Richard Lloyd

Rosedale CoverRosedale

Richard Lloyd’s place in the annals of rock music is secure. For over forty years he has proven himself to be one of the most versatile and knowledgeable guitarists in the business—with a career that begins with the founding of the new music scene in New York in the early-70s, extending through to the present, where he is a sagacious purveyor of a very highly refined craft.

Television circa 1973
Television circa 1973 with Richard Hell

Along with Richard Meyers (bassist Richard Hell) and drummer Billy Ficca, Richard Lloyd and his partner, guitarist Tom Miller (Verlaine), formed the band Television in 1973. Even more importantly for their own success, and that of countless other bands, the fledgling Television were instrumental in helping bar owner Hilly Kristal convert his country/blues dive bar into the quintessential punk/new wave dive bar: CBGB. The prototype. The heights (and depths) to which all punk/new wave dive bars aspired.

Television is renowned to have constructed the actual stage in the club as a demonstration of their solidarity. Hilly Kristal himself proclaimed that he thought Television’s first show at the revitalized club in March of 1974 was the “beginning of new wave.” To be sure, innumerable Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bands found their footing on that rickety CBGB stage, and made their subsequent fortunes from the incredible creativity that was spawned there at that magical time.

Television circa 1975 with Fred Smith
Television circa 1975 with Fred Smith

With Hell replaced by Fred Smith of Blondie, Television broke out nationally in 1977, via the release of their debut album, Marquee Moon, on the Elektra label—an album that to this day is regarded as one of the most seminal records in all of rock music history. In support of Marquee Moon and their follow up, Adventure, Television actually played the Earth Tavern in Portland in July 1978, with a molten set (a bootleg recording of which is available out there if you want to track it down. It’s worth the effort believe me!) Check out this version of the song “Marquee Moon” taken from that performance.

television liveWhat made Television special, then as well as now, was their unusual twin-guitar attack, which featured complex interplay between Lloyd and Verlaine. Television were always considered outside of “new wave,” not settling into any specific box—which made them far more difficult to market than some of their peers, such as Blondie, Ramones, Talking Heads and Patti Smith, etc. The band never quite found their niche. They essentially broke up by the end of 1978.

Their brief existence in the spotlight and lack of a convenient musical pigeonhole did not prevent Television from being highly influential. The Cars owe much to Television. Cars Ben Orr and Ric Occasek both sing in a highly stylized manner very similar to Verlaine. And though far more a pop band, their presentation owes a great deal to Television’s audio prescience. More recently, the Strokes have proven on occasion that they have spent some time in the living room with the Television. It’s a sound. It’s a feel. It’s woven fabric. Sonic Kevlar.

Richard Lloyd during an erratic period
Richard Lloyd during an erratic period

Post Television, Richard proved himself to be a talented, if somewhat erratic, solo performer, releasing two influential records: Alchemy in 1979 and Field of Fire in 1985, and the little heralded Real Time in 1987, before entering an extended period of performance as a side musician. From 1991 through 1995 he sporadically alternated with the late Robert Quine, serving as lead guitarist, both on tour and in the studio, for Matthew Sweet. He contributed numerous fiery solos to Sweet’s two finest albums, Girlfriend in 1991 and 100% in 1995.

Television_1992In 1992, Television reconvened for an eponymous third album that succinctly recaptured a sound the group had abandoned fifteen years earlier. The band infrequently played a few influential live concerts in the years that followed. Lloyd left Television, once and for all, in 2007

cover doesn'tHe released The Cover Doesn’t Matter in 2001. It’s not an album of covers, as one might expect from the title, but a collection of great original songs—clearly a distillation in many ways (the songs themselves and their arrangements) of the Sweet Experience. Fans of the aforementioned Matthew Sweet albums would find much to appreciate in The Cover Doesn’t Matter.

In 2003 Richard lent his NYC sensibilities to the Cleveland consciousness of Rocket From the Tombs, joining Cheetah Chrome (Dead Boys) and David Thomas (Pere Ubu) to explore anew the retrospectively precocious musings of the long deceased band founder Peter Laughner (also Pere Ubu—and an early admirer of Television, before his death in 1977), culminating in the release of Rocket Redux in 2004.

As with his previous solo album and Matthew Sweet, 2007’s The Radiant Monkey suggested Lloyd’s experiences with Television and Rocket From the Tombs: posing a tougher, more raw sound, while capturing some of the fire of his early solo career: the prickly quickness of his deft fretwork never far from the fore.

nevertsThe Jamie Neverts Story, issued in 2009, is a tribute album directed toward two people who influenced Richard, as a guitarist, more than any others. One was his high school friend and fellow novice guitarist Velvert Turner, and the other was Jimi Hendrix. One thing that distinguished Velvert Turner from just about any other teenager in the world was the fact that he actually knew Jimi Hendrix, and visited him in his flat when he was in New York for a concert or for recording.

Velvert would receive a guitar tip or lesson from Jimi and run directly over to Richard’s house to show him what he’d just learned. Together, the two young men mastered many of Jimi’s unique early techniques. It was through Velvert that Richard met Jimi Hendrix and was afforded the opportunity join with Turner in the studio (presumably the Record Plant for the Electric Ladyland sessions) to listen to mixes with Jimi.

Jamie Neverts was a covert code-name the two concocted in order to hide the identity of their famous mentor from friends at school. Richard has distinguished himself as a spirited raconteur, and he spins this tale in one of his many online interviews. (Also not to be missed are his esoteric guitar lessons—the series entitled The Alchemical Guitar—presented by Guitar World magazine).

Velvert Turner Group '71
Velvert Turner Group ’71

Velvert Turner released one lone album in 1972, a few years after Jimi died. And Velvert died in 2000, long away from the business of music by that time. But an audition of the guitar and vocal work on his only recording leaves no doubt as to the imprint Hendrix left upon him.

