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.

Ramblings on my mind

Greg Johnson, Cascade Blues Association President

As I reflect back on the past of my involvement with the Cascade Blues Association there have been a great deal of memories. The good friends that I have made and the musicians and friends that have been lost to untimely passings. The events that we have produced and created. And the success that we’ve had with many pursuits.

Personally I have been praised with awards, but for me it is more about the accomplishments we have made as a group than accolades for myself. Make no mistake, I am proud to have been honored with three Back What You Believe In awards and a Lifetime Achievement recognition. But as I look at what we have done it is the events like the Willamette Delta Showcase or the Journey To Memphis that I participated in organizing with people like the late Del Seitzinger or Jackson Lee, the Blues In The Schools fundraisers, especially those that had Kenny Neal take part thanks to Jimmy Hale or with my friend Sean Carney, the recordings of the Acoustic Festival organized by LynnAnn Hyde and put together on disc with Ken Condit and Rick Hall, and the twin discs of Puddletown Blues that showcased the blues artists of Oregon that I pieced together with Terry Robb and Dennis Carter in the studio. Even the Show Your Love For The CBA shows that we had to hold to save ourselves from going bankrupt during the hard economic times of late 2008/early 2009.. A situation that we’re once again trying to prevent with our CBA 30 concert. Our local musicians and members have always come through to save the day then and now, and we’re blessed to have them in our corner.

I was approached by a friend shortly after the CBA was founded in late 1986 and asked if I would like to join or be involved. While working two jobs at the time it didn’t seem feasible. But I did find the time to join a couple years later and started attending all the monthly meetings and events that I could. The memories started pouring in with the Acoustic Festivals and presentations of touring artists like Earl King, Hubert Sumlin, Floyd Dixon and more. The creation of the Rose City Blues Festival and its morphing into the Waterfront Blues Festival. Eventually I was persuaded by then President Rick Hall and Vice President Val Davis to seek a position on the board after starting to write articles for the BluesNotes the year before. After a couple years as an At Large Board Member, Susan Stewart asked me to run as her Vice President as did Jackson Lee a year later. When I first took on the role as President sixteen-plus years ago, former President Erroll Shervey told me, “Now that you’re in the position, you’ll never be able to leave.” As I look at all these years I wonder if he may have been right. But it has been a labor of love without doubt. The reason I got into the CBA Board to begin with was to give back to the musicians who had given so much happiness to me over the years with their music. And it is why I still do it today.

As I think back there has been a great deal of heartache with the loss of so many friends and musicians. Board members such as the aforementioned Del Seitzinger and Jackson Lee, as well as John Enten and recently David Moore and perhaps my closest friend on the Board R.D. Dill. I still remember sitting in a bar on Beale Street with R.D. having breakfast drinks as I worked out the contract to bring Robert Lockwood Jr. to Portland to play at the Willamette Delta Showcase. Too many musicians that we have all loved left this world way too early, notable Muddy Lifetime Award inductees Paul deLay, Linda Hornbuckle, Janice Scroggins, Jimmy Lloyd Rea and Phil Haxton. And The Mayther Brothers, Fritz Richmond, Rick Welter, just too many overall.

Being a member of the CBA Board has offered me many opportunities that I will remember for a lifetime. I traveled to Memphis to represent the organization as we were honored with the Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Organization of the Year in the Congress mandated Year of the Blues in 2003. I have had the honor to meet and become close friends with many artists, both local and international. It also allowed me to introduce some of my heroes on mic from many stages. I will never forget as long as I live such moments with Bobby Bland, Robert Lockwood Jr, Hubert Sumlin and Charlie Musselwhite among them.

Again as I reflect on the past thirty years I am reminded of the same statement I have made at the fifteenth, twentieth and twenty-fifth anniversaries. Look back at when the CBA first formed. We had musicians within our region such as Bill Rhoades, Lloyd Jones, DK Stewart, Norman Sylvester, Terry Robb and Curtis Salgado. They’re all still here. They’re all names I mentioned every year along with a few no longer with us. But if you look at the pop acts in Portland at the time you had groups like the late Billy Rancher, Nu Shooz, the Dan Reed Network and Black & Blue to mention a few. All of whom may still work from time to time, but are not on the top of their genre as the blues musicians of town have held onto for the length of time that has moved on.

Yes, the CBA is celebrating thirty years. But it is more a celebration of the people who have made the scene long-lasting and thriving for so long, our musicians. The CBA 30 is a celebration for their efforts. We are merely here to make sure to try to see that they receive the praise they so much deserve. Let’s keep those memories rolling on for another thirty years and more. Thank you to all.

