Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My two worst days in music.
By "Uncle" Ray Varner

In 1978 Bill Rhoades, Jim Wallace, and I tried to start up the Oregon Blues Society. After a couple of tries at grass roots beginnings, that sputtered out, I decided to throw a public party to get the momentum moving in our direction.

I produced a concert featuring Robert Lockwood and Johnny Shines. Bill Rhoades’ Party Kings also performed, for no pay I should add. I lost around four hundred bucks, but it was a success in my estimation because fifteen people signed up as members of our fledgling society. That was not a bad day in music.

The OBS was largely dedicated to producing concerts during it’s life. In 1980 when Professor Longhair died, we put together a benefit for Fess’ widow. The bill included Albert Collins and the Robert Cray Band. Our promotion included radio and print ads, even a performance by D. K. Stewart on “Good Morning America” playing “Tipitina”. The cover was four bucks, as I recall. We lost hundreds. No good deed goes unpunished. I was crushed. At the time, I didn’t have a pile of money, but I did manage to send a check to Alice Byrd for a hundred bucks. That was my worst day in music.

The OBS mostly lost money on our shows, but one that we did make money on was my second worst day in music.

We hosted Clifton Chenier and his Red Hot Lousiana Band for two nights at a Eugene club called The Place. We paid Clif $3000.00 plus rooms. We had good houses both nights. I was high as a Georgia Pine, until I stood up at the end of the second night to announce that the (non-profit) OBS had cleared $35.00 for the performances. I was greeted by boos and shouts of “rip-off”. This was my second worst day in music.

Mike Lynch and Uncle Ray Varner, somewhere in Portland, OR, 2012.  Photo by Lauri Miller.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Blues fans - Did you know that you can buy a Criminal Record?   Yep, the Portland, OR record label has been reanimated! Check out this article that first appeared in the Portland Tribune for the details.  Thanks to "Uncle" Ray Varner for providing this info!
See you at the nightclub!
Ckeck out the Boneyard Preachers here.


Portland’s Criminal Records returns to musical life with a big bag of deLay history

By Jason Vondersmith
The Portland Tribune, Jul 28, 2011
Criminal Records produced 18 albums in its previous life, mostly in the 1980s.
It all started when Paul Jones was off serving the country in the U.S. Air Force, a Vietnam-era draftee. It was the late 1960s.

 As the story goes, one day when members of his former band Moxie gathered to jam, a fresh-faced teenager from Milwaukie High School strolled into the room, and picked up the harmonicas of Lloyd Jones, Paul’s brother and the group’s replacement drummer, and started blowing. At the end of practice, the harmonicas went out the door with the kid, who went on to practice them every day, barely stopping to eat and drink.
The blowing didn’t stop until Paul deLay had become one of the world’s preeminent harmonica players, before succumbing to leukemia in 2007 at age 55.
Today, his former bandmates and colleagues are setting out to bring deLay’s legacy back to life. Paul Jones, former bassist Don Campbell and producer Ray Varner, have given rebirth to the Criminal Records Northwest label that produced 18 records in the 1980s, many of them from the late, great Paul deLay Band.
While it’s unfair to say the blues in Portland began with deLay, the music hit its stride when deLay joined the newly formed band Brown Sugar with bassist Al Kuzens, guitarist Jim Mesi and drummer Lloyd Jones. The band performed up and down the West Coast in the 1970s.
Criminal Records Northwest, run by Paul Jones through most of the 1980s, plans to go back in time with its initial project, which debuted with the release and publicity of Bob Leitch’s film, “Portland Mojo: How Stumptown Got the Blues,” at the recent Waterfront Blues Festival.
 Tribune photos: Christopher Onstott • Criminal Records Northwest organizers Ray Varner (below, left), Don Campbell (center) and Paul Jones (right) have re-started the music label, focusing on the late Paul deLay’s first musical venture.
A CD of early Brown Sugar songs — live and recorded— will be made, as well as a DVD of band performances and television appearances and a book. Along with the Brown Sugar stuff, Criminal Records Northwest plans to re-issue several of its records.
Along with producing five Paul deLay Band albums, Paul Jones also guided the band on a European tour and through 50 shows opening for B.B. King. Criminal Records also put out D.K. Stewart’s first album, “Sun Valley Sessions,” and Paul Jones, after living in Hawaii for three years, re-incarnated the label and put out records for J.C. Rico and Steve Bradley. Jones also produced “All My Friends Can Sing,” a collaborative album with the Northwest’s topnotch blues musicians.
Varner got the thing going, wanting to re-start the label and make available a somewhat lost part of Portland’s music scene.
“I’m a retired teacher, and it’s something I’ve wanted to do, and I have two friends who are highly qualified,”says Varner, 65, and a player in the Eugene-Portland-Seattle blues scene of yesteryear. “I called them up and said, ‘Hey, records were cheap to make back then, let’s try it again!’ ”
The label intends to pursue new recordings, including a gospel CD, Varner says.
“At some point, yeah, we’d love to do some local projects (with bands),” says Campbell, 56, a freelance writer who still plays bass with much aplomb, most recently with Ron Rogers and the Wailing Wind. “But we have enough on our plate with the historical stuff.”

