By Laurie Morrisey

Picture those old-time dance contests. The ones where the dancers groove the night away and nearly pass out on the Bottleneck Blues Band - promo photofloor, but are having so much fun they won’t stop until they drop. Now you’ve just envisioned the dance floor at the end of the night after the dancers have danced to Bottleneck Blues Band.

The band covers the classics and performs originals that will make you want to dance the night away. Their Facebook pages describes it this way, “Imagine Albert Collins meets Jimi Hendrix jamming with the Allman Brother Band. Bottleneck Blues Band will pull you in, get you moving, and make you feel alive.”

The band
The four band members that form this phenomenon hail from all around the country—Indiana, New York, Michigan, and Oregon, but came together to form Bottleneck Blues Band five years ago. Noah Bell plays guitar and handles vocals; Seth Zowader plays keyboards; Devon Shazier mans the drum kit; and Ethan Bear rounds out the quartet on bass. “We just added Ethan this summer. Dave Cushman, our original bass player, had to leave the group due to life issues,” according to Noah. Dave and Noah started the band out of their love for the blues.

All the guys have been serious about being professional musicians from a young age. Noah bought a guitar at a garage sale at age five and had always wanted to play music for a living. Seth began playing keyboards as a child and Devon grew up playing in church.

When not on stage, two of the guys still work in music industry. You can find Noah and Seth working at Portland Music Co. in Beaverton. Noah is the assistant manager and has been there for 15 years. Seth is the keyboard guru and has been employed there for five years.

“We are followers of the three Kings: BB, Albert, and Freddie. We also listen to a lot of Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters,” Noah said. Other influences are Clarence Gatemouth Brown, JJ Cale, Willie Dixon, Robert Cray, and Albert Collins. These artists have help shaped Bottleneck’s music—their sound. “Our music is red hot funky blues. The kind that make people dance.” And boy do they dance!

Bottleneck Blues Band released their first CD (self-produced) in December 2014, Twenty First Century Blues. Most of the tracks were first-take recordings. “The delivery is authentic. There is no over-embellishment that you’re likely to find with a lot of newer acts these days, and because there is no over-playing you are treated to a steady pulse that is raw and natural. Everything flows nicely,” said Greg Johnson, CBA President. (See the February CBA BluesNotes for the complete CD review.) They are currently writing their second CD. Noah says several of the tunes have made it into their set list.

With over 25 years of playing music, Noah has opened for a wide variety of top notch musicians from reggae’s Steel Pulse to the King of country music, Willie Nelson. He’s also opened for various members of the Grateful Dead, including Bill Kreutzmann, not to mention classic blues man Elvin Bishop. He also has a degree in guitar from Missouri State.  Seth trained at Berklee College of Music. “His masterful organ technique has thrilled spectators leaving them amazed at his sonic prowess.” Devon started playing the drums in church at a young age. His radical beats have amazed audiences across the US. Steve Rodriguez, owner of the Blue Diamond in Portland, OR, says “I can’t believe he keeps going the whole three hour set.”  The newest member of the band is Ethan. The Oregon native has been playing the blues since he started performing live up and down the coast. “His vibe has taken the band to a new level of excitement. This kid has skills as he holds down the bottom like an old pro. He plays like he has something to prove and the people respond” Noah said.

Bottleneck has performed with several bands around the Pacific Northwest, including Sammy Eubanks, Robbie Laws, Kevin Selfe, Norman Sylvester, and Papa Dynamite.

In Closing
Noah has a philosophy about blues, “Blues is music of life, love and loss, happiness and sorrow, and everything that happens in between. All these emotions come to life, and the standard grooves live again while Bottleneck lights up the dance floor.” You have to experience it yourself.

For more information and upcoming shows, visit the Bottleneck Blues Band website at

billy2[1]by John Rumler

Mine is just another scene
From the world of broken dreams
And the night life, ain’t no good life
But it’s my life

The road for full-time musicians is often rocky and full of hairpin curves and sheer cliffs. For every stretch of straight highway, there’s a dozen potholes.

For every big success, there are hundreds of talented artists toiling in shadowy neighborhood bars, lounges, and biker dives.  The blues and rock and roll lifestyle is aptly described by Willie Nelson’s stark and poignant song Night Life—immortalized by BB King, Jimmy Witherspoon, and countless others.

Billy Hagen is an exception. He hit the big time when he was barely out of his teens. His devastating skills as a lead guitarist combined with his uncanny and explosive stage presence propelled him to dizzying heights on a regional level. He did extended stints with the Mel Brown Quartet and Johnny Limbo and the Lugnuts, although poles apart musically, the entities are arguably two of the region’s most durable, popular and respected bands.

A native Oregonian, Hagen grew up in Cedar Hills and Beaverton, where he currently lives. His parents were both stockbrokers.

He played on stage no less than four times with the great Chuck Berry, who himself overcame numerous pitfalls, including three stretches in prison for three different offenses.

One of the more unique personalities in Portland’s pantheon of guitar gods, Hagen is older and wiser these days and perhaps a step slower. The endless parties, countless gigs, and hard living—and the years too–have taken a toll.  But, with a guitar in his hands, a stage, and an audience, Hagen can still give chills, still make the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention. The sudden transformation he undergoes when he steps up on the dais and begins performing is astonishing to those who don’t know him.

The reaction is often quizzical looks, shaking heads, smiles of disbelief, and questions like, “Good Lord, who is that guy?”

Like many kids growing up in the 1960s and 70s, Hagen’s initial introduction to the Blues came through bands such as the Rolling Stones and the Allman Brothers who turned him on to Muddy Waters, T Bone Walker, Jimmy Reed and other blues greats.

“I listened to my big brother Ed’s records, when I was 12, I got my first $15 no-name guitar and a little Fender amplifier. Ed’s friend Casey Thomas showed me my first chords.”