On another note, I also want to acknowledge the longevity and efforts of our good friend Steve “Squrl” Curley. May marks his twenty-fifth anniversary of bringing the blues to the Columbia River Gorge as both radio host and promoter. Check out his special show this month at The Bingen Theater with the Nick Moss Band. Thank you Squrl for your selfless and lasting work.

 

 

Ramblings on My Mind -Greg JohnsonGreg Johnson / CBA President

Things have gotten a little harsh as of late. First, Portland’s premier blues icon Curtis Salgado suffered a mild heart attack while on tour on the East Coast. Mild? Is there really anything mild about a heart attack? When hospitalized it was discovered that he had major blockage in his arteries and underwent multi-bypass surgery. All went well we’ve been told, but we still send out our heartfelt best wishes for his recovery. Shows through May had to be canceled, so it also causes loss of income for the band as well. Curtis is planning on being at the Blues Music Awards to sing, but this is only a ten-minute performance so hoping that it will work out for him. And we hope to see him back onstage in full strength soon.

We got word mid-March about Duff’s Garage being sold and changing hands at the first of April. It doesn’t sound like it will continue to be a music venue, which in itself is another sad loss. But we’ve heard people remark that the venue was closing because it wasn’t making enough to keep it going. Jon & Jennifer Wallace have said that is not the case. Jon has come to the decision that he’d like to retire and Jennifer is looking at a different direction in her career. But mostly, the couple want to share more time with their son. When you’re working full time each night, it doesn’t give you much family time so we need to appreciate their choice.

Duff’s Garage has meant a lot to our blues community over its fifteen year history. We witnessed a lot of history go down in both venues. So many shows come to mind from that tenure: Hillstomp making one of their very first public performances, Tuesdays with Dover Weinberg’s Quartet and Wednesday night jams with Suburban Slim, CBA events including IBC fundraisers and Brandon Santini’s debut performance with his then band Delta Highway. Images of Rick Welter will always come to mind along with the first appearances in Portland from touring acts like Gina Sicilia, Samuel James, and Nikki Hill. Regular national acts stopping in like The 44s, Candye Kane, Nick Moss, John Nemeth. Tom Royer’s fundraiser. Fiona Boyes made it a second home when living and visiting Portland. Just too many good times to list them all, so thank you Jon & Jennifer for making a welcome location for the blues in Portland.

But it does lead to a very important question. With the loss of Duff’s Garage and Jimmy Mak’s a couple months before, where will the touring musicians now find a spot to play in Portland? The Lake Theater has offered a location on Monday nights, and venues like The Alberta Rose Theatre, Aladdin, Revolution Hall, Roseland and Crystal Ballroom are fine for larger spaces and can accommodate the well-known artists. But it is those smaller acts trying to break-out who will find it harder to find dates in town. And we all lose if someplace cannot fill the need.

It also hurts local musicians with the loss of established venues. Recent openings of places like Vinyl Tap and Catfish Lou’s will help. I had the opportunity to visit both lately and they were packed on both visits. Please support these venues and others throughout the city/region. Without our support they cannot survive and the loss of any music venue in this town is one too many.

Ramblings on My Mind -Greg JohnsonGreg Johnson / CBA President

Greg Johnson - CBA President

I want to start this month’s column out with a big announcement. The Cascade Blues Association’s 30th Anniversary Concert has been scheduled for Sunday, May 21 to take place at The Crystal Ballroom in Portland. A huge thank you goes out to Terry Currier and Joey Scruggs for obtaining the room for our event. I am currently working with Joey to create a line-up that will represent our local artists from all eras of the Cascade Blues Association’s history. Please keep this date on your calendars because we want this to be an extravaganza for memories.

As you know, I have been a volunteer for The Blues Foundation for many years for both their International Blues Challenge and Blues Music Awards events. Each of these bring back so many fond memories every year. This year’s IBC created a good many for certain.

First and foremost was witnessing our own entry for the CBA, Rae Gordon & The Backseat Drivers, make it to the finals stage at The Orpheum Theater. It was especially a thrill having them there as I am one of the stage managers making sure that everything runs on time. From the very first vocals of their opening number, “Swing Me,” I knew that this was going to be one of the band’s finest moments. After a little glitch with being introduced before the sound crew was ready to let them start and a few minutes pause before they did that brought edgy nerves for the band I’m sure, they responded with a picture perfect performance that had the large audience cheering loudly with approvals. But it didn’t stop there. When they delivered their take of Otis Redding’s “Dreams To Remember,” truly a challenging song to take on in the city where it was recorded, Rae and the band left nobody doubting their right to be on that stage. Certainly the judges took note, declaring the band the third place winners for the day in what was said to be an extremely tight race between the top three bands. Congratulations big time to Rae & The Backseat Drivers! You did the CBA proud!

Rae and the band were also part of the Greater Pacific Northwest Showcase, which the CBA and the Washington Blues Society have helped put together for a few years now. Tony Frederickson from Washington Blues Society, White Rock Blues Society’s Rodney Dranfield and myself served as emcees for the day with all Northwest representatives including the youth acts performing along with guest sets from Ben Rice and Sammy Eubanks. Every artist that took part were sensational, and my personal favorites had to be Timothy James & Ryan Stadler handling the stage like they were decades old pros; Ben Rice’s star-studded set with Pat McDougall, Dave Melyan, Kivett Bednar, Ilana Katz Katz and Mark Telesca; and the Hank Shreve Band’s tribute to the great Paul deLay – I have said it for years now, nobody can play those intricate harmonica parts of Paul’s better than Hank Shreve, and he proved it here. My fiancé Cherie Robbins has been a big part of the showcase the past couple years as well, and Tony Frederickson will be passing on the scheduling of the acts directly to her for next year’s showcase as he will run with the event advertising.

Along with Cherie, who worked the entire week as judge’s assistant/time keeper at Club 152 and as judge’s assistant for the solo/duo judges at the finals in The Orpheum, it was nice to see another CBA member, Jeff Levine volunteering this year, too. Jeff worked as a judge’s assistant for the week at Alfred’s and he has written his reflections of the event featured in this month’s paper. Check it out.

Working as the venue coordinator in Club 152 I had the chance to meet and hear so many terrific artists. The overall winner of the band competition, Dawn Tyler Watson, competed the first two nights of quarterfinals in the room and it was obvious right from the get-go that this was an act that was well worth catching. Another fun act who Cherie and I also got to talk with for a while away from the competition was Norwegian bluesman J.T. Lauritsen. J.T. played all three nights in our venue and working between accordion, piano and harmonica as well as vocals proved that European blues is alive and in good hands.

The best part of the IBC is not about the winning, it is about the networking between the artists and the industry people on hand. Artists can make friends for life with each other through the IBC and it is working together that can make magic happen. It may be a competition, but it is the scores by the judges that they’re going against, not so much each other. They just need to be themselves and do what they do best. One of the greatest acts of camaraderie that I saw during the event came during the quarterfinals at Club 152. While performing their first song in a set a guitarist broke a string on his guitar. Being professionals, the band kept going as he started replacing the broken string, though this may have cost them points in their delivery with the time lost not having him playing with them. Without thinking twice, fellow competitor Jimmy Adler jumped up, grabbed his own guitar and handed it to the man on stage so that they could continue without losing a key member of their band for an extended period. Bravo Jimmy Adler for a true act of kindness and sportsmanship. That is what the IBC is all about.

On a side note, I recommend to anybody traveling to Memphis to catch as much great Southern food and Barbecue and to visit the museums around town to learn the history about the music and city. But two things that you should witness are more with viewpoints of the city that when travelling for the music you may not think of. After the event is over every year, Cherie and I get together with our friends (and IBC/BMA producer) Joe Whitmer and his wife Sara for a private day away from music. The past two visits they have taken us on excursions around their city. Last year we took the elevator inside the Bass Pro Shops Pyramid to the observation deck some thirty stories above the Mississippi River. I am no fan of heights believe me and could not pull myself onto the open air deck for too long, choosing instead to look through the windows inside, but this is a view of Memphis and the surrounding area not to miss. They also drove us last year across the river into Arkansas along the Mississippi River Bottoms where a new park and trail was being constructed that would take a path circling the city and the two bridges, much like the Esplanade along the Willamette River in Portland, only connecting to a 70-mile trail on the Arkansas side. The view of the Memphis skyline from the Bottoms is incredible. This year, a good portion of the trail is now open. We walked with their dogs to the Big River Crossing at the Harahan Bridge, but due to the open ventilation of the walkway on the bridge, one dog became nervous and we didn’t make it all the way across – and here I thought I’d be the one turning back due to the height. But the view here is also well worth seeing. My point in all of this is go for the music, but there is so much more to see and do in Memphis and the neighboring states of Arkansas and Mississippi, try to make some extra time to explore the area.

 

Ramblings on My Mind -Greg JohnsonGreg Johnson / CBA President

Well, 2017 has started off with a little good news and some very sad. The good news for the time being is that we do not have to worry just yet about The Melody Ballroom and the status of our monthly meetings. This can always change at any time, but I spoke with the manager prior to the January meeting and was told that we would be given a 90-day notice one way or the other. Meaning if we need to relocate temporarily or permanently.  Hopefully only temporary for the remodeling of the building. That would give us time to find another location if necessary. But rest assured they like us at The Melody and the staff is hoping that we are allowed to continue there as we have for more than the past twenty-five years.

Because we do not know the status, I have not filled a lot of dates for the performers at the monthly meetings just yet. Normally these spots fill up quickly for the entire year, but I do not want to have to cancel anybody in the event we need to move someplace else, so have not pursued doing this too strongly just yet. I did have a couple cancellations early in the year and I sent out a notice on Facebook for acts to cover these upcoming dates and had good response, so we have them filled. I did have to ask a few acts to hold off because I wanted to give opportunity to those who have not performed for us in the past year first. Thanks to those of you who offered, I will try to work something out for you in the near future.

The year did begin with a bit of heartbreak, however. We knew that Jimmy Mak’s would be closing after New Years Eve due to owner Jimmy Makarounis’ on-going fight with throat cancer. But we did not expect to lose him the day after. Jimmy had built one of the absolute best venues in the country, bringing jazz, blues, funk and soul to fill the room night after night. Some of the finest musicians in our area made their name at the venue and Jimmy would bring in top touring, too, along with fundraising events for musicians in need.

Jimmy had spoken with me a number of times, asking about touring blues artists. He had also met with myself and Vice President Wendy Schumer with a desire to do shows with the Cascade Blues Association. We had talked, but never got around to creating an event in the realm he had in mind to bring the CBA a piece of profit with shows up to multiple times a year. But he was quite open for co-sponsorships and he did bring in some of the best touring blues artists from time to time including the likes of Janiva Magness, Joe Louis Walker, Shemekia Copeland and Dana Fuchs among the many who appeared on his stage. Local artists like Curtis Salgado, Karen Lovely, Lisa Mann, Linda Hornbuckle, and Louis Pain were frequent guests and regulars. It had been billed as one of the top 100 venues to see jazz in the world and for good reason. It was a Portland icon for venues to look at for success and it will be missed. Jimmy even more. RIP in Jimmy, you fought a long hard battle with cancer, but your legacy will always be here.

As a side note this month, I want to recommend something that I usually do not do. Of course I consistently try to tell you about CDs in our review columns, but I want to bring to your attention one of the finest magazines on the market, the Oxford American. I have been picking up copies of this literary periodical for many years, but specifically when they run their annual music issue. Focusing on the South and its culture. Oxford American offers stories and biographies of the musicians in their region with this issue each year. Usually for the past few years the issue would designate a specific state. One year it would be Arkansas, another Louisiana and so on. But the reason I suggest picking up a copy this year is because the theme is on the blues. Great pieces on artists like Big Mama Thornton, Bonnie Raitt, Cedell Davis, as well as the spread of the blues around the world are featured, all written by some of the South’s most creative writers. The issue also comes with a CD compilation based on the music theme every year and this is one to note with twenty-three songs missing the various aspects and approaches to the music. From the classic musicians of the genre like Charlie Patton, John Lee Hooker, Koko Taylor, and Bobby Rush to modern artists like Adia Victoria, and the Alabama Shakes. There’s also world visions by West Africans Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba, the street smarts of the late Gil Scott-Heron and the guitar mastery of John Fahey. Oxford American is worthy of reading through with each issue they put out, but if you love the blues you don’t want to miss their latest release.

Greg Johnson / CBA President

This past December marked the thirtieth anniversary of the Cascade Blues Association becoming a business and a non-profit organization. There have been a number of changes since the inception, not only in how the company is run and the events that we hold, but definitely in the make-up of the music community itself. The CBA strives to continue to support the blues scene in Portland and the Northwest despite the coming and going of venues, and laws and personal economics that alter the way we go about attending events as often as many of us might have in the past.

The CBA had faced challenges with a drop in membership at the beginning of the year, which we recognize and made a point to correct. I am happy to say that as the year came to an end we saw an increase over the preceding months that have brought us back to the 1000 member levels once again and steadily rising. This took a lot of work on the behalf of our Membership Secretaries Fred and JoAnn Morgan, who tirelessly sent out notices for renewal and requests to expired members from the previous two years asking them to consider coming back. And so many did. Thank you.

We still print out the BluesNotes for our members every month, despite many other blues societies turning to online publications only, or cutting back to bi-monthly or quarterly printings. Our members have stated that they want to receive the paper, so we will continue doing so at this time. It is a great expense on us and very time consuming. But we have also gone toward the more modern edge as well with Vice President Wendy Schumer putting together our monthly e-mail blasts with much of the BluesNotes content to our members. So now, no matter how slow the mail may be coming to your homes, you can still get the news delivered to you electronically.

One event that we have held the past ten years of so is the Red, White & Blues Dance (formerly the Sweetheart Dance). We have decided that this will not happen this year as we are more interested in holding a Thirtieth Anniversary event instead.  We simply do not have the funds in our accounts to hold both and feel that the anniversary celebration is more important this year. We will look at the Red, White & Blues Dance again next year.

As for the Thirtieth Anniversary, we are currently looking at what we may be able to afford to present such a celebration of our blues community correctly. Venues are being approached to find one the proper size, dates available and for a cost that we may be able to handle.  Sponsorships may be requested to assist, but we will need to work the details out for that yet.

Our monthly membership meetings will have an increase in admission for non-members, going from $3.00 to $5.00. This is the first time we have increased the admission since we first began charging for non-members. We still intend on our members having free admission, though many other blues societies charge their members like everybody else. This means your annual dues will save you even more as at this time we do not plan on raising those fees either. It does not seem like a lot, but believe me every small amount counts.

An even bigger challenge that we may face is the location for our monthly meetings. The Melody Ballroom has been sold and they’re planning on serious renovations for all levels of the building that may affect some of our upcoming meetings. We are set for January, but the new owners are supposed to contact us to discuss the future changes. We’re hoping that we will continue to be able to hold our meetings here as we have for well over two decades. Cross your fingers everyone! Thanks to Kathleen and the Kaad Family for being so generous to our group for so long. We will miss you and you the very best.

But no matter what challenges the CBA may face over time, we will always be 100% in support of our musicians, venues and regional events. We still plan on holding our signature events such as the Journey To Memphis and the Muddy Awards, and we ask for you to help us out when you can. And if we need to find another location temporarily for our meetings we will do so. Please thinks about volunteering for events, special committees that we have, or for the BluesNotes. Or consider becoming a Board Member if you have the time and commitment. We’re always in need of extra assistance and support for our blues community is always appreciated.

Let’s look forward to starting off the next thirty years of the Cascade Blues Association as continuing to be one of the best blues organizations and communities possible.

Portland/Northwest Blues Strong!!

ramblings201306BNGreg Johnson, CBA President

For the past several years I have made a tradition of naming my top ten favorite albums of the year in this column in December. As I have stated before that my choices can differ from day to day, there are just too many great recordings to choose from. And that means there are a number that could’ve been included on any other given day. I also made it a point that all choices had to be released in 2016. That left out a true favorite that came out in late November 2015 that I didn’t pick up until January, but I have to abide by my own rules here, so Jonn Del Toro Richardson’s Tengo Blues couldn’t make the list. But do pick it up, it’s a fantastic disc. The same for two local artists that were released in 2016 and could easily make the ten selections tomorrow or another day: Lisa Mann’s Hard Times, Bad Decisions and Mitch Kashmar’s West Coast Toast. Tough choices to make, but here are the albums in no significant order that have found a significant time on my play list and continue to do so.

Top of the heap this year, with no question whatsoever from my mind, is our own local hero Curtis Salgado’s latest The Beautiful Lowdown. Whenever I think that Curtis has reached his peak he amazes me by putting out something even more incredible. This is a flawless disc with great local and national talent behind him. It is soulful and deep. Every track knocks it out of the park. It won the Muddy Award for National Recording, I highly anticipate that it will be up for several Blues Music Awards as well.

If there is any one album that bleeds and breathes the blues this year it has to be John Blues Boyd’s The Real Deal. This is pure authentic traditional blues to its very core. The Little Village Foundation is doing great leaps by bringing forth lesser known artists and putting them in the forefront with a backing band that dreams are made of that often includes Kid Anderson, Jimmy Pugh, Rick Estrin, Big Jon Atkinson, and Aki Kumar. They did so last year with Wee Willie Walker (who also has a sensational new live album this year) and they have hit gold again with John Blues Boyd. I knew from the very first listen months ago that this was going to be one of my selections for the best albums of the year. It’s just that damn good!

