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From Jersey to Portland, over a lifetime of music

Songwriter Jack McMahon, a stalwart of Oregon's 70s music scene, will hit the Grand Lodge

By CARI HACHMANN

For The News-Times

'Most of the songs I write just come from sitting around and strumming my guitar,' said Portland singer-songwriter Jack McMahon.

When he's not working his day job at Music Millennium on Burnside, McMahon is performing solo at venues around town, touring with the Jack McMahon Band, hosting Songwriter's Circle or thinking up melodies and lyrics in his southeast Portland home for his latest music project.

And this Saturday, McMahon will play free at McMenamins Grand Lodge.

McMahon began his music career in New Jersey and New York as a solo performer and touring in bands.

After one too many letdowns by mainstream record labels left him looking for something other than the hustle and bustle of the east coast music climate, he set out across the country in a car that broke down in Ohio. He hitch-hiked the rest of the way to San Francisco, where he settled in with friends..

Months later, McMahon was to return east, but decided to make a quick visit to Portland first.

It was 1973 and Portland's music scene was on the verge of change. That year, the city lifted the law that for years barred taverns and bars from hosting live music.

His friend encouraged him to play at a few clubs. He met people who liked his music and got offered work. 'It wasn't like today when there were a ton of musicians,' said McMahon, 'We were just kind of making the scene in those days.' He remembers other 'indie' artists like himself - the Sleezy Pieces, the Holy Modal Rounders and the Natural Gas Company.

'It was just a handful of us,' he said. 'Instead of major labels, we put our own records out.'

Back home for Christmas, McMahon decided he liked Oregon too much not to return. He'd been smitten by a girl and the Northwest - 'the laid-back lifestyle, the natural beauty and the personalities of Northwest folks made me fall in love with this region.'

Since then, Jack has raised three sons, recorded three albums, 'Better Late (1983) Toe the Line' (2000) and 'The Man That Love Forgot' (2007) as well as fronted three local bands; Tracks, The Chameleons, and Jack McMahon and Friends.

McMahon says his most recent album, 'The Man that Love Forgot,' was 'an excuse to play everything' from folk, country and soul to rock, rhythm and blues.

'I have always had an ear for catchy melodies,' said McMahon. He credits his ability to write songs to his mother and father who raised him in a 'musical household' in New Jersey. Both singers, they exposed him to great musicians of all varieties. At age nine, he learned to play guitar by watching Elvis Presley on TV and as a teen and throughout college he played in several bands.

When McMahon began touring with his band, Night Watch, in New York, Gerry Goffin, former songwriting partner to wife Carole King, offered him a job as a demo singer. In 1969, Goffin had flewn McMahon's band, Night Watch, to Los Angeles to record an album for Screen Gem Columbia (SGC), but when the label decided not to sign the band, Night Watch split up and McMahon went solo.

As a solo performer, McMahon began writing and singing his own songs around New York and at times opened for Bruce Springsteen, Steely Dan and New York Dolls. But after a Columbia record release fell through, Jack McMahon gave up the East Coast and moved to Oregon.

Currently, McMahon is excited about his latest project, which he says, 'represents some of my best song writing to date.' Featuring nine new songs, the record is 'a little bit stripped down,' with simple voice and guitar.

For more than 10 yeas, McMahon has focused his craft with other notable local songwriters in Portland's Songwriter's Circle. Over the years, he's begun writing tighter to a theme and weaving a cohesive thread throughout his songs.

He is also a fan of interior rhyme. 'I drop little rhyme seeds at the end or in the middle of lines that are often subliminal, but make lyrics sound very musical' he said.

SHOWTIME

Jack McMahon plays a free solo show on Saturday, June 9 at McMenamins Grand Lodge located at 3505 Pacific Ave. Forest Grove. All ages welcