Friday, January 2, 2015

Umpqua Valley Bluegrass Band Offers "Tight and Twangy" Traditional Music

Umpqua Valley Bluegrass Band's mountain-styled "tight & twangy" traditional bluegrass sound features banjo, mandolin, fiddle, guitar, bass and vocals. The group formed in 2010 when they saw a newspaper ad for a "Bluegrass Band Needed for Pig Roast BBQ." The rest is history!

The band now keeps very busy playing at fairs, festivals, pubs, restaurants, coffeehouses and special events. Connect with them on their Facebook Page to stay current on where they're appearing. 
Band Members are Liz Crain, Gene Hodson, Mac Parker, Francis Stephenson and Joe Ross. They have many decades of experience playing bluegrass, gospel, country, western, Celtic, old-time, western swing and other styles of music. Let's meet each member of Umpqua Valley Bluegrass Band. 

At age 12, Liz Crain recorded her first bluegrass song (“Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes”) on a 78-rpm vinyl record paid for by grandma. Liz is a multi-instrumentalist but sticks to fiddle with Umpqua Valley Bluegrass. She's  chairperson of Oregon BluegrassAssn.'s Roseburg Chapter that hosts a monthly jam at Evergreen Grange Hall from 1 – 4:30 p.m. on the third Sunday each month. Besides fiddle, you might also see Liz playing guitar, mandolin, bass or banjo there. In the 1990s, she performed with the “Girls Can Jam” Bluegrass Band. The all-woman group released two albums, “Cookin’” and “Wild Oregon Jam.” She also played with folk group ERIDOR in the mid-90s. Today, Liz also performs with The Slow Ponies, Shasta Ray & the Downhome Band, Rolling Waves, Accordion Club of Roseburg, Soromundi and Oregon Oldtime Fiddlers. Liz is a rancher who spends her time with a herd of 12 Icelandic horses when she isn’t working up a new song to add to her extensive repertoire of music. 

Gene Hodson has been playing music in the Sutherlin/Roseburg area for eight years. He started his bluegrass interest when he hooked up with the Colliding Rivers Band.  Currently, Gene plays bass for the Umpqua Valley Bluegrass Band and also plays bass for Mountain Creek, an acoustic variety show. Gene has also been playing the doghouse for Oregon Oldtime Fiddlers’ of Roseburg for a number of years. Gene’s interest in bluegrass music has evolved over the years from childhood. He was born in Modesto, Ca. and moved to the San Francisco Bay area where he lived most of his life. There he started his own country band. They called themselves the “Country Fever Band.” They played a variety of music from country standards and bluegrass to 50, 60, 70 & 80’s light rock. They were the same members for 25 years.

Jon “Mac” Parker began his musical career playing four-string banjo at age 14 and guitar at age 16. Self-taught, he played rock ‘n roll, folk, bluegrass and country/western music. He taught himself 5-string banjo at age 17 and helped put himself through college playing folk music with The Californians. At about age 45, he began playing fiddle to help his son Travis who became a California state champion fiddler and professional musician. Mac performed with The Buffalo Brewing Company, a country/western band for 15 years. Mac worked as a professional actor for three different acting troupes and was acclaimed as an actor/director/writer. Mac taught high school English for 34 years at the same California school and achieved several teacher-of-the-year awards. He retired in 2002 but did substitute teaching for three years. Mac moved to Oregon in 2013 and began playing banjo for Umpqua Valley Bluegrass Band. He also plays banjo, guitar and fiddle for his own band, Mountain Creek, which debuted in December 2014. As a musician, Mac loves good vocal harmonies and appreciates the warm, family type comradeship and highly professional talents of all his band members. Mac belongs to Oregon Bluegrass Assn., Oregon Oldtime Fiddlers' Assn., & Fraternal Order of Eagles.

Francis Stephenson was born in 1932 in New Brunswick, Canada, 100 miles north of the Maine border. He grew up loving and listening to Wilf Carter and Hank Snow on the radio, who were Canada's two country heroes, during the early 40's of World War II. But, around 1941, he started pulling in a radio station hundreds of miles to the south, known as WWVA, Wheeling, W.V. On their Saturday night jamboree, from 8 p.m. to midnight, they had some great old- time artists like Hawkshaw Hawkins, Little Jimmie Dickens, and Cowboy Copas. But, the husband/wife duo Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper (and especially Wilma Lee's voice) was the one that compelled Francis to sing and play guitar. So, in 1946, at age 14, Francis got his first guitar, and started to play and sing. Francis, and nobody else, knew at that time, that Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper's sound would be the closest sound to bluegrass this world would ever hear, until Bill Monroe announced in 1946, that he had invented a unique music and named it bluegrass. In 1955, at age 23, Francis moved to Ventura, Ca. Early in 1956, Francis heard real authentic bluegrass for the first time. It was the Stanley Brothers' first Columbia LP. Before that LP finished playing, Francis' heart switched from country to bluegrass, forever. After living in Ventura for 12 years, and then Santa Barbara for 43 years, Francis moved to Roseburg in 2010. Even though Francis now has many favorite bluegrass artists, Ralph Stanley is still at the top of the list.

No one can resist Joe Ross’ invitation to have fun when he’s performing his interactive “edu-taining” shows with various instruments. Born in Virginia and raised a “military brat” in Japan, his music career started on electronic organ player in 1960s rock/soul bands. He heard his first strains of bluegrass on Armed Forces Radio's Far East Network. He began playing bluegrass and Celtic music in the 1970s at University of Oregon. Ross has played in many bands over the past four decades, from Celtic to Country, Latin to Hawaiian, and Gypsyjazz to Swing. Joe’s albums (available at Amazon and CDBaby) span various genres and emphasize originality, eclectic influences and award-winning accompaniment.  Besides UVBB and in various duos and trios, he currently performs with The Celtic Tradition, KeynotesPolka Band, The Liberty Players, Alamojo Western Swing Band, and Oregon Oldtime Fiddlers. Joe also presents a storytelling program (Folk Tales of Old Japan), gives lessons at Absolute Music in Roseburg, and writes regularly for music magazines, blogs and websites. Now retired after 34 years working for the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Marine Corps, he works full-time to share the “enjoyment, fun and camaraderie of making music together.”

Together, the Umpqua Valley Bluegrass Band has released two albums. In 2012, they put out "Live at the Siskiyou Bluegrass Festival." In 2014, "Old Growth Bluegrass" hit the streets with many fan favorites. When they perform live, you might be surprised by their attire. If not in their formal and traditional dress of black and white, they might be donning an old-time pioneer or some other look.

For more info about the Umpqua Valley Bluegrass Band, please visit their webpage or Umpqua Valley Bluegrass Band Facebook Page. Or call 541-670-9120. Or e-mail You can also watch many videos on You Tube of the band in full traditional bluegrass and bluegrass gospel action.    

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