Courtesy of Criminal Records Northwest • A significant act in Portland blues history, Brown Sugar of the early 1970s featured (left to right) guitar player/singer Lloyd Jones, sax player Danny Fincher, guitarist Jim Mesi, bassist Al Kuzens, drummer Bob Lyon and harmonica player Paul deLay.

‘They were damn good’

Paul Jones, 64, who still drums in his off time from working for a crane company, says the public has always been fascinated with deLay, even through the larger-than-life musician’s trials and tribulations with drug trafficking. deLay served 41 months in federal prison in the early 1990s. What better way to re-introduce deLay than to go back to his musical birth, Jones says.
The band’s lone record, the four-song “Brown Sugar’s Greatest Hits,” was an oxymoron, considering it was its only official recording.
“It was a phenomenal band. I still listen to that stuff,” Campbell says, of Brown Sugar, which later added a drummer when Lloyd Jones took up guitar, and a sax player.
“They turned into a six-piece band in the 1970s, and they were this big, fat full band with a lot of power,” Paul Jones adds.“They came out and hit you in the face.”
“They were like any number of white postwar Chicago/West Coast blues bands,” Varner adds, “except they were damn good.”
Brown Sugar played its last gig on New Year’s Eve, ringing into the bicentennial year of 1976. From there, it became the Paul deLay Band, the staple of Criminal Records with five albums produced.
DeLay’s talent showed itself early.
“I can tell you, when I first saw him in 1973, I was on the floor,” Varner says. “He was unbelievably well-developed that early in his career.
“Later in his career he’d do things called overblows, which are very, very difficult — changing the key by not bending the shape of the mouth. You’re blowing so hard you have to change the key. I swear to God, you didn’t want to get in front of him, because reeds would start flying.”
“He was a master of the chromatic harmonica, which very few people can master,” Campbell adds. “He listened to all the blues harmonica greats. … I don’t think Paul understood his talent, and I don’t know how he came by it, except that he was studious. He was well-schooled, but always trying to push the envelope.”
Adds Varner: “(Curtis) Salgado shares this trait: He also had a wonderful memory for other people’s chops. Maybe it was why he was able to avoid being so derivative. They hear (music) and avoid the cliches.”

Early Portland blues

Campbell, Jones and Varner remember deLay as being a bit high-maintenance.
Says Campbell: “We recorded a tune called ‘Would You Baby,’ and he played straight position harmonica. He did 54 takes of a 12-bar solo before he was satisfied. He was really a pain in the ass,” a comment that draws laughter among deLay’s friends.
“It was tough to get him in the studio, because he was so self-conscious,” Campbell adds. “He was an enormous personality, but he had a shy, self-conscious side. Once on stage, right at the downbeat, he was on the rest of the night.”
deLay battled alcohol and drug addiction.
“But, no matter what was on the dark side of deLay’s street, I never saw him screw up a gig,” Paul Jones says.“He showed up at every gig ready to go. He never showed up drunk or embarrassed us or we had to cancel a gig. Everything he did off stage was another story; on stage, his name was on it. That meant a lot to him.”
The guys behind Criminal Records ( are enthused about their project, and plan to meet with Lloyd Jones, Mesi and Kuzens about it.
Paul Jones says they don’t expect to get rich, and Varner says they won’t be buying any islands in the Caribbean, but it’ll be nice to re-introduce early Portland blues to the public.
“I do believe there’s a market for it,” Varner says.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

An "Opportunity to Dance" tax...really?!

