The two local musicians perform together at Cloud & Kelly’s
Creighton Lindsay and Dave Plaehn represent the best qualities of the Corvallis music scene. They’re not just ace performers — Lindsay threads a six-string blues you’ll feel in every ache; Plaehn saws down a scalding harmonica — they’re also supportive in combined and separate endeavors.
Backed by a distinguished coterie of friends and veteran players (a who’s who of zip-code luminaries that includes drummer Gary Nolde; bassists Bill Foss, Ray Brassfield and, natch, the Mysterious JG; guitarist Jeff Hino; fiddle player Deborah Lindsay; and horn master Rob Birdwell), both celebrate their own most recent achievements, as well as each other’s, with a joint CD-release party at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 25, at Cloud & Kelly’s Public House in Corvallis. Admission is free.
The albums in question — Lindsay’s “Gabardine” and Plaehn’s “Amos Got Soul” — offer ample reason to exult. It’s been almost seven years since Lindsay’s “Round by Round,” and nearly a half-decade separates “Amos” from Plaehn’s “CrazyMan” (truth: he’s actually an affable chap). Rest assured, however, both are worth the wait.
Not as divisive as its original title, “Schism Road” (so named for an artery Lindsay passes en route to the Mount Angel Seminary, where he serves as associate dean), “Gabardine,” instead, evokes an easy timelessness in its tour of American and international forms. Brian Chojnowski’s cover shot of a skirt over dancing legs (his wife’s) completes the theme visually.
“That triggered in my mind these images of 1950s swing and things like that,” Lindsay says of his reaction of the photograph. “Gabardine was a very popular fabric with dancers and rockabilly stars. It was light but durable, and it draped nicely.”
That’s a fine analysis of the album, too. Produced by Lindsay and in part by old friend Bob Lawson (who assisted on “Round by Round” and helmed “I Ain’t Worried,” the guitarist’s 1982 debut — which, incidentally, came out about a year after Plaehn’s first effort, “Smokin’”), “Gabardine’s” palette weds Lindsay’s tones to practically any fashion: country-flavored calls (“As Good Belongs to Me”), bittersweet ca.-’59 last-dance clinches (“Celine”) and electric shake-rattle-and-ramble ragtime (a rousing arrangement of Three Tobacco Tags’ ’36 chariot, “V8 Blues”). Dave Plaehn blows feral harmonica through “Wishful Thinking’s” jook-joint hoodoo; he also jolts “I Ain’t Got No Home” and closer “Red Rocking Chair,” where he and Lindsay join banjo maestro John Gawker for a three-man sun-porch kickback.
Plaehn spices his own album with pocket-piano workouts — “Stranger Blues” strips it all down to one man and his troubled mind — but “Amos Got Soul” rides a more contemporary pulse or, more accurately, MIDI keyboards, through 12 diverse tales of darkness and delight. When I ask if there’s any significance to that title, Plaehn replies, “It was one of those stream-of-consciousness events. It doesn’t have any meaning, although it sort of means something in the context of the (title) song” — which, incidentally, is a lovely number that evades interpretation thanks to such lines as “I wrote myself a letter that nobody’s seen / It doesn’t make any sense, but I know what it means.”
“Amos” is rife with sonic surprises, highlighted by the Echoplex (tape delay)-laden shadows of “Hold My Tears,” co-carved by Walk the Plank; the sunsplashed “Doodle Li,” featuring saxophone by the late Stuart Curtis, in whose memory the disc is dedicated; and a pair of shots with longtime Plaehn-Hino partner Jeff Hino in “The Woman I Left Behind” and the toe-tappin’ “Harp Stomp II.” Creighton Lindsay drops in with electric mandolin on “Praise Jesus” and bottle-bottom peals in “Pickin’ Up the Pieces” (though his playful wolf-curl does lighten the mood).
To hear these men weave musical magic is a sonic blessing and a half. But their chemistry is just as delightful offstage, as they proved last week when they stopped by the office for an afternoon dialogue.
Was it serendipity that you completed your albums around the same time, or was it planned that way?
Dave Plaehn: Serendipity.
Creighton Lindsay: We’re on each other’s projects, so we keep track of what’s going on. I don’t think we decided to race (laughs), but it was clear that we were close.
Plaehn: It’s still pretty amazing. Didn’t we submit the same day to the manufacturer? There were a lot of coincidences.
Creighton, what prompted you to work with Bob Lawson again?
Lindsay: We’d written a few emails over the years. I just emailed him and said, “Would you like to do the next one?” and he said, “Sure.” The technology’s changed so much. On “Round by Round,” I got on a plane and took out all the hard discs and tracks. You sit there while they do it. This time I sent files to him in L.A. and it was like magic. I like it this way better.
Bob’s really mellow, but he works you hard too. When he came out for “Round by Round,” he was a slave driver. If I get a guitar track done, I tend to say, “Hey, that’s a good day’s work. Let’s knock off and have a beer.” He comes from a tradition of hourly rates and trying to get a lot done. I put myself in his hands because I know we’ll get a lot done. He’s very positive and gives you a lot of encouragement to keep you rolling.
