John Foyston

 

Remembering Jim Mesi

An all-star lineup will play at a memorial on Sunday, April 7, for the virtuoso Portland blues guitarist, who has died at age 69

Portlanders will have the chance to say goodbye on Sunday to one of the towering talents of the local blues scene, guitarist Jim Mesi, who died on March 4 from complications of emphysema. He was 69.

He was also stone brilliant, an incandescent guitarist who first appeared on the scene with Paul deLay and Lloyd Jones in the seminal Portland blues band Brown Sugar in the late 1960s. Mesi played with many musicians since then, but notably with the Paul deLay band for years, the Losers Club with fellow Portland legend Steve Bradley, and fronting his own Jim Mesi Band with a crew of Portland music veterans for the last decade or more.

Jim Mesi, guitarist extraordinaire.

He was universally respected for his inventive and exuberant style, which could range from an achingly sweet, subtle Sleepwalk played with volume-knob swells and chiming harmonics to the speed-picking sturm und drang of Miserlou. It wasn’t just locals who revered the man, either: He counted guitarists such as ZZTop’s Billy Gibbons as fans, and the Jim Mesi Band web site shows him onstage with Les Paul, backstage with B.B.King.

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It’s King Louie Time

Blues organist Louis Pain and his trio are releasing a new CD of original songs, "It's About Time," this week. It's been worth the wait.

The insert for the King Louie Organ Trio’s new CD, “It’s About Time,” looks like a photo album of friends and family.

Fittingly so. Friends, mentors and family inspired Northwest blues stalwart Louis Pain’s album, as it says on the cover, and they’re name-checked in songs such as “Frances J,” which opens the album and honors his late mother, the feminist poet Frances Jaffer, who was also Pain’s first and biggest booster, signing him up for organ lessons when he was 16.

It continues with “Brulie,” the childhood nickname for former Tower of Power guitarist and longtime friend Bruce Conte, whose wonderfully economical and to-the-point guitar style adorns six tracks. (Conte recorded his parts over the tracks in a studio in the Philippines with an engineer he works with there, and the tracks were e-mailed back to Jim Hage, the CD’s co-producer as well as engineer, at Portland’s Long Play Recording. They are among the very few overdubs on this aggressively analog recording, which was recorded live and direct to analog tape in Hage’s studio.)

Louis Pain in his Washougal, Wash., man cave. Photo: Jon Foyston

Pain’s wife, Tracy Pain, is the inspiration for “Island Girl,” of which Pain says with a straight face, “If you think you recognize the melody, you’re mistaken” – after which the song opens with a brief but direct quote from the “Hawaii Five-0” theme. There are songs for grown kids and grandkids, such as the gorgeous, churchy “Bry-Yen: I Believe in You” and “Lupus Tylericus.” “Big Brothers” is exactly that, about Pain’s brothers; and “Blues for Pierre” is inspired by his stepbrother, Peter.

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On tap: 200 years of Oregon beer

The Historical Society's "Barley, Barrels, Bottle, & Brews" tells the tale of Oregon beer culture from then to now. We'll drink to that.

Oregon’s brewing industry is robust and growing, with nearly 300 breweries, hundreds of pubs and taprooms, and legions of fans thirsty for its hoppy, craft-brewed beers. But all that great beer had to start somewhere, so it’s instructive to put that pint down for a while and tour the new exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society that details the 200-year history of Oregon brewing.

Barley, Barrels, Bottles, & Brews: 200 Years of Oregon Beer fulfills its promise with a good selection of artifacts from the museum’s collections and a few high-tech twists such as the interactive brewing flow chart, the Hop AromaTron (not its real name) and the design-your-own-beer display that will interest even the non-beer-drinker ­– I mean, there must be a few out there, right? But not many, said OHS executive director Kerry Tymchuk as he led a gaggle of journos through the new exhibit. “Why should we care about Oregon beer,” he said, “because beer and brewing has always been a vital part of Oregon culture, thanks in part to the hops grown here and the fact that Oregonians have always loved their beer.”

Two hundred years of beer on the wall at the Oregon Historical Society. Photo: John Foyston

That love started early – if with a bit of orthographic diversity – with an entry from the Lewis & Clark journals: “Collins made Some excellent beer … which was verry good.” It probably wasn’t much like the hazy and brut IPAs that are the current Oregon favorites, it being brewed with Camas-root bread and all … but I imagine any beer was well received in that circumstance.

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Fast wheels, modernist dreams

The sleek cars and motorcycles in the Portland Art Museum's "Shape of Speed" reflect the swift rise of Modernist design in the 1930s and '40s

The striking black-and-silver 1934 BMW motorbike in the Portland Art Museum lobby sits in front of a digital reader board that intermittently displays an image of one of Monet’s Water Lilies – an apt reminder of the The Shape of Speed’s leitmotif: vehicles can be art.

Certain vehicles. Not Toyota Camrys or Dodge minivans or even split-window ‘Vettes; but these 17 cars and two motorcycles most definitely. The Shape of Speed: Streamlined Automobiles and Motorcycles, 1930-1942 is the latest exhibition in the Portland Art Museum’s design series, guest curated by Ken Gross, former director of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The show is open now and runs through September 16.

Beauty meets beauty: Monet water lilies and 1934 BMW. Photo: John Foyston

Gross previously curated the Museum’s 2011 exhibition The Allure of the Automobile, which celebrated automobiles as kinetic art. This never-before seen collection celebrates Modernism as expressed by the streamline dreams of the 1930s, when the ever more slippery shapes of airplanes influenced everything from architecture to steam locomotives, radios and automobiles; even Raymond Loewy’s gorgeous – and it could be said – essentially pointless chrome teardrop of a pencil sharpener. (Not that I wouldn’t feel like Tommy Tomorrow himself if I had one on my desk…)

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