Lauri and I attended a dance fundraiser at the Century Ballroom in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood yesterday.  Why a dance fundraiser?  It was to raise awareness of and to help the Century defray the costs of the Washington Department of Revenue's "opportunity to dance" tax - an obscure tax that was apparently originally targeted at aerobics and jazzercise businesses, but is now being applied to the Century and other nightclubs.

Look here for the Century Ballroom's take on this tax.  Here is a link from the Department of Revenue's (DoR) website regarding how cover charges can be taxed if there is an "opportunity to dance" at the event.  Scroll down to the Cover Charges section to see what I'm talking about.

If I am reading the DoR verbiage correctly, it looks like businesses could avoid this tax by not charging a cover, something that would not be possible at the Century, or say the Tractor Tavern in Ballard.  Anyway, if this tax continues to be applied, there appears to be two issues: the affected business are apparently being charged retroactively (thus the Century Ballroom fundraiser) for this tax, and cover charges will have to increase as this cost is passed on to the consumer (you and me).

Dancing on the beach is not taxable in Washington State...yet.

I get that the State (and every other State) is hurting for revenue.  However, applying this tax without notice (or public hearings to the best of my knowledge), seems like the typical, dumb, bureaucratic way to go about this.  What do you think?

Check out the Boneyard Preachers here.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Preachers play the Rockfish Grill - 2/2/13

The Preachers played at the Rockfish Grill in Anacortes, WA recently.  It takes about one and a half hours to drive to Anacortes from Seattle.  The city is located on Fidalgo Island, and you can catch ferries there that go to the San Juan Islands and Victoria, BC.

The Rockfish features a nice restaurant, good food, beers from their micro-brewery, and best of all, flying PA main speakers for the bands to use!  This is an early gig (8:30 to 11:30) so we were on the way home by 12:30 AM.  Many clubs in the Northwest are moving to earlier starting times now - it is unusual to play the old standard 9:30 to 1:30 gigs anymore. 

We started a little late, but I thought we we did a pretty good job of entertaining an enthusiastic crowd, including many dancers.  This is the gig where I finally decided that my Fender Vibrolux just wasn't cutting it for harp, and I traded for a re-issue Bassman the following week.

Here's some photos from the gig for y'all:

Conrad Ormsby, Patty Mey, and Steve Yonck.  Photo by Lauri Miller.
Tim Sherman and Mike Lynch.  Photo By Lauri Miller
Blues brothers Tim Sherman and Steve Yonck.
Lauri and I stayed overnight in Burlington and took a leisurely drive home, including a stop in the tiny, interesting village of Edison.  We had an awesome breakfast at a restaurant called the Tweets Cafe, then visited the Edison Inn across the street.  They feature live music there, so we chatted with one of the owners for a little while.  Look here for an interesting blog about Edison.
See you at the nightclub!
Check out the Boneyard Preachers here.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Preachers play the 88 Keys - 1/28/13

On January 28th we played at the 88 Keys Dueling Piano & Sports Bar in the downtown Seattle Pioneer Square area.  We were there to participate in a combination video taping of Marlee Walker's Blues To Do public access TV show and a simulcast on the NWCZ Internet radio show Mighty Mouth Blues hosted by Oogie Richards and Sweet Danny Ray.

There were actually three bands that played a set a piece this night: The Blues Cousins (from Moscow, Russia), the Boneyard Preachers, and Blues On Tap (the club's regular  Wednesday night jam session band).  The members of the Cousins and Preachers were briefly interviewed between sets, and Blues On Tap hosted a jam session afterwards.

The Blues Cousins, a power trio, played a buzzy set of blues rock, that even included the Beatles' "Come Together" as their finale.  Their regular bass player couldn't make the trip so local bassist Farko Dosumov (Randy Oxford Band) filled in for him.

The Blues Cousins.  Left to right: Slava Ignatov, Levan Lomidze, and Farko Dosumov.

The Preachers played next, and I was pretty happy with our set.  Tim Sherman told me that he didn't think that he was really "on" that night, but I think that the fans in attendance would beg to differ!

The Boneyard Preachers. Left to right: Tim Sherman, Mike Lynch, Conrad Ormsby, Patty Mey, and Steve Yonck.  Photo by Pamela Eaton-Ford.

