[the following is an
interview of Lowell J. Mitchell by Blue Duck in 2007.]|
B.D.: Well, first off I want to try and get you to describe
your sound for our readers. I spent a good bit of time today trying to
decide how I would explain it before I revisited your website and
biography. The blues is very dominant in your music, but there are
other influences too. I can hear traces of Hank Williams Sr. style
story telling: Woody Guthrie's back-road traveling ghost...the warnings
of Robert Johnson...and to top it off, the easy going attitude of Jimmy
Buffet. Now mix in some sixties' San Francisco. And I might come
close. I asked around and the best answer I got from one of
your fans was eclectic rag blues. How would you like to be described?
L.M.: The first album I was ever handed was from Portland live music
archivist Brett Johnson. Brett was and is a friend of my family's since
I was 7 years old. I soon realized that tracing the roots of
great music would lead to the soul of music and also the place where
one can tap their own sound........I prefer to call it music; if
you get the point...I love it all...from Joseph Spence to the Split Enz.
B.D.: Something I noticed about you was that you are as comfortable
playing around after-hours campfires as you are on stage. The size of
the crowd of listeners doesn't seem to matter to you. You are
very comfortable in your skin, that's for sure. So when you play, are
you projecting your music to the listeners or to some higher level?
L.M.: Thank you! When I play music, whether at home
or for a crowd or a student, I am celebrating the gift our creator has
given me, and anything short would be insincere. You have
probably noticed that I play a few gospel numbers and a few more
spirituals....I believe in a higher power and am blessed to be able to
share it with all the physical, emotional and spiritual abilities I
have. It is a joy to share the gifts the great creator has
given me to celebrate the joys, pains and all other divine emotions
that life deals us.
B.D.: I have seen you play electric and acoustic guitar, Dobro, standup
bass, and washtub bass. Do you play other instruments?
L.M.: I play the chin chin, a Chinese instrument, though as per the
advice of Robin Remailly I had the frets removed. It is a
wonderful and fun 3 (gut string) instrument to tangle with, especially
at late night jams! I play a little mandolin, ukulele, and
baritone guitar, and I experiment with samples and rave or bass-n-drums
sampling stuff which stems from my life-long experience studying
freestyle, blues, swing, contact, rave etc.
dancing. The body and the voice: two of the most overlooked
instruments, I have played from the top!
B.D.: Tell us about your instruments.
L.M.: Every good guitar has a story...and they sometimes unfortunately
get ripped off after they were told! I would rather tell the
story of my favorite guitar. It was a 64 Stratocaster made,
or at least completed, on my birthday, when it was signed by Leo
Fender. It was a beat-up rosewood fret board with a 3-tone
sunburst body. The only changes before I had it were that
someone put new Grover tuners on it, and I put a metal speed volume
knob on it. It had a giant Texas belt buckle gouge in the back and a
few other things I will keep to myself till the right time. I
had lost two more pre-CBS Strats before it due to thievery and never
wanted to lose that last one. It was a part of my body.
My sound man in the early to mid 80's took it from beside me after a
late night show in North Portland and placed it in an open
van! When I realized and ran outside it was......
gone! The serial number is L46502, and you may have my left nut, or
anything else we can figure out that would make your life cause mine is
still miserable without that guitar... if you can return it to me I
will...I will be mighty thankful.....
B.D.: Have you had vocal training or did your vocals come naturally?
L.M.: What little vocal training I received was from P.C.C. Cascade and
Buzzy Linhart.......Nobody really knows whom Buzzy is on the West Coast
but he is a huge phenom from the late 60s and early 70s on the East
coast, Buzzy's voice and songwriting could and has inspired most
everyone it has touched!...I lived with him in the mid late 90's
in Oakley...well, the Hog Farm at 1700 Woolsey...I lived
there for a couple of years and all day long Buzzy would guide me
through vocal warmups and rehearsals....one of those things that you do
not know how good you have it till its gone......Buzzy is still alive
however I sure wish I could have studied even more seriously
with him.....hell he was a great friend with John and Yoko
Lennon, wrote Bette Midler's theme song "Friends". George
Clinton would be a regular guest at our house with his whole band when
he was in town, it was a house of constant famous visitors
including Buddy Miles......Buzzy introduced Buddy to Jimmy
Hendrix.....I was privileged to find my self in such a rich and
B.D.: As a young lad what turned you in a musical direction, and who
were your early music influences.
L.M.: At the age of seven, like I said I received Quick Silver
Messenger Services..."Happy Trails" album....at the same time I saved
enough money to buy Ram by Paul McCartney. Next was B.B.
Kings Summer in the City and then... Oh God -- the album "All Kooper
introduces Shuggie Otis"...when I heard that album I simultaneously
wanted to break and sleep with my guitar! With in weeks I was
allowed to take the Trimet bus to down town with my best friend and
bandmate Kenny Melvin. We ended up at Art Quack, and there
was Paul Delay playing in an underground parking space, full band.
Chris Mercer on sax. I already knew who he was from my John
Mayall collection. (John's the guy who taught me the history
of the blues through his linear notes and thorough research shared on
his album covers.) Anyway, that beautiful melodic and soulful
voice of Paul's...Good God though...there I was -- so torn apart by the
ripping, swinging, stinging guitar...I was crying and had to run up
front to make my tears disappear into sweat........Ooh thank you
Jim...one day I will have the money and balls to ask him for a guitar
lesson. He is the greatest electric blues guitarist...I know
there are many but he is my favorite, cause he was the first to show me
the rush of a live blues band with that sweet guitar topping it all
B.D.: Can you remember what the first album was that you laid your
money on the counter for?
L.M.: The last one was Harry Manx Mantras for Madmen.
B.D.: How about your first concert tickets you bought with your own
money, the must-haves at the time?
L.M.: Link Wray with Robert Gordon...92cent KGON concert at the Schnitz.
B.D.: Well, Lowell John Mitchell seems to be a man of many faces. I
have seen you billed as yourself, Elton John Hopkins, the band Heavy
Petting Zoo, and Root Cellar. That's a lot of hats to wear.
Is Elton John Hopkins an alter ego character?
L.M.: I love performance art....As a Libra, I strive for
balance so I try not to overdo it; however, different bands allow
variable arrangements of the songs I can perform.
B.D.: The Heavy Petting Zoo CD seems to spend a lot of time in my CD
player. Any chance of a Zoo reunion? Seems to me it's nothing a few
cases of beer couldn't fix.
L.M.: Here's how that would work: someone invites me to a
barbeque, makes me bring the sweet corn and sweet onions...the members
of the Zoo are there and...hell, we would have to play wouldn't we?
B.D.: Root Cellar is another fine band too. Tell us about the guys in
L.M.: MMMmmmmmore a concept than a band. For the
last two plus years Jeffree White and I have been playing happy hour on
Mondays at Biddy McGraw's. We have a very nice collection of
rockabilly, rags and other tunes. We have invited Tim Renner
to join us on bass; this unit performed at the Mock Crest on Saturday
June the 9th as well as a Saturday market show...
soon we will add a drummer, just takin' it slow and easy...Root Cellar
is more about electricity, some volume and lots of fun.
B.D.: Off the top of my head I think I have seen Root Cellar
billed around town for about three years now. But I still haven't heard
any rumors about a Root Cellar CD yet. If it just a matter of some gas
money to get to the studio... Any Chance of a CD soon?
L.M.: Lynn Conover and I have a CD in the can and waiting to be
squeezed out of the machine....its a lot more than gas money and if any
one wants to help with the first Root Cellar album...well we do have a
bassist whom happens to be a mastering engineer and we are all familiar
with the studio so no time will be wasted......got an extra
$2000.00? I can give you a Root Cellar album!
B.D.: I have seen you billed lately with Portland's own Lynn Conover,
the wonderful local folk singer. How is that project working out?
L.M.: Lynn and I have been friends for over 20 years, I have
been her fan and I have seen her dance to my bands...what a thrill to
play with a friend whose music, voice and ethics you can agree
with! Playing with Lynn is truly about the joy of celebrating
music with friends and family!
B.D.: I understand you two have a new CD out called "Barb
wire halo." Can you tell us something about it? Are the songs originals
written by both of you? And what genre is it?
L.M.: We call it American Hillbilly, seems like the
Croats and the sambirians are trying to steal hillbilly, and
that's ok but we just want to make sure that we document the
FrkAmericanbilly so that everyone can tell the difference in the year
B.D.: I see you billed with Jeffree White. Do you have some
good words about Jeffree? I have seen him playing with a band
some where...? Jog my memory....was it Ashbury Park?
L.M.: Yep - he played with Ashbury in 2005-06.
Jeffrey is one of my favorite guitarists...he has played the acoustic
piano at Biddy's with me for a couple of years. He plays in
all kinds of bands; he's got a web site at www.jeffreewhite.com that
can tell you more. He also built my web site, by the way.
B.D.: One of my top must-have albums is "Happy Trails " by Quicksilver
Messenger Service. My eyes about popped out of my head when I
read in your biography that you studied under the guidance of John
Cipollina, member of Quicksilver. So in the words of Cartman from South
Park: "Lowell I now hate you. I hate you with all my heart."
Just joking. OK, I am over it now, it that was quick. What was it like
studying under John?
L.M.: John was a total gentleman. Dressed to the nines in
fine Italian suites. Broke a lot of eardrums and hearts
around the world and told me before he died that he would come back
from the dead and kill me if I did not see Link Wray every opportunity
I had.....John Cipollina was an amazing human being and when I see Goth
rockers with their darkness, leather, tattoos, and devil
worship....John makes them all look like pussy katz. John
also taught me a lot about an amazing metal band from Wales named
Man.....John played with them and....if you think you know Led Zeppelin
and have not heard Man...keep studying!
B.D.: You have jammed with Neil Young, Elvin Bishop, Dan Hicks and a
very long list of others, too. So here's a fun question I ask everyone
I Interview: If you could jam with anyone living or dead, who
would be your choice? And why?
L.M.: Just to sit next to Blind Blake, Joseph Spence, or
...hey this is ridiculous. We are so blessed with soo much
incredible music coming and going through this town. Do not
forget about KBOO or NPR. Many of the times I jammed with
these folks I was unaware whom they where or I would have lost
it. I love playing with musicians and playing for dancers and
children. My wish list is more about being able to play
tomorrow than whom I am playing tomorrow with or for.
B.D.: OK, now what local talent do you want to play with in the future,
if this was wish time?
L.M.: Hell, I sing, dance and play guitar...want to
play? I just wish to share the joy of music with musicians
B.D.: Your five favorite CD's.. and what's in your CD player NOW?
L.M.: Link Wray "Barbed Wire," Monte Montgomery
"Live," Chris Smither "Train Home," Clamtones "B.C.," and
Harry Smith anthology. I have a 6 CD player.
B.D.: Let's talk about the Vernonia Friendship
Jamboree (first weekend in August) and the Alternate Stage. In '98, I
went for the first time and I had blast. This is a mixed genres show.
But I have never seen so many National steel dobros at a small
fest. Last year, I did photo coverage on the Alt Stage show.
And my online photo albums were slammed with hits. That coverage of Alt
Stage got more hits than my coverage of the Portland Waterfront Blues
Fest. I am still scratching my head over that. This year will be the
twenty-year anniversary. And you are one of the founders. A nice
feather in your cap. I got a ton of e-mail requests asking about the
show. Well, here's your chance to tell the readers about the 3-day show
L.M.: OK, first of all, thank you soo much for giving me an
opportunity to share an invitation to volunteers, musicians,
concessioneers and those whom would like to donate to an awesome
cause....the promotion of live free music in an outdoor
setting! Camping is involved and we are set up lakeside and
directly on the linear trail which connects Vernonia to Stub Stewart
Park (Oregon's newest park on Hwy 47) to Hillsboro.
Like you said this is our 20th
year and we want to make it really stand out. For the last 20
years we have been blessed with such diverse acts as Paul Delay's
father Allen Delay, who played musical saw, Baby Gramps, the Holy Modal
Rounders, Lynn Conover, Billy Kennedy, Curtis Chamberlain, The Trailer
Park Honeys...Hell, your band could be next! What this is
about is sharing music during Vernonia Friendship Jamboree. A logging
festival, parade, car show, frontiers men and many concessions and lil
events. We at Alternative Stage are especially focused on music
history, history of this amazing town and historically correct acts,
but all music is welcomed. Heck, we have even had a country band from
the Yakima reservation play.
We need security crew, chalk artists, film enthusiasts (we play films
at night), fire crew, musicians, entertainers, planners, generous
donors to help support this non-profit event, and grant writers.
Here's the big news: the property this event takes place on will soon
have a 1500 plus outdoor amphitheatre where all kinds of entertainment
will take place...getting in on the volunteer, planning, grant writing
portion of this event now is definitely a way to get into events and
festival management from the ground floor on a fun local
level. The main thing is that we are combing history,
especially the history of this lil town with music and
entertainment=edutainment.... I need help, you cannot do this all by
yourself, I have tried and it just does not work without a crew
dedicated to music, friendship and community.
B.D.: One of the things I like about Alt Stage is the obscurity of the
performers. Most of them I have never heard of before. But they are all
great. The Russell Thomas Blew me away. Big Daddy Treetop was also a
stealer performer. Every year I become a fan of some of these new
artists. Where do you find these artists?
L.M.: We go with word of mouth and have been super lucky to find some
real gems whom happen to be able to come and share their talents with
B.D.: Can you give us a Preview of this year's line up?
L.M.: Lynn Conover, Russell Thomas, The Mark French Memorial Jug band,
Handsome Wally, Elton John Hopkins....like you said however it's the
guys you and I have never heard of whom will contribute to the blown
away factor that is a rich part of the history of Alternative
stage...alllways something new and unexpected....and films at night!
B.D.: I don't want to ask hard question, but I have to ask this one.
The new venue is great. But it's a mile or so away from all the events
going on in town. Has this harmed the fan turnout of the show?
L.M.: This year we will be starting at about 3pm each day:
more out-of-the-way of town events. Also we plan on having
vendors and atmospheric entertainment -- you know, in the crowd....I
alllways recommend checking out the events in town and since we are
only 5 minutes away you can and should do it all...if you're back at
the lake by 3 pm you will have a great seat and wonderful opportunity
to take in many bands three days in a row.... Also, we'll
have plenty of instruments to place bids on and with a little luck,
some really great T-shirts!
B.D.: Well in my youth I believed to play the blues you needed a very
old guitar, a harp, a room-temperature beer, a pack of nonfilter
cigarettes...and a cheating woman.
Then I moved to Oregon..... I have seen blues bands play with
trombones, clarinets and oboes, trumpets, guitars made out of cigar
boxes, washboards, banjos, washtub basses, kazoos, Jew's harps, flutes,
and even a guy who plays a solo on an old typewriter . But I heard you
played rhythm with an old push lawn mower. Is this true, and if so, I
have to hear the story.
L.M.: Bazza is one of Portland's most prolific
songwriters. While recording one of his CDs we were in search
of the perfect percussion track; playback was on steady repeat, and I
was up above outside and getting some air next to a push mower...you
can guess the rest!
B.D.: OK, helping hand time: there are a ton of new folks out there
trying for that break. Out of the new artists really trying out there,
who is an unknown that is a must-see and you vouch for?
L.M.: Did you ever stop and take a listen to that band, that that guy
handed you a hand-copied CD of or the one right down the street from
your house or those guys you listen to at those basement parties at you
girlfriend's cousin's house...yeah those young gals/guys whom look just
a lil scary or maybe even shy, but seem really dedicated to their
music...stop by next time and tell them Lowell would like them to
submit some music for consideration for a 3-day music
festival! Send them to me, we might have a place for them at
B.D.: I don't want to rock our bookings and piss any clubs off. But
where is your favorite local venue to play at, and why?
L.M.: Your mama's house! See my lovely calendar at
lowelljmitchell.com. I have played Biddy McGraw's every
Monday from 6-8 for the last two-and-a-half years and I play my heart
out if you're there or if it's just Jeffree White, me, and the best
chocolate milk drinkin' bartender in the world... Ian!
B.D.: When Lowell Mitchell needs strings or a new guitar, what music
store counter do you lay your hard-earned cash down on?
L.M.: Portland Music and Trade Up Music...Go local!
B.D.: Dude, I want to thank you for you time and doing this interview
for Portland Blues. I wish you the best and look forward to seeing you
perform again soon. So if you have any parting words, now's the time.
L.M.: I am currently taking the Events and Festival
Management course at the U of O and I am growing so much as far as my
aspirations to manage and promote events and the festival at the site
we mentioned in Vernonia. I understand that networking is the
way to get things done, and there are some gifted and resourceful folks
in this state. I want to meet anyone who believes they can
help me create one of the best outdoor entertainment sites in Oregon.
Lowell John Mitchell can be seen at many local venues, including
regular appearances at Biddy McGraw's every Monday, Rock
Creek Tavern first Thursdays, Marks on the Channel in Scappoose on
second and fourth Tuesdays.
Visit Lowell's web site at www.lowelljmitchell.com, sign his guest
book, and what the heck -- ask lots of questions to fill his spare time
with answering e-mails -- he will dig it.
Also, visit www.altstagevernonia.org for the latest available on the
Alternative Stage festival, which takes place during the first weekend
in August in Vernonia.