Notes from the Pandemic #1

Just days after my first show, we got word that the station was closing as a result of the pandemic. Of course, like all of the other volunteer DJ’s at the station, I was saddened by the loss of community and our inability to share the music that means so much to us. Privately, I donned my headphones and escaped into the music that brings me joy, the songs that have already gotten me through so much in my life. While it is obviously a pleasure to bury oneself in music, it is really not the same as sharing it, which is what I got into radio to do when I volunteered at my first community station so many years ago. This sharing is what drives us Freeform volunteers.

A couple of weeks went by. All the while, I am making and imagining live shows that may or may not be shared with our Freeform listeners and family in the future. There was something soothing in the act of producing playlists with the bright hope that they might be shared some day. What I did not anticipate, was that I, the DJ, was going to be the one gifted a playlist. 

“Who said you can’t remain socially distant and play music together?”

See, I had some really kind feedback from my first show from random listeners. One of those listeners tuned in to hear my second show, only to find the station notice that our regular programming was halted due to the current outbreak. He shared his disappointment and, to my surprise, sent me a Spotify playlist entitled “Anita O’Day and Carmen McRae Sing Songs for the Socially Distanced” with the subject heading, “The Little Things That Mean So Much,” referencing the title of one of the American Standards included in the lineup. In spite of my age, I admit to being as old fashioned as my musical tastes and had never used Spotify. Regardless of my hesitation to sign up for anything online, I became a Spotify user, just so I could receive the gift of music, one actually inspired by me: a humble, early-morning, mid-week, volunteer DJ on our shared station. 

I was touched by the gesture, and appreciative of the listener’s good taste. He had clearly put in a great deal of time and effort – time and effort any DJ knows well – to create this thoughtful playlist for me. Listening to it on that chilly, early-Spring morning delivered pure delight. It was like when you have been eating your own cooking for ages, then someone else cooks you a meal, and a really tasty one at that. I feasted on that playlist in much the same way, relishing every considerately placed song with pith that played. I sang along to the familiar tunes and was pleasantly surprised by songs I did not know, and bopped, as I do, all along the way. It was a special reminder that receiving music is often a much greater gift than being able to share it.

Since that day, I have listened to that playlist again and again. I have found new favorites that I have excitedly added to future radio shows, should I have the good fortune of getting on the air live again. And every time I play one of those songs, from now until the end of time, I will remember the many gifts our Freeform listeners offer us. May we all be healed by the music, and the little things that mean so much.

DJ Ebee, The Oddity

To enjoy the listener’s very fine playlist, click here

Oozelles: review

On May 1st, Oozelles released their debut album on the record label, ORG Music. 

I love debut albums. Debut albums are a listener’s first introduction to the world of that particular recording artist or group: their ideas and sounds, which germinated over a lifetime, collected, combined, recorded and presented to the world at large. Often there is no promise of success, but seemingly always the hope that there will be a connection with a listener, which allows the listener to sidestep the everyday world  and go into the world created by the album.

The album by Oozelles is an album, in which you can lose yourself. The album has its own sense of rhythm. Familiar instruments, guitars and percussion, intertwine with keyboard and saxophone accents, leading to a cohesive tribal feel. The atmosphere created by the group has influences, but I do not wish to belittle this album by ranking it against or comparing it to records that preceded it. 

The first tease of the album released by the record label is the song “Refill The Swamp” which begins with an eerie keyboard before the drum pounding and guitar twang hit you in both ears and move your feet in a decadent shuffle. Speaking for myself, it was easy to imagine shadowy figures dancing to this song, such as those being led away by Death himself in the film, “The Seventh Seal.” As teases go, it is a good one. Well-representative of the album as a whole, suggesting all that is good about the album, with songs that build on the single, without directly repeating it.