Hagen didn’t dabble. He became nearly obsessed, listening intently to the early Stones covers such as Little Red Rooster and trying to replicate the sound, note for note. After graduating Beaverton High School in 1977, he studied piano and guitar at Mt. Hood Community College and “wood-shedded” constantly and began a lifelong passion for jazz and classical guitar.

He also played in the bands such as Killing Floor, named after the Howlin’ Wolf song. Killing Floor attained a degree of popularity playing blues and an assortment of Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead, and rock and roll tunes. The band featured two lead guitars, a rhythm guitarist and a drummer and played a variety of high school dances, keg parties, and backyard bashes.

Hagen later gained additional seasoning playing guitar and handling the vocals in Freeborn, and Pulse, short-lived but raunchy, high-energy blues-based bands that rocked Portland’s music scene.

He considers Wes Montgomery his strongest musical influence and has played with a host of jazz artists including Mel Brown, Bud Shank, Dave Fleschner and his Jazz Trio and played bass several times, as previously mentioned with Chuck Berry, because there’s only one lead guitarist when Berry is onstage.

A few of his other musical influences include Joe Pass, Keith Richards, Howard Roberts, and Mick Taylor. “My forte would be that I play any and all styles of rock, blues, jazz, pop and classical,” he says.

In 1982, Mike Mason first saw Hagen performing with Johnny Limbo and the Lugnuts at the Silver Moon Tavern—now the Blue Moon– on Northwest 21st Avenue. Mason, who is a bass guitarist and a graphic designer, became close friends with Hagen over the years and was his best man at his wedding. Besides sharing a deep love of music, the two were (and still are) avid Green Bay Packer fans and once took a trip together to see a professional football game at storied Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Mason credits Hagen with helping him get started in music, encouraging and coaching him musically and getting him gigs. He played in The Billy Hagen Trip from 1994-96, a raucous, high energy Blues and Rock and Roll Band that played original compositions as well as early Stones, and Santana and Hendrix covers. “Billy’s my hero. He gave me a chance when nobody else did. He believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself,” he says.

But it wasn’t always happy, carefree, good times, Mason admits. “It was at times a troubled and difficult road. We all have our demons and Billy had his share. Sometimes they got the better of him, but he still is and will always be my best friend.”

Another local musician Dave Gill, has also performed with Hagen on and off over the past quarter of a century and the two are still the best of friends. “Billy’s hard to describe, he defies categorization,” Gill says. “His creative spark is more like a raging inferno.”

While Gill says that Hagen’s musical mastery and level of knowledge is “off the charts,” he also points out that his friend isn’t just a musician, he’s also a natural entertainer. “Before he had a hip replacement a few years ago, Billy could do these acrobatic somersaults and a Mick Jagger routine that his fans adored. He had a long cord on his guitar and he’d walk around playing behind his back and over his head like Guitar Slim, T Bone Walker, and even Jimi Hendrix.”

Over the years, Gill has recorded dozens of Hagen’s live performances and he is a just now transferring them to a digital format. “Billy’s comprehension of music and his range is astonishing,” he says.

Gill points out that for all Hagen’s creative talents and skills and high-octane stage performances, he is amazingly humble when he is out of the spot light. “There can be a bit of snobbery with highly accomplished musicians, especially in jazz, but Billy’s the opposite. He’ll always bend over backwards to help another musician, especially one who was starting out.”

The rock and roll roller coaster is a wild joy ride and is frequently accompanied by drugs, sex and hell-bent-for-leather partying.  The frantic energy and hard driving, late night lifestyle eventually took a toll, Gill says. “Sometimes we can all be our own worst enemies.”

Few regional bands, if any, could rival the longevity and popularity of Johnny Limbo and the Lugnuts. Formed in 1978 as a lark, the band has opened for Chuck Berry, Johnny Rivers, Jan & Dean, Chubby Checker, and many other national acts and has toured Japan, Korea, and The Philippines. Although they don’t perform as often as in years past, their popularity is undiminished: Last year, during their summer concerts in the parks, they set new records for attendance.

Jerry Hofman, aka, Johnny Limbo, is the front man and founding member of the band that played well over 100 shows a year during their heyday.  He recalls the very first time he saw Hagen performing. “We were looking for a guitarist and Billy was playing at a Rose Garden summer concert in 1979 or 1980.  He was a lot younger than any of us, kind of wild and crazy, but WOW, was he impressive.”

The Lugnut band members all had white collar jobs, one was an attorney. They had short 1950s-style haircuts and wore costumes as a part of their “schtick.” They also had a highly disciplined and professional approach to performing and practicing. It was quite an adjustment for Hagen, who had shoulder-length hair and was practically in his teens, but he stayed with the Lugnuts for upwards of 10 years during the band’s peak.

“Billy was an amazing and dynamic performer. He could do a somersault even with his guitar,” Hofman recalls. “He just grabbed a hold of audiences and he did the most dead-on impersonation of Mick Jagger you could imagine. He even looked like him.”

Hofman was the business manager, and bandleader for the Lugnuts and sang and also played several instruments. He said that Hagen is the most talented musician he’s ever known. He tells how once Hagen was lobbying for a second saxophone player in the band. Hofman nixed the idea saying the cost would be prohibitive, so within about a month’s time, Hagen was blowing a mean sax.  “While it is a God-given gift, Billy also developed it and he had an encyclopedic knowledge of music, even older music. He also plays piano as well as the guitar, yet he has this other showmanship side of him that is wildly entertaining.”

Young, bursting with energy and eager to please his audiences and band mates, Hagen played with a fanatical intensity somewhere practically every night and he’d often play twice in the same night.