You scored Gus Van Sant’s first feature-length film, 1986’s “Mala Noche.” What was that like?
Lindsay: He’s an easygoing guy. He would give me video — it was VHS back then — of rushes. He was living in Portland and I lived here. I would sit in my living room, playing and trying to come up with themes. Then I went up and took some instruments, and we did it all in one day. It’s not a very involved soundtrack — mostly just guitar, a little percussion and some piano. He sits there right next to you while you’re recording and encourages you or says, “No, let’s do that again.”
Plaehn: You’re still living off those royalties, right?
Dave, you grew up in Iowa and discovered the blues as a young man. What attracted you to the harmonica?
Plaehn: I was playing in a band as a keyboard player and one of the singers. The lead singer didn’t play an instrument, per se, except for harmonica and tambourine. We’d practice at my parents’ house and he’d leave the harmonicas there. We were doing Rolling Stones and things like that, which had harmonica once in a while. The Standells had this song, “Dirty Water,” which had a little part. So I started picking it up and something clicked. I decided to learn a song: Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me.” I listened to it over and over until I got it. Then I finally met up with some blues players and they gave me little hints like “Don’t play like Bob Dylan” or “Use a different technique.”
What brought you to the guitar?
Lindsay: My mother was a musician. She played the piano and got interested in the ukulele when I was about 9 or 10. I think she bought a Martin ukulele. It was the late ’50s/early ’60s. The folk music revival was happening, so Mom had some books with tab for guitar. Although it doesn’t transpose directly, you can make the same chords. I started singing “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” and some of the songs from the book, strumming on the ukulele. When I was about 12-13, she brought home a guitar. Both of those were supposed to be for her, but I appropriated them pretty quickly. I don’t think she ever saw them again. She didn’t mind, though; she was very supportive.
I really don’t know how I got interested in the blues. When I was about 15 or 16, a guy named Frank Warner, who was a musicologist, came to my little town (Cooperstown) in upstate New York. He had two sons, Jeff and Garrett, who’d been brought up in the middle of this great folk tradition. They’d known the Reverend Gary Davis and a lot of people. They invited me to this Country Dance and Song Society camp in Woods Hole, Mass. There I met Happy Traum, who’s on some of Dylan’s early records and was a great guitar player and teacher. He lived in Woodstock, N.Y. So I started going down — it was a three-hour bus ride — to Happy’s house on Sundays. He’d pick me up at the train station, take me back to his house, give me a sandwich and we’d have a couple hours for a lesson. Then he would take me back down to the bus station and I’d go home.
But Happy had grown up in New York during the whole revival. He knew Sleepy John Estes, Lightnin’ Hopkins — anyone who came through town to play the folk clubs. He was part of that scene. He taught me a lot. Then I got an electric guitar. (laughs)
How did you end up in Corvallis?
Plaehn: I had a good friend who lived here. I wanted to get out of Iowa. I’d come down here one time just to check it out, and odd, serendipitous things happened while I was here. “It’s a sign!” That was around 1984.
Lindsay: I was on a tour of the West in the early ’80s with a band called The Moosetones. We played Corvallis on one of those beautiful October nights. You could look to the west and see the coast range, then to the east and see the Cascades. The sky was this kind of brilliant blue, just beautiful. I thought to myself, “This is a really good place.”
I met my wife, Deborah, on that tour. She moved out and lived with me back east for a year or two, then we came out to be back here with her family. She got a job offer in Albany and I said, “This is the place we’re supposed to go.” We stayed in Corvallis with a guy named Clyde Curley, who used to be a great fixture in the music scene in those days.
How’d you cross paths?
Lindsay: I knew of Dave, but I don’t know if Dave knew of me. I had to do a couple of tunes for a compilation CD for this company back east (in Massachusetts) called Time & Strike Music. So I needed to record something in town, and I knew that Dave had a recording facility. I called him up and asked if he would record me. We’ve been collaborating ever since.
Plaehn: We knew of each other before that, though. Because you called me up and said, “I heard you had a four-track recording machine. Can I borrow it? We’re going to make some Christmas — ”
Lindsay: The Christmas tapes — that’s right! Then later on, when we did those other two tunes for Time & Strike, you had a much more sophisticated rig.
Plaehn: I had an eight-track ADAT, which was much higher quality.
You’ve performed and recorded together often over the years. What do you think the other brings?
Plaehn: Creighton’s got a great sense of time and I feel like I’m more icing on the cake. When Creighton plays with us, he’s a big influence on what’s going on. It’s an organic thing; we all feed off each other and it creates this sense of a big picture. I’m more detail-oriented — many times I don’t see the forest for the trees.
Lindsay: Dave brings dance moves (laughs) and he’s a great player. People love to hear him, and he makes me sound good. When you give him a solo, it comes to life. •