LaRhonda Steeleis arguably Portland's best-kept secret, but the secret is getting out. In July, 2016, KOIN t.v. in Portland dubbed her, "Portland's First Lady of the Blues." Amen--she is simply one of the finest blues & soul singers anywhere!
LaRhonda began her musical journey in Jones, Oklahoma, singing her first solo in church at the age of thirteen. Since moving to Portland, she has worked with many local and national artists, including Curtis Salgado, Norman Sylvester, Thara Memory, and the late, great Linda Hornbuckle, Janice Scroggins, Paul Delay, and Obo Addy. Performing at the Lincoln Center with Obo Addy in 2005 and at the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival annually are just two of the highlights of LaRhonda's career.
On 9-14-15, LaRhonda and Louis Pain released their first CD together, "Rock Me Baby." That recording received immediate buzz locally, then world-wide. A cancer survivor, LaRhonda says, "I've been through the fire." And that's how she sings: with fire & passion. Www.larhondasteele.com
Portland roots artist Lloyd Jones has recorded six critically acclaimed albums, toured internationally, and racked up dozens of major awards and accolades. He’s a member of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. He's a relentless road dog, hitting festival stages, Delbert McClinton’s annual Sandy Beaches Cruises (he’s been a regular on six winter cruises), and clubs all across the land to enthusiastic crowds who can’t get enough of his swampy blues, his backporch picking, his serious-as-anthrax funk, soul, roadhouse two-beats, and old-school rhythm and blues. Yet he may be the most invisible, best-kept roots/blues/Americana secret on the contemporary scene. --from LloydJonesMusic.com
RENATO CARANTO - Saxophonist
Renato Carantoarrived in the U.S. From his native Philippines with no possessions save a suitcase full of clothes and his horn. After touring the West Coast for a decade with a Philippine Top 40 band, Renato settled in Portland in 1992 and began playing the kind of music he loved: blues, soul, & jazz. Soon he was recognized as the best blues sax player around, winning the Cascade Blues Association's award for best saxophonist in '94, '95, '97, and '98. But jazz was Renato's true passion, and he never stopped studying and practicing with the goal of breaking into Portland's jazz scene.
Gradually, Renato began playing more jazz gigs and recording sessions, appearing with top Portland players including Mel Brown and Thara Memory. (Along with Louis Pain, Renato is a charter member of the popular Thursday night band, the Mel Brown B-3 Organ Group). After a flirtation with smooth jazz on his first CD, Renato's aptly titled 2001 release, “Straight Ahead,” announced his transition to blues-rooted modern jazz. In publicizing the release of that recording, The Oregonian called Renato “one of Portland's most soulful jazz saxophonists.” All the hard work had paid off.
Renato is now in constant demand, picking and choosing the projects he wants to participate in. Among his favorites: King Louie & Baby James. Renato's late father was a sax player from James' generation, and Renato loves nothing better than to enter the "Way-Back Machine" and play in his dad's style behind James' crooning vocals! Renato is also a regular in the Portland Soul All-Stars and King Louie's Portland Blues Revue.
In 2013, Renato toured the world with Grammy-winning artist Esperanza Spalding. And--demonstrating Renato's remarkable versatility--he's recording and playing west coast dates with country music legend Merle Haggard in 2014!
We tend to put musicians in categories. Blues, country, soul, funk, jazz, etc. But some artists’ talent is just too big to fit in those neat little boxes. Ray Charles was a classic example. So is Portland’s own Andy Stokes. Andy is best known as a modern R & B/ Funk singer; in the '80s, Andy’s lead vocals helped make Cool’R a phenomenon in the NW & beyond, and in recent years Andy’s own bands have packed Portland dance clubs on a nightly basis. But the fact is, Andy can sing anything. As Curtis Salgado puts it, “Andy Stokes is one of the best singers anywhere. I think he’s just amazing. I’ve got a wonderful voice; too bad for me it’s in Andy’s throat!”
After working together in a number of Louis’ “Portland Soul All-Stars” shows over the years, in 2014 Andy and Louis launched a hit series of special Jimmy Mak’s shows with “Andy Stokes Sings Marvin Gaye.” Fans lined up around the block for the SECOND show of the evening, a first for Jimmy Mak’s! Subsequent hit shows included “Andy Stokes Sings Love Songs” and “Andy Stokes Sings Teddy Pendergrass.”
Andy’s career is reaching a new level with the 2016 release of his debut CD on New5 Records, “Full Circle,” featuring the hit, “Promise.” The whole world is starting to “Get Stoked,” and why not? As Oregonian music critic Marty Hughley put it, “Andy Stokes sings with an earthy intensity that matches the magnetism of his extroverted showmanship on stage.”
MEL BROWN - Drummer & Bandleader
An Oregon icon, Mel Brown has been labeled the "Gentleman of Jazz," with a career spanning over forty years. The city of Portland proclaimed June 22, 1989 Mel Brown Day in recognition of Mel's achievements as a musician and educator, and he received the Governor's Arts Award in 2002. Mel is also a member of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.
Mel first made his mark as a Motown staff drummer, recording and touring with Martha Reeves, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, and others. He subsequently spent ten years working with Diana Ross and other pop acts before giving up the road in 1991 and returning home to his first love: jazz. Mel has been a fixture in Portland ever since, leading different groups six nights each and every week at Jimmy Mak's and other venues. That's when he isn't recording, playing big band gigs, or backing top visiting jazz artists like Joey DeFrancesco and Benny Golson. And somehow, Mel keeps up this busy musical schedule while maintaining a day job as a tax accountant!
Those who subscribe to the notion that only age and a lifetime of hardships can produce a blues musician have probably never heard Ty Curtis play guitar and sing, or listened to the powerful lyrics of his songs. Despite being one of Oregon's youngest blues musicians, Ty has already released five award winning CDs. As Greg Johnson, president of the Cascade Blues Association, stated, “Ty’s lyrics and music show growth, and these tunes shouldn't just appeal to the blues crowd; Ty's fully capable of crossing over for any audience that is put in front of him.”
What conveys so strongly on recordings translates magnificently in live performance. Backed by his longtime drummer Jerry Jacques (Tracy Chapman, Five Guys Named Moe), veteran bassist David Kahl (Paul deLay, Lloyd Jones, Pinetop Perkins, Duffy Bishop), and Louis on organ, Ty’s band is a powerful, driving unit that compels both dancers and listeners. He has repeatedly packed venues throughout the Pacific Northwest and delivers a knock out, high energy show every time out. As the late great Paul Delay put it “Ty plays it like a young man should, straight ahead and from the heart.” www.tycurtis.net
DAN BALMER - Guitarist
Dan Balmer has been called the defining sound of contemporary jazz guitar in the Northwest. Described by the Los Angeles Times as "the model of what a contemporary guitarist should be," Dan is one of the most original and creative artists to come from the fertile Northwest music scene.
Dan has played and recorded with a long list of jazz greats, has released six CDs of his own, is active as a jazz educator, and is a noted composer. In recent years, he's toured extensively with Grammy-winning vocalist Diane Schuur. No wonder Dan's in the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. www.danbalmer.com
CURTIS CRAFT - Percussionist
Curtis Craft--like Louis Pain, a Bay Area transplant--first made his mark on the Portland scene playing with internationally-renowned smooth jazz pianist & composer Tom Grant (whom Dan Balmer had also worked with). Since then, Curtis has performed with several other top Portland groups. Curtis displays a knack for playing just the right thing at the right time--drawing colorful sounds from a wide variety of percussion instruments.
Curtis is also a wonderful entertainer. His percussion "duels" with Mel Brown--featuring equal parts musical brilliance and humor--invariably bring the house down. And if you're an audience member, watch out; you might look up to see & hear Curtis rapping out rhythms on your chair or water glass!
EDWIN COLEMAN III - DRUMMER
Edwin Coleman III is best known as the funky drummer with Portland's 12-piece powerhouse Soul Vaccination. But he's actually an extremely versatile musician who has played with groups of various styles over the years, including gospel, Afro-Cuban, reggae, blues, jazz, and rock. He also studied piano for four years and cello for twelve!
This versatility isn't surprising considering the family Edwin comes from. His father is a bassist who has worked with Cal Tjader, Vince Guaraldi, and many others. His brother is also a professional bassist. His mother sang on Gene Kelly’s radio show as well as with Lionel Hampton. Edwin even has an aunt who sings opera professionally!
So it's little wonder that Edwin is accomplished and at home in so many styles of music. But here's a little-known fact: Edwin is also a cartoonist who documents every gig he plays with a professional-caliber cartoon that he later hands out to his fellow musicians!
PETER DAMMANN - Guitarist
Peter Dammann grew up in the Chicago area, listening to Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and all the other Chicago blues greats. Speaking of blues greats, Peter--along with Louis Pain--played in the late, great Paul deLay's band for ten years. Additionally, Peter and Louis co-led the No Delay Band (featuring soul diva Linda Hornbuckle on vocals) for three years while deLay worked on his songwriting while incarcerated on a drug charge.
