiliates indicated that their memberships had decreased, 23% said their memberships remained the same and 15.38% indicated that their memberships had increased. (The remaining respondents had not been in existence for more than five years.)
  • 61.54% of responding affiliates indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their membership numbers.
  • Affiliates ranked supporting local blues artists, building a community of blues fans, and holding their local IBC competition as their top priorities, in that order.
  • The overwhelming majority of respondents indicated that they would like to discuss strengthening their local blues society at the next Affiliate Roundtable.

Sharing information and networking is always a highlight of the Affiliate Roundtable.  Based on your response to the Blues Affiliate Survey, the 2022 Affiliate Roundtable discussion will focus on successful strategies for strengthening your blues society.  A panel of affiliate representatives will present their best practices for managing membership, succession planning, engaging younger people and other pertinent topics. The Affiliate Roundtable will be held during 2022 IBCs, with the specific dates and other details announced closer to the date.

Resources to Support Local Blues Artists

Many blues societies have prioritized supporting local blues artists as they face hardships resulting from the ongoing pandemic. With venues closed and limited opportunities to present live performances, many artists are facing financial difficulties.  Your blues society can help local artists by sharing information about The Blues Foundation’s COVID-19 Blues Musician Emergency Relief Fund.

Since March 2020, The Blues Foundation has distributed nearly $300,000 to help full-time blues musicians address essential needs such as rent/mortgage, phone, utilities and car payments.

You can help them connect with this crucial resource by sharing information about the COVID-19 Blues Musician Emergency Relief Fund in your newsletter and encouraging them to contact

Many blues musicians have delayed or foregone their medical needs during the pandemic. The Blues Foundation established the HART Fund (Handy Artists Relief Trust) for blues musicians and their families in financial need due to a broad range of health concerns. Encourage blues musicians in your community to apply by contacting

Board Spotlight - Randy Murphy

Board Spotlight – Randy Murphy

An Oregon native, Randy’s been a fan of blues since his high school years, but his interest piqued in 1982, when he heard Albert Collins playing in a dive in Ashland. Many years later he picked up a copy of BluesNotes at Music Millennium, and that prompted him, in March 2014, to become a member of the CBA. He first volunteered for events during the 2014 Waterfront Festival, and then in January 2015 began to write for and edit BluesNotes. In March 2017 he joined the CBA board of directors. Randy’s paying gig is teaching literature and writing at Clackamas Community College.

The past several years have seen a nearly complete turnover of the board, and amazingly, Randy’s now its longest tenured at-large member. During his time on the board, apart from his work on publishing BluesNotes, he’s helped enroll the CBA in the Nonprofit Association of Oregon and worked to stabilize the CBA’s financial position.

Introducing Kirk Anderson

New Blues Notes Writer

Introducing Kirk Anderson, our new Blues Notes contributor. He’s written two articles this month, one about the upcoming Allman-Betts show at the Roseland and another from an interview with Too Slim for the event at the Alberta Rose Theatre. Kirk also writes for the Washington Blues Society. Thanks to their president, Tony Fredrickson, for the connection!

The cap (in the photo) Lazy Lester gave me about 10 years ago when I was able to talk to Warren Haynes about letting Lester sit in on a couple of tunes at a Gov’t Mule show in Reno.  Lester was so appreciative, even though he’s toured worldwide, he took his cap off of his head and put it over his heart and thanked me and said I’d like for you to have this.

More about Kirk

Three years ago, I moved from Atlanta to Seattle for a new direction in life. I found that the PNW had many music fans that were like me. We have our favorite bands and musicians in the blues, but we also understand how important our local blues music scenes are to our communities. We want to know the influences of the musicians we see on stage. We want to support the scene that supports our love.

He says this about Allman-Betts …

I was a tour manager for the Oakley Krieger Band whose musicians were Berry Duane Oakley, Waylon Krieger, Duane Betts and Alec Puro. As a regular writer and columnist for internationally distributed “Hittin’ the Note” magazine, I had the chance to cover the original talents of Devon Allman, Duane Betts and Berry Duane Oakley as they worked through their individual projects. The Allman Betts Band is a logical progression in their musical growth where this band of adults has serious recording and touring backing as they present a professional concert.

Kirk wasn’t aware of Too Slim until we asked him to interview him to support the show at the Alberta Rose. “I really wasn’t aware of Too Slim despite how many albums he’s put out and how much I really enjoy his music.” And Kirk knows Mike with Delaney Guitars who crafted the special Too Slim guitar. Great connection there!

CBA President Greg Johnson - September 2021 update

CBA President Greg Johnson

In case you aren’t following on Facebook, here are the latest updates on how Greg is doing …


From Greg’s wife Cherie:


I get to see the love of my life today! Greg is out of ICU but not readmitted to RIO. They asked me to come cheer him up! I will pass words of encouragement to him.



Trying to keep everyone up to date with Greg’s progress. As explained in prior updates Greg had been moved from Marquis Vermont Hills to RIO (Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon) in September. We welcomed October with hopes of returning home and sadly yesterday we had a set back. Greg had a seizure and medical team had to come to rescue and move him from RIO to ICU. Greg will remain in ICU with scans being done till moved to another part of hospital and (hopefully!) returns to RIO for continuing therapy. I am grateful for the team that took care of Greg and myself yesterday. I had a breakdown seeing Greg in that condition. Thank you to team in RIO!
I know all of Greg’s family and friends are keeping him close to their hearts and prayers. WE are deeply grateful.
Please show love to Greg Slim Lively Johnson if you can possibly attend ‘Blues For Slim Lively’ at Crystal Ballroom October 17th. Greg had devoted his life to supporting music and knows that music is one of life’s most important survival tools. It nourishes us, heals us & lifts us up even in the darkest hour & gives us the strength to keep going! It brings us together!
If you can’t attend and still want to contribute.
There is also an online auction spearheaded by Angie DeRouchie and anyone can participate and doesn’t need to be in attendance at benefit.


We are waiting for long-term disability to be approved from Greg’s employer & accepted into RIO at Good Samaritan. RIO has a special program for stroke patients & best opportunities for therapy! We are meeting with a surgeon Wednesday for consultation & in future will remove tumor.

Friends do your part in helping our community by getting vaccinated. & please send prayers for this to all go through ok.

We are grateful for everyone’s continued support and kindness.

Thank you for all who contributed to GoFundMe & continue to help us, greatly appreciated in these times.

Save the date: Oct. 17 “Blues for Slim Lively,” Crystal Ballroom or tickets can be purchased at Music Millennium


Today Greg Slim Lively Johnson returns to St. Vincent’s hospital for an MRI. Next week on the 25th (our anniversary) we meet with his surgeon for consultation about surgery for removal of tumor. No date set for surgery.

Andy, Greg’s physical therapist, doesn’t want Greg to get off track with all the progress he is making physically. Andy OK’d another FOUR weeks at Marquis, which has to still pass through insurance. Yesterday Andy also gave hopeful news that Greg would be eligible now for RIO at Good Samaritan. He hadn’t been strong enough till now.. At RIO ALL they do is work with stroke patients & have heard amazing things about their facility. It would be fantastic if Greg got in!!

Greg has been introduced by P.T to a temporary AFS (leg brace) which has helped tremendously & will be fitted for his own & knee brace. With ‘assistance’ Greg is walking in hallway short distances. Working on balance, strength & endurance. Imagine having to learn how to walk again…. working with occupational & speech therapy. The speech has a long way to go & will take a long time to recover if it fully comes back at all.

So glad I found a ground level apartment that I will be moving us into weekend of September 10th. Thank you, Geoffrey Reece, for helping me with movers. With all our stairs I couldn’t possibly be doing it on own for move out. To know Greg could come home gives me hope! What I am also working on is getting an ADA vehicle, so we don’t have to rely on transports which is NOT covered by insurance & they are a hundred dollars each time you use one. It would be fantastic if I could drive us around instead.

Want to thank everyone for your continued prayers, support, kindness shown. This last year has been the hardest time of our lives & you all have made it so much better by LIFTING US UP!!

Please join us on Sunday, Oct. 17, for this important…and FUN…benefit. (COVID statement below)

buy tickets here


check out the ONLINE auction and raffle here

You do not need to be present to bid or win!




COVID Policy-updated 8.20.21


The Crystal Ballroom is committed to protecting the health and well-being of music fans, artists, and industry staff. In light of the recent upswing of COVID cases, beginning immediately, all ticket holders to shows at the Crystal Ballroom or Lola’s Room must meet one of these conditions:

1) Be at least two weeks past receiving their second dose in a two-dose series (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna), or a single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Vaccination card or photo of vaccine card on phone must be provided along with photo ID.


2) Show proof of a negative PCR COVID test within 48 hours preceding the show, along with photo ID.

All ticket holders must wear face masks at all times except when eating or drinking.

Member Spotlight - Marie Walters Board Secretary

Member Spotlight:
Board Secretary Marie Walters

Marie was asked to join the board as Secretary in June of 2019 and was elected to the board to serve in 2020 and 2021. She comes from a background steeped in both music and community service, having worked in non-profits and government throughout her career.

Besides doing all the usual ‘Secretary of the Board’ type things like keeping Minutes, setting up meetings, sending out notices and distributing agendas, she also monitors the CBA voicemail, contributes to the Blues Notes, is one of the administrators for the Facebook Group and the CBA Facebook Page.

She took advantage of last year’s downtime to develop additional web-based skills including graphic design, non-profit management, marketing for social media, and UX design. You can see evidence of these skills in fresh graphic contributions in the Blues Notes, Facebook and the member newsletter.

Like many of our board members, Marie has also been involved in several projects and committees for the CBA, including the Performance Venue Project that partnered with Portland Parks on their Free Lunch & Play Program. She set up the GoFundMe that raised funds to allow us to provide 21 musicians with some income during the most extreme Covid restrictions last summer. She also took on most of the work of scheduling the many musicians within an ever-changing framework dictated by Portland Parks and Covid restrictions.

One of the first things she did as a board member was to introduce Roberts Rules of Order to the Board meetings. This has been a huge benefit, making our meetings more productive.

Marie is a longtime champion of diversity and social equality. Having worked within the BIPOC community in her homeland, she was involved in bringing about diverse representation and gender equity to each of the boards and committees she was part of. She brings the same energy and enthusiasm with her to this organization.

Aside from her very active role in the Cascade Blues Association, she occupies her time with fostering and transporting rescue animals. Although she hasn’t done it lately, Marie has been known to intentionally drive over cliffs, paddle through walls of water, and ‘live with the locals’ in far off places.

Most recently Marie was a beginning student of social blues dancing until classes ended abruptly last spring. When you see Marie at any live music event, chances are she’ll be on the dance floor. And if you have patience, and maybe steel-toed dance shoes, she’d love to practice social dancing with other blues dancers.

CBA President Greg Johnson diagnosed with cancer

Greg “Slim Lively” Johnson CBA President
health update July 1 2021

On May 27, Greg “Slim Lively” suffered a severe, massive stroke. This, as you can imagine, has caused catastrophic repercussions in addition to Greg’s planned lengthy cancer treatments.

Since then, Greg has been moved to Marquis Vermont Hills, where he will be doing hard rehabilitation to recover.

All his cancer treatments have been postponed.

Greg will have to do HARD physical therapy, speech and occupational therapy, and most likely won’t be coming home for months. His doctors have said it’s going to take a long time for recovery.

Although there are many unknowns ahead, Greg and his wife Cherie have felt the enormous love of their community, and that has helped sustain them. They are truly grateful. ♥️

June 22, 2021 update by Cherie Johnson

“If you want to get the best out of a man, you must look for the best that is in him.”
– Bernard Haldane

So stinking proud of Greg “Slim Lively” Johnson and ALL the work he is doing in recovering from stroke. It IS A SLOW process but each effort and sign of progress seen means the world to me & Greg. Having to relearn things that we might take for granted. It’s going to be a long journey with lots of rehabilitation just to walk again. Greg is trying so hard to talk & communicate & honestly been a struggle, but one clear word is NO! Greg knows what he doesn’t want.
It is one step at a time, no couple could possibly be prepared for something like this happening & trying to be in a place of acceptance & accountability & we can grow from our experience & recovery with stroke & cancer diagnosis.

“Team Slim Lively”… Thank you to friends who were the first visitors in seeing Greg this last weekend at the rehabilitation center. Saw a difference in Greg’s spirit from seeing friends and yes accepting requests for future visits. ***There is a protocol with visiting that needs to be followed and a sign-up sheet which will need to be respected. Just send me a private message for now please with requests for visiting. *** Thank you for all the continued support and prayers and keeping Greg and I in your thoughts. Thank you, Tracy Turner Pain, for leading up the GoFundMe and being the lead for making a “Get Well” video for Greg:

Ways you can support Greg

*Donate to the GoFundMe

*Attend the Mill Barn Blues Festival Benefit on July 17 (see the article in PDX blues event drop down) or go to:

*Buy a T-shirt! (designed by Cherie’s brother, Steve Garvin)

at Shirts are $25 + shipping. They are printed on demand, so allow 14-21 days. Thanks to webmaster buko for building the site to sell these and to Dontae Mathis at for printing them!

*Save the date for a blowout benefit at the Crystal Ballroom, Oct. 17

*The event team leads so far are Terry Currier, Joey Scruggs (talent), Shelley Garrett (event coordination), Angie deRouchie (silent auction) Debby Espinor (publicity and promotion) and Laura Osborn, (hospitality)…more to come soon!


Greg Johnson Health Update

Greg Johnson Health Update

As you may know, Greg Johnson had a stroke right after completing his first chemo treatment the last week of May. Greg will be in the hospital at Providence St. Vincent in Portland, then be transferred to a care facility before starting a rehabilitation program.  After the rehab is complete, Greg will be reevaluated for the restart of his cancer treatment.

This is devastating news for his wife Cherie, his family and friends, the CBA and of course the greater Pacific NW Blues Community.

If you are in a position to help financially, please donate to the Go Fund Me

*Save the date for the first music fundraiser planned for Saturday July 17th, at the Mulino Blues Festival.