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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Rockin' with Duane

One of the great things about hosting a blog is the education you get. There we were shooting the breeze with Bill McDonald in comments on a post about the relationship between jazz and rock when the subject of Duane Jarvis came up. Little did we know that Duane left the planet a few years ago. That was a real loss.

Jarvis was a country rock guitarist and songwriter in L.A. best known as a side man who toured with acts like John Prine and Lucinda Williams. He and Williams co-wrote the song "Still I Long for Your Kiss," which appears on her acclaimed recording Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. We saw Jarvis, Williams, and Steve Earle play to a tiny crowd at Champoeg Park one summer in the '90s -- other-worldly good. A short time later, Jarvis was in town promoting solo work, and we stopped by for a handshake outside the old Music Millennium outlet on NW 23rd Avenue. That was the last we saw of him.

But the way we will always remember Jarvis is as the guitarist in a four-piece Portland rock combo known first as the Odds, then as 2 Minutes 50 when there was a name conflict with another band. (The other Odds were from L.A., as we recall.) The Portland version of the Odds was steaming up the windows at Portland nightclubs in the early '80s -- a little before the rise of Billy Rancher, if we're remembering the timeline correctly. You'd get the Odds one week, the Burnside Bombers the next. The Odds would play mostly rock covers -- they'd do an awesome Doors medley in which lead singer Ben Davis would channel Jim Morrison -- but they'd also throw in a song or two that Jarvis and Davis wrote. They even cut a single that some of us ran out and bought:

Top: Ben Davis, left, and J. Wallace. Bottom: Kip Richardson and Duane Jarvis.

One week, the Odds shocked their fans by trading drummers with Johnny & the Distractions. Duane's brother Kevin switched from the Odds to the Distractions in a straight-up trade for Kip Richardson. It happened on a Monday, and by Friday night the two bands were off playing their separate gigs, in places like the Last Hurrah (the basement of 555 SW Alder).

Duane was around 24 at the time, but he looked 17. We remember that he was battling asthma in those days, and would need a pop of the inhaler on occasion. Given how much smoke there was in the bars in which the band played, it must have been a tough line of work. He always seemed to be enjoying it, though -- a humble guy and a little bit in awe of the power of rock.

We miss 2 Minutes 50. They disappeared from the scene pretty quickly. But while they played, they were young and fresh -- at least as much as the Seattle band of the era known as the Young Fresh Fellows. And Duane was a real talent who brightened many a night. Years later, we had the V-Roys from back east -- but that's another post entirely.

UPDATE, 7/23, 10:26 a.m.: We've uploaded our two songs by 2 Minutes 50 to YouTube, here and here. Let's hope the copyright people let us leave them up; it's not as though you can buy them anywhere.

Comments (11)

I first met Duane when we were both in high school. Our fathers were life long friends - Finn kids from Astoria. I didn't know Duane from Adam that day, certainly had no inkling of who he would later become. We adjourned into my room to listen to records. I had the (recently released) Led Zeppelin IV. Duane asked me if it had Rock and Roll on it. I kind of rolled my eyes and said "uh, yes, it has ROCK AND ROLL, it's Led Zeppelin, ever heard of them?" Duane lost his smile and looked me hard in the eyes and said "I meant the SONG Rock and Roll..." In hindsight it was something like asking the teenaged Tiger Woods if he'd ever watched golf on television..,

The song I remember them playing to start the night was, "I Can't Explain" by the Who. There's also a 10% chance it was "Substitute."

I noticed immediately that Duane had a great guitar sound, only made by getting a fierce grip on the strings. The most dominating hand to string ratio I ever heard personally was B.B. King but he played leads. The most stunning I've heard on record was Stevie Ray Vaughn. He could throw a string around.

Being able to do that allows for a heavier gauge string and a much stronger crunch. Pete Townshend's sound is a good example. No super slinkys for him. When the windmill motion came around and slammed into the strings, it would have sounded terrible with most guitarists. They couldn't grip the strings hard enough to let the pick create the great rock sound. Not only could Pete clamp down to make a heavenly sound, but he could do it while jumping through the air.

Darvis delivered that big-time rock guitar crunchy sound and I remember being quite envious of him as I watched him play the Who cover. He could throw a legitimate rock sound at you - that is for sure.

Whoa, blast from the past. I was at that Champoeg concert too. It was pretty amazing. We went for Lucinda Williams, whom we adored, but came away Steve Earle fans too. He must have been disappointed at the tiny crowd but you would never guess it -- not sure I've ever seen anyone work so hard at a concert, and it was a great show. Remember the local guy who played whatever kind of pipe that is on When Johnny Comes Marching Home? (I think that's the name of the song.) He was dancing around like he was having absolutely the time of his life.

The setting was beautiful too. It felt like one of those "only in Oregon" experiences.

I'll have to pay closer attention about Jarvis. Thanks.

Jack, you just took me back to some fun memories. Thank you! My Odds button is light blue and I still have it. Yes, I think I'm a hoarder of sorts because I can't get rid of things like that!

Great (and safe) times going to clubs and concerts back then to rock out. The only hardship was to pick which bands and venues to hit up that weekend.

"Those were the days." (oh gawd, that's an 'old person' statement. Ack!)

Seymour, you made me LOL.

One more note about that Champoeg concert -- Lucinda's band also included the great Roy Bittan on piano.

Way back in the day Duane used to play in a band in which I played Bass - The John Borroz Band.

I have a photo somewhere in my pile. Tom Wendt of KBOO blues fame was the drummer.

Ever since then we remained friendly and I loved to go see the Odds.

Very sorry to hear he has joined Elvis and company.

Jack, you mentioning the Last Hurrah brings back good memories-all in a cramped nine foot high basement(maybe less). They were good band promoters.

I remember John Borroz over at the house jamming with my trio, Butts, McDonald and Tate. We were the only band in history that had a lineup of harmonica, bass, and congas, and that's it.

I remember walking into a club when we got to town, hearing Paul Delay and his band, and thinking, "Uh oh."

I have a photo somewhere in my pile.

Do the public a service and dig that one out!

I also have the single with picture sleeve as pictured. I saw them at Last Harrah, and seems like a place called the Long Goodbye too. They put on a good show - kept everybody dancing.

The record is a 45, but with a small hole. Didn't affect the sound one bit.

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