It was non-stop life in the fast lane and Hagen couldn’t get enough. The Lugnuts were a huge draw. There were plenty of gigs at swanky corporate parties, a Far East tour, a splashy show for Nike at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and that’s just for starters. Hagen was burning the candle at both ends, but since he was having the time of his life, he just kept partying.

After 10 years, the young, brilliant and hard-charging lead guitarist began having greater and greater difficulty making the band’s practice sessions. “In 1989 they sort of gave me a choice: Shape up or ship out,” Hagen ruefully recalls. “I chose the latter.”

Today Hagen looks back on his days with the Lugnuts with a different perspective. “Jerry and all those guys, they were all smart, shrewd businessmen. They loved their music and had a great time, but they also knew how to brand and market themselves. They had their act together.”

“I lived the Rock and Roll lifestyle: lots of drugs, lots of girls, lots of parties. I went overboard,” Hagen explains.

The two men have remained close over the years and still talk on the phone at least once a month. “We all truly hated to see Billy go, but it was his own decision,” Hofman says.

After leaving the Lugnuts, Hagen joined one of the region’s most respected and influential bands: the Mel Brown Quartet. He’d been performing with them off and on for months, now he simply became a fixture. It wasn’t exactly a regular gig, because Brown was touring with Diana Ross at the time and had plenty of his own irons in the fire. Brown recalls being surprised at how quickly Hagen adapted to his new environs. “Billy’s extremely gifted musically and he could play similar to Wes Montgomery. Lots of guys can play rock and roll, but very few can play jazz like he did.”

Brown was often gone on nationwide tours for months at a time and as a result, Hagen gradually moved on. “I haven’t seen him in years. It’d be great to play with him again and to see what else he’s learned over the years,” Brown said. “Billy caught on quickly, he could adapt to almost anything.”

During this time in the mid-1980s, the quartet played at the Hobbit in Southeast Portland, the Old Jazz Quarry on Southwest Jefferson in downtown and at the Dublin Pub which was then located on Southeast Belmont Street. Hagen played with Brown for 4 to 5 years. “Since I love playing jazz, it was a great experience for me. I learned a ton of stuff from Mel about music, a lot of it very subtle things. I especially learned to play easier and to mellow out.”

Besides Hagen on lead guitar and Brown on drums, jazz maestros George Mitchell played the Hammond B3, and Brad Harris played bass. “I’d love to see Mel again. It’s been way too long.  I’m going to get down to Jimmy Mak’s soon,” Hagen says.

From then on, Hagen formed the Nerve Agents which lasted a few years and he also played off and on with the Dave Fleschner Trio with Ken Ollis on drums. “We did some excellent recordings. That was another bright spot for me,” Hagen says.

Lately Hagen has spent more time focusing on private recordings and giving music lessons. Six months ago, one of his grateful students repaid him with a 1991 Cadillac Sedan de Ville. Perfect timing, because Hagen recently got his driver’s license back. That comes in particularly handy when he is booked for private parties he hires his own musicians that he’s known for decades.

In recent years Hagen has slowed down on the partying and has been “dry” for one year. He’s enjoying his life fully and looking at new musical frontiers. He is often booked for private parties, and when he is, he prefers to hire his own musicians, many of them are former bandmates that he’s known for decades.

While Hagen’s left his mark on the local scene, Hofner said his friend of nearly 35 years could have gone much farther, that he had the stuff to make it nationally. “There’s absolutely nothing Billy can’t play, even beautiful classical guitar. He really should have hit the big time, instead of just sort of hanging around Portland. But Billy’s got a heart of gold and he makes friends wherever he goes. The guy doesn’t have an enemy in the word.”

As the year 2014 winds down, Hagen is now busy working with Mason and Rod Sharer, a vocalist from Oregon City, on a new recording project with Steve Solomon on keyboards. The musicians met while jamming together at a Portland Marathon gig.

“We’re all super-excited about this. It’s a bit of a departure from anything any of us have done in our past,” Mason says.

“We’ve taken our share of lumps in the music business, but things are looking up. Billy’s even got himself another big Caddy like he had back in the old days and we’re really having fun.”

still waterBy Laurie Morrisey

“Still Water Vibes is…putting classic blues guitar, grooving bass lines, funky drumming and ‘Where did that come from?’ vocals into one tight group…With original tunes that bridge the gap of traditional blues and modern blues funk, you’ll find yourself going out of your way to catch another show!” That is how their website describes them, and that description is spot on.

Still Water Vibes, a blues band out of Salem, is made up of: Nick Wixom, lead vocals; Brandon Logan, guitar; Jarred Venti, bass; Mike Windsor, keys; and Derek Jones, drums. Nick and Brandon began working together about five years ago and Jarred joined the group about two years ago. “We met Mike in December 2013 and asked him to join the group. Then in April of 2014, Derek joined. His second public appearance with the group was the first round of the Journey to Memphis Competition,” according to Nick.

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

Still Water Vibes: Brandon, Derek and Mike currently work in the music industry exclusively. Derek is pursing working as a musician and currently giving lessons out of ABC Music in Salem. Jarred has a day job as a “Beer Czar”, he makes purchasing decisions and manages the beer inventory of two local tap houses in Salem, and has taken some schooling for bass. He also gives lessons on occasion as a private instructor. Nick is a full time employee of the Department of Transportation and operates a small-time sound company. He also provides the sound system that the band uses for shows and recordings. He has the least experience of the group musically, but hopes to build his sound company into a full time career, splitting time with performing.

BN: Do each of you have day jobs?

SWV: Currently Jarred and Nick have traditional day jobs. Derek does some teaching and works occasional nights. Mike and Brandon are focused solely on performing, with Mike just finishing high school earlier this summer.

BN: Who has influenced your music?

SWV: The band has a wide variety of musical influences, each of us grew up around completely different styles of music.

Brandon: His major influences are Joe Bonamassa, early Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Chris Cain. His other influences vary, but his playing lends to a funky groove found in some lesser known BB King music.

Nick: His major influence was the church. Growing up his family played a lot of southern gospel style music—his dad’s side of the family all came from the south and shared a love for performing. Currently he gets a lot of his styling from the likes of Jonny Lang, John Mayer, and Robert Randolph. He loves the style of music that Salem local Ty Curtis writes, as well.

Jarred: He has the widest variety of influences of the whole group. From the Beatles to Led Zepplin and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He started to really enjoy the style of Robert Randolph and Joe Bonamassa, having been exposed to them through Brandon and Nick.

Derek: His major influences are from local jazz musicians, which is where he got his first opportunities to play in Salem. Derek’s jazz and Latin influences bring a different flair to SWV’s music. His ability to create music from his kit comes from a minimalist take on the instrument from his gigs playing in jazz trios at local jams and street corners.

Mike: Another member influenced by the church. Mike currently plays modern worship style music at church and grew up playing traditional piano for events. His introduction into playing blues and these styles was the day he was contacted to try out for the band. His musical intelligence and hard work has helped him make a big transition from genre to genre.

BN: How would you describe your music?

SWV: While a lot of our music has traditional blues progressions and we cover a lot of familiar blues standards. We tend to believe that our style pushes the envelope of modern blues and funk. Our grooves are based around a very technical drummer and non-traditional bass lines. Brandon’s style of writing stretches the definition of blues and Nick’s vocals more closely match with soul and gospel music.

BN: Did you have any formal training or self-taught?

SWV: Jarred, Derek and Mike have the most traditional training out of the group. Brandon is mostly self taught, although he has taken lessons in the past, most notably a short stint with local pro Garry Meziere. Nick has no formal training, having learned to sing harmony and lead through family gatherings.

BN: What CD’s do you have out?

SWV: Still Water Vibes is currently working on recording our debut CD, it is yet to be titled. There are rough tracks of three of the songs that will be featured on our web site right now.

BN: What other band have you played with?

SWV: All of us have played in multiple local bands, mostly in non-blues genres. Jarred and Brandon play in an original modern rock band, Groove Thief, that was voted Salem’s best local band a few years ago. All of the group, except for Nick, currently play in other projects and work as subs for multiple groups when not performing with Still Water Vibes.

BN: Are there any former band members you want to mention?

SWV: Still Water Vibes got a lot of its styling from the original drummer, and Nick’s younger brother, Brian Wixom. When Brian was unable to continue playing, it was extremely difficult to find a replacement. Brian began recording the album earlier this year and the album has been on hold since his departure. His style of play can still be heard in the way we play several of our songs today.

BN: Any other comments?

SWV: Being from Salem we are trying very hard to get work in the Portland area and would like to thank the Cascade Blues Association, Rae Gordon and Ben Rice for all of their help while we participated in the Journey To Memphis Competition. We have a new level of confidence and really appreciate all of the publicity that the event provided for us. We look forward to being more visible in the area and have a few events scheduled in the Portland Metro area in the next several months.

For more information about the band and where you can see them, visit their website at

By John Rumler

Ringo Starr got it right when he said, “You know, it don’t come easy…”

One of Portland’s more durable and versatile blues-roots bands, The Reverb Brothers, is celebrating their 10th anniversary, and nothing came easy for them either. With all members born in the 1950s, The Reverbs have been around the block in music as well as in life. Most of them have been in and out of different bands for several decades.

“They’ve been through a lot, had a number of personnel changes, but they’ve had a solid core for a while now,” said Emory Wilson, a Portland area bass player who recently performed with The Reverbs.  “I love playing with them. They know each other very well, they’re loose and fun and they are firing on all cylinders.”

Holding a band together isn’t easy. Different personalities and musical styles and the day-to-day demands of work, family, bills, and the additional time needed for practicing can grate on the nerves. This, combined with the roller-coaster of touring and performing live—along with the jostling and sometimes colliding egos has tolled the death knell for many a good band.

For the survivors, such as The Reverb Brothers, who avoid crashing on the shoals of ego, discontent, and burnout, the bonds often become close.

“We’ve had healthy differences of opinion, sure, but not a single big argument or blow up since we started,” said Doug Marx, 64, co-founder and rhythm guitarist.  “In many ways we really are like a family, one that respects and cares about each other.”

The other co-founder and the leader of The Reverb Brothers, Claes Almroth, 59, grew up in the Bay area. His mom played piano dabbling in boogie woogie and he avidly listened to everything from Slim Harpo and Johnny Cash, to Buck Owens, Marvin Gaye and the Rolling Stones. He began piano lessons at 12 and picked up his first harmonica a few years later. At the age of 13, Almroth visited the Jazz Preservation Hall in New Orleans seeing some of the original creators of jazz. “It changed my life. These guys were all born in the 19th century and were in their 70s, but they rocked the house like you couldn’t imagine.”

Almroth’s musical landscape was expansive and colorful early on. Thanks to Bill Graham, who booked such diverse artists such as Moby Grape, Ravi Shankar, and Albert King on the same bill at the Fillmore West, he was exposed to a wild kaleidoscope of music.

Clae’s musical influences include Little Walter, Slim Harpo, Sonny Boys I and II, Charley Musselwhite and Kim Wilson on harmonica and Ray Charles and Otis Spann on piano. A few of the other the artists that shaped his music include JJ Cale, Memphis Slim, Peter Green, Herbie Hancock, the early Stones, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Willie Nelson.

When the Almroths moved to Eugene in the mid-70s, Claes studied music at Lane Community College and formed Acme Rhythm & Blues Jug Band.  He also played in several local blues bands before moving to Portland in 1982 and helped form Electric Bill and the Killerwatts, an edgy blues band that lasted10 years and morphed into The Blueprints, a 5-piece blues band still active.  He also played in Johnny Ward’s Eagle Ridin’ Papas, a good-time jug band and the acoustic trio Nobody’s Sweethearts before starting up The Reverbs in 2004.