Since deLay's untimely passing in 2006, Peter has kept busy working with King Louie & Baby James, the DK-4 (led by pianist-vocalist DK Stewart), King Louie's Portland Blues Revue, and other groups, as well as acting as talent coordinator for the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival. In recognition of Peter's enormous contributions in the latter role, he's been inducted into the Oregon Music Hall Of Fame.
"SWEET BABY JAMES" BENTON - Vocalist and Percussionist
Sweet Baby James Bentonhas been one of the most entertaining and soulful vocalists in the NW since the heyday of Portland's legendary Williams Avenue scene in the '50s. As a youngster, James played semi-pro basketball, and eventually he hooked up with the Chicago Hottentots, a spin-off of the Harlem Globetrotters. As part of that team's routine, James would walk to the side of the court and play some piano. That was the beginning of his musical career! Later, James played drums and sang with jazz great Johnny Martin. With Martin, James wrote and recorded a risque local hit called "The Body" that was banned from the radio! James was popular with the Hollywood crowd in those days (John Wayne, Connie Stevens, et al), and they'd regularly fly him to Vegas to perform at their private parties.
For a time, James operated a popular 24/7 barbecue joint/jam session out of his home, dubbed “The Backyard.” Featuring soul food, jam sessions (there were two pianos and a drum kit on site) and barebones accomodations (i.e., sleeping bags), James' place was THE hang for visiting Black entertainers (including luminaries like Sammy Davis Jr.). The success of The Backyard eventually led to James opening a traditional nightclub, Jimmy's House of Jazz, but the city shut him down after a successful year (maybe too successful to suit some). After that, James put his musical career on the back burner for a time, but he never stopped performing. In recent decades he's been a full-time musician, first with the Original Cats, then with King Louie & Baby James.
Speaking of the Original Cats, while leading that group, James mentored a teenaged female bassist. This was nothing new for James; he'd taken many young musicians under his wing over the years (including Mel Brown--now a NW legend in his own right). But that young bassist, Esperanza Spalding, went on to win the Best New Artist Grammy Award in 2011, and she often credits James as an important mentor.
Louis first worked with the late, great Linda Hornbuckle when she sang as a guest with the Paul deLay Band in 1991. A year later, when Paul was incarcerated on drug charges, the deLay Band morphed into the No Delay Band, featuring Linda as lead vocalist. The group was a local sensation, and Linda became known at "Portland's Soul Diva."
When Paul was released after three years, the band split in two, with Linda forming her own group and Louis (with guitarist Peter Dammann and saxophonist Dan Fincher) returning to the deLay fold. However, Louis and Linda remained friends and occasional musical collaborators.
Tragically, Linda passed away in 2014, but her ultra-funky band still performs occasionally, particularly at Jimmy Mak's, backing a rotating group of Linda's dear vocalist friends, including LaRhonda Steele, Andy Stokes, and Lady Kat. Linda's band includes Doug Lewis, guitar; Randy Monroe, bass; Lenn Russell or Brian Foxworth, drums; Louis, organ; and Renato Caranto, sax (when available). www.lindahornbuckle.com
Reggie Houston is a pre-Katrina transplant from New Orleans who has worked with a "Who's-Who" of Crescent City greats, including Fats Domino (for over 20 years), Irma Thomas, the Neville Bros, Dr. John, and Charmaine Neville. He's also recorded as a guest artist with pop stars including the Indigo Girls and Peter Gabriel.
Reggie is a wonderful saxophonist, vocalist, story-teller, and much more. Since moving to Portland in 2004, Reggie has worked with many NW musicians as well as leading several bands of his own, including "The Box of Chocolates." To learn more about Reggie, visit his website.
MICAH KASSELL - Drummer
Like a lot of talented young drummers, Silverton, OR native Micah Kassell is expert in many contemporary styles. He can play challenging jazz material, rock, Latin, funk—you name it. But he can also play a blues shuffle like someone who grew up in the 1950s. That versatility is what makes Micah such a perfect fit for Louis' groups.
Micah has worked regularly with Curtis Salgado, Lloyd Jones, Go By Train, Mike Pardew, Damian Erksine, and Ray Frazier. While touring with Salgado, he's shared the stage with Steve Miller, Kim Wilson, Charlie Musselwhite, Jimmy Vaughn, and Little Charlie & the Nightcats. All this while building a successful career as a graphic designer at Nike, Inc. Clearly, Micah is one talented young man!