I have known Dave Muskett for a number of years and always enjoy his performances. Perhaps that may be why I have been enchanted with his Recorded Live At The Slippery Noodle Inn release with the Dave Muskett Acoustic Blues Band. It is a simple and raw recording, capturing all the good times feel of his show. He offers great playing, superb songwriting and the sound is spot on.

As I have stated before, I am a sucker when it comes to a soulful vocalist. One artist who has been on my list before reappears here with another masterful soulful performance — Johnny Rawls’ Tiger In A Cage. Whether he is singing his own original material or a cover by The Rolling Stones or Sam Cooke, Johnny Rawls knows how to do it right with a voice that just drips soulful blues manna.

Another soul vocalist returning is Dave Keller. His previous release Soul Changes from 2014 still remains one of my most favorite discs of the decade. His latest, Right Back Atcha, is a winning follow-up. Not only does Keller have the perfect voice, he is a gifted songwriter who says the words of love in his lyrics that you wished that you could speak to yours on the spur of the moment. One listen to a song like “Deeper Than The Eye Can See” speaks volumes: “If you could see my insides, like an x-ray machine, all my feelings and you’re all my dreams, your love goes deeper, deeper than the eye can see.” Wow!

One album that completely took me by surprise this year that I can’t stop listening to is Peter Karp’s live album The Arson’s Match. A collection of songs he had written earlier in his career that had little distribution are brought back to life on stage with a band that includes a dream cast with Dennis Gruenling on harmonica, Dave Keyes on piano and a guitarist named Mick Taylor that just happens to be one of my all-time favorite players. Karp’s own guitar work and vocals are simply captivating.

Yet another album that I knew would be included as soon as I heard it for the first time early in the year is Janiva Magness’ Love Wins Again. Janiva is again singing songs with deep meaning from her life’s experiences, but things are so much brighter nowadays since she has found true love. And it’s reflected in her lyrics. Though there are hardships also present, she lets us know that as long as there is love everything will work out in the end.

Salem-based Gabriel Cox’ debut disc a couple years ago was such a wonderful surprise. He has an amazing voice and his songwriting skills are off the chart. His sophomore release I Surrender displayed that the first recording was no fluke. He has the goods and it makes me anxious to hear what he will come up with next. From the opening call and response a capella of “Willie Brown II” to the beautiful closing title track, Cox has my full attention.

Luther Dickinson stepped away from The North Mississippi All Stars, taking a number of his previously released songs and took another look at them. Blues & Ballads: A Folksinger’s Songbook, Volumes I & II  places them into an acoustic atmosphere, recorded live in the studio and working on the concept that the greatest works of art are never truly completed, but something that lives and grows over time. And it all sounds fresh and new all over again. Absolutely brilliant!

Doug MacLeod is another friend whose new releases are always something I look forward to. Even more I love his performances as he never uses a set list and plays exactly what may be on his mind at the time. Filled with great storytelling, every show is unique. Live In Europe captures just one of those nights where everything is clicking. But that could be almost any night when it comes to Doug as I have seen him perform more times than I can count and he has never given anything other than a remarkable show every time out. So a live album is the perfect setting for him, as it is his natural element.

Let me repeat, this is a list of recordings that I have been listening to repeatedly. They are the ones that came immediately to mind when putting this list together. But there are so many others that could also fall into here on any given day. Tedeschi Trucks Band, Bobby Rush, Fiona Boyes, Terry Hanck, just so many wonderful albums from 2016. But this is my list and I’m sticking to it. If there’s something here you’re not familiar with, check them out. They may surprise you.

ramblings201306BNGreg Johnson, Cascade Blues Association President

The Cascade Blues Association, like many non-profit organizations its size, is made up of members and especially volunteers. We are only as strong as those volunteers who help us throughout the year, either at events or serving on our Board of Directors. Each year, the membership is invited to elect the new Board Officers in December. As of the past few years we have held a very small Board, currently we only have seven people, which means that these individuals are putting in a very significant amount of time and energy bringing everybody the events and happenings expected from the CBA every year. We can have up to fifteen people on the Board. I know of one similar blues society that has close to twenty people serving on their Board currently. Imagine how much more we could accomplish if we had that many people.

The more we have, the easier it is for all of us to get things done. With more people we can expand our visions. We can go after grants, we can do marketing to help us gain more attention for our blues community, member drives, fundraising, and we can come up with even more ideas to make the organization stronger.

Our events do not have to be run by Board members. We are open to volunteers taking on the lead for events that we have. That was the case with the original organization of the Rummage Sale with Rae Gordon taking the helm the first few years and Cherie Robbins this year. It is a lot of work and we need to thank them for bringing their assistance and lead to us.