Oozelles on Bandcamp

On this album the group comes across more as a gang than a band — as in the early days of rock n’ roll, when it seemed that bands lived on top of each other in small communal dwellings, sharing clothing, beds and toothbrushes, and still hitting the stage with an impact of a united force: the old “us against the world” chestnut. As an avid and active listener, I have always appreciated that sort of mindset in a band. When you find a well-made album such as this one, by that sort of band, you feel like you are in on the secret. You want to walk around with the album under your arm, and acknowledge the knowing glances of those, who recognize the album you are holding.

Although this is Oozelles’ debut album, the members of this band have been in other bands, such as: The Starlite Desperation, War Paint, Dura-Delinquent, Jail Weddings and Sugar & Gold — and it appears they have brought all of that experience to bear in the writing, playing and recording of this album. It feels like a classic debut album that will reveal itself with subsequent listens. A classic debut album you’ll share with your “cool” friends. A classic debut album, whose secret you will not long be able to keep to yourself. A classic debut album, which as of May 1st is everywhere: store shelves, digital platforms, and under the arm of that cool guy exiting a record store.

Pete Krebs: Working Musician

Pete Krebs has been a fixture of the Portland music scene since the 1990s. He was first known in Thrillhammer and then Hazel, a band that helped define the Portland response to the early 90’s flannel and guitar scene, undermining the macho grunge aesthetic, their ramshackle live shows blazing with poppy but angular songs. Pete and Jody Bleyle singing like a new John Doe/Exene Cervenka duo, Brady Payne Smith’s lanky frame curling back from his bass, and of course, Fred Nemo, the dancer, balancing atop a chair with a water pitcher and cinder block. Fortunately, Hazel re-emerges periodically to play some shows — last emerging with a pair of sold out nights just before the 2016 election.

Pete’s subsequent early solo work, with delicate and melodic songs, seemed a departure from the raucous sounds of Hazel. But even back in the days of the band, signs of Pete’s future troubadour status were evident, often playing a song alone during the band’s shows. Pete recorded and toured with the late Elliott Smith, who traveled a similar musical trajectory in the 1990’s.

In following years, Pete has roamed through a variety of musical styles, including bluegrass with the great Golden Delicious. Since then, Pete has continue to move among western swing, and gypsy jazz, alone and with a series of bands: Kung Pao Chickens, Gossamer Wings, the Stolen Sweets, and the Portland Playboys

Before the current viral pandemic, you could see Pete playing all over town on any given night, either alone or with various companions, depending on the genre and setting. It’s always seemed to me, there’s a risk Portland music fans would take this local treasure’s presence for granted, given he plays out so much. Twice named to the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, and twice having overcome cancer, Pete is an accomplished and resilient guy, who comes across as low-key and friendly.

With the complete shutdown of live music this spring, I thought it’d be interesting to get Pete’s perspective on life as a working musician when the music halls are closed.

First, how are you holding up with the current situation? Any new hobbies? 

I am trying to learn how to bake, and have a sourdough start on top of the fridge.  I’ve also resumed running, and am trying to hit four miles a day. I’m also working on a bunch of tunes each week for the Sunday Nite Swing Session that I’m putting out on facebook every Sunday at 7pm.

You have always seemed to me one of the hardest working musicians in the Portland area, with a busy gig schedule, not to mention giving lessons to students as well. I can’t imagine how it is to suddenly have the landscape shift under your feet in this way.  How are you responding to the change? Are you still able to do lessons? 

I basically lost my entire business within a few days; I could no longer meet with students directly, my college class at PNCA was canceled, as well as 20+ gigs per month.  I’ve been able to put together a partial teaching schedule online, and with the aforementioned Sunday gig, I’m bringing in a bit of income.  

I listen to a lot of music, but it’s a challenge not to be able to go out and share in the live music experience — there’s nothing that quite replaces the experience of being in the moment as music is made. As someone out playing so much, do your fingers get itchy to play? Is your dog getting a regular show?  

My girlfriend (who’s staying with me for the duration) and my dog, Dixie, are enjoying regular performances of obscure Western swing and jazz from the 30’s and 40’s.  No complaints so far!

I identify you as very rooted in Portland, but I don’t think you’re from these parts. Where did you grow up? When did you come to Portland?

I’m originally from California, but moved to Oregon in 1984 to go to Oregon State.  I’ve been here ever since, aside from 8 months that I spent living in Europe trying to learn Gypsy music in Holland.

Your career in music spans a number of stages, from the early local scene days; to the days of the big record companies swooping in looking for indie rock gold; to the ups and downs of vinyl, then CDs, then digital, and now some resurgence of vinyl culture — recently, it seems so many musicians can only keep ahead by playing shows, selling merch, etc. Now we’re in another period where musicians need to figure out how to keep going again.  What is your sense of what it means to be an independent musician when everyone is avoiding one another? 

I think that a certain type of musician can thrive in this new atmosphere, as long as they’re able to adapt to the technology that allows connection to the outside world with some sort of reasonable sonic fidelity.  As a working musician, I’m used to having to live with financial uncertainty and consequently that side of things doesn’t scare me as much as it might some. I also see this (in some ways) as a wonderful opportunity to grow as a musician through wood shedding, but in also having the opportunity to present music for the sole purpose of raising other people’s spirits.

Perhaps I’m just getting old enough to see my musical idols age, but it seems like recent years have seen the deaths of a number of important musicians — the coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated the loss, with the recent deaths of John Prine, Manu Dibango, among others. Are there particular artists, whose loss you lament? Anyone you wish you could’ve seen live, but didn’t get to?

I was saddened by Bucky Pizzarelli’s death especially.  He was one of the last links to a style of jazz guitar playing that is all but gone.   I never had a chance to meet him, but I’m indebted to him and his memory.

You’re a remarkable polymath when it comes to music, having covered a wide range of styles and genres.  Like many, I imagine, i first knew of your work with Hazel, with the band’s legendary live shows, then followed you through a more country sound, gypsy jazz, and swing — even now it seems you find an outlet for these different genres, depending on your setting and your companions on stage.  Do you prefer this eclectic approach or is there one single style that you’d really prefer to pursue, given the opportunity?

I like being able to play in a variety of styles, and to keep reconnecting with each as the spirit moves me.  When I re-focus on one thing, the time I spent away generally serves to illuminate new perspectives which always invigorate me and teach me new things.  Sometimes the lessons are very simple and basic, sometimes a bit more complex. But it’s all the same music to me after awhile, just sounding a little different from week to week, month to month. 

There have been some nice re-issues of some of your older material. Any new recording projects on the horizon?

I do have a new album of originals coming out in June, and will be debuting a few tunes off the record this coming week!

Until your local music venue opens up again, you’ll have to look online to find Pete Krebs:


Cavity Search Records


But let’s hope he’s back out behind a microphone soon.

Happy 4th Anniversary, Freeform Portland!

When I was very young I had an imaginary friend, whose name was Tony Doink. For the first few years of my life, I was an only child; I suppose that was one of the reasons for having an imaginary friend. The other obvious one was to cast blame when I did something I was not supposed to have done. I could always point the finger and say “Tony did it.” His was a personality, in which I could hide and take comfort. When I was three, my parents had another child, my younger brother. Around that time my family moved from Illinois to California — and somewhere along the way I lost contact with my imaginary friend. 

Innocence lost maybe as I became more aware, even as a four or five year old I felt like I was just to the side of the action, acting as an observer. I spent time alternately with one friend generally from school; and that friend changed every year, as I was moved from rented house to rented house and changed schools. When I was not with my one friend, I was alone with books, comic books, pencils, paper, and G.I. Joe dolls to act out superhero scenarios, staging grand battles in my bedroom and backyard. Although I left behind my absent imaginary friend, Tony Doink, I never left the imaginary. 

Always on my radar though, was music. At first, my only source of music was a car radio. Riding with my parents was always a welcome adventure, as I loved AM radio at that time. There seemed to be a certain magic in moving the tuning knob to chase the frequency that broadcast your favorite song. The static surrounding the song on either side, right and left, it seemed that the song was blasting out that tiny speaker directly at me.

Music assists the imaginary, the sounds and the lyrics paint pictures in one’s mind. Or so it was for me. I could see what the music created, or so it seemed. And when things aligned, the music seemed to fill my body and I was floating. I felt a sensation like that when I was young and collecting music, and I have chased it ever since. Never being able to put my finger on the exact cause of the sensation, it is just a special certain combination of words, melody and guitar riffs that affects me in such a manner.

For me, the sensation can be found on albums by such folks as: The Velvet Underground, Love, Creedence Clearwater, Television, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Fall, and so many more — with no need of outside assistance or inebriation. I passed through a time of drug experimentation as a young adult, but the results were less than desirable in repetition. So much easier to drop a needle on the “Glider” twelve inch by My Bloody Valentine and get lost in the song “Soon.”

Every human culture has music, often used in ceremonies or rituals. Music has been there with mankind, step by step, as we explored the world around us, and encountered other cultures and other music and influences. Music is the single vibration on which our long history resounds. If I believed in a deity, I would have to say that music is his or her greatest gift to us. 

We were brought together by music, in villages, that grew to be towns, that grew to be cities. And the music changed with us, as we grew and advanced, music reflected us and our social changes and our technologies. Sometimes music inspired those changes, and sometimes the strides we made were reflected in the music. Music might not be able to save the world as a whole, but I thoroughly believe it can affect and change one person. And that person can affect another person, and so on. In this way, music is shared and given as a gift, to ourselves, from one of us to the other.

It was the act of sharing music that brought me to radio, with the hope that I might unlock for other people that combination that set off that floating sensation for me. And selfishly, that I might also by a sequence of songs, segueing from one to the next, trigger that sensation in myself. And all these many years later, with hundreds upon hundreds of radio broadcasts to my credit, part of me is always aiming for that vibration. 

Getting myself on the radio in Portland, I thought to adopt a DJ name, a separate identity I could inhabit and be a more bombastic version of myself. In practice, however, I never managed to be anything other than myself. Noah Fence is a mask I wear that reflects myself, better than my given name.

With Freeform Portland, I have spent four years being a part of the station, watching the proto-version of an idea become actual fact, empowered by dedicated volunteers into an expanding force of two frequencies, an internet stream and hundreds of DJ’s broadcasting music 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I have heard Freeform Portland described as “college radio for adults,” but for me Freeform is a place, where for two hours each week, during my broadcast, I can be my actual self.

Other times of the week, I am often wearing my work-face, my husband-face, my public transit-face, my yes I’m listening-face, my continually astounded by the unfolding beauty of nature-face, my misanthropic-face, my wallet is empty so fuck off-face… All of these faces come with restrictions, and an expected pattern of behavior. I sometimes feel I am an actor, portraying my own life for the benefit of no one in particular. 

But in my imaginary face as Noah Fence — unlike my imaginary friend, Tony Doink,  who existed to help me dodge consequences — I found a version of myself that I had casually forgotten. As Noah Fence, alone in the broadcasting studio, I can be the real me, and make music selections for my radio show, abiding by very few rules, aside from those which I have placed upon myself. Week after week in the broadcasting studio for the station, I can feel a palpable joyful sensation in the air. Thank goodness there are no cameras, as I tend to reflexively dance. 

I have spent four years with Freeform Portland, through their kindness of allowing me to be on the air. And I am in good company, with my contemporaries and their long-running shows, such as “Guitar & Other Machines” with DJ Steena, “Esoteria” with Odd Monster, “Whoa This Is Heavy” with Zen Hound, “On The Porch” with DJ Brzy, “What’s This Called” with Ricardo Wang, “Bachelard’s Panty Drawer” with Mammal in Crime to name a few. These shows, like my own, have been staples on Freeform Portland, as the schedule has been changed and updated every six months. Each time the schedule has been opened up, new, interesting and highly enthusiastic individuals have applied to have a radio show. The influx of this energy and novel ideas for radio shows is one of the key reasons that Freeform Portland is a wonderful radio station. A station that stands apart from other stations, with which I have been involved. A station I truly love and wish to succeed, beyond my time and participation (although I can not imagine when that time will come).

Please join me in wishing Freeform Portland a very happy 4th Anniversary and keep your radio tuned to 90.3 FM / 98.3 FM to hear music brought to you by people who love music, and love sharing music in its infinite combinations.

WFMH interviews Temi Kogbe, co-founder of Odion Livingstone Records

On Dec, 14 2019, Jim and I had the privilege of interviewing Temi Kogbe on Freeform Portland, Weekend Family Hour (WFMH). Kogbe is a cofounder of Odion Livingstone Records, curator, African music archivist and collector. He operates Odion Livingstone with former heavyweight EMI-Nigeria producer and musician, Odion Iruoje. Odion Livingstone Records was founded in 2017 and is the only vinyl reissue label operating in Nigeria today. Their recordings are deeply based in African groove heavy tempos, soulful boogie, disco, synth, funk and electro psychedelic tones. 

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Thoughts About Andy Gill

Like so many people, I was shocked to read the news that Andy Gill, guitarist and founding member of the band Gang Of Four, had died. The news came out of nowhere. There had been no prior reports of illness, or hospital stays. No cancelled tours. It seemed as though one minute he was here, and the next, he was gone.

His passing is a huge loss to the world of music. As a member of Gang of Four, his contribution to music was seismic. As a band, they created a sound that had not been heard before, filling a vacuum that we were unaware existed. Aspects of their sound can be heard in several genres — such as punk, funk and dub — but had not been combined as Gang Of Four did, with such drive and sheer mastery.

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Other Music

A documentary about the legendary NYC record store plays Saturday, February 8, as part of NW Film Center’s 37th Annual Reel Music Festival

I bought my first record at Kmart in Moscow, Idaho — a 45 of the Doobie Brothers “What a Fool Believes.” My record-buying habits were indiscriminate in those early days, as I later added well-used public library copies of Glen Campbell and Van Halen to my collection. Maturing into middle school, I dabbled in the mail-order world of Columbia House record club, never getting much farther than buying my first six cassettes (Queen, Bryan Adams…) for a penny (plus shipping and handling).  But, what really hooked me on buying music were my early trips to Budget Tapes and Records in downtown Pullman, Washington, where I often went to peruse the records, whether or not I really had any money to buy anything. Looking back, it probably wasn’t that great of a store, but at the time it was an important locus, the people behind the counter larger than life. The main record store guy, Rick, seemed so much older and wiser — he even played in bands! Tolerating a kid like me in the store, asking him questions about the latest Tom Petty or Quiet Riot release; he helped lead my way into the world of record buying.

As I moved through my adolescence, my tastes departing further from top 40 radio, a good record store became an important touchpoint, one way to tap into a world beyond the confines of small town Eastern Washington.  In those days, the only way to really learn about new music — especially music on the fringes of the mainstream — was to have a guide in the form of a record store employee, a friend’s older brother, or perhaps a copy of The Rocket from a trip to Seattle.  Finding new music often depended on scouring the liner notes of records and looking for familiar names. Previewing a new record often meant borrowing someone else’s copy — I remember the excited but uneasy sense I had when first playing the 1981 Chunks compilation (with Black Flag, Minutemen, and the dangerous sounding The Nig-Heist) and the 1980 Cracks in the Sidewalk compilation, both of which I’d bought on a whim at Budget Tapes — not sure how much I liked them or even really knew how to listen to them, but convinced they were a portal into a different world, in which the rules seemed different.  Moving to Seattle, I eagerly awaited new Sub Pop releases at Cellophane Square, then relied on the collision of different genres at Wall of Sound to expand my palate. I never much cared for the bigger stores, like Tower or HMV, preferring the personal and more curated feeling of independent stores.

Other Music was a great record store in New York City.  On Saturday, NW Film Center will be screening a documentary about the legendary store as part of the 37th Annual Reel Music Festival.

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Kings of the Medway Delta — Wild Billy Childish and the Chatham Singers

The first release of 2020 for Damaged Goods Records out of the U.K. will be another fine album by Billy Childish. This record is entitled, “Kings Of The Medway Delta” and is credited to “Wild Billy Childish and The Chatham Singers”. 

For those folks expecting more punked-up garage rock, as can be heard by his band, CTMF, this album will be a bit of a surprise. On this album, Wild Billy Childish hones in on the singular sound that Chess Records presented in the late fifties and early sixties. He very effectively captures that sound, as though this record had in fact been recorded in, say, 1959. 

One of the highlights of the album is the cover of the Slim Harpo classic, “I Got Love if You Want It.” One can almost imagine Wild Billy Childish performing such songs at the Crawdaddy Club, where the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds cut their teeth on stage.

In addition to the covers, he revisits a few of his original songs, such as “The Good Times are Killing Me,” “All My Feelings Denied,” and “The Double Axe,” giving them all a happy turn as blues or R ‘n’ B tunes. 

Joining the band on this record is Jim Riley, who plays great blues harmonica on all of the tracks, which helps to capture an authentic blues sound that has eluded so many. 

Also being released along with this album will be a single version of the song, “All My Feelings Denied,” which will have a cover of the Muddy Waters song, “I’m Ready” on the flip side. That song does not appear on the album.

If you would like to hear a few tracks from this record, as well as some blues songs and some blues-inspired songs, check out this archive of my radio show from January 17th, 2020

What’s This Called? 100 Favorite Albums of 2019

DJ Ricardo Wang

By Ricardo Wang

While my show has featured end-of-year shows and lists off and on throughout the 25+ years of What’s This Called?, it has not been an annual tradition. Some years the show focused more on experimental music rather than on the sounds of the current moment. Oftentimes that is because the given year didn’t feature enough new releases to fill a show, or the interest of your host.

This was NOT the case with 2019. Your host, Ricardo Wang set out to do a top ten for the year and found quickly that ten was not a reasonable number to list, even for the most played and enjoyed 2019 album releases from the show. Twenty quickly was not enough either, and when it became clear that a list of 100 albums was imminent, research ensued into as many records that had been missed as possible.

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Noah Fence interviews Vic Godard

Here is an interview I conducted with Vic Godard, who has been referred to by BBC6 Deejay Marc Riley as “The Greatest Living Englishman.” Godard has been a near constant in British music since 1976, when he formed the band, Subway Sect. As a singer/songwriter, he has released solo work and has also collaborated with the likes of: Mark Perry, Irvine Welch, The Sexual Objects, & The Bitter Springs. Godard has his own record label, GNU Inc., and is a busy and creative artist. 

Noah Fence: Mr. Godard, thanks for agreeing to this interview. In doing some research for this interview, I realized that I do not know much about your life prior to being in the band, Subway Sect. I would love to hear about your life growing up and your musical influences.

Vic Godard: I had a great time as a kid and was into Geography and Football. That was because of my uncle Don, who was a postman and a Chelsea fan. His delivery was in Bond Street and then he went on the TPO (Travelling Post Office) to Scotland, staying overnight in Glasgow before returning to King’s Cross the following day. He could easily have been on the train that was robbed by Biggs and co, but was lucky. He taught me all the counties of Scotland before I had a chance to go to school!  My Grandad was a Bus driver on routes out of Mortlake Garage (9 and 73), starting in 1922 until 1966, two years before he died. He was also the Union Treasurer. He took me to White Hart Lane in Tottenham to watch my first football matches — where we stood alongside Peter Cook behind the goal at the Paxton End — but when my uncle took me to Chelsea, I felt that was my place. Compared to Spurs, Chelsea weren’t very glamorous in those days and Spurs had recently been the first team to ‘do the double,’ ie win the League and Cup the same season.

Spurs win the Cup Final 1961
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