Likewise, it’s hard to tell where Richard Lloyd’s tribute to Hendrix begins on The Jamie Neverts Story (all ten numbers are faithful renditions of songs taken from Are You Experienced? and Axis: Bold as Love), and where the homage to his fellow acolyte begins, as their shared assimilation of the teachings of the master are not to be denied. They both learned their lessons very well.

Over the course of his career, Richard manifested those principles in myriad ways—perhaps the influence of Hendrix is not readily apparent in the twin guitar onslaught of Television. But then again their propensity for harmonic discord seems philosophically in accord with the master.

richard studioAnd since leaving Television, Richard Lloyd has spent the better part of forty years wandering the horizons of possibility his instrument offers. Moving from solo album to solo album, over the years, Richard has covered a lot of stylistic ground, seldom repeating himself. Every one of his solo albums has had an identity all its own. Each seems to acquire subtle features from the previous project.

So there are intimations of The Cover Doesn’t Matter and The Radiant Monkey (and always the work of Hendrix) in Rosedale. Still, though much of this was recorded before the event, something in this album reflects Richard’s recent move from his long-time home in New York City to a rural setting outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. There is a laid-back swampiness in the stylistic attitude displayed here. Even the name of the album suggests a rustic, burnished quality borne out by the music itself.

Photo by Godlis
Photo by Godlis

It’s a pastoral collection, a guitar record, pure and simple. But the Lloydian riffs are the same as ever, playing out against different contexts. More subdued. More laid-back, perhaps. Rootsy rock. Performed pretty much live in the studio with a minimum of overdubs, there are no supporting keyboards or background vocals, no sax solos. Just the basics. Drums, bass, vocals­ and guitar—maybe the occasional overdubbed guitar. But that’s it. No studio trickery. Simply the straight shit.

The brief, jagged riff that opens “Crystal Mountain” plumbs directly back to Television before resolving in a ballsy rocker with bluesy undertones. Richard plays all the instruments on this number, with crisp, whipsmart guitars decorating the periphery. There is a Joe Walsh-like quality to the vocals, bolstered by the general feel of the production.

Chris Frantz
Chris Frantz

Chris Frantz (Talking Heads) provides the beat on “The Word,” another rocker with big cajones. There are hints of Lou Reed in the vocals­—as well as Steve Kilbey of The Church—but this song swaggers far too fast for the former to keep pace, and too forthrightly for the latter’s informal vocal gait. The guitars gear like a watchspring, each cog turning another wheel. The effect is as if the guitar methodology of Television had landed in some other completely different thematic space.

“I Want You” is a primitive piece of work, originally recorded to 4-track. It’s a slow soulful blues-fueled number, reminiscent of Otis Redding, Percy Sledge or Joe Tex, with a touch of Lennon lime squeezed in. Richard navigates a rich falsetto through the vocal changes, wringing raw pathos from the tortured lyric.

Billy Ficca
Billy Ficca

Billy Ficca takes over the drum chair for the next five songs. His longtime association with Lloyd, via their time together in Television and after, coats Richard’s instrumental vehicle like a thick coat of paint. “Everytime It Rains” is very Sweet-like in its composition. Ficca’s drums bridle the intense prance of Richard’s keen guitar phrasings. He pins the ears back on a fantastic solo to lead out the final forty-five seconds of the song, with Billy playing the role of Mitch Mitchell. Hot! Hot, hot!

Which jumpstarts the reptilian slither of the next cut, “Tasting Quicksand.” Into a crucible riff that alchemically fuses elements of The Heads’ “Life During Wartime” with the Nuge’s “Cat Scratch Fever,” are stirred Richard’s goosey, falsetto infused vocal—reminiscent of Jagger circa “Fool to Cry” in the verses. The gritty chorus furthers the Jagger feel, more in the direction of the “She’s So Cold” era.

“Murder Boogie” is imminently self-descriptive: a swampy, ZZ Top-ish shuffle that affords Richard room for lots of tasty fills and blade-sharp solos, over a nasty vocal of wicked intent. Ficca’s bold beat drives “The Real Girl,” a charming pastiche of Television’s angular dynamism buffed with a country sheen—as sung, alternately by Warren Zevon, David Byrne or Marshall Crenshaw.

Richard Lloyd
Richard Lloyd

The blustery rocker, “Easy,” is so familiar, it sounds as if it has always been in the rock music canon. It could have sprung from any era. Richard tosses out a few Hendrix infused runs in the solo sections and the song breezes by like a springtime love affair. Catchy. The hook sticks in the mind like gum to a shoe.

The final two tracks feature support from musicians culled from the Chattanooga scene, and were recorded after Richard’s move to Tennessee last winter. It’s clear from the start of “Devil’s Design” that drummer Jeff Bonebill is up to the task of replacing the formidable Billy Ficca. And the addition of Terry Clouse on bass rounds out the sound as well, freeing Mister Lloyd to turn out low-slung sidewinder licks, and brash, slashing chord punctuations. The song could be the work of the Pixies—with some guy of Richard Lloyd’s magnitude playing lead guitar. Vocally, it’s a cross between the frankness of Black Francis and the reediness of Lou.

Richard Lloyd is not availed of the greatest singing voice in the world, but he manages to take it a lot of places. He gets his point across via rough hewn lyrics: sometimes course, sometimes dirty and gritty, sometimes smooth and resonant. Still, the centerpiece of this album is the unique guitar work.

Richard 3Every riff, each run, presented across the span of the entire album is dead on the money. Clarion flashes of clarity, and an acupuncture precision of attack differentiate Lloyd from the typical guitarist. He has nothing to prove to anyone.

This isn’t a great album. He hasn’t recorded his great album yet. But this album is solid from start to finish and quite enjoyable for its diversity and flair, and certainly worthy of his legend.

June 2016

A Special Goodbye to Steven “Pearly” Hettum


Steve Hettum, known as “Pearly” to his friends, died on February 8th, 2016. At the end of March, SP Clarke published a review of Steve’s final album, Folks Like Us, and a bit of an obituary. This month J. Michael Kearsey steps forward with a formal obituary for Pearly Hettum. A proper send-off. Michael, who has been a fixture in the local music scene since the 70s knew Steve very well, going back thirty years. They toured the UK together in the mid-80s and shared many adventures.

Michael played bass, with Dennis Elmer on drums, and Houston Bolles on lead guitar, to form the Janglers—Pearly’s crack backup band. Steve Hettum’s loss has hit a portion of the Portland music community very hard and efforts continue to bring life to some of the traditions he started.





Steven Charles “Pearly” Hettum
(March 3, 1957-February 8, 2016)

Steven Charles “Pearly” Hettum died peacefully and full of song on Feb 8, 2016. Born and raised in Gresham, graduating from Centennial High School in 1975, he spent a year at OSU and moved on to PSU as an English major. He met musician Billy Rancher and became his manager, taking him from bar rooms to a contract with Arista Records.  Rancher was stricken with lymphoma and the recording contract was quashed.

Steve went on to the University of London, studying classic English writers and poets. He met musician Mike Kahn, who accepted Steve’s offer to come to Portland touring the West Coast in 1985. In 1986 Hettum and Kahn brought Portland rockabilly trio, the Rockin’ Razorbacks, to England and then brought English blues musician, Mick Clarke, to Portland in 1987. Steve began to release his own records in the late 1980’s with titles Simple EleganceThe Jangler, Middle Age Man and Fishermen’s Ball. On a trip to Nashville, his producer noted his voice wasn’t golden but “Pearly”- a nickname that stuck.

He married Betsy Shanklin, loved her daughters as his own and became a father when son Emmet was born in 1992. Moving to Gold Hill, Steve worked as a musician and bartender, returning to Portland in 2000. He recorded two more CD’s with his band, the Janglers, including this year’s CD, Folks Like Us. All his records are available at Music Millennium, and

Diagnosed with cancer of the tongue in 2013, he had a successful skin graft but was told he might not be able to speak. Within a month, he was talking, singing and writing more songs. He established an ‘open mic’ night at Eugenio’s on Division to support local songwriters as well as traveling musicians. It ran for five wonderful years. When he was told he had terminal lung cancer last summer, he put his talent to work on his final album and continued to perform. Steve chose to have “A Wake While I’m Awake,” a musical event that brought together 300 of his friends and family on January 24th.

Steve is survived by his children Caia Shanklin, Margot Shanklin and Emmet Hettum, his mother, Connie Hettum, sisters, Jackie Miller and Sandie Cooper, and brother Mark Hettum and 5 grandchildren: Thatcher, Theodora, Khloe, Thalia and Magnus.

Contributions in Steve’s name may be made to the Oregon Music Hall of Fame Scholarship Fund at to support high school seniors furthering their music studies.

J. Michael Kearsey


Steven “Pearly” Hettum

coverFolks Like Us
Locals Only Records

Steve Hettum died on the evening of February 8th. He succumbed after a long, valiant struggle with cancer. His death was not unexpected. A few of his friends were able to put a life celebration together for him, what he called his “Wake While I’m Awake,” at the end of January, and several hundred people were in attendance.

To a lot of people, he was known simply as Pearly—a nickname he acquired in the ‘80s from a producer in Nashville, who found his voice to have a certain nacreous quality. He was a singer/songwriter from a country/folk tradition, on a trajectory scribing an arc between Garth Brooks and Van Morrison. His own compositions fell along that line somewhere.

Unreal Gods. Steve Hettum far right.
Unreal Gods. Steve Hettum far right.

I always saw Steve in a different light. When I first met him, in 1981, he was just a young guy in his early ‘20s. He had just begun managing a new band in town called Billy Rancher and the Unreal Gods. My friend Lew Jones introduced us one evening over at the Dirty Duck, a tavern that used to be on NW Glisan, at the base of the Steel Bridge. From that time on, my path crossed with Steve’s on a regular basis.

After he was unceremoniously dumped from his managerial position with the band in 1983, Steve subsequently made a couple trips to the United Kingdom, on one occasion guiding Portland rockabilly stalwarts, the Razorbacks through an extended tour of the country.

On another occasion he brought the K Khan Band over from Great Britain, and they played many gigs across the Portland area, though probably not to as much acclaim as they deserved. They sort of fell through the stylistic cracks in the Portland music scene of the mid-‘80s.

Steve in Europe
Steve in Europe

Steve lived in Europe for a while, studying at Oxford. He got married and divorced and married again, father to three kids, while living out of the loop down in southern Oregon. Then he divorced again and moved back to Portland.

I caught back up with him at about that time. It was the early ‘90s and he had begun performing as a solo act around town. In fact, I remember that Steve and Lew Jones hosted the very first open mics at the newly opened Laurelthirst tavern, when the music was still in the front window, and they were having neighborhood issues with volume, and the usual civic complaints.

Steve released a nice album, Simple Elegance, in 1991, showcasing a knack for crafting catchy country/folk songs, and singing them with a pure, iridescent voice that, except for the faint whine of a craggy twang, was free of all affect.

It was about that time, too, that I began my first preparations to write a book about Billy Rancher. It had been five years since he had passed—and just before his death I promised Billy that I would tell his story. At the time I thought I would be writing a biography. Since Steve had been the manager of Billy Rancher and the Unreal Gods, I started the process of gathering notes for my book by interviewing him first. Doubtless his insights would be different from those of the other members of the band. From my conversations with him, I was able to begin roughing out an outline for the book I had in mind. A sequence of events.

A few years later a fellow published a biography of Billy and the Gods, called Rocky Road—thus my plans for a biography were pretty much shot down. After all, how many biographies does the world need of an unknown musician who died before reaching his full potential? I didn’t give up my plans for a book. I kept my interviews with Steve, my outlines and notes and put them away for quite some time.

UNreal gods
UNreal gods

It was Steve’s version of events that I held on to. Doubtless I could have chosen someone else in or around the band to interview. And that was most certainly my original plan. But somewhere along the line, since I could no longer write the biography I had in mind, I decided the book might actually work better as a novel: where Billy’s story could become archetypal and not simply relegated to a backwater bio.

And while the story I tell in my novel UNreal gods is most certainly Billy’s heroic tale, it’s also Steve’s story—his point of view. And, as in real life, his character is an affable team player, willing to do the unsung dirty work behind the scenes. Not every person is cut out for those duties. It’s an unforgiving position, with few rewards. Whatever the case, Steve did his job well.

I lost track of the guy again after that. I know he was managing the kitchen out at the Edgefield for a while. Then he was gone again. It turns out he’d ended up moving back down to Gold Hill to help raise his two kids. That’s the kind of dutiful square guy Steve was. He made every effort at all times to do the right thing. He was always very conscientious and fair.

At the Alaskan Folk Fest, April, 2000
At the Alaskan Folk Fest, April, 2000

The next time Steve’s name came up was in the late 2000s. I’d heard through the grapevine that he was back in town. I saw him play a couple songs when the wall was still up at the old Eugenio’s. But it wasn’t until 2011 that I really had the chance to catch up with him again. He was the congenial host of the weekly Wednesday open mics at the new, post-wall Eugenio’s. By that time, he’d been at the helm for a year or two and he had a real smooth operation going. There was always a huge crowd there.

He ran a tight ship. He’d open the evening by singing a few songs to set the mood, and then he’d introduce each successive act to take the stage. Novice or old pro, Steve always had a kind thing to say in the presentation of each performer. If you think running an open mic would be a fairly easy gig, you’re out of your mind!

Think about it. You’re dealing with “ sensitive artist” types with egos as big as the Great Trumpkin himself, totally unrealistic about their own abilities. Some are pushy. They want their slot at such and such a time. Can my daughter crowd in? The family’s here. I was with Steve on many occasions when I was astounded that he didn’t go off on somebody for stepping way over the line. I know I would have. Still, Steve always handled every situation with fairness and affability.

But he was having health issues. He’d had something happen with his foot. (He’d broken his back while living in Gold Hill). And he was nursing a hip that he eventually had to have operated on. Then he got cancer of the tongue. They ended up removing a chunk of his tongue and he had a tough time speaking for a while. But through it all, he persevered, rarely missing a Wednesday Open Mic at Eugenio’s. Friends took up for him when he was out, keeping the gig going. But he didn’t miss that many shows, really. He just played through.

Open Mic at the Starday
Open Mic at the Starday

There was a period a few years back, when Eugenio’s was forbidden from having music at all—at which point Steve moved the Open Mic operation to the Starday Tavern on Foster. That went on for a month or two before the music was back at Eugenios’s and so were Pearly’s open mics. And from that point on, the place was packed out on any given Wednesday night.

The Janglers
The Janglers

Over time, Steve put together a tasty little combo of backing musicians, local pros who’d accompanied him on one or another or all of his various recordings over the past twenty five years. They were called the Janglers. Steve sang lead and played rhythm acoustic, Houston Bolles on lead guitar, J. Michael Kearsey on bass and Dennis Elmer on just a snare and a ride cymbal. Don’t kid yourself, Dennis Elmer can do more with a snare and a ride cymbal than most drummers can pull off with an entire field array of percussive artillery.

Dennis Elmer
Dennis Elmer

All in all, with comparative ease, that quartet could knock out an evening’s worth (more than half of the songs were Steve’s originals, the rest: well chosen covers) of top-notch entertainment—at easy listening volumes! Steve’s genial charm and his incredible ability to get people’s attention always made for a fun affair. Always.

J. Michael Kearsey
J. Michael Kearsey

But, as it so often does, Steve’s cancer came back. This time in the form of an inoperable tumor in the upper lobe of his left lung, right behind his heart. He had options to go with chemo and radiation treatments, to try to prolong his life for an additional three or six months. But Steve had seen what that process had done to his friend Billy Rancher in his final days and that’s not the way he wanted to go. So, he decided to forego further treatment and just ride the process out to the end.

open mikeI think it was last September when Steve first started to complain of chest pains and of feeling ill, lacking energy—and it was understood that the decline had begun. But that in no way deterred him from holding court with his regular Wednesday Night Open Mic at Eugenio’s and occasionally gigging with the Janglers on the weekend.

Around November, word got out that Eugene Gray was going to have to close Eugenio’s some time in December. Unbeknownst to most, the building’s owner/landlord, Tim Ellis, who also owned Kung Fu Bakery Recording Studios next door, was forced to sell his interest because he too was suffering from a struggle with cancer. This was one rare instance where Division Street gentrification was not directly responsible for the demise of the enterprise.

Open Mic 2By the time the middle of December rolled around and the final days of the club were being celebrated and mourned, it was becoming clear that Steve was in a great deal of pain. Despite that, or just as likely, because of it, Steve played on, hosting his final Eugenio’s Wednesday Night Open Mic on December 16th. I can’t remember the final total on his weekly open mic events. I think he hosted 306. It was over three hundred, I know that.

The Janglers played their last gig on Friday, the day before the closing of the club, on December 19th. If you didn’t know of his condition, you would not have known how sick Steve was, or how much pain he was enduring. On the tiny Eugenio’s stage, he was his in his element, being his typical fount of hospitable conviviality. His voice was thin, but still sure as pearl. His guitar playing was still crisp. He went out on a high.

steve fresh tracks
In the studio.

I spoke with Steve by phone frequently and visited him in mid-January. His condition had deteriorated dramatically. It was clear he was dying. He played me cuts of the album he was finishing up—whenever he was up to it—with members of the Janglers and many other friends joining in. He’d been working on it for a while, but when it became apparent that he didn’t have a lot more time left, he stepped up his recording schedule, jumping into Jon Lindahl’s Fresh Tracks studio whenever he could muster the strength to give it an hour or two.

Towards the end, his trusted friend, Steve Edgren, manned the board, recording a couple of songs in the living room of Steve’s apartment. He was weak and frail, but he knew what he wanted. Even in his final days he was directing traffic as he always had, whipping everyone into shape.

Madi Goldsmith and Will De Lance of the Glue Horses performing at Steve Hettum's "Wake While I'm Awake."
Madi Goldsmith and Will De Lance of the Glue Horses performing at Steve Hettum’s “Wake While I’m Awake.”

A bunch of Steve’s friends organized the event for him on January 24th. We weren’t sure Steve would live to attend his “Wake While I’m Awake.” But, as through all things, Steve showed rugged determination, and he wasn’t about to miss the celebration of his life. He was there, right up front in the place of honor. Many of the performers who made Steve’s open mics so successful took the stage to play for him one final time.

Steve sat in his recliner, soaking up every minute of the event, so sick and weak, his voice was just a hoarse croak. He could barely speak to the stream of well-wishers who came up to greet him and say their last goodbyes.

But someone had given him a microphone, so occasionally he would bark out some orders to performers or speakers on stage. And he sang with everyone for the evening’s fitting finale, “Party By Myself,” with a solo vocal for a verse, which led to an inspired round of choruses to close.

Steve “Pearly” Hettum died two weeks later on Monday, February 8th, at Steve and Esther Edgren’s house. Steve and Esther selflessly looked after Steve in his final days, offering him hospice in their home, allowing him to die as he wished: in peace, with friends and family at his side.

familyA fitting end for a guy who spent so much of his life looking after the needs of other people—as manager for Billy Rancher and the Unreal Gods, as a husband and father, and as host to an interminable array of insecure musicians with enormous egos at his weekly open mics (I include myself among them)—he always took charge of the situation to put people at ease. When he was at his end, he was at ease and he had put someone else in charge.

Which brings us to Folks Like Us. What started out as the next Steve “Pearly” Hettum album eventually became his send-off, and you can feel that energy among the performers here. One can hear a profound sense of desperate determination among the musicians, motivated by the bleakness of the situation. But through it all, it was Steve who kept flagging spirits high, creating a mood of joy and thankfulness that is palpable from start to finish.

Among the fourteen songs presented, three are well-chosen cover songs, and a couple others are reworkings of self-penned songs he had produced for other recordings. But most of the material is new and original and performed with the sort of urgency you don’t hear on every record released these days.

The title track leads off the set, a homey, hillbilly sentiment reminiscent of the ‘50s, Claude King, Johnny Horton and the Burnette brothers, etc.—all cornbread in the oven, chicken in the skillet and cows out in the barn. Steve always had a knack for making any song he wrote sound autobiographical, so I have no idea if this yarn about his cousins in Oklahoma and family in Missouri, his Granny in Nebraski who smokes a pipe, or his cousin in Kansas, bear any resemblance to the truth. It sounds like “Wolverton Mountain” to me. A fascinating piece of Americana, all the same.

Jeff Bailey and Pearly
Jeff Bailey and Pearly

The arrangement is standard Janglers fare, stripped down a bit: with Steve on vocals and acoustic guitar, a little percussion and Jeff Bailey’s bass (and accordion)—laidback, but spot on, bustin’ along like a spirited pony. Guest Ritchie Raye contributes totally appropriate mood fiddle that lends the scent of hickory to the smoke in Steve’s tale.

“Cowboy Song” has been a staple of Steve’s repertoire for several years, this rendition culled from his 2008 release, The Jangler. It’s a yippy-oh-ki-yay song, to be sure, but there is an element of Van Morrison in the melody and feel. It’s an intangible. But when you hear Steve’s take on Morrison’s “Wild Night” a little later, the connection becomes clearer. There’s a vague element of Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away” at the back of the sonic palette too. Jon Lindahl’s tasty slide guitar lends the perfect western element, while the piano backing fills out the rhythm section

Steve was regularly accused of being sentimental, in fact one of the songs found here, “Sentimental Bastard” defends that position (Billy Rancher suffered from the criticism that his songs were “corny,” which he freely admitted: so the compulsion runs in the family). “Funny Little Girl,” a paean to his daughters Caia and Margo, could pass for Ralph McTell or maybe Nick Drake. And because it’s about his daughters, he can be forgiven for his references to “licorice drops and peppermint sticks.” I’m not sure Drake or McTell would go there.

Houston Bolles
Houston Bolles

I actually thought Steve’s adaptation of “Weep No More” was his own composition. It sounds nearly nothing like Bad Company’s version from 1975. And I wasn’t familiar with that one in the first place. Steve wisely cut out a lot of superfluous material to get to the heart of the song. A streamlined take, with a bit of a country feel. It’s a Janglers arrangement, with Houston Bolles singing the high vocal harmonies, and adding a sweet guitar solo in the middle.

Steve’s had “For Pete’s Sake” in his catalogue for many years. It’s a song dedicated to Pete Jorgusen, who was the drummer for the Malchicks—Billy and Lenny Rancher’s band that preceded the Unreal Gods—and with whom Steve had a special friendship. Jorgusen died of cancer early in 2010. It’s a philosophical song, perhaps a father addressing his son, with a message about intention and accomplishment.