His piano playing style ranges from caressing the keys ala Charles Brown, to boogieing like Roosevelt Sykes or Champion Jack Dupree. His harmonica playing isn’t muffled or distorted for that dirty sound; it’s clear, clean, and sweet. His singing is gritty and growly with a slight Southern lilt, strange because he is of Swedish descent.

Claes also plays in the New Iberians, a Cajun-Zydeco-Blues band and in the eclectic-Blues Claes Almroth Trio featuring guitar maestro Whit Draper and Reverb mate J. Michael Kearsey on bass.

Each of The Reverb Brothers is worthy of an entire story of their own.  For example, electric bassist Kearsey grew up in Massachusetts and formed the Boston-based-band Under Milkwood (with pre-Cars vocalist Ric Ocasek. Moving to Portland in 1972, he was a founding member of UPEPO, a jazz/Latin/rock band that performed all over the West Coast for 11 years and he produced their sole LP, International Ties. In 1982 he formed the Rockin’ Razorbacks and produced their first album and in 1989, Kearsey joined the Brothers of the Baladi and produced eight of their 12 CDs. He’s also produced CDs for Lee Blake, Reunion Jazz Quartet, The Millionaires, and his own CDs: Suite for the Columbia Gorge and Silverthaw.

Kearsey composed the scores for five OPB programs including Oregon Portraits I and II and produced upwards of 300 folk music shows for Berkshire Snow Productions and also hosted the KBOO weekly jazz program, Music for Sore Ears for 11 years.  He’s served as vice president of the Portland Musical Association, board member of the Portland FolkMusic Society, board member of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame and is a 35-year member of National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.

He greatly respects the fact that The Reverbs dig deep to find the original versions of many of the blues, rags, hokum, and standards they want to play.  “That’s so much more satisfying than learning the same song from a Clapton album,” he explains. “We go to the original LPs and 78s and also study the biographies of the composers.”

Coronet player Dave Duffield grew up in Iowa and Missouri where he became steeped in Kansas City’s rich musical history. He began playing coronet—which is similar to trumpet, but with a richer, mellower tone–at the age of 9 and eventually joined the legendary Memphis Horns and performed with them on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion in 2001 and 2002. He also played with KC Brass & Electric, a smoking jazz/blues band that had a huge regional following.

Duffield, who is affectionately called “Gutbucket” and “Duffy,” moved to Oregon 11 years ago and met Almroth and Marx when they were playing in the Eagle Ridin’ Papas. He sat in with them on a few occasions and when they formed The Reverb Brothers he was invited to join them and did in 2006.

“I had to reinvent my style,” Duffield said. “They were used to playing together in small blues or jug bands, while I played in horn sections. It took me a while to feel musically comfortable with them.”

The Reverbs figured Duffield’s coronet playing would spice up their band, but Almroth says his impact has been truly profound. “Dave opened up new avenues for us. He brings that old-time jazz flavor and extended our roots, soul, and country capabilities. We’ve added songs such as ‘St. James Infirmary’ and put a different take on others. We now can do blues with almost no boundaries.”

Lead guitarist and vocalist Allan Lemley, 58, grew up on a wheat ranch in Eastern Oregon in a musical family. He bought a Hofner bass in 1971 and hooked up with a few amateur bands in his college days. He later switched to lead guitar and played with Almroth in the Killerwatts, and when Claes and Marx began appearing as The Reverbs Lemley joined them a short time later.  Lemley, who owns an advertising agency and a film production company, also had to change his style.  The bands he played in were dominated by fast, loud electric guitar, while The Reverbs were blues and roots oriented. “I had to tone it down and play more subtly and learn to pick my spots,” Lemley said. Now the crisp, stinging guitar licks on his Fender Telecaster are eerily reminiscent of a Keith Richards or Steve Cropper.

Through a combination of talent, focus, and hard work, Marx had climbed to the upper level of Portland’s literary community as a poet, feature writer and teacher. He was a board member of Northwest Writers and several other organizations and seemed to be cruising along when he suddenly took a detour to pursue a lifelong dream of playing in a jug band.

At the age of 42 he began taking lessons from guitar standout Whit Draper and continued for 7 years. It so happened that Marx lived across the street from Almroth for nearly 25 years in southeast Portland. “Claes is a great guy. Besides being my best friend, he also became my musical mentor,” Marx said.

The two played in several bands before co-founding The Reverb Brothers 10 years ago. “Doug, as rhythm guitarist, is the heartbeat of The Reverbs,” said Almroth. “His sound drives the band, we all play off of that and he’s also a talented song writer.”

Marx’s joy in performing is contagious. He is the most engaging and kinetic of The Reverbs, resplendent in a vest, slacks and wide brimmed fedora. Throughout a typical set, he banters with band mates and frequently harpoons friends in the audience. His encyclopedic knowledge of vintage blues and roots is an asset to the band and he is a strong vocalist, more shouter than crooner and well suited to up-tempo jug band tunes.

Setting the groove for The Reverbs since 2010, drummer Fred Ingram performed with Sheila and the Boogiemen, Bill Rhoades and the Party Kings, the Sportin’ Lifers, Jon Koonce, Wingtips (Dover Weinberg’s new quartet) and other bands. A few years ago he sat in as a sub for The Reverbs and clicked so well he joined. Ingram uses a stripped down kit and comes up with grooves for a lot of obscure rural blues and jug tunes that didn’t even have drums on the original recordings.

A native Portlander, Ingram’s skills as a graphic designer are as much in demand as his drumming. Clients include Rita Mae Brown, Nike, Pepsi, and he did the artwork for the New Iberians CD.

