Saturday, July 21, 2018

Umpqua Valley Bluegrass Band

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 classified 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, Jerry Zumwalt, Francis Stephenson and Joe Ross. Special Guest Jerry Ashford often joins the band. They have many decades of experience playing bluegrass, classic country, western, Celtic, old-time, western swing and other styles of music.  Let's meet each member of the 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. While a bluegrass multi-instrumentalist, she sticks to playing fiddle with Umpqua Valley Bluegrass Band. She is the chairperson of the Oregon Bluegrass Association Roseburg Chapter that hosts a monthly jam at Sutherlin Senior Center from 1 – 4:30 p.m. on the third Sunday each month. She also plays guitar, mandolin, bass and banjo. In the 1990s, she performed and recorded 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 regularly with The Slow Ponies, Shasta Ray’s Downhome Band, Rolling Waves, Accordion Club of Roseburg and Soromundi. Liz is a rancher who spends her time with her four 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 ten 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, California and moved to the San Francisco Bay area where he lived most of his life. There he started his own “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.

 Jerry Zumwalt began his musical career playing guitar at age 16. Begin self-taught, he played a variety of bluegrass and country/western music. He built his own mandolin and taught himself to play that instrument. Within the last several years, he decided to take up the 5-string banjo. He drives a road grader for Lone Rock Timber but plans to retire in 2018. In 201y, Jerry began playing banjo for the Umpqua Valley Bluegrass Band, and his hard-driving traditional style fits right in with the band’s sound. He also plays regularly in his church and with his own gospel bluegrass band, Grassy Creek. As a musician, Jerry loves good vocal harmonies and appreciates the warm, family type comradeship and highly professional talents of all his band members. Jerry belongs to the Oregon Bluegrass Assn. and Oregon Oldtime Fiddlers’ Assn. 

Francis Stephenson was born in 1932 in New Brunswick, Canada, 100 miles north of the Maine border. He loved listening to Wilf Carter and Hank Snow on the radio, Canada's two country heroes during the early 40s. 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, they had great old-time artists like Hawkshaw Hawkins, Little Jimmie Dickens and Cowboy Copas. But, husband/wife duo Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper (and esp. 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 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. and then heard real authentic bluegrass for the first time. It was the Stanley Brothers' first Columbia LP. Before it finished playing, Francis' heart switched from country to bluegrass, forever. Even though Francis now has many favorite bluegrass artists, Ralph Stanley is at the top of the list.

No one can resist Joe Ross’ invitation to have fun while he’s performing his interactive “edu-taining” shows with many instruments. Born in Virginia and raised a “military brat” in Japan, his music career started on electronic organ player in sixties rock/soul bands. He heard his first strains of bluegrass on the 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 years, from Celtic to Country, Latin to Hawaiian, and Gypsyjazz to Swing. Joe’s albums (available at Amazon) span various genres and have original,  eclectic influences and award-winning accompaniment.  Besides UVBB and in various duos and trios, he currently performs with Celtic Tradition, Keynotes Polka Band, Alamojo Western Swing Band, Oregon Oldtime Fiddlers, and Accordion Club of Roseburg. 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 BLM and Marine Corps, he works full-time to share the “enjoyment, fun and camaraderie of making music together.”

The band frequently includes a special guest artist, Jerry Ashford, who is the 2008 Northern California Bluegrass Society Guitarist of the Year. He was also given a Lifetime Achievement Award by that organization in 2016. His bluegrass and music history includes long stints with the Homegrown String Band, Side Saddle, Mountain Creatures and Moonglow. He now makes his home in Camas Valley where he operates his own business, Lord and Lady Lavender.     

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, please visit their webpage or Umpqua Valley Bluegrass Band Facebook Page. Or call 541-673-9759 or 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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