Steve Edgren
Steve Edgren

“Luella” is one of the last songs Steve wrote and recorded. With the help of Steve Edgren at the controls, Pearly recorded this in the living room of his apartment—just a solitary vocal and a lone acoustic guitar. Edgren described the occasion like this: “About three weeks before the album was to be mixed, Steve was putting the finishing touches on ‘Luella’. I stopped by his apartment one afternoon, and he was having an exceptionally good day.

“He said ‘I think I’m done writing “Luella”’, and grabbed his guitar and started playing it. I could tell the energy was there and stopped him, grabbed my phone, and started recording. As luck would have it he nailed it. I’m glad we recorded it that day because he never was able to play like that again. We did a lot of overdubs at Steve’s.”

It’s a ghostly lament, the wild, wicked, wraith-like Luella haunting his every waking moment, obviously recorded spontaneously, but with undeniable magic, all the same. About half way through, Edgren contributes additional guitars and the Janglers join him via the magic of studio overdubbing for a stirring finale. Following the performance, Steve briefly recounts the fascinating tale of how the song came to him in a dream.

Photo by John Alcala
Photo by John Alcala

There are no surprises with “My Old Man” and “Sentimental Bastard.” Those bookends are performed solo, just Steve, his guitar, and his memories—shared with candor and honest reflection. One cannot help but be touched by these simple songs. “Sweet Rose Diane” is a moving ballad in 6/8 time, from the folk tradition.

“If I Were a Christian,”also spills from a folk idiom, in the Bob Dylan vein (circa Blood on the Tracks). Steve’s observations are tinged with thinly veiled rancor: “I am not an Arab/And I am not a Jew/And I do not sympathize with either of the two/When they draw the line in Palestine/For another holy attack/And then they wonder at the other side—‘How come you’re shooting back’?” The rest of the commentary hits home with similar explosive impact.

There are many similarities between “Boogie Man” and “Luella.” For one thing it was recorded in Pearly’s living room studio, the Caruthers Street Corral, again under the oversight and assistance of Steve Edgren (although this track was recorded via a twelve track digital recorder, not a phone). And it’s another song of voodoo voogum, here sounding as if Doctor John were chewing through a swampy rendition of Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” with Creedence Clearwater Revival providing the accompaniment. Edgren’s lead guitar fills seem steered straight out of “Born on the Bayou.”

steve1Pearly’s warm depiction of John Prine’s “Souvenirs” touches all the bases. A home run. As with many covers Steve performed through the years, he found his way inside the song to make it his own. When I first heard it, I wasn’t sure if Steve had written it, or what. I thought it sounded like a Danny O’Keefe (“Goodtime Charlie’s Got the Blues”) song. The cut is also the perfect example of what the Janglers brought to their live shows. Simple. Subtle. Laid-back, not a wasted note, and tasty as all get out.

Conversely, Steve’s smart take of the aforementioned “Wild Night” is backed by a hefty contingent of guests—including a manifoldly stacked sax section created by the legendary Dan Schauffler (Nu Shooz, Crazy 8s), steeped in a rich broth cooked up by fabled organist Dover Weinberg. Vocally, Steve could easily pass as Van Morrison’s American born cousin, again making the song his own, from the inside out.

The album comes to a dramatic conclusion with the cathartic hymn, “Get On Board.” Deeply rooted in American gospel, spiritual soil, fully twenty people preform on the finished track, lending their talents, including the eleven-voice Diversion Street Choir.

Diversion Street Choir
Diversion Street Choir

Knowing the end to his story makes the song all the more poignant, as Steve was not playing with the possibility of leaving this life behind. He knew it to be a certainty. With that big, dark cloud hanging over his head, he created a piece of music that shines with immense light. Even to the end, Steve’s message remained resolutely clear and strong: “I lost the battle, but I won the war/And I feel the fire within /I’m knockin’ on the door/ Please let me in/Forgive my sins/I don’t want to go back to where I’ve been.”

And there it is. Few artists are availed of the opportunity to release a fitting close to their careers before the end of their lives. Coincidentally, David Bowie was able to do just such a thing before he died in January. That concurrence was not lost on any of the participants.

Steve's BoardTribute. Statement. No person could better sum up his own life than Steve Hettum himself. Unabashed schmaltz, whiplash insights. Imaginative expressions of well-worn homilies. Steve was an expert at setting a mood, at making everyone in a room comfortable. This album is no different. It brings joyful warmth to all who hear. Goodbye, Pearly.

The past six months have seen the city lose a number of important longtime contributors: Brian Berg in October, Dane Petersen in November. Jimmy Boyer died on January 21st, Steve died February 8th, Andrew Loomis died March 8th and Tim Ellis died on March 21st. Five of those sixth deaths are attributable to cancer. These were not old men here, people! They were still in their primes. One must ask himself what the hell is going on in this city that cancer is so persistently in our midst?

Home Base 2620 SE Powell Wednesday Night Open Mic
Home Base 2620 SE Powell
Wednesday Night Open Mic

The process has begun and we’re only going to lose more of our friends in the days and years to come. For that eventuality we must steel ourselves and appreciate what we have while we have it.

Though Eugenio’s closed in December, and Pearly’s Wednesday open mics ended at the same time, the Lost Tribe of Eugenio’s wandered for forty days and forty nights before longtime participant Larry Harrel, “Latenight Larry,” was able to secure a new location for the weekly event. Homebase Coffee and Espresso (and Tavern) at 26th, across Powell from Cleveland High School. In honor of Pearly’s spirit, in his memory, the music continues.

The space is small and intimate, in much the same way as Eugenio’s was. Late Nite Larry has hosted six Wednesday night open mics in the new venue, and every week the response is greater, and the quality of the musicianship, already of keen order, challenges all participants to perform at a higher level. In just a few visits I have seen several acts, one in particular, that I’m certain I will be writing about in the future. Rest assured that Steven “Pearly” Hettum will be watching over it all.








Matty Charles and Katie Rose

katy cd final (in progress) (3)-minCatching Arrows
1906 Records

It was precisely two years ago that I first ran across Matty Charles. Steve “Pearly” Hettum had just been forced to move his very successful Wednesday Nite Open Mic operation from Eugenio’s on inner Southeast Division, to the Starday Tavern—farther out on Southeast Foster. I wrote about that transition.

It wasn’t a perfect fit. Nothing would be, really, in comparison to the uniquely artistic atmosphere and congenial milieu of Eugenio’s. The Starday is laid out laterally along a narrow corridor, with the small stage up next to the entry door. Not so conducive to artist/audience interaction. The audience stretches away into the distance.

Eugenio's Veterans at the Starday
Eugenio’s Veterans at the Starday

But even with the change of venue, Pearly’s Wednesday Nite Open Mics successfully migrated to the Starday. Many of the Eugenio’s regular performers made the journey. A few new voices made appearances as well.

One of the things the Starday had going for it was an engaging young bartender, who regularly manned the station on Wednesday nights. Matty Charles. I’m not sure how it happened, exactly, but let’s just say I have a knack for getting people to tell me their life stories—part of the trade, one would assume. It transpired that Matty told me of a former musical career as a singer guitarist, in what was a burgeoning alt country folk scene in Brooklyn.

Matthew Barber grew up in Southeast Portland, and attended Jefferson High School. While he was still in high school, he and some friends formed the band PHNEA. Matty notes with pride that he bought his bass rig at Captain Whizeagle’s. Old school all the way! The band played Satyricon and the X-Ray Café, getting paid, as he says “mostly in beer, which was great for teenagers.”

After high school, Matty travelled the world some, settling in New York City in 1993. He was was in the vanguard of an old-time music revival in Brooklyn in the early 2000’s. Just as with the original folk renaissance in Greenwich Village, fifty years earlier, the scene consisted of a small coterie of local musicians circuiting between a few clubs in the neighborhood. The loci of that thriving little scene was a neighborhood joint called Pete’s Candy Store.

It was at Pete’s Candy Store, that Charles and his trio, the Valentines, maintained a weekly gig, and it was where their popularity grew and they achieved modest success. Over the course of ten years, Matty released four records (several with the Valentines), composed the musical score for a film, playing himself in a bit part in Hal Hartley’s Meanwhile.  

Land Beyond the Sea by Matty Charles and the Valentines
Land Beyond the Sea by Matty Charles and the Valentines

Both with the Valentines and through solo gigs, Charles gradually acquired a reputation for his gritty alt-country style as a guitarist and vocalist. The Village Voice compared him favorably to Guy Clark. Acoustic Guitar Magazine heard Johnny Cash or “a less twangy” Robert Earl Keen. Other critics likened him to Willie Nelson, Steve Earle, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristopherson.

But Oregon’s siren song beckoned him home to Portland in 2012. Shortly after his return, Matty met Katie Wheetman at the Landmark Saloon one night, and from that encounter forward a partnership was struck. Katie brought a pedigree of her own to the collaboration.

Her father, Danny Wheetman, has an array of musical creditials among which include playing fiddle for John Denver in the ‘80s. He has fronted the touring band, Marley’s Ghost for over thirty years. Her mother, who performed as vocalist in an Aspen band called Pearly White in the ‘70s, is a singer/songwriter today who performs under the name Seraina Wood. And though she frequently sat in with her musician twin brother Trevor at some of his gigs in Seattle, Kate had never sung in a “band” before. Then she ran into Matty.

Matty Charles and Katie Rose
Matty Charles and Katie Rose

“Matty and I met by chance at the Landmark Saloon in May 2012.  I had just been on a family trip where I did a bunch of singing, and when I finished the trip, I vowed that I would find some folks to play music with in Portland.  The night I met Matty, he had his guitar with him, so I asked him for his card so we could get together and play sometime.  We got together the next week and discovered that our voices had a really great blend etc….”

So, it was a year or so after their moment of kismet that I met Matty tending bar at the Starday Tavern out on Foster Road. It was only a matter of time until, during a lull in a particularly slow evening, Jeff Bailey coaxed Matty into coming out from behind the bar to perform a song or two.

What Matty did was to play deceptively simple guitar phrasings on his old Martin guitar, while singing his own songs with a voice like burnished hickory. I was blown away, and I told him so: another propensity of mine. He was good. Total pro. A sound and style all his own.

Katie and Matty
Katie and Matty

A few weeks later, Matty was back at Pearly’s Open Mic—on his night off, no less—this time with a tall, pretty, dark haired woman in tow. Katie Rose. They sang three or four songs together. He usually sang in the lead, with Katie providing sweet high harmonies, against Matty’s effortlessly well-executed guitar accompaniment. I was knocked out. My favorable impressions are in that same article, cited above.

They’ve been working toward the release of this album since those days—a couple of songs I heard that first night are represented in this collection. The record doesn’t sound that much different than a Valentines effort, except for the fact that Katie’s presence greatly alters the environment.

There’s a reason why there have not been a lot of great vocal duos in the history of popular music. It’s very hard to do. More precisely, it’s very hard to do well. I can think of Simon and Garfunkel and the Everly Brothers doing it well. Even fewer are teams comprised of a man and a woman.

It’s not just the difference in the voices that’s hard to manage, it’s the difference in gender perspective. The material must reflect an unique spirit of togetherness, even if the song should speak to falling apart. George and Tammy, and Sonny and Cher are the only pairs of male/female vocal acts that I can think of as pulling that feat off.

