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[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 pressed: soulbluzabillyjazzpunkiphonikhillbillynonsensabillyboogiebottom...er 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 creative environment!

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 off.

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 the band?

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 3009.

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 and dancers.

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 yourself.

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 us.

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 Alternative Stage.

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.