Rae Gordon & the Backseat Drivers — Blues in the Fast Lane

rae-gordon-and-the-backseat-drivers-photo-by-cherie-robbinsRae Gordon is a familiar name in the local blues community. Not only for her music talent, but for her amazing support of musicians and their craft. Rae and her band, the Backseat Drivers, will be representing the Cascade Blues Association at the 2017 International Blues Challenge in Memphis in January. This month, Saturday, October 8, Rae has organized a blues cruise fundraiser to help them get to Memphis. Rae and the band answered some questions to let us know more about them.

Who are the band members and what part do they play in the band?

  • Rae Gordon – vocals
  • Al Hooton – bass
  • Ed Pierce – drums
  • Kivett Bednar – guitar
  • Pat McDougall – keys
  • Scott Franklin – sax
  • Allan Kalik – trumpet

Rae – I started my music career in the piano bars and comedy clubs of Los Angeles, opening for comedians and running an open mic that brought the best of music and comedy together. It was an interesting but awesome start, where I learned to bring a little humor into my shows and be able to connect with an audience.

Bass player Al was a trumpet player in the Midwest earlier in life, spending a lot of time in funk combos and swinging big bands. But when he moved to the Pacific Northwest, he discovered how much fun it was to be back in the rhythm section and became a bass player and never looked back! Al uses both bass guitars and electric upright basses when laying down the foundational tones as a Backseat Drivers, and also delivers backing vocals.

Drummer Ed is a sought after player known for not only his boyish good looks, but his extreme versatility as a player. His ability to morph with any song thrown at him, from a soft jazz standard to a funky get up and groove, is well known. Ed grew up in Eureka, California, and started playing percussion at the age of 11. In high school and college he played drums in a variety of rock and jazz groups, as well as playing steel drums in the Humboldt State University Calypso Band. After graduating from college in 1996, he moved to the Portland area, where he has played drum set with many jazz, blues, and R&B groups for the last 20 years. In addition to the Rae Gordon Band, he has played at various times as the main drummer with some of the local legends including DK Stewart, Johnny Martin, Paul deLay, Lloyd Jones, Terry Robb, Geno Michaels, Roger Woods, and many others.

Guitarist Kivett is fast becoming known for his gracious grooves and ability and hails from Austin, Texas. He moved to Portland about 5 years ago and has been playing guitar in blues bands for 22 years. He graduated from the Berkeley College of Music in 2005. He currently also play in The Pining Hearts, a psych-surf band, that has been turning heads around the Portland Metro area. He became a Backseat Driver recently. In addition to playing music in multiple projects including Land of the Living, he is also an accomplished painter, who has had his artwork displayed in various galleries and shows around Portland and Austin, Texas.

Keyboard player Pat has performed with a long list of bands and artists, including his own blues/R&B outfits Runaway Train and Tall Static. He was the musical director for the Portland-based band supporting Tony Coleman (BB King’s drummer for many years), and a member of the Muddy Award-winning lineup of Bill Rhoades & The Party Kings. These days he can often be heard playing with Lisa Mann, Kenny Lavitz, Karen Lovely and Ben Rice. Pat has composed music for commercials, independent films, theatrical productions and corporate presentations; his compositions have won recognition from the Portland Music Association and Keyboard magazine. During the day Pat works in marketing communications – building websites, writing and editing copy, and developing technical documentation.

Sax player Scott was outstanding Senior in Music, Beaverton High School, 1978. All State Band, 3rd in State Solo Contest, 1978. Mt Hood Community College, 1 o’clock Big Band 1978-80. Clackamas Community College 1 o’clock Big Band 1982-3. He continued His music studies at Marylhurst University in the late 1980’s, and then at Portland State University, graduating with a B.S. in Music in 1992. Over the years he’s performed and/or recorded with: Dub Debrie, Ants in the Kitchen, Midnight Blue, The Coasters, Papa Salty, The Fabulous Farelanes, Franco Paletta and The Stingers, The Arnold Brothers, Smokehouse, The Jazz Pinheads, Luminos, The JC Rico Band, Billy’s Brass Band, and of course…..Rae Gordon and the Backseat Drivers!