Ingram, who also sings, initially felt a little overwhelmed by the catalog of songs Almroth and Marx amassed, but now he savors the variety. “We roll all over the deck musically and hop from decade to decade with some original material thrown in,” he said. “This is likely the only band I’ll be in that will play Papa Oom Mow Mow, Witchi Tai To, Claudette, and Columbia Stockade Blues in the same set.”

The Reverb Brothers have produced one CD, For the Festival. and another, Live at the White Eagle, will soon be released. They play every Friday at the White Eagle, 836 N. Russell St., from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Families/children are welcome. For more info go to


What they say about The Reverbs:

“They’re great guys, kind and dependable and they play fun, energetic music. They’ve been jiving at the White Eagle for much longer than any other band. I’ve been here for six years and they go back way before me! I look forward to seeing them and their fans every week.” White Eagle bar manager Stacey Graham


The Reverbs are a bunch of excellent, fun-time musicians. They’re lively, humorous, easy-going and you can never guess what they will play next.”  Jacob “Sax Man” Potter, Portland area musician


“They are a positive, upbeat band that provides musical therapy”  Bob Tatone, longtime Reverb Brothers fan

02 IMG_1742By Laurie Morrisey

Nico Wind Cordova is a Native American who honors her heritage through her music. “I have very thick Native American roots in Montana and I am considered a song carrier among my tribe. I also sing traditional and contemporary native songs.”

In addition to native music, Nico describes her music as founded in blues, folk, jazz, soul, funk, and rock–not necessarily in that order. “Today I would be considered Indy blues or adult contemporary. I’m pretty diverse since I worked in top 40 a lot. My original music could play alongside with anyone from Bonnie Raitt to Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding to Amos Lee, to Native American artists, Ulali.”

Nico said she always wanted to perform. “I had the bug pretty bad, but I also loved animals and always had them in my life. I thought I would become a veterinarian before I would ever become a musician. Fate had her way with me because I didn’t choose the music path, music just came to me and fell in my lap. I got paid for my first performance on stage at age nine.”

Currently music is her full time job. “I have worked several different jobs throughout my career as a way to stay on my path as an artist, but not for any real longevity. I had my own Karaoke retail business that was very successful. I worked for North Clackamas School district as a bus driver for five years–that was fun.

She sings and plays guitar with a little percussion and flute. When discussing musical training, Nico says she’s like a sponge picking up stuff from people she has met along the way. “I did have formal voice lessons in Seattle with George Peckham. He taught me about breathing and thinking the notes.”

Early life

Nico was born March 20, 1960, in Portsmouth, Virginia–her father was in the Navy. Two years later her mother left her father and they moved to Lake Oswego to live with her maternal grandfather, who was an Episcopal clergyman. They lived there until her mom became a full time student at Portland State University. “I went to several schools but most of my grade school education was at Metropolitan Learning Center. For high school I attended John Quincy Adams in Portland. I finished my education on my reservation in Fort Belknap area Montana,” Nico said.

“My mom (Anne Morin) graduated with honors and became a high school English teacher for Portland Public Schools. She accomplished raising me as a single parent, working part time jobs, and with no real help from family until her sister, my Aunt Lucy, moved out here with us in 1966 to help with parenting and making ends meet. My Aunt Lucy was a classical guitarist who had studied under Segovia in New York. She was my greatest influence as a musician.”

Musical Influences

“I was surrounded by college students as a kid so I was hanging out with people a lot older than me. PSU had a good music department. Some of the people who gave me my first chances on stage included Upepo, Oregon, The Holy Modal Rounders, Carl Smith, Pleasure, then later Paul Delay, Jim Mesi, Curtis Salgado. I opened as a solo act for Ray Charles in the 1981 tour out of Seattle. He and some of his band members were the biggest influence on me.”

Nico won 2nd place in the 2nd annual Portland Music Association Song Writers Contest with her song “Purely Sexual.” She said, “They deemed it ‘latex rock’ because it was about safe sex and using condoms.”


She has a CD out called Feather To Fly By, but it’s an old one and she’s not sure you can even find it anymore. She has also worked on a project with Ed Neumann and the Chameleons. She sang back up with Lily Wilde for DK Stewart’s title track Don’t Call Home album. She also wrote the theme song for NPRs Wisdom Of The Elders radio program and Discovering Our Story TV.

Nico is working on a CD project with a trio, Full Circle, (which includes Gordon Hermanson and Ray Davis). They hope to have a release later this year.


She has performed with artists such as Ray Charles, The Coasters, Roger Fischer, The Seattle Horns, Beau Kelly, Bobby Torres, Curtis Salgado, Jay “Bird” Koder, Jim Mesi, Joe Plass, Roger Sauce, Norman Sylvester, Ed Neumann, and many more.

Nico has had several different incarnations of her band: Nico Wind & Fyre; Nico Wind & The Barbarians; Nico Wind & Topaz; Nico Wind & Out of the Blue; Nico Wind & Ghost Riders; Nico Wind & Sky Skraper; Nico Wind & Inner G+; Nico Wind & Incognico; Nico Wind & Wall Street; Nico Wind & the Pedestrians; Nico Wind & Arrow; Nico Wind & Cedar Rose; and there may be more to come.

Currently she plays with three groups: Cedar Rose (Nico Wind and Karen Kitchen), a Native American traditional and contemporary duo; Nico Wind & Full Circle trio (Nico Wind, Gordon Hermanson, and Ray Davis), an acoustic guitar trio; and Nico Wind & Free Rein is (Nico Wind, Gordon Hermanson, Kirk Bryant, Rob Nelson, and Seth Cordova), a 5 piece band.