The band took off shortly after our set, and I hung around for a little while to watch the jam session.  The 88 Keys is a very large, nice club with a great stage and house sound system.  However, this is not really a full-time live music venue.  The club depends mostly on sports fans for their revenue after games.  Otherwise, they do the dueling piano thing on Friday and Saturday, the Blues To Do event on Mondays, and the jam session on Wednesdays.  Too bad, it would be fun to play there again!

If we get a video worth posting, I will make it available here soon.

See you at the nightclub!

Check out the Boneyard preachers here:

Reissue Bassman LTD project

I recently traded my very nice Fender Vibrolux Reverb for a very nice (practically new) Fender Bassman LTD amp.  The Vibrolux is a great guitar amp, but I was never really happy with how it sounded for harp, no matter what mic I used with it.

There's a new Bassman in town.

The Bassman LTD is Fender's reissue of the coveted 1959 Bassman, which was a failure as a bass amp but a very successful guitar amp.  It's a printed circuit board amp unlike the hand wired original, and is rated at 45-watts of output into four 10" reissue Jensen alnico speakers.  The channels can be jumped on this amp, which is a good thing!

However, I have never been crazy about the reissue Jensen speakers, and they sound kind of harsh to my ears in this amp.  Stoop Down gave me a box of ruined CTS (Chicago Telephone Supply) alnico speakers recently, so I am going to have them reconed and try them out in the Bassman.  These are the same speakers that are found in many of the mid to late '60s Fender Super Reverbs.


I can have all four of these speakers reconed for about the price of a single new Weber Jensen clone, so it is worth a shot.  Hopefully, I can get these into the Bassman before our gig next month at Leatherheads Pub in Stanwood. 

See you at the nightclub!

Check out the Boneyard Preachers here:

Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Preachers' gig at Engle's Pub - 1/25/13

The Preachers played at the tiny Engle's Pub in downtown Edmonds, WA last month, and had a pretty good time while we were at it.

How tiny is it?  Well, there no stage, we can only set up one PA speaker, the pool table is behind the band, and we have to be careful not to block the hallway to the restrooms with our gear.  This is a three hour gig, so we were out of there by midnight.

Engle's Pub, looking towards the front door.  The folks at the table on the left came all the way from Victoria, BC to see the Preachers!

The bandstand.

Surprisingly (to me, anyway), this place gets pretty crowded with folks that like listening to blues!  The most popular dance tune?  Our new original, "The Boneyard Preacher" (think Slim Harpo meets Alfred Hitchcock).  Also, two of our pals (bassist Tom Roesch, and guitarist Chris Stevens) dropped in to play with us at the beginning of the last set.  The owner wants us to come back, so it's all good!

I did meet a couple of interesting folks there.  The first was a guy that got all huffy when I told him that we didn't know "Mustang Sally" (sorry bro!), or any classic rock tunes.  He left, I think.  The second was a female singer that seemed to want to sit in really bad - after listening to our first set she asked me if we knew how to play a 12-bar blues (!).  No, but hum a few bars, and maybe we can fake it!

See you at the nightclub!

Check out the Boneyard Preachers here:

Sunday, February 03, 2013

The Preachers' Gear

I have had a couple of people ask me what equipment the Preachers use, so here's brief overview for you.  You know, in case you are wondering too...

I use an early '70s Fender Vibrolux Reverb to blow harp through.  Mics are either a Shure SD545 or my new recently rebuilt Astatic with a controlled reluctance element (thanks again, Lauri!). I use Golden Melody harps. 

Guitarist Tim Sherman plays a Custom Shop Fender Stratocaster or a Gibson ES-345 guitar through a '70s-something Fender Super Reverb amp.  He doesn't use any pedals.

Guitarist Steve Yonck plays a Fender Stratocaster of a Gibson Les Paul through a Peavey Delta Blues amp.  This is the model with the single 15" speaker.  He doesn't use any pedals either.

Bassist Patty Mey plays a Pedulla bass guitar, through a Genz-Benz Shuttle amp and an Eden cabinet with two 10" speakers.  Bass players have really benefited from technology - this setup works just fine in every size room that we play.  Remember the refrigerator-size cabinets that had to be hauled to gigs back in the day?

Drummer Conrad Ormsby plays a Boom Theory trap set, made here in the Northwest.  Check out that long kick drum - it sounds like a cannon going off!  Conrad also uses a very small floor tom.

That's it kids, see you at the nightclub!

Check out the Boneyard Preachers here: