Paul deLay Band Bio / Heavy Rotation (8/21/01)

On their new release, Heavy Rotation, it becomes obvious that the band has continued to evolve as a unit and as individuals. At first, the most apparent difference from the band's previous outings is the elimination of electric bass from the lineup. As Paul explains, "The Hammond organ bass is a joy for me from a soloist standpoint because it's so consistent, so sturdy, and it just really frees you up to think." Speaking more generally, Paul says, "I think what really works about Heavy Rotation is the fact that we're becoming a little more minimalist in our approach, and I thought that gave it more cohesiveness. The core group has been together 11 years now. Of course, I was gone for a few in the middle there. But nonetheless, I really do count myself lucky that we all managed to meet up at the same time. It really has clicked in a lot of ways. This band can do a lot of different things, so we're still stretching out and checking out some different styles on this one." (The 'few years' he's referring to was a period of 32 months--from May 15, 1992 to January of 1995--that Paul spent in a Federal prison camp on a cocaine bust.)

With Pain's Hammond organ providing a thick cushion underneath, Fincher honking on tenor sax, new drummer Kelly Dunn laying down solid yet supple backbeats and right-hand man Dammann providing a nasty, stinging touch on guitar throughout, deLay wails with abandon on harmonica on a set of fresh originals while delivering the telling lyrics with a soulful, sanctified touch. One of Paul's signatures as a songwriter has been his ability to draw from his personal experiences in crafting tunes. Perhaps the best example of that on Heavy Rotation is the humorously confessional "It Isn't Easy Being Big," which points out the pitfalls of carrying 330-plus pounds around on your frame. "Believe me, it's no fun," says deLay. "Big is one thing but really not having much energy at all is just kind of depressing." As he puts it in the song: It's like giving somebody a piggyback ride but you got to do it all day long."

"Bess & Ernie's Rib Joint" is a poignant downhome piece of reportage about the deterioration of a soul food shop a few blocks from Paul's Portland home. As he sings in that tune: "Bess & Ernie's Rib Joint,...but it's just Ernie now. And business has been steady slowing down. Yeah, it seems like Ernie hadn't been quite himself since that woman been gone."

And "Giving Up The Body" is based on Paul's observations while driving through grim little factory towns on his way back to Portland from Chicago. "That tune is not about something out of my own experience but nonetheless it's something that really moved me," he explains. "Looking at some of those brick row houses in those factory towns, it really seemed like a hard life to me. That feeling just kind of stuck inside someplace and I had to get it out in song."

Going to real life experiences for his material rather than relying on tried and true blues covers separates Paul from the majority of contemporary blues artists on the scene. "Usually I have to do a tune to get it out of my system," he says. "It's a combination of things I've seen with a little bit of imagination thrown in. It's reality with a touch of poetic license...just enough to round it out."

He adds that he wasn't always so original in his approach to songwriting. "Until I got clean and sober I was very much doing covers of the blues tunes, although I think perhaps some of the things I chose to cover were a little less known than the standard blues repertoire. I was fortunate to know some great djs and collectors around the Portland area who supplied me with some pretty gourmet things to cover. But once you start writing tunes it becomes a really fascinating hobby and it's something that is always in the back of your mind someplace. You develop a sort of hunger for it and you've got your ears perked up all the time for ideas."

Aside from his rich, insightful storytelling and clever wordplay on Heavy Rotation, deLay also deals with some seriously infectious grooves on pieces like the opening "Over Money", the earthy "So Near", the raunchy Chicago-styled "Wealthy Man" and the twistin' addiction ode, "I'll Quit You Tomorrow". And he blows his chromatic harp in typically dazzling fashion on "Jimmy Jones", his jumped-up instrumental tribute to jazz organist Jimmy McGriff, and on the swinging jazz shuffle, "In The Pocket."

deLay's Musical Style

Growing up in the Portland, deLay developed musically without the towering influence of the Chicago blues legacy hanging over him. Consequently, it's allowed him to find his own voice as singer, songwriter and harmonica player at his own pace without having to toe the line of tradition. "I haven't had the usual input being up here in the Pacific Northwest as some of the guys who grew up in Chicago," he says. "Plus, I think people here were glad to hear what I was doing while back in Chicago you often have to prove yourself and fight your way through the pack. There seems to be a lot of ëWho do you think you are' sort of mentality going on there when you buck the tradition. And I'm glad I didn't have to deal with that here in Portland. There weren't so many people looking down their nose at me when I was coming up and getting my thing together."

That kind of liberating environment has allowed deLay to freely and genuinely express himself as an artist, and he's documented that rare quality on record on six occasions now. As he puts it, "I think a lot of my playing may be a little too sweet sometimes. It's like mostly sweet with a little bit of mean while someone like Charlie Musselwhite is just the other way around. Sometimes I think I need a little more edge." Striking a perfect balance between romantic, poignant and streetwise on Heavy Rotation, deLay delivers real-deal blues in a rough-sweet style that is all his own.

Band History

Paul's musical career began in 1970, when the 18 year-old harp-player helped form the seminal Portland, Oregon blues band "Brown Sugar." The first "Paul deLay Band" came nine years later, and that was a hard-working, hard-playing outfit, self-producing four albums over a ten-year period while logging about 200 gigs a year touring throughout the West. But that was also a period of hard-drinking and drugging, and it wasn't until Paul's 1990 bust that he really came into his own as an artist.

Faced with the consequences of his choices and his impending incarceration, deLay--a good person with a bad drug habit--confronted his demons and became drug and alcohol-free for the first time in two decades. With new-found clarity of thought, deLay's perspective and demeanor underwent a profound change. And after having written only a couple of songs in the previous twenty years, music began pouring out of deLay's pen, enough for several albums.

That was also the year that two current deLay Band members joined: saxophonist Dan Fincherówho had earlier played with Paul in Brown Sugaróand organist Louis Pain. With the addition of these musicians, joining guitarist Peter Dammann who had been with Paul since 1987, the nucleus of the present band was in place. And within months, with the release of The Other One, the striking originality of this new Paul deLay Band became apparent. Gone were the tried and true blues covers with their "She done me wrong" lyrics, replaced by original songs based on Paul's experiences and told with his unique blend of pathos, humor, and clever wordplay. Gone also was the traditional blues band instrumentation and approach to arranging, replaced with an intricate weave in which sax, guitar, and harmonica often functioned as a "horn section," and in which influences ranging from jazz to gospel (even Lawrence Welk!) could be discerned. Music fans in the Pacific Northwest knew something special was going on. That release was followed in 1992 with the similarly well-received Paulzilla. (Both albums, originally released on the deLay band's "Criminal Records" imprint, were re-released on Evidence as Take It From The Turnaround in 1995.Following Paul's 3-year incarceration on the earlier drug charges, the band recorded two more impressive CDs: the cathartic Ocean of Tears (1996) and Nice and Strong (1998). In February of 1998, deLay took a one week/one album sabbatical from the band and traveled to Chicago to record deLay Does Chicago with guitarist Rockin' Johnny Burgin and his band along with special guests, Chicago blues legend Jimmy Dawkins and vocalist Zora Young.

Bandmembers Bio

This is not your typical blues band: each member brings a wide range of musical knowledge and experience to the table, along with the maturity to resist the temptation to show off their abilities. Above all, it is a band, with a single-minded focus: to help Paul tell his stories as powerfully as possible.

47-year-old guitarist Peter Dammann's resume is not the conventional profile for a blues band member. Although he grew up in the Chicago area, where he sat in with many of the "Windy City" blues legends at South Side clubs and at the infamous Maxwell Street Market, blues was only one influence. He studied classical guitar seriously for many years; played in a college lab band with jazz legends Max Roach and Archie Shepp; for the last eight years, he has organized Portland's Waterfront Blues Festival, for which he received the Blues Foundation's Keeping the Blues Alive Award as Blues Promoter of the Year (2000). Listen to his terse, well crafted solos that help characterize the band's sound.

San Francisco-born organist Louis Pain, age 49, has a similarly eclectic background. While still in his early 20's, Louis worked with a number of noted blues musicians, including Luther Tucker and Frankie Lee. But during his Bay Area years, Louis also worked with gospel singers (including Dorothy Morrison), jazz musicians (including Jules Broussard), funk players (Bruce Conte from Tower of Power), fusion musicians (Barry Finnerty from the Brecker Brothers and Miles Davis), etc. And since moving to Portland in 1986, Louis has also performed with drum legend Bernard Purdie, Solomon Burke, Robben Ford, Portland drum great Mel Brown, and others.

53 year-old saxophonist Dan Fincher fits right in. His ensemble-oriented approach to playing comes very naturally: his parents were professional musicians and by his teens, the Portland-raised drummer/sax player was playing gigs with them. In 1979 (after his early stint with Paul in Brown Sugar), Dan moved to the Midwest, where he spent ten years playing with bands of every style imaginable, usually as the lone horn player. By necessity he developed his unique style of "rhythm sax," always adding to the groove and texture of a tune without "sticking out." During these years, Dan also learned to "double" on keyboards, working with many "oldies" acts, including pianist Frankie Ford (who taught him about "playing in the cracks"), Tommy Roe, Del Shannon, The Crickets, Lou Christie, The Shirelles, etc.

The newest deLay Band member, 41 year-old Seattle-born drummer Kelly Dunn, is probably the most well-rounded musician in the bunch. A fine keyboardist and bassist as well as drummer, Kelly's knowledge of music is encyclopedic. He has played in "cover" bands, rockabilly bands, jazz & Latin bands.

Peter Dammann, Paul deLay Band, PO Box 25542-E, Portland OR 97225
phone: (503) 244-5827 fax: (503) 289-2836

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