It is the honesty of the blues that first drew Paul deLay to the music as a youngster growing up during the British Invasion.
“I had a neighbor across the street with a lot of the early Chess recordings - Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Sonny Boy Williamson,” he says. “It just spoke to me immediately and I stopped paying attention to those British guys and started going after the real deal.”
Now a blues harp king in his own right, the Portland man remains true to the honesty that first appealed to him.
That’s why his next album will likely be more upbeat than some folks might expect.
After time spent as an addict, a drug dealer and a prison inmate, deLay’s life is - of late - nothing to be blue about.
He has a loving wife, he’s sober, his latest CD - “Ocean of Tears” - has been widely praised as an intelligent and fresh take on the blues and he has another album expected out in early 1998.
“My life is really wonderful right now,” deLay says in jovial tones. “I’m really in love and really excited about the band.”
DeLay was raised by musical parents. But finding an instrument that suited his taste was not exactly easy.
“I started off playing drums but they weren’t making enough notes, so then I played guitar some but it hurt my fingers,” he says. “Then I picked up the harmonica and no one was threatening to make me take lessons on it so I liked that.”
It was as a teenager that he first encountered trouble with substances that would later be his downfall.
“I started smoking pot when I was in high school and drinkin’ when I got into bars. And eventually I took up cocaine to try and stop drinking,” he says. “It just basically ran a very predictable course. I ended up trying to deal myself out of the debt I’d gotten into with one guy and was set up by another.”
Busted in 1989, he got a couple of albums recorded before he was sent away from 1992 to 1995.
Time spent in prison did two things for him: It turned his life around and it gave him time and the materials to hone his skills as a musician.
“I was always too busy getting loaded to actually get down and really work on it,” he says. “But after I got busted I just dove into it with a passion and gained some confidence.”
He taught other inmates how to play the blues and performed in prison bands - one of which he says “could have held its own on any stage anywhere.”
When he got out, pieces of prison life found their way into “Ocean of Tears.”
The song “If She Is” was inspired by a bit of conversation he overheard while behind bars.
“We were standing in the phone line, waiting to call our girlfriends as we usually did and this guy is saying to his buddy, ‘Well, I guess I’m going to call my old lady - if she is my old lady.’ I go, ‘Wait a minute, that’s really good.’ And I went back to the desk and pretty much knocked out the whole tune.”
But deLay, whose girlfriend-turned-wife stood by him through his tough times, wants the women to know his new blues lyrics are “entirely female friendly.
“It’s not an effort to be politically correct so much; it’s basically the way we feel about women in this band,” he says. “I’ve been very fortunate to know the women I’ve known. They’ve always been wonderful and supportive and intelligent people. So for me to sing about how they’re liars and cheats and sleazes … which is a very tired theme in a lot of blues … we’re all done with that.”
DeLay says his next album - tentatively titled “Nice and Strong” - will be “a little bit more accessible to the hardcore blues fans out there. But, of course, with us its never generic. We always like to fancy it up a little bit.”
The Paul deLay Band will appear at Mad Daddy’s Blues Club in Coeur d’Alene Saturday night. DeLay says patrons can expect to hear some of the band’s old favorites as well as a lot of the new stuff he’s been working on.
Show starts at 9:30 p.m. Cover is $6.
Jumbalassy back for more
If you missed Jumbalassy last weekend at Pig Out in the Park - or if you just didn’t get enough of their world rhythms - here’s your second chance.
This fantastic nine-piece crew from Seattle will perform their reggae, soca, ska and dancehall music tonight at Outback Jack’s.
Fronted by vocalist Alex Duncan from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, Jumbalassy finds a three-piece horn section insinuating itself among an infectious dance beat of percussion instruments, keyboards and guitar.
Although the band has been together for seven years, lineup changes have landed them with new trumpet player Greg Lyons and trombone player Chris Stover.
“The sound has gotten much stronger and tighter and more refined,” says bassist Jeff DeMelle.
In December Jumbalassy released an EP called “Time/That’s How We Like It.” They plan to release their latest full-length album in early 1998.
Tonight’s show starts at 9:30. Tickets are $7 in advance, $8 at the door.
A little piano with that latte
For those who would rather spend their evenings relaxing with a cup of joe, playing cribbage and listening to a few tunes, boy have I got the spot for you.
Check out Frescos at the Franklin Park Mall (5628 N. Division) where talented self-taught pianist Dax Johnson will be performing for the next two months.
Frescos, which set up at that site in April, keeps its doors open until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
They offer more than 180 coffee drinks, fine teas and pastries. Patrons can kick back and play chess, backgammon and cribbage on boards set into pub-style tables.
You may know Johnson from his days as a street performer. He used to wheel his 450-pound upright piano onto the downtown sidewalks where he would play his new age-style tunes for passers-by.
Johnson will bring his talents indoors at Frescos every Thursday and Saturday evening through October - and possibly longer.
He performs from 7:30 to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays. There is no cover charge. Frescos is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Feeling like the blues? Head to the Fort Spokane Brewery tonight for Ellen Whyte and Reflex Blue.
For something louder try Ichabod’s North Saturday where Seattle’s Barbie Car joins Oil Filter and 50cc.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
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