George and Tammy
George and Tammy

Matty and Katie traverse musical turf nowhere near the domains of George and Tammy, nor Sonny and Cher. As I pointed out in the previous review, their construal is far closer to the rare encounters between Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Their country is the western prairie and the lone restlessness such wide-open distances produce.

The couple recorded the basic tracks live, just Matty’s guitar and their two vocals, accompanied by drummer Kevin Major, at Fremont Studios, with Brud Giles manning the board. Instrumentation sparse and in keeping with their style, Matty and Katie recruited Joel Savoy to play fiddle and guitar, and Nick Forster to play tenor and electric guitars, and mandolin.

Forster is a member of a Grammy nominated bluegrass band called Hot Rize, and the producer/host of a radio program E Town, based out of Boulder, Colorado. Veteran bassist David Jackson is a founding member of the band Dillard and Clark, and Hearts and Flowers, and has played a long list of well-known rock and country artists, from Jackson Browne to Dwight Yoakam.

Matty Charles
Matty Charles

Matty actually sounds a little like Jackson Browne on “What I Want,” with his reedy vocal intonation, pining a lonesome plaint, until Katie jumps in for the harmony parts, wherein the combination of voices instantly melts into golden Everly butter. The musicianship on this cut is out of the park. Nothing overstated. Everything perfectly pristine and in its place. Nice.

Katie’s lead vocal on the simple “Julia” recalls early Linda Ronstadt’s honeyed euphony, an engaging  choirgirl, a sense reinforced even more when Matty adds the backups— sounding all Don Henley-like circa “Hasten Down the Wind.”

The homespun waltz, “Steady and True,” calls to mind Gram and Emmylou. Humble and plain guitar backing simple vocals. Echoes of Irish balladry reverberate from a distance. But at many turns the blend between Matty and Katie is pure Everlys—there’s a certain ineffable quality—only rarely duplicated. A stroke of fortune, to be sure.

A stripped-down ballad, “Maryanne,” plays like something Townes Van Zandt might have written. The ghost of John Denver lingers in the corners of the melody. Guest Arcellus Sykes’ elastic double bass columbines around the trellis of Matty’s deceptively simple guitar presentation, the creaky weariness in his voice smoothes when Katie arrives for the harmonies at the chorus.

photo-2“Hey, Pretty Birds,” is a lilting waltz, again with Sykes’ backing on bass, that recalls some of the great folk singer/songwriters of the early 70s: Steve Goodman, Danny O’Keefe, Paul Siebel and a hint of Jerry Jeff Walker at the back of the sonic palate. Katie slathers on more Everly harmony gravy. And there you go. It doesn’t take much for these two to make a song work. They draw you into their very intimate world, spinning their tales like cobwebs.

Conversely, “One Hundred Years,” is pure, old-time traditional country corn—the Everly vocal blend is never far away. Savoy’s forlorn fiddle kicks things off. A faint echo of J.D. Souther and Linda Ronstadt dueting his “Faithless Love” threads through the vocal melody, although the twang is set to stun in this instance. In addition to the fine fiddle, Savoy chips in some mighty slick pickin’ in the solo. Zesty!

The Linda Ronstadt comparison seems apt, as Katie takes the lead for “Where They’re Gonna Bury Me,” a performance that sounds as if it could have come from that same Heart Like a Wheel period. Forster provides subtle, but perfectly placed electric guitar fills, never once crowding the space, but always adding just the right touch, usually with a country chortle or trill.

photoI wrote about “Glorietta” in that Starday article, so I won’t repeat myself (for a change) here, but everything I said then: all the comparisons and descriptions, are completely in keeping with everything here. It’s a pretty, dusty, windswept song. The familiarly catchy chorus and Forster’s flitting mandolin phrasings decorate “Standin’ On the Corner (With Your Head On Fire),” yet another of Matty’s superior compositions. The wonderful bridge is far outside the alt-country territory he has staked out for most of his material, stylistically. An unexpected departure in just the right place in the program.

“Long Gone” sits outside the fences of the country pasture, as well. Closer to Jackson Browne (with Emmylou backing) perhaps. The pining feature is still prominently strong in the lad, but here more in keeping with a folk rock sensibility. Everything about each of the dozen songs on this album is flawless—skillfully executed by the players—well-crafted numbers: each instantly recognizable, as if the song had been heard a hundred times before. Matty is an expert at weaving new cloth from old strands.

untitled shoot-9156
Katie Rose

Katie returns to intone the winsome solo vocal on “Stars That Shine,” joined by Matty with harmonies at the turns. It’s perhaps her best effort of all, demonstrating Brud Giles’ proficiency in capturing the delicate articulations expressed within her richly human voice. Every nuance and filigree is secured with faithful attention to detail. It’s yet another of those songs that’s been out there in space for quite some time, waiting for someone to write it. And Matty just happened on to it first. He’s got a lot of songs like that here.

For example, “I Belong to Heaven” sounds as if it has always had a back page in the American country gospel hymnal, though bursting forth with a secular sensibility: “I am not a miner for the things that cannot be/I belong to heaven and the world belongs to me.” It’s a simple arrangement. Just a guitar and two voices, but the purity of the sound is remarkable. Katie and Matty blend in a most unique way—here somewhat differently than most of the other songs in the set. Her angelic soprano soars above Matty’s homely baritone, like June Carter above Johnny Cash’s younger brother. Try to hear that one I your mind’s ear!

Matty Charles and Katie Rose

Their music is deceptively simple. The accompaniment doesn’t come any more stripped-down than this. What there is of it is at all times quite tasty, but the audible landscape is mostly quite sparse. Matty Charles and Katie Rose bear the weight of these songs squarely on their shoulders. Lesser singers could not pull off the task. Their vocal blend is directly in the spotlight throughout this program and they never once fail to deliver. As authentically American as roots music gets.




March 2016