Ramblings On My Mind-March 2021

Ramblings On My Mind - February 2018Greg Johnson, CBA President

As I explained last month, for the first time since 2003 I did not make the trip back to Memphis for the International Blues Challenge, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t keep track of how our regional acts fared. And as always, they gave their all and performed as our representatives above and beyond expectations.

The most important thing about taken part in the IBC is to get yourself out in front of the blues industry people on hand and to make as many friends with other musicians as possible. This can sometimes be more important than actually winning the event. So many top name musicians came up by performing at the IBC without having even made the finals let alone winning. So do not believe for a second that because our own acts may not have made it to the stage at the Orpheum for the finals does not mean that they were not winners themselves. They were already winners having received the right to compete in Memphis to begin with by winning the Journey to Memphis right here at home.

Timothy James & The Portland Blues Revival made the most of their time by playing as often as possible, not only in the youth showcase and Northwest Showcase, but also in as many jams as they could get on stage for.

Dean Mueller & Julie Amici took the time to do some traveling when they went back east. They may not have made it beyond the first round, but they made many memories in Tennessee and beyond, including a stop in Nashville where Dean had worked it out where Julie was able to take the stage with Vince Gill and sing a Hank Williams number.

Sister Mercy accomplished another great trip by making the semi-finals for the second time. That in itself is a feat not to take lightly. Thousands of bands compete from around the world every year to have the right to go to Memphis and only a handful can move forward to the semi-finals and to the finals. Making the semis twice is something to be extremely proud of and hopefully they’ll receive recognition by other regions as well as our own.

To witness how the acts performed in Memphis, go to YouTube.com and the acts’ Facebook pages. We’re lucky to have family members and friends who recorded their sets, so even if you could not be there, you still have the opportunity to see their performances.

Congratulations to Sister Mercy, Julie Amici and Timothy James and the boys. As I said you’re all winners! The overall winners of the event were Houston Blues Society’s Keesha Pratt Band as the top band, with Memphis Blues Society’s Fuzzy Jeffries & The Kings of Memphis in second and Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society’s Artut Menezes third. In the solo/duo category Central Iowa Blues Society’s Kevin Burt took first and Norway’s Olso Bluesklubb’s Daniel Eriksen was second. Artur Menezes was the band top guitar winner and Kevin Burt the solo/duo top guitar and top harmonica winner. Best self-produced CD winner was Jontavious Willis for his disc Blue Metamorphasis representing the Atlanta Blues Society.

Now let’s start talking about who will be heading back to Memphis next year. Applications are open and dates are set for the Journey to Memphis. Okay . . . ready, set, go! Get on the ball and apply for your chance to make blues history . . . in Portland, the Northwest and the world!

Ramblings On My Mind-March 2021

Ramblings On My Mind - February 2018Greg Johnson, CBA President

2018 is starting off on a change of pace. For me at least. As I write this, the International Blues Challenge will be taking place this week. And after fifteen straight years volunteering to work the event, plus seven Blues Music Awards during those same years (twenty-two trips between the two as a volunteer), I have decided not to travel to Memphis this year. I love the event and have so many friends that I will miss seeing, and of course being there to support our representatives. But I have spent pretty much all of my vacation time in Tennessee over those years and because I have placed myself in so many positions during the event I was spending less and less time with friends and if the acts we sent were not in my venue I missed seeing them compete.

This past year Cherie and I have had the chance to travel to San Francisco and Austin. It opened my eyes that there are a lot of other places and events that I would like to see. I have always dreamed of going to the Chicago Blues Festival for example, but having used my vacation time in Memphis there was no way that I would be able to do much of anything else. It doesn’t mean that I will never return to Memphis, it’s just time to go other places, too.

I do highly recommend that you go to the International Blues Challenge if you have the opportunity. It is simply a blues dream to see new acts that will be the future of the genre. It’s a smorgasbord of activity and no way is it possible for anybody to experience it all in one trip.

On another much sadder note, yet another favorite venue has decided to close. It may have been a little more of a trip to get out to The Birk, but it was one of the most welcoming, family-like atmospheres of any venue I had ever been to anywhere, often open to all ages. Mike and Wendy Ingraham literally opened their home to musicians both locally and travelling. In fact, they had become a go to destination for most every act who toured through the area. After just one visit it was a place they immediately wanted to return. Case in point, Sugaray Rayford’s comments on Facebook following his hearing of the venue’s closing. He would make a point of starting or ending his tours there and he’d spend extra days just soaking in the calm and beautiful landscape of the Coastal Mountain range and the comforts Mike and Wendy offered. Sugaray called it his most favorite place of anywhere in the world. And these were not just words being posted on social media, he had told me directly many times these exact same sentiments.

Over the past couple years, The Birk became a venue that hosted numerous touring shows. It seemed that they were doing more than any of the venues in Portland, despite the hour-plus drive through winding, forested roads to get there. The last few months that they were open, they were hosting five and more shows a month. And they were only open for the most part on weekends, with an occasional Monday or Thursday thrown in. Some of the acts this past summer alone included the likes of The Andy T Band, John Nemeth, Jason Ricci, Anni Piper, Alastair Greene, Curtis Salgado, Seth Walker, Danielle Nicole, Jimmy Thackery, JJ Thames, The Delgado Brothers, Crooked Eye Tommy, Nick Moss, Matt Scofield and on and on.

For Cherie and myself, it is even more personal. We had always felt that we were welcome at any time and Mike and Wendy became very good friends that we looked forward to seeing as often as we could. We could even bring our dog, as did friends Mike and Laura Osborn, too. We held our engagement party at The Birk, with Cherie working with Mike to bring in the Duffy Bishop Band for a sold out afternoon filled with friends and much love. And we were already in discussion setting up arrangements to hold our upcoming wedding there in August. Unfortunately we will have to hold it elsewhere now, much to the sadness of not only us, but Mike and Wendy, too. We’ll miss The Birk, and Mike and Wendy even more, but we know that we’ll be seeing them at shows around town.

Who will pick up the void that is now open to touring acts? There are a small handful of venues in Portland that offer a spot for them at times, but not as it had once been. And like many cities around the country live venues are starting to close at a more rapid rate leaving not only touring acts but local musicians looking for places to play. We know that The Birk was a trek to make at certain times of the year or in inclement weather. But we have seen other venues come and go because people were reluctant just to drive to certain areas of town or maybe over the hill to the West Side. We need to support all of these locations that are offering places for us to hear and enjoy the music we love. New places will come and others will go. But get out there. Keep them in business. Even if you have to go a little bit farther, it’s worth it in the overall scheme of what we desire.

Ramblings On My Mind-March 2021

Ramblings on my mindGreg Johnson, Cascade Blues Association President

Every December, the Cascade Blues Association holds their annual elections to determine who will be their officers on the board of directors for the following year. Though it is a privilege to serve on the board, I do have to say that it is a bit disturbing that the same people year after year are the only people attempting to run for the positions. Once again, every officer who held the positions in 2017 were the only ones running for 2018. We do not have many people on our board. A total of seven. This makes things quite an effort for such a small group to try to uphold the events and behind the scenes work that our members expect. And it causes a great deal of burn-out.

We truly need help. We need people who know how to market our organization and to help with our events and to raise money to keep our activities possible. Time simply runs out for our small group to keep up. We have had to cut back on some of our events. We don’t want to, we just don’t have the funds or the people to put everything together. Cut-backs are going to have to happen still. We have to look at the content of the BluesNotes as we’ll have to drop the number of pages. We’ll continue to run our upcoming events and calendar, so don’t worry there. But some of the content will most likely be moved to our monthly email blast and website, such as CD reviews. Please consider advertising in the BluesNotes. It is one of the best bargains in local music publications in the area. And it can help us bring the content that you want.
Most of all, we need people to help. We are allowed by our by-laws to have up to fifteen people on our board. You do not have to hold an officer position, but we have multiple at-large member roles open. It is not a lot of commitment every month when we have bodies to fill the spots. Talk to a current board member for more information on you can become an at-large member, too.