Trumpet player Allan is one of the most active and in-demand commercial players in Portland and also one of the busiest private lesson teachers. He has been teaching privately since 1982 and was on the faculty of the University of South Florida from 1989 to 1991. He has been a clinician at dozens of schools throughout Oregon, Washington and Florida. Allan has performed with Ray Charles, Doc Severinsen, Al Hirt, Lew Soloff, George Adams, Jon Faddis, and locally performed with Uncle Phunk, Bob Miller Almost All Star Band, Caramel Chocolates, Deep Blue Soul Revue, Ants in the Kitchen, Department of R&B, Return Flight, The Swingline Cubs and Thunderfunk. Allan earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Music at the University of South Florida.

Were you all born and raised in the Portland area?

Rae – I grew up in Southern California and spent a lot of my time in Riverside County.

The Backseat Drivers are a talented bunch of musicians from different parts of the US, who have decided to make the Portland area their home. Rae grew up in Southern California and in Tacoma, mostly in Riverside County, California. Ed grew up in Eureka, California; Al hails from the South Bend, Indiana area; Pat and Scott are Portland area raised—from Portland and Beaverton; Kivett headed this way from Austin, Texas; and Allan comes from a longer distance in Florida.

How long have you been performing together professionally and individually?

Rae – I started my music journey in the piano bars of LA, and opening up as a singing act for comedians.

I have long been a fan of every one of the musician that are now in my Backseat driving. When I decided to do another band project, it was so natural for us all come together and that was quick! The Journey to Memphis contest in June was our first official gig together and the response to what we were putting out was so appreciated by us all. I have admired these musicians all for years in their other projects and as people. Sax player Scott Franklin and drummer Ed Pierce were in my former project the “Rae Gordon Band” and they also strike me as really good men, the good guys you always hear about. I always liked Al’s laid back, everything-will-be-cool groove and his common sense that lays a good foundation for what we are doing. Pat and Allan have the sense of humors that won’t quit and are always at the ready to match wits with. Kivett is cooler than cool and is as approachable as they come. I recently rediscovered his playing at a jam and really dug his gritty sound and slide work. I had lost track of his whereabouts, musically speaking, for a few years and was delighted to hear him again and hear the sound I was looking for. He has a great attitude and also has a great singing voice. The others I have played with as special guests or sitting in. The best part of this talented bunch is their sense of teamwork, humor, honesty and humbleness.

Did each of you always want to perform professionally or if not, what did you “want to be when you grew up”?

Rae – I wanted to be a police officer, but I think all of us had music in our souls from the day we drew breath, sometimes it just takes a while, it’s about 50/50 on day jobs or not, but it’s obvious we would all want to be doing music 24/7.

Rae – I recently quit a day job where I was a marketing assistant for 10 years in tourism to do music full time. To help make ends meet, I also started a part time marketing and events consulting business that allows me to put music first and have flexible working hours helping other people live their dreams.

Who has influenced your music?

Rae – My biggest two influences growing up was Bette Midler and Aretha Franklin. It is something I inspire to take on stage with me always, the fun flirty audience friendly style of Bette and the grab your soul from your head to your toes of Aretha.

How would you describe your music?

Rae – I enjoy singing all kinds of styles that help me stretch and move around in my vocal range. But, the style I’m now working towards is a gritty soulful sound that makes you want to get up and dance.

Did you have any formal training or self-taught?

Rae – I have officially had 3 lessons in my life! One was Seth Riggs down in LA, the 2nd was Ellen Whyte and the 3rd was Mark Bosnian. I learned a lot from all three.

What CD’s do you have out?

Blue Lemonade and Dirty Flowers, co-written with Gaddis Cavenah. Music by Cavenah, lyrics by Gordon. The Blue Lemonade debut album made #10 in July of 2013 of the Billboard Blues Charts.

Any more CD’s in the works?

Rae – I am starting preproduction and writing of an original gospel album with a couple covers titled In Between as well as another blues album titled Better Than I Was.

Who have you played with?

Rae – I have been blessed and honored to have shared the stage with so many folks that I can’t even begin to thank. My last project I shared the stage with some amazing talented folk, like Gaddis Cavenah, who helped me develop a great band and was my first songwriting partner. He was the sole reason I was able to get my first album out. Joseph Conrad on bass, Ed Pierce and Edwin Coleman III shared the drum chair, Scott Franklin on saxophone is a mighty force and Joe McCarthy graced us with his tuneage now and again when I got to do a bigger band.

I have been a part of the rotating sisters of Sonny Hess’s Northwest Rhythm & Blues show and it is and has been a turning point in my life to have learned so much from Sonny and that group that include more of my influences locally like Lisa Mann and Lady Kat.

The 1st Sunday of every month has me playing with the likes of Ken Brewer, Jim Solberg and various guest artists for the 1st Sunday Gospel show at the Trails End Saloon in Oregon City. It’s an amazing way to get spiritual in a Come as You Are place.

After I took a break last year from having my own band project, I enjoyed so much doing some shared stage time with Big Monti Amundson. What an incredible songwriter and person. He really got me to dig deep and challenge myself musically as well as playing with different projects as a guest. As I move forward on my own band project again, I really appreciate bringing that along with me.

I also appreciate the time I had with the Etta James Tribute band with some powerhouse players like DK Stewart, Joe Conrad, Joe McCarthy, Peter Dammann, Ed Pierce, Chris Mercer and the wonderful women like Duffy Bishop, Lisa Mann, Lady Kat, LaRhonda Steele. I learned so much from them and was honored to have been asked to do those shows. Sometimes you look back at one gig, one moment and realized it changed your life forever. When DK asked me, it was one of those moments. I have moved on to work on another tribute close to my heart, Bette Midler and will be doing a combined show with LaRhonda Steele, Julie Amici and Melissa Buchanan at the Lake Theater November 14th, bringing the songbook to life.

Music and band projects have always been personal growth opportunities not only for learning music, but for getting to really know people, on stage and off, it is truly a blessed life for sure. I continue to appreciate the most, the people I have learned from that tell me to not stop learning. It’s not always easy, but it IS always worth it. I am forever grateful of the time that has been given to me by local musicians sharing and caring. Whether that was a moment, a minute, an hour, or years.

Are there any former band members you want to mention?

It’s been a journey to say the least, many people and musicians I have had the honor to play with starting with my first guitar player in my first band “the Rebounders” Bob Leitch, to recent musicians who will always have some of my heart. I appreciate what I learned and realize how blessed I was when I look back at all the good times since I started doing a regular blues band in 2001.

Closing comments from Rae:

The Backseat Drivers is the bigger version of my new band project. I will continue to play trios and have other fun projects in the works, including the original gospel project and new CD, but the Drivers are my main focus. Now that I am fully self-employed, I intend to fully stay musical busy! Stay tuned!

I have recently started travelling more and experiencing other blues communities, but always love coming home to Oregon and to the strong, beautiful community that is the northwest. The talent in the Portland Metro area is immense and to be able to call some of them my friends, has been a gift for sure.

The big thing now on the horizon is having RGB do good by Portland and by the Cascade Blues Association, and be able to do well in Memphis at the International Blues Challenge (IBC). Please save all the dates of our fundraisers. Once a month, we will putting the Fun in Fundraiser.

October 8th, please join RGB, Lisa Mann and Franco Paletta along with David Pinsky, 14-year-old Timothy James, on the Portland Spirit with music on all levels. Proceeds to help with lodging and travel expenses for the IBC. Lend support to the duo and youth acts at this year’s Portland Blues Cruise. Tickets are now on sale through Tickettomato.com for $25.00. Admission will be $30.00 on site, but best to buy in advance as this event will more than likely sell out.

November 3rd, will find me and other volunteers delivering bag lunches in Oregon City, with the proceeds going to feed the band.

December 3rd, plan to get your Christmas tree with some of the Backseat Drivers! Some of us will be on hand to help you pick and cut a tree with proceeds helping us while we are in Memphis.

Make sure to also come January 7th to the Trails End Saloon for the goodbye party and last chance fundraiser for multiple acts from the Northwest going to the IBC including Polly O’Keary from Washington State. This will also serve as another judging opportunity where the acts will showcase their Memphis sets and be able to have a look one more time on scores and make any final adjustments before heading to Memphis to represent the NW.

Thank you for loving live music!

To keep up with Rae and her upcoming shows visit her website at www.raegordon.com.