The story of Jimmy Mak’s is way too big for one person to tell. It could fill a library! But for me, as for many other musicians and music fans, the impending closing of Jimmy Mak’s—at least at its current location and possibly forever—is triggering a lot of personal memories. I performed at this wonderful venue (including both locations) around 2,000 times over 19 plus years! There were so many magical nights along the way that I can’t get my mind around it. It’s not an exaggeration to say that my Jimmy Mak’s experience has been a dream come true.
During my ten-year stint in the Paul deLay Band, we worked on dozens of Paul's quirky, brilliant, original songs. But the one we worked the longest and hardest on—by far—was “Remember Me.” Week after week in early 2001, we'd assemble in my Gresham garage and play the song—never to Paul's satisfaction. It wasn't that he didn't know what he wanted. The song had come to Paul in a dream, nearly fully-formed. But that was the challenge: to make it sound just as it had in that dream—haunting and ghostly. Ostensibly, the song was in the voice of Paul's late mother, who had come to him in the dream, wishing to be remembered. But at one point Paul confessed to us that the song was also about his own wish to be remembered after he was gone. Paul needn't have worried on that account: none of us who knew and worked with Paul deLay—or even just heard his music—is likely to forget him.
With an exciting new Soul Vaccination CD, featuring guest guitarist Bruce Conte, about to be released, I've been thinking about how it came to be. It's a long, winding story, going back to my teens in San Francisco.
In gathering and posting materials for my new website, I got reacquainted with some of my old recording projects. One that stood out was the 1994 release (long out of print), "Soul Diva Meets the Blues Monsters" by Linda Hornbuckle with No Delay. Listening to the CD for the first time in many years, I was knocked out. And in talking to Linda, Dennis Carter (engineer & co-producer on the project), and guitarist Peter Dammann, I learned I wasn't alone. They all feel that CD is one of the very best they ever recorded. So I decided, "Time to do a re-order!"
I have to say, I'm kind of proud that the No Delay CD has stood the test of time. Back when we recorded it, not all the participants were completely on board. The general feeling was that we weren't ready.
The other day, in a Facebook post about an organ rental I’d just done, I included a photo of a particularly lovely Hammond B-3. The post stimulated a lot of comments--mainly about the photo! The pictured B-3 was indeed a beauty--and as it happens, there’s an amusing story about it.
The Oregonian dubbed me “Portland's Boss of the B-3,” but in part that's because I'm the best-known of a very small group. Oh, there's some wonderful gospel organists playing in Portland churches, but as far as blues-jazz B-3 guys, we're far & few. By contrast, when I came up in the San Francisco Bay Area music scene of the '70s, there were organ players—and good ones—all over the place. The B-3 was a dying instrument—being replaced first by the Fender Rhodes piano and then by synthesizers—but I was lucky enough to catch the tail end of its heyday.
I was an "early adopter" of video recorders, purchasing a Quasar VHS top-loading VCR soon after the machines made their debut. I don't remember the price, but it was steep, and the blank tapes were no bargain either at $16 apiece (that was on sale)! Likewise, I jumped on "Hi-Fi" VCR's when they first went on the market, and on "Super-VHS" machines when they appeared (with their own over-priced blank tapes).
There was a method to my madness: back in those days (late '70s thru early '90s) I was dedicated to recording all the jazz-blues-soul-gospel music I could find on-air, and in the best quality possible. I studied T.V. Guide religiously each week, marking those rare live performances by exciting artists with a highlighter pen and programming accordingly. If the performance turned out to be lip-synched, I erased it. But if it was the real thing, I saved and archived it. The result: I have a library of hundreds of hours of video recordings of off-the-air musical recordings--complete with an alphabetical index. Some of those performances are truly rare--no one else has posted them on YouTube. Others have been posted before, but in poorer quality.
Last night, I played a gig with "Big Monti" Amundsen at the Trail's End Saloon in Oregon City, OR. Nothing too remarkable there: I'd played five or six times with Monte before, and back in the day I played at the Trail's End all the time, especially with the late, great Paul deLay. But what was different last night was that I didn't bring an organ & Leslie speaker to the gig. In fact, while the keyboard I used--my Nord Stage 2--does have a great organ sound, I played piano and electric piano on it almost exclusively (playing thru a 25 lb amp instead of a Leslie).
What sacrilege is this? "King Louie" away from an organ is like a true monarch away from his crown & throne!
Well, Tracy and I just spent three days in Anaheim, CA at Winter NAMM 2012. We had a great time, but three days later we're still experiencing a NAMM hangover.
The Mel Brown B-3 Organ Group has the night off at Jimmy Mak's this Thursday (1-12-12), but it'll be a busy week for me nonetheless. First, on Wednesday, Tracy and I are flying down to Oakland, California for our friend David K. Mathews' Ray Charles Project @ Yoshi's. The show will feature three outstanding vocalists: Tony Lindsay (Santana), Chris Cain, and Glenn Walters. Plus, I'm told that one of my all-time favorite organists might stop by: Chester Thompson (Tower of Power, Santana).
In looking for some video clips for this website, I came across a "Monte Carlo Club Reunion" camcorder recording from 1987. By that time, the SF nightclub being celebrated had been gone for about a decade. But its spirit was alive that night in '87, and the video--poor in quality as it is--captures that, so I've added it to this site.
I first played at the Monte Carlo (then the Keyhole) in '72. It was a small, intimate, predominately black club on Bayshore Blvd, near Candlestick Park. I was twenty years old, and this was my first jazz (or "soul-jazz") gig. The bandleader was the great saxophonist Jules Broussard, who'd replaced Fathead Newman with Ray Charles. Up until this time, I'd only played in Top 40 and soul bands, and this was a true apprenticeship for me.
Something most people don't know about me is that I've been renting out Hammond B-3 organs & Leslie Speakers for nearly as long as I've been playing. For a long time, it was a rare thing--someone would call me out of the blue and ask if they could rent one of my organs. This was back when I lived in the SF Bay Area. Some of those rentals were pretty cool--like the time I rented a B-3 out to Billy Preston. Unfortunately, he was so animated at the keyboard that he broke the bench!
UPDATE, 2-28-12: The 5-18-12 Wicked Wilson Pickett tribute by the Portland Soul All-Stars, referred to below, is being converted to an Etta James tribute (see details under the "Gigs" tab). Stay tuned to this website re/ future stagings of the Wicked Pickett and other soul legends tribute performances.
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It's been great, looking back & reminiscing as I've assembled materials for this website. But as my first jazz bandleader, Jules Broussard, used to say, "The past is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there." I'd rather live right here in Portland, Oregon in 2012!
I played a gig in Bend with Renato Caranto, Edwin Coleman III (from Soul Vaccination) and Derek Sims this past Saturday. The gig was great: part of the Jazz At Joe's series. The ride home was expected to be another thing--a long, grueling affair, fighting off sleep, fog, and oncoming headlights all the way. But it turned out to be enjoyable as Edwin and I shared stories from "the Way Back Machine."
The website has been up about a week now, and I've been getting lots of positive feedback. For me, the experience--especially gathering materials for the site--has been a real walk down memory lane. At times this has been pure fun--like finding an old photo of myself with Bruce Conte's 80's cover band "Hot Street." At other times--especially when viewing photos, CD tracks, & videos of the Paul deLay Band--it's been bittersweet. It's hard to accept that Paul passed away at such a young age.
Well, I've finally broken down and gotten a website! I hope you enjoy it. If you explore a bit, I think you'll discover some pretty cool stuff: bios, CD tracks, photos, gig posters, videos, and much more.
Most of the uncredited photos were taken by my lovely wife & manager Tracy Pain. Most of the cool design work on posters, CD covers, etc. was done by my friend, the brilliant Nike whiz (and shredding guitar player) Dave Gill. The "banner" photo (at the top of the site) as well as the nice photos on Mel Brown CD covers, posters, etc., were taken by Jim Semlor. (www.semlorimages.com)
Anyway, please test drive the site and give me some feedback. Sign up at the email list if you wish. My hope is that this website will be an entertaining and ever-changing place to visit and interact--not just an exercise in self-promotion.