On another more personal note, I am hoping that we have a good crowd of people heading to Memphis to support our acts at the International Blues Challenge this month. Unfortunately I will not be making the trip this year. I love supporting the musicians that we send and will miss being a part of the event that I have volunteered for the past fifteen years. But I have made twenty-five trips to Memphis so far over the years and have decided that there are other events and places that I would like to see, too. Almost all of my vacation time has been spent in Memphis, and most of that time has been spent working long hours that doesn’t always allow me to see our acts or to visit with friends for very much time. Plus it is not inexpensive to travel there. It has meant a lot to me and I hope that our acts have felt the support that I have fully offered to them. The Cascade Blues Association has and will always be represented at the highest quality by our Journey To Memphis winning acts. The best of luck to Amici and Sister Mercy as they compete for the big prize, and hoping that Timothy James & The Portland Blues Revival turn a number of heads as they hear some of the future of our blues scene.

Ramblings On My Mind-March 2021

Ramblings on my mindGreg Johnson, CBA President

Every year in December I devote my column to the blues recordings that have stood out to me overall during the last year. One thing it always shows is that my taste is not founded in just one aspect or direction of blues music. It’s all over the map. These ten recordings were highlights for me, but don’t ask me to place them in any certain order because they can all flip flop at any given time. But they are discs that held my attention and their place on my player for significant time and still do. They may include some of your favorites, too, or maybe they might incite you to give something you haven’t heard a listen. But judge me not, as these are my own personal choices.

Valerie June – The Order Of Time – Her voice has been called ethereal and spell-binding and rightly so. It captures you hypnotically and then you listen to her lyrics. This is an old soul in a young person’s body. Highly modern, yet still holding onto the traditional sounds she came up hearing.

Karen Lovely – Fish Outta Water – Once again Karen has stepped up to do what seemed impossible, top her previous outstanding recording. There is so much intimacy and passion behind what she writes and she has no fear of tackling any social issues. But it’s her voice that always stands heads above the rest. The top recording from the Northwest this year hands down.

Doug MacLeod – Break The Chain – There are certain people that seem to be consistently on my annual lists. And for good reason; they’re just damn good at whatever they do and put out. Doug MacLeod is the premier storyteller of our generation. His songs have long-lasting impact whether with his humor or with serious issues. This release includes one of his strongest statements ever with the title song that he wrote and performed with his son detailing child abuse and the efforts to bring it to an end.

Don Bryant – Don’t Give Up On Me – This has got to be the comeback release of the year, even if it is only his second release in a long career, and at the age of 75, too! Bryant took a backseat while writing songs for artists like Otis Clay and his wife Ann Peebles, including the highly popular “I Can’t Stand The Rain” which has been covered many times. But he is more than a prolific songwriter. He is an outstanding performer, vocalist and guitarist in his own right. And he proves exactly that with this deeply soulful album.

Chris Cain – Chris Cain – His eponymous titled debut from Little Village Foundation included an impressive gathering of talent playing alongside him, but it has always been that guitar work of his that is fresh every time out and seems to have no boundaries. And with a voice that often appears to be channeling BB King’s, you can never go wrong with anything he does.

Paul deLay Band – Live At Notodden ’96 – This was a surprise release and one that brought such joy to my heart. Paul deLay has always been one of my absolute favorite artists and losing him way too soon was a crush to many of us. But getting to hear new live material of his brought back such fond memories that I just didn’t want the disc to ever stop. Paul and the boys were at the top of their game!

Samantha Fish – Chills & Fever – What I really like about this album is that even though the music may be all cover numbers, Fish has taken them on as her own children and delivered them with enthusiasm and a newness that screams that she is having a good time with them. And it carries over to the listener, too. It is definitely one of the feel good recordings of the year.

Beth Hart – Fire On The Floor – When it comes to Beth Hart the only thing that can top her incredible songwriting and performance on her recordings is seeing her live on stage. This release continues to showcase the absolute talent behind her words, moods and unlimited musical directions that she conveys on disc. Without doubt one of the best artists of any genre today.

Gary Clark Jr – Live North America 2016 – Believe all the hype you may have heard about Gary Clark Jr. This is his second live recording and it represents the powerful guitar work of one of those who will lead the charge for the blues future. Will lead? Hell, he is already at the forefront and deservedly so. This performance is filled with sizzling solos and improvisation. The perfect artist to cross over to the rock crowd and letting them know that the blues is alive and in good hands.

Johnny Rawls – Waiting For The Train – Johnny Rawls, like Doug MacLeod, is another of those perennial inclusions on my top ten list. Maybe it’s because I love soulful blues so much. But probably more so because Rawls is one of the very best soul singers alive today. Whether he is covering songwriters like Tyrone Davis or Bobby Womack or doing his own originals, the man has the voice to carry it straight to you heart.

There were a lot of amazing albums that came out in 2017, many that could have been included on this list. Fantastic breakout discs from Southern Avenue  and Vanessa Collier and collaborations such as Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ could’ve easily been noted. As could offerings from Wee Willie Walker & Anthony Paule, John Nemeth, the Altered Five Blues Band, Sonny Landreth and so much more. 2017 was a great year for blues. Now let’s look ahead to next year!

Ramblings On My Mind-March 2021

Ramblings on my mindGreg Johnson, CBA President

The Muddy Awards is always a night of excitement. Honoring the musicians and people involved in our local blues community is always something to celebrate and we appreciate The Melody Ballroom allowing us to return once again for this special event.
Aside from the awards given out to the outstanding accomplishments that the artists have done this past year we always acknowledge two categories that are for those who have given their all and more for the length of their careers: the Lifetime Achievement and Back What You Believe In Awards.
This year’s nominees for the Lifetime Achievement includes five individuals that all deserve to be inducted, and though there can only be one each year, I foresee each and every one will be in that hallowed hall shortly. Frankie Redding, Jimi Bott, Robbie Laws, Sonny Hess, and Terry Robb. Each of those names is backed by an extraordinary history within Portland, the northwest and national blues scene. And personally I feel privileged to call each one of them my friends.
The Back What You Believe In Award is handed out to those who go above and beyond promoting the blues in a position that is not in a regular performing position. Though Norman Sylvester and Ellen Whyte are routinely seen on stage performing before their legions of fans, they are recognized for what they have done for the community in terms of education and raising consciousness to social issues. Jeri Davis-Paletta is being noted for her work with multiple festivals over the years and as a valued volunteer at many other events.
What you will notice this year at the Muddy Awards is the name of the Back What You Believe In Award. Originally this was the very first award in the Muddys that had been named after an individual in the early years of the Cascade Blues Association after the radio and video personality George Page. For many years Page hosted the Saturday Blues and Jazz program at KBOO radio, bringing a huge focus to the music that influenced a great deal of people. Every week he would close his show out with the phrase, Back What You Believe In,” which is why the award was named as such. It was given out under his name for several years, but for some reason the name disappeared from the presentation in the mid-1990s. Nobody on the board today can recall why this change occurred, but we can certainly rectify its omission by bringing it back and so we are. From here on out and forever more it will once again be presented as the “George Page” Back What You Believe In Award.
Please join us on Wednesday, November 1 at The Melody Ballroom for another stellar night of celebrating our blues community. It’s certainly something you do not want to miss.

Ramblings On My Mind-March 2021

Ramblings on my mindGreg Johnson, Cascade Blues Association President

We are certainly going through some trying times around this country the past month with devastating hurricanes ravaging Texas, Florida, and surrounding areas, and the West Coast going up in flames. People are in trouble and in need of assistance. And the people who always seem to step up are musicians. Not only with benefit events to help raise money, but also to chronicle what happens in our country socially. Over history we have seen musicians describe the feelings of people and what adversity they have faced. I am sure that these current events will also bring about in song the emotions of anger, loss, loneliness, desperation, need and fear, and hopefully will turn to recovery and overcoming the fate that has been handed to them. We just need to remember that this could happen at any time, unexpectedly to us all and those we love. We need to offer the assistance when and however we can.

On a brighter note, remember that the Muddy Awards are coming up in November. We will be returning to The Melody Ballroom for this night, upstairs in the big room. It has gone through some renovation and the stage is now smaller and portable, but it is still the size of room that we need and the new owners wanted us to have the event there. It will still take place the first Wednesday of the month on the 1st and Sonny Hess has agreed to be the band leader for the All Star concert at the end of the show. We hope that you plan to be with us to celebrate the musicians and events over this past year, and then we’ll be heading back to Catfish Lou’s again in December.

I mention the Muddys also to serve as a reminder that your final ballots will be due in mid-October so that we will be able to have the trophies prepared for the night. Improvements were made in the voting process this year and since I have not heard the complaints that we received last year things must be going pretty smoothly this time. We knew last year that we would have some people who may be unhappy with this route and that we were going to have challenges. But it was a work in progress and we had to move in this direction for financial reasons and to step into the future.

December is also right around the corner and that will mean it will be time to vote on your elected officers for the CBA for the next year. We really do need your help. It is a lot of work when you have a small board and if we could spread the responsibilities out with more members we can get more accomplished. You don’t need to run for an elected position, we need at-large members, too, and can take them on at any time through the year. If you do want to be considered for one of the elected positions, please let us know so we can have you on the ballot. We will also like for you to write a short bio about yourself and why you feel that you can help the CBA in the role through your past work, skills and desire. Please send the bio to us via email at CBAstaff@gmail.com and we will publish them in the BluesNotes for everybody to see and consider. The elected positions include president, vice president, treasurer, secretary and membership secretary. For treasurer we ask that you have a good knowledge of booking and tax preparation. For membership secretary, use of spreadsheets are important and communication skills to remind people when they’re memberships are due to expire. The roles on the board are work, I will not hide that. But it all comes down to helping the blues scene in our area survive and be recognized. It is a labor of love, but very much all the efforts put into it.

Ramblings On My Mind-March 2021

Ramblings on my mindGreg Johnson / CBA President

Goodbye Melody Ballroom and thank you. Well, we knew that the day was probably going to come eventually, and it did for us in late July, just a couple weeks prior to our August meeting. We met with the manager of The Melody Ballroom and learned that in order to remain being able to use the room for our monthly meetings we would have to take on a rental fee each month. At this time, it just is not feasible for us to do so. We had just held a large 30th anniversary concert at The Crystal Ballroom in order to help us raise funds to keep the organization financially stable to get by, so absorbing this extra expense would become a hardship for us.

Fortunately for us, Michelle Bean stepped in and has given us the use of Catfish Lou’s for our meetings. Though the room is smaller and we cannot have all ages, it is very much appreciated as it allows us to keep our meetings going on as originally scheduled, with the exception of having to replace a couple under-age acts. We will work on finding a way to showcase them, however.

The Melody Ballroom was home for the CBA monthly meetings for more than 25 years, all donated to us by the original owner Kathleen Kaad. That same set-up was given to us the past six months by the new owners, but with the expenses they are incurring with the purchase of the building and renovations, they simply were not making enough to cover their expenses being open to us for our dates.

It is a huge loss to us, but in the long run we cannot be angry by this decision. 25 years is a long time and very generous. The Kaads and the staff became like family to our group and we will miss them. But we will always have amazing memories of the times we had at The Melody Ballroom.

The list of artists who performed at our meetings there is lengthy. A virtual who’s who of the Portland blues community over those years. We also had performers who would travel from places like Seattle, Spokane, Eugene, Northern California, Idaho and every point between. National artists like Geoff Achison asked to play for our meeting, as well as Ralph Borqvist of the Blueass Blues Band from Sweden.

Not only are there memories of our meetings that took place there, but also the Muddy Awards and special events that we held and those that we helped co-sponsor. We had the CBA’s 25th anniversary and a Blues in the Schools fundraiser show there. We numerous touring musicians like Little Charlie & The Nightcats, James Harman, Floyd Dixon, Earl King, Brandon Santini and Sean Carney to name a few. We sponsored Bill Rhoades annual Harmonica Summit events, the Inner City Blues Festival and helped promote others such as a concert with the late Michael Burks.

We truly had a tremendous relationship with The Melody, and even at one point being offered space to rent for our offices when we had to move. They enjoyed having us that much. And they still wanted us to be there each month. We simply cannot afford it. But we will be back for this year’s Muddy Awards show. It may be a little different due to the reconstruction of the upper ballroom, but it is going to take place there rest assured.

It is sad to leave a home that we have had for so long. But we are thankful for all the time and the memories they have provided us. We will continue to make memories with our meetings. It’s just another chapter in the life of the CBA. Thank you to everyone at The Melody Ballroom, past and present.

Ramblings On My Mind-March 2021

Ramblings on my mindGreg Johnson, CBA President

When I look back on this past month’s Waterfront Blues Festival it brings forth many a smile from the performances I was able to catch. Working as the Cascade Blues Association’s prime photographer for the past twenty years I try to make every effort to catch as many sets as possible. I have learned over time that this is something that cannot be accomplished as there are too many stages to get to and the crowds are so large at times that getting between one to another is not always going to happen. And then there is those acts that enchant you so much or that you have been dying to see that you get caught up in the moment and forget about everything else.
That for one reason is why I have asked Tony Kutter to help out as a second photographer for the CBA for both the Waterfront and the Muddy Awards. Ever since I have known Tony he has had the same drive that compelled me to photograph shows. He has the eye to capture those special moments. And he has been able to do it a lot more than I have recently.
As for the performances, once again I was thrilled by a great many. I have stated it over and over again how impressed I am with the job Peter Dammann does every year bringing in people that amaze me. Sometimes I Look at some of the acts listed to appear and wonder how they will fit in, but I know that the event is about bringing in money to feed the hungry and some of those big name acts help draw more people to do that. Bring them in for the names and enlighten them with the fantastic blues artists that they may be missing to fill in the day. And it works, and those acts I sometimes wonder about do a nice job of fitting in, too.
This year, like always, there were many sets that stood out.
I may be biased but I have to say that the CBA’s Journey To Memphis competition delivered four sets of powerful enthusiasm from each of the four bands trying to make their way to Tennessee for the International Blues Challenge. I have said it before and will say it again, I am glad that I am not a judge, Randy Morrison Band, Gabriel Cox Band, Sister Mercy and The Lightning Kings were all sensational. Congratulations to Sister Mercy for a repeat win and to all the performers in all the acts for laying it out big time and bringing it home. Nice job all!
One of my favorites, and again I may be biased because I have known guitarist Ori Naftaly for a number of years now, was Southern Avenue. This is a band that has only been together for a couple years, but you can see the growth within them. They are pure energy, displayed outright by vocalist Tierinii Jackson. If you missed them, you missed one of the acts that will be the talk of the blues world for some time to come.
I was looking forward to seeing Fantastic Negrito more than any other act this year. His two releases have spoken to me about how the blues of the future and now is being addressed and he does it correctly. I was not disappointed. This was one of those sets that I could not move away from and one that I would love to see again soon.
Jim Pugh told me not to miss either The Sons of the Soul Revivers or Blynd. He said that the three-four part harmonies that they do were a blast from the past that will grab hold of you. And he was right. We went to church and it made our feet and bodies move.
Chris Cain has always been a favorite. He is a guitarist that has few peers. And the band he had with him was an all-star cast that brought it home! This was one of those wow sets!!
Chris Isaak was one of those acts that I questioned, but he was definitely a highlight for the festival. Bringing a great mix of his own songs and nice covers, he fit in as a headliner and delivered for the blues crowd who reacted with joyful approval.
Two local acts that I knew would be sensational because they always are at the festival were Karen Lovely and Kevin Selfe. Karen brought back almost the line-up from last year’s Muddy Award winning performance of the year, and gave good reason to think about nominating her again. Kevin returned home from his three-month long hiatus back east and hit the stage with his big band without any practice beforehand and nailed his set completely. Of course, during the introduction I had to tease him that he only brought the big band to cover for him having not played a guitar in months, and that Jimi Bott was going to slip him lyrics he’d forgotten.
And speaking of returning to the stage, Curtis Salgado was in fine form and put on an intense and powerful show. The first time he’d been back onstage since his heart attack and subsequent surgery, but he made it clear that he was not going to be stopped with this over-the-top brilliant set.
Booker T brought us the history of Stax Records, with hit after hit that he had a direct hand in playing behind the original recordings. The crowd was dancing and singing along through the entire performance.
I could go on and on about the great sets throughout the five day. People like Duffy Bishop, Big Monti, Ty Curtis & Robbie Laws, Dexter Allen, Vieus Farka Toure, Norman Sylvester, Elvin Bishop, the Paul deLay tribute: Remember Me …. It was certainly a festival for the memories. Thirty years strong and always bringing forth the best. Can’t wait until next year.

Ramblings On My Mind-March 2021

Ramblings on my mindGreg Johnson, CBA President

If you look at the history of the world you will recognize that the arts have made a difference to our culture throughout time. Sure, military power may have played a role in developing borders and empires, but empires come and go and borders can change. But the art created by mankind is always remembered and stands the test of time. Be it literature, fine arts, architecture, or music. It will always be there.

It doesn’t have to be on an international level where only countries are noted. America took the creativeness of Europeans and Africans and developed their own signatures in music with the blues, gospel and jazz. It is something that should be celebrated. That goes for individual cities as well. It is what makes living in certain locations desirable. Weather and economy play their role obviously, but music and the arts make life more enjoyable. It gives a city its personality. And sadly so often it is these aspects that are overlooked by those in the power to make it enriched.

Recently for example we have witnessed media outlets that may have forgotten this fact. In Portland there is a huge blues community. It is rich with world-class musicians calling the city home. Yet despite a large fan base, the blues seem to be one of the first musical genres to be dropped from radio stations. In its place we see commercialized programming aimed at younger audiences. And it all sounds the same no matter where you go across the country. The same sounds being played endlessly over and over. Pop drivel that has no local personality and doesn’t bear the historical background behind the music as it has developed over time.

Print media, and more so online as printed outlets are also becoming something of the past, has not been much better. Local music, other than major events are not being noted as much as huge benefit shows or multi-act events happening somewhere else in the world. Even musical listings of venues or events around town are being cut drastically short or left out altogether. And what does that mean? A lot of people are not going to be aware of shows and events happening in our midst. It means that smaller audiences will show up. Venues will look for other means of grabbing your hard earned dollar or even having to close their doors due to lack of business. Touring acts will look elsewhere and local musicians will have less work and in turn may look to other locations to move to that might be able to offer more.

We need these voices to be heard. We need the media outlets to recognize the wealth and value of music and the arts in this city. We don’t want to sound the same as every other place in the country. Give us our individuality. Give us what makes our community special and unique.

The blues is one such point within Portland. Just look at the audiences at the Waterfront Blues Festival for example. But don’t be fooled, this is not a sound that only happens in early July every year. It is something going on every night of every week of every month. Unless it is silenced by a lack of attention or failure to recognize it.

Bring our music back home and let it be noted for all audiences of all ages. After all, it is a part of our local culture and something to be proud of. It is a part of our history and needs to be preserved. Let our arts be vital. In the long run we will all win when this is accomplished and the livability of community will rise.

Ramblings On My Mind-March 2021

Ramblings on my mindGreg Johnson, Cascade Blues Association President

It seems that every generation has its own musician or groups of musicians that reminds us of just how vital the blues actually is. They may not be the traditional sounds of the first generation of artists or even those who may have electrified the music or brought it back over from Europe. But they have had the ability to cross over various genres and introduce new audiences to the blues.

In the 80s we had the huge success of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robert Cray, and the routine of the Blues Brothers that ended up being somewhat of a tribute in the long scheme of it all. Then the 90s saw the resurgence of the Hill Country musicians of North Mississppi like Junior Kimbrough and RL Burnside which in turn spawned new artists like the North Mississippi All Stars. Keb’ Mo’ brought the true country style back to light, which he has expounded on since. Modern sounds that were highly influenced from the blues came about in the new century. People like The Black Keys, Jack White and The White Stripes, Alabama Shakes, plus a whole number of bands and artists that fall underneath the so-called roots or Americana categories. The popularity of acts like Tedeschi-Trucks Band, Beth Hart, Nikki Hill, Warren Haynes,  or Joe Bonamassa cannot be denied with their modern rockier stance.

Which leads us up to the new-day giants who have direct lineage and inspiration from the blues, whether we all recognize it or not. Someone like Gary Clark Jr. is easy to identify in this mold, and like the aforementioned Bonamassa is packing venues everywhere he goes. Others like Fantastic Negrito have combined the musical patterns that they grew up with like funk and hip-hop and meshed them together with the traditional aspects of call and response. He obviously found success with that formula having been the recipient of this past year’s Grammy Award for contemporary blues. Valerie June is another star on the rise crossing listening audiences with her take on traditional patterns with contemporary senses.

With the upcoming Waterfront Blues Festival, I am amazed at a lot of the acts that perform there that are new to me, yet how they still deep down have their musical tastes holding to the blues. Talent Director Peter Dammann never fails to impress me with the acts he brings in. Over the past few years he has introduced us to many, including a young Gary Clark Jr. before he had taken the world by storm appearing at other huge festivals or being part of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads events. I see it within acts like Sister Sparrow, The Record Company, The California Honeydrops, Igor Prado, and young Christone “Kingfish” Ingram.

My overall point here is that so many people are out there lamenting that the blues is a dying art form. It definitely is not. Unless you’re obsessed with the loss of the elder musicians and focusing only on the sounds that they created, you’re not paying attention to the wonderful new sounds and directions it is taking us into. Wake up there is a world of fantastic new blues to be had.

On another subject, I want to send a shout-out to a living Northwest music icon, Alice Stuart. Celebrating her 75th birthday in June, she was also named as the recipient of the 2017 FAR-West (Folk Alliance Region – West) Best of the West award for her lifetime of work. If not for a young Alice Stuart making strides as a female artist writing her own material and playing lead guitar in the 1960s, there would be no Bonnie Raitt who was influenced by her creativity and thus inspiring countless others. Stuart performed alongside many of the most inspiring artists of our times including people like Michael Bloomfield, John Prine, Albert King, Tower of Power, Evin Biushop among too many to name and she was also a member of The Mothers of Invention before fronting her own bands. Her recordings have won rave reviews from both Rolling Stone and Billboard. Her achievements are of great merit and deservedly reconized by FAR-West.

Alice Stuart will be celebrating her 75th birthday with a performance in Seattle at The Triple Door with her band The Formerlys on June 17. With plans to already be in the area, we’re going to try our best to attend her special night. Congratulations Alice Stuart! Hope to be there for the celebration.