According to her website, “Nico always tries to honor the spirituality of her culture with her music. She believes in giving something back to the universe for the blessings and wisdom she has received as a human being. As an artist, song carrier, and animal advocate, Nico feels that our existence depends on what beauty we share and leave behind when our time here has come full circle. Nico Wind Cordova lives on the horizon and sings to the moon and stars.”

You can find some of Nico’s music at Visit her web site at

by Karen Lovely

In 1964, my grandmother brought out an old phonograph, selected a record from her collection of 78s and handed it to me. I removed the record from its

Karen Lovely CD coverpaper sleeve and holding it only by the edges, carefully placed it on the velvet turntable. I cranked the handle on the side of the machine until the record started spinning then gently lowered the heavy needle onto the outside rim of the shellac disc. Scratchy music sounded from the external horn and my Nana said “Let’s foxtrot!”  This was the beginning of my lifelong love affair with Prohibition era music.

Prohibition was a nationwide Constitutional ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in effect from 1920 to 1933. In ways completely unintended by proponents of the 18th Amendment, Prohibition forever changed our cultural, societal and musical landscapes.

That change may have begun with the “Speakeasy” – a place where people from many different backgrounds, races, genders, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic statuses could drink and socialize together. Gangsters rubbed elbows with highbrows, men and women could smoke, drink (get splifficated) and dance to the new hot jazz and blues. From Delta fields and Storyville bordellos via the back rooms of countless speakeasies to the big city cabarets and night clubs, blues and jazz became the music that defined the Prohibition era.

Instrumental in popularizing the genre were the classic female blues singers of the 1920s and 30s – singers like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter, Lucille Hegamin, Ida Cox, Victoria Spivey and Sippie Wallace.  Female blues artists traveled up and down the east coast riding the rails and performing at the 100+ venues of the T.O.B.A. circuit (TOBA/Theater Owners Booking Association or as Ma Rainey liked to call it “Tough On Black Asses”).

In the 1920s black artists were recorded for the first time in history and black music was embraced by both black and white audiences.

Mamie Smith recorded “Crazy Blues” on August 10th, 1920.  The record sold over 75,000 copies in its first month – a staggering amount at the time considering the price of both the record and the phonograph machine needed to play it.

Bessie Smith saved Columbia Records from bankruptcy with sales from her records.  “There’s two kinds of people in this town, bootleggers and customers.” While “Empress of the Blues,” Bessie Smith was blazing musical trails across the north, south and midwest, in Rose City “Prohibition Rose” reigned Queen over bootlegging activities in Stumptown.  Shanghai City was infamous during prohibition times for its wild night life, underground city, and smuggling: booze, dope, gold and sometimes people. During Prohibition being “wet” in Portland had nothing to do with the rain.

I don’t know how many Portlanders listened to blues and jazz in the 1920s – probably not many given the popularity of the Ku Klux Klan in the early part of the decade.  But today in Portland, we have one of the biggest blues communities in the country and I’m honored to be part of it.

There’s a tattoo on my right arm of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday – some of my favorite Prohibition era blues artists. My grandmother’s favorite song was “Pennies from Heaven” recorded by Billie Holiday, and my sisters and I sang it to her as she died. If there is a heaven, I hope my grandmother is there dancing the Charleston, listening to Billie, singing with Alberta and joking with Ma Rainey (they had a lot in common).

Karen Lovely is a CBA member and 2009 “Journey to Memphis” Winner. She was the 2nd Place Band Winner at the 2010 International Blues Challenge representing the Cascade Blues Association.  She has won 7 Muddy Awards including “Performance of the Year” and “Best Female Vocalist”.  Her sophomore release “Still the Rain” was nominated for (3) Blues Music Awards including “Best Contemporary Album”, “Best Contemporary Blues Female Artist” and “Best Song”.  She has just released a new album of Prohibition era blues called “PROHIBITION” and will be performing songs from the new release with her Prohibition Orchestra at the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival on July 4th. For more information visit her website at

By Laurie Morrisey

When you talk about great harmonica players in our area you hear names like Bill Rhoades, Jim Wallace, Mike Moothart, Curtis Salgado, Paul deLay, Arthur Moore, Mitch Kashmar, Hank Shreve, and Dave Mathis. Dave is a long time staple in the Portland music scene, with a career spanning over 40 years.


Dave Mathis (photo by Tony Kutter)

“I started playing professionally in the mid 70’s–acoustically and electric in duos’ and band settings. I also did a half hour TV show on channel 8 called ‘Eight Lively Arts’ in the 70’s.”

Dave says his love of the harp came after hearing Sonny Boy Williamson and the Yard Birds. “I knew I wanted to play blues harp. Once home from Vietnam, I started to check out the local music scene. Brown Sugar was always my favorite. I had done some Shakespeare in high school and later a part in a production of The Fantastic’s, so I wasn’t afraid of getting up in front of people. After doing a few parties and club gigs, I knew I wanted to play harp and sing in a band.”

Dave describes his style as Chicago with some West Coast jump/swing. He plays both diatonic and chromatic harmonicas and also sings. For the last six years Dave has played with Michael Osborn and the Drivers. The band consists of Michael Osborn, lead guitar and vocals; John Moore on drums; and K.G. Jackson on bass guitar and vocals.

Basically self-taught, Dave taught himself to play harmonica by listening to records. Later he took several lessons from Paul deLay and studied with Howard Levy for a week in 1989. He says his musical influences include Sonny Terry, Little and Big Walter, Sonny Boy #1 and # 2, Paul deLay, Norton Buffalo, Mitch Kashmar and Kim Wilson.

Dave’s talent has been recognized with two Muddy Awards for Traditional Blues Act while he was with Sheila and Backwater Blues.

He can be heard on four CD’s: Traditional Blues with Kelly Joe Phelps; Blues Police with Steve Cameron; The Glamorous Life with Michael Osborn and the Drivers; and In Your Face, which is assorted tunes he has done over the last 20 years.

Dave has also played with several bands, including; The Beaver Trail Boys (western swing band) in the late 70’s; Liquid Blues for 20 years (rocking blues); Kelly Joe Phelps for four years (traditional acoustic blues); Shelia and Backwater Blues for four years; Blues Police with Steve Cameron; K.G. Jackson and Dave in a duo and band format; and Terry Robb and Dave in a duo and band format. “Playing 20 plus years with the Liquid Blues Band—Stan Sherer, Frank Solari, Kelly Stites, Jeff Ommert and Ron Ferrante—was a good experience musically.”

In closing, Dave says, “Everybody that I have played with over the years has been an influence on me, as well as my music. It’s reflected in my style of playing.” He says all the musicians in Michael Osborn and the Drivers have years of experience and “there’s a lot of talent. I love this band and its blend of original and cover tunes. Even with three of us singing, I get plenty of opportunity for good vocal work for myself, and we have a good time up there.”

For a current list of where you can hear Michael Osborn and the Drivers, visit their website at

Rob Shoemaker - photo by Greg JohnsonIn 1951, the year Fender started selling electric bass guitars, bass player Rob Shoemaker was born in Philadelphia. Coincidence? Makes you think. When he was a kid, his family moved around, starting in upstate New York. Then to the Chicago area from 4th grade through high school. Then all over the west before finally settling in Portland in 1977 and blessing our blues music scene.

He’s been playing professionally for nearly 50 years. When asked if he always wanted to be a musician, Rob says ever since the Beatles were in the US for their first tour. “They were interviewed on television and Paul McCartney said he wanted to see Muddy Waters while the Beatles were in the United States. I already liked blues music, but never thought of playing it until the Beatles.”

Musical Influences

“My Mom was a good, serious piano player. She played every day. My parents always had classical music playing, either on the record player or the radio.”

“I was raised on Chicago radio: listened to rock and roll on WLS and WCFL; listened to blues on WOPA and WVON; listened to jazz on WGRT; and listened to classical music on WFMT. I would sit by the radio and try to play along with everything. I listened to Chuck Berry, the Ventures, the Stones, the Beatles, Muddy Waters and B.B. King, Elvis, all the Motown stuff, James Brown, the psychedelic bands like Jefferson Airplane, Sly and the Family Stone, Freddie King, Albert King, Albert Collins, Buffalo Springfield, you name it. The first bass players I tried to imitate were Bill Wyman and Paul McCartney, then I found out about Willie Dixon, James Jamerson, Jerry Jemmott, Duck Dunn, Jorma Kaukonen, and Larry Graham. I later began to listen to jazz bass players like Ray Brown, Charles Mingus, Jimmy Blanton, Milt Hinton, Ron Carter, Richard Davis, and Leroy Vinegar.”

Musical Style

When describing his own music style, Rob says, “Bass has the same role in pretty much any style of music. The bottom end defines the harmony of the song, knits the melody and the rhythm together. The bass gives the other musicians and singers the framework to build the songs around.”


Although Rob is a bass player now, he started his music training by playing French horn in fourth grade. “The band director, Mr. Koerner, was a wonderful teacher who had played trumpet in marching bands in the Army and Ringling Brothers. I learned to read music and learned teamwork in the school band. The junior high school band director, Mr. Hoffman, was just as good.”

“When I started playing bass, I had a music-minus-one Ventures record that came with a book, and I also had the Carol Kaye bass instruction books. My ears got good enough to learn which notes to play by listening to records. I watched all the live music I could so I could see what the bass players did with their hands, and I would pester bass players with all sorts of questions about what they were doing.”


Rob is the bass player on all four of Norman Sylvester’s albums, and is in the process of completing a fifth CD with him. He recently played bass on Tommy Hogan’s Howl Like the Wind album.


“In junior high and high school I was in a band called the Lonely Souls. From sophomore year on, we worked two or three nights every week and nearly every day during summer. After high school I knocked around with dozens of bands. I started playing with Kate Sullivan shortly after moving to Portland. Also played with Marvin C. Faith, Sheila and the Boogiemen, John Borroz, and Buzz Clifford, before the Norman Sylvester Band got going. I’ve played steadily with Norman for 30 years now,” Rob said.

He has played with numerous local musicians over the years, including Frankie Redding, Janice Scroggins, Dover Weinberg, Jeff Otto, Kenny Wilde, Patrick Lamb, Pete Moss, Renato Caranto, Olan Ray Nelson, Nick Christmas, Ashbolt Stewart, Jolie Clausen, Mark Weisgram, Mel Brown, and Phil Tucker.

His son, Paul Shoemaker, has been the full time drummer for the Norman Sylvester Band for the last four years. “The late Carly T. Helgerson, an excellent harp player, had a lot to do with establishing our sound in the beginning. When Norman’s oldest daughter, Lenanne, began to sing with the U of O gospel choir, he began to use her for high profile gigs. Lenanne was soon joined by her cousins, Rhonda and Estherlita Hill. Other singers include Myrtle Brown, Gretchen Mitchell, Sarah Billings and LaRhonda Steele.”

In closing

“I love this music, and I love entertaining anybody who wants to hear it.” To hear Rob play, check out the Norman Sylvester Band at one of our local venues. You’ll find more information at their website,

By Laurie Morrisey

The Portland Metro area is an amazing place for young musicians. The locals are proving that the blues will never die and future generations will carry on the proud traditions of the culture. One of those musicians is Jonathan Chase.

Jonathan began working as a professional musician since he was sixteen years old.  “I got my first bass guitar at the age of fourteen and found my first professional gig by accident. I was called to fill in with a blues band in a rehearsal, even though I only knew one blues song and it wasn’t one they played.  A week later they gave me a list of gigs and never even Read more

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Tevis Hodge Jr.

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 Read more