By Laurie Morrisey
At a recent CBA monthly meeting, I could have sworn I was sitting at one of the many amazing bars along Beale Street in Memphis. Honestly, I closed my eyes and I thought I was there. The amazing bluesy sound coming from the stage was mesmerizing. I opened my eyes and in front of me was Tevis Hodge Jr. I found out he is headed to Memphis to compete at the International Blues Competition and I knew I had to find out more about this young man.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born Michael Tevis Hodge Jr. , son of Melody Hodge and Michael Tevis Hodge, in Woodbridge, Va. As a young child, we (my mother and I) moved to American Fork, Utah, where she could pursue an education while living with her dad (my grandpa). I lived there until I was a young teenager. At that point, my mother and I moved to Portland where I have lived since high school age.
How long have you been performing professionally?
Well it kinda depends on what you mean by “professionally.” I’ve been performing since I was about 12 at various open mics and gatherings, but I’ve been focused on getting paid gigs for the last year and a half..maybe two years max.
Did you always want to perform professionally or if not, what did you “want to be when you grew up”?
Well, at a young age I started studying Paleontology on my own accord. With my mom having a degree in Anthropology and her having a job at the local Ancient Life museum (which happens to be the biggest in North America) I was inspired. I very much wanted to become a Paleontologist, while all the time I was playing music. But in my adult professional world, music is the only thing I have pursued. I’m not an exception to the standard musician’s life–I serve during the day, and play at night. But, my day job is just to get me by until my music will.
Who has influenced your music?
Well who hasn’t? I’m like a musical sponge and find influence in most everything I hear. I have been through many musical phases. With each phase, a plethora of artists, musicians, bands, movies, etc. have influenced me greatly. It all collects in this large cesspool of inspiration… none of it is categorized, separated, and labeled. It’s all…..one! At a young age, my dad’s family would expose me to the blues through old 78s and 45s when I would visit in Virginia. I feel a deep passion in connecting my southern African-American roots with my music. It was these trips to Virginia, and my heritage that inspires me to continue the traditions of blues, ragtime, jazz, and anything else that applies. I started playing blues and discovering it on my own at about the age of 10 or 11. While I love playing any and all music, it’s this music that I will be most deeply connected to, and play all my life. It cannot go without mention that my mother played a major role in introducing me to playing music. She herself is somewhat of a folk musician, and exposed me to guitar and singing at an early age. Thanks Mom!
How would you describe your music?
My music is most basically described as African-American Traditional music. That is a huge world though (and kind of a loaded statement that can be controversial among some players.) I tend to focus on early country blues, Delta blues, early jazz, ragtime, Piedmont, early Chicago blues, “jugband” music, later guitar rags in the style of the ‘30s, and that type of music you can’t quite put your finger on….vaudeville maybe..It’s hard to say. Like I said earlier, it’s all in this one, uncategorized place. I often play solo. There is something very true and powerful with one person and her/his guitar.
I do have a plethora of musicians at my disposal to perform with me if I’m feeling in the right mood–Christopher Yarrow, Rollin’ Joe Jordan, Hans, Stephen B, Wayne WaIt’s, Dave Lipkind, Miles Thompson, Menda, J.D. Davis, Flip, Arlo Leech, Giued Lutge, Dave Geare, Ernest Banyan, Dave Melyan, Garrett Pesson, Shoehorn… If anyone else I forgot I’m sorry!! Their instruments include, but are not limited to: violin, washtub bass, standup bass, washboard, snare and percussion, saw, ukulele, banjo, saxophone, trumpet, kazoo, clackamore, jawharp, harmonica, jug, clarinet, piano/keys, cello, trombone….you get the picture.
During a performance I go back and forth between original tunes and traditional tunes. My originals work in seamlessly with the covers. They (my original tunes) are very much in the same vein as the traditional styles–most people cannot tell the difference. My performing is largely based on improvisation. I play with no set list. I go to a gig with no expectation of what vibe and style I will put out. Sometimes, and I do mean SOMETIMES I even start songs with no idea of what I’m doing. Every time I play it’s different. I don’t really play a song the same way twice. It’s quite refreshing for me as the performer. Sometimes I can tap into some true gems, or great moments, or even write a song on stage in the moment. Sometimes it’s quite exciting for me.
What instruments do you play?
My main instrument is guitar. It’s the only instrument, besides my voice, I use while performing. I do play others, as well though, just not on stage. I play piano, violin, didgeridoo, bass…there are other instruments I know how to play, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting them on the list. I’m mainly a guitarist really. I started guitar at the age of six so my brain thinks guitar. My fingers know guitar. I am guitar.
Did you have any formal training or self-taught?
I’m 90% self-taught. The first lesson I ever took I had already been playing for close to 15 years. It was a lesson in gypsy jazz. Since then I’ve had a few informal lessons from my musical elders. But mostly I learn by picking the guitar up, and sitting in a room by myself. There are things one can draw on, and there are things one can learn from listening. Like I say I’m 90% self-taught.
What CD’s do you have out?
I have just released an EP called Blues and Rags. I’m proud of it as being a decent example of the range of styles I play, and my talent in writing original tunes in traditional styles. And it’s only 5 songs–straight to the point.
Any more CD’s in the works?
I’m gathering and writing a lot of material for a full length album. It’s taken a lot longer than I expected, but I’m glad for the delay since I seem to come up with great material that would have missed the album if I rushed it. Since the release of Blues and Rags I have even more time to sit on the material and really make sure it’s a damn good album.
Who have you played with?
I have played with many renowned musicians in the Portland blues scene. Due to some of the great community jams in town, I’ve had the chance to play with Kevin Selfe, Jimi Bott, Lauren Sheehan, Johnnie Ward, Curtis Chamberlin of Kingnik and The How Long Jug Band to name a few. I’ve performed with Folk Giant Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, Joe McMurrian and Dave Lipkind of Woobrain, Arlo Leech of The Howlong Jug Band, Christopher Worth, Suburban Slim, Cascadia legend Rollin’ Joe Jordan and Lucy Hammond. I have performed many times with vaudeville legend Baby Gramps, who has taken me under his wing, so to speak, as a pupil.
Tevis’ closing comments
I also have a passion in collecting records. Mostly I love to collect 78’s. Those are the old records made of shellac from before 1960. Mostly I collect records from the 1930’s and earlier. I find a lot of rare gems and songs that I learn from the records themselves to perform live. If you can’t find me performing you’ll most likely find me searching for these records around town, or listening to them at home. I have a major musicologist project in mind that involves these records I love and collect which will take more than a couple years.
Tevis is the genuine old-time blues musician. Watch for his shows and upcoming fundraisers in the BluesNotes. Let’s help him get to Memphis and show them that the blues are alive and well in Portland.