Louis Pain, dubbed “Portland’s boss of the B-3” by The Oregonian, is a musician’s musician. (Just read the testimonial quotes at this site's "Home" page to confirm that.) When called upon, Louis is a dynamic soloist, but he specializes in the subtle art of making the musicians and vocalists he works with sound their best. For him, the song’s the thing, not showing off. That’s why he’s always in demand with his peers.
It’s been that way since Louis started playing professionally in his hometown of San Francisco back in 1970. Starting out in “Top 40” bands, Louis quickly graduated to playing in a variety of genres with some of the best musicians in the Bay Area, including funk guitarist Bruce Conte (Tower of Power), jazz saxophonist Jules Broussard (Ray Charles, Santana), gospel vocalist Dorothy Morrison (Edwin Hawkins Singers), and the late rock/jazz saxophonist Cornelius Bumpus (Doobie Bros & Steely Dan).
Since moving to Portland in ‘86, Louis has continued the trend, working with top Portland blues/soul artists including the late, great Paul deLay, Curtis Salgado, Lloyd Jones, and Linda Hornbuckle, and jazz musicians Mel Brown, Thara Memory, Dan Faehnle, and Dan Balmer. Louis also is the “first call” organist to back visiting musical legends, who have included Bernard “Pretty” Purdie,” Phil Upchurch, Martha Reeves, the Shirelles, and now-departed musical giants Solomon Burke, Howard Tate, and Bo Diddley.
In addition to working extensively as a sideman, Louis has blossomed as a bandleader in Portland, co-leading King Louie & Baby James with legendary NW vocalist “Sweet Baby James” Benton and organizing a series of successful soul music tributes featuring the Portland Soul All-Stars. Louis also has frequently led bands for weddings and corporate gigs, becoming Nike’s go-to musical contractor along the way.
In addition to freelancing as a sideman and leading his own groups, Louis rents out the best Hammond organs in the NW, teaches music, and hangs out at his Washougal, WA home with his wife/manager Tracy Pain and their children, grandchildren, & remarkably friendly cats.
"SWEET BABY JAMES" BENTON - Vocalist and Percussionist
(Photo by Ross Hamilton)
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 is featuring James on her upcoming CD, "Radio Music People," due for a February 2012 release!
Clearly Esperanza realizes what Portland audiences have known for a long time: that Sweet Baby James is a very special performer. As Willamette Week wrote, “Sweet Baby James is a human landmark of Portland jazz.”
RENATO CARANTO - Saxophonist
Renato Caranto arrived 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!
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!
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 King Louie & Baby James.
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, first with Nike, Inc. and currently with Columbia Sportswear. Clearly, Micah is one talented young man!
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 and the DK-4 (led by pianist-vocalist DK Stewart), 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.
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!
DAN BALMER - Guitarist
Dan Balmerhas 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!
LaRHONDA STEELE - Vocalist
LaRhonda Steeleis arguablyPortland's best-kept secret, but the secret is getting out. She is simply one of the finest 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, Linda Hornbuckle, Janice Scroggins, Paul Delay, Obo Addy and Thara Memory. 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. More highlights are certain to follow! Www.larhondasteele.com
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 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!