So often I hear it said that the CBA is a clique. That we support the same acts and nobody else. That is nowhere near the truth as we try to support everybody as much as we can.

The BluesNotes for example is a labor where we attempt to seek out all special events and touring artists to let you know what is happening. That outlet is put together by only four people for the most part from writing through editing and publishing. It is time consuming and we have asked for help numerous times. And we offer the Bandstand for acts to promote their events themselves at no charge. Then look at the calendar. Without that how many gigs might go unnoticed? If these two outlets are not utilized then you’re doing a disadvantage to yourself as an act.

If you believe that the CBA is a clique, make a difference. Join the Board, run for an elected position, write for the BluesNotes, volunteer. You can help make a change, but if you just sit back and vocalize your dislike it will not make improvements that you may envision or expect. It takes a lot more than just a small handful of people to accomplish that. Each Board member has but one vote for any new project or idea, so you can make a difference by becoming a part of it.

In the long run, the CBA belongs to its members. The purpose is to promote our local blues community. All of it. We have a large membership, those on the Board can be overwhelmed with so much going on with its current size. You can’t expect much change from a small group trying their best as volunteers to keep up with all expectations every year. They are not gaining anything from doing this, no free perks or reimbursement.  It is all done for their love for and desire to see the blues community enriched and recognized. With as many members that we have, there should be more willing to step forward to contribute. We need your help. Please.

ramblings201306BNGreg Johnson / CBA President

Well this month’s Rambling column is not so much a rambling from my part, but rather an explanation. Every now and then, people ask just what they receive for their $25.00 membership to the Cascade Blues Association. Well, let me give a few examples here.

First off, your membership card guarantees you free admission to our monthly general membership meetings. Those who are not members are required to pay $3.00 to get in. If you attend every meeting of the year it’d cost you $33.00 — right there you have saved $8.00. I only have included eleven months of meetings here as the November meeting is our annual Muddy Awards show. Non-members for that event pay $5.00 for entry, where you’re getting in free for one of the most anticipated blues events of the year in Portland.

The Cascade Blues Association also co-sponsors multiple events and concerts throughout the year, and these co-sponsored events offer discounts to our members for admission. Most of the time it might be a $1.00 discount, but it can vary and has been as much as $5.00 or more at times. Go to a lot of shows and the $25.00 membership is starting to pay for itself quickly and then some.

Every summer we have held a members only picnic. Your membership allows you entrance into this event. We have also held a Holiday Party in December, which again as a member you have free access. The Holiday Party is open to the public, but there is a $5.00 entry fee.

You receive the CBA’s BluesNotes publication delivered to your home monthly as part of your membership. Many other societies have gone the route of only offering their monthly, bi-monthly or even quarterly publications online only. We continue offering this hard copy to our members because they have said they prefer to have it that way. This costs us a great deal every month with editor fees, printing, and mailing. It far outweighs the funds that we receive through memberships each month.

We have heard the complaints that the papers do not always arrive before the end of the month to your homes. The BluesNotes have been put together the same way, the same dates each month for well over two decades. Submissions must be received by the 15th of the month prior. Everything is proof-read before it goes to the editor, who then puts the paper together over the next two to three days. Then it is again proofread and edited until it is ready to be submitted to the printers. They usually receive that by the 20th and then give them a day or two for printing and it is sent to the Post Office. This is where we lose control of how the paper is delivered. We have asked how the time frame varies when all are delivered at the main branch at the same time. The papers are mailed as bulk mail at a non-profit postage rate. Because of this, when it is sent to your local post office branches it is up to the staff there as to when it will actually be sent out on their routes, thus meaning that some people will receive their papers before others.

Another perk of being a member is having the right to vote for the Muddy Awards. All of our nominations and final votes are done by our members. We had been talking for the past few years of doing our voting online and we made that jump this year. Things don’t always flow as intended with new methods and we did have some glitches. A lot of people received “404” error messages. Often it was found when researched that either memberships had expired or for some reason were not showing up in our membership lists. But our webmaster was quick to respond and offered to assist anybody needing extra help to get things under way. We hope that you were able to get into the nomination program and if you did have problems you contacted the webmaster. Final ballot voting will be handled the same way as will future Muddy Award voting. New programs often take a little kicking and touch-ups to make sure that they’re working right.

Sometimes change is difficult for people to adhere to. We gave notice in the BluesNotes, at the monthly meetings and at the summer picnic that the Muddy voting would be done online this year. It only makes sense. Most people have means to go online with home computers and smart phones. There are other outlets available for those who do not own their computers to gain internet access, such as the public libraries. And we offered assistance to help those still having problems individually.

Why did we decide to make this change and had been thinking about for some time? Simple, it is cost efficient for us to do it this way to begin with. When you add up two sets of ballots for each member, printing paper ballots and mail expenses adds up to close to $1000.00 every year. Then we had to have the post office checked almost daily to keep up with the ballots being returned and then one person individually going through each ballot and creating a matrix of every vote sent in. Then the ballots and matrix went to a second person to verify. This is quite time consuming and may encounter human error that would have to be double checked if calculations differed. By going online, the calculations are done by computer and are accurate. They also are met by the firm deadline of when the cut-off for receiving them occurs.

Overall, if you look at what you do receive through your CBA membership, the benefits far exceed the amount that you pay. A number of other organizations may only provide you with a membership card and sometimes a newsletter and that’s it. Many may not even have monthly gatherings other than to talk about business without live music, let alone a picnic, holiday party and awards event. We strive to bring you the most bang for your dollar each year, but we want to provide the best overall service to the majority of our members as best we can. If you have ideas on how we may improve we are open to your thoughts.

ramblings201306BNGreg Johnson / Cascade Blues Association President

In my opinion, the Cascade Blues Association, or any other blues or music society, has a responsibility to not only promoting all artists equally, one and the same, but to help introduce newer artists to our area to the public. That has always been one of my own pet personal preferences when it comes to booking our monthly general meetings. I love having our members’ most loved and favorite musicians perform for us from time to time. They always bring a big crowd in. But they’re known already, which is why they bring their fans to the meetings and pretty much everywhere else they play, too. But at the meetings, we have an opportunity to bring you acts that you may have heard of but haven’t taken the chance to see in a venue, or new people just trying to get a break into our community.

This month’s meeting, as just about all of them, was booked many months in advance. You never know for certain what may occur between the time they request to play a meeting and when it actually comes up for the performance. Unfortunate circumstances may occur, as happened with drummer Ashbolt Stewart needing surgery on his shoulder that would take him out of being able to play for a couple months. The band he works with, The Pollinators, were scheduled for the September meeting, but had to cancel. I was in a tight spot with a fast approaching deadline for the BluesNotes and wanting to promote the acts playing the meeting in the paper. Plus, I was heading out of town for the Bronze, Blues & Brews Festival in Joseph in a couple days when the message came through. Thanks to social media, I was able to put the call out for another act, explaining my short time frame to fill the gig, and had responses within minutes.

But what made this even more fruitful was the fact that I had responses from newer acts looking to help out the CBA. Acts that could really use a little push to get their name to our audiences themselves. Though I had alerted people that I was taking the first act to respond who had not played at one of our meetings within the past year (because we want to give everybody a chance), I have made note of those who did respond and will approach them if another cancellation occurs or when it comes to booking future meetings.

The Journey to Memphis is another means where I see this same thing happen. Every year we receive applications from acts that I am unaware of or have only heard of by word of mouth. Some end up becoming quite popular over time, and some even become very close friends, too. I always like to believe that I was there to watch their careers grow and just maybe the CBA played a little part in their success.

Going back to social media, I have found this a great outlet for discovering new acts that I don’t know about. I will watch their pages online, check out their videos or listen to their music on various internet outlets. I even find venues that are new to me that I may drop into as time allows. We have so many options out there to explore and become aware of.

Sometimes this may make extra work for me when putting together the BluesNotes. Finding out about  new venues often means another location that I have to check on each month to see if they’re presenting an act that should be placed in our event pages. It’s not something that I dislike doing mind you. I just don’t want to miss out on letting everybody know about a show coming to town or a special event that will be happening.

But if I make any one point more clear than anything else I have stated in this column, it is this: as a blues society it is our responsibility to let our members know about everybody. There are no favorites that we’re going to focus on one more than another. Sure, we all have our individual favorite acts. But when it comes to promoting in the BluesNotes, the CBA websites, playing at our monthly meetings, or getting our attention by any means, everybody is on the same level. If you’re a struggling band trying to be heard, you have as much a place within the CBA as somebody who is working touring nationally or beyond. Everybody starts somewhere. And if they perform at a meeting, please show them the courtesy and respect of listening to what they’re doing. It is their craft, their art, their livelihood. They are playing to impress you and to show you the work that has come from their hearts. It is the culmination of many hours putting their material together. Please give them the opportunity to hear what they’re doing. That is my personal belief, and I hope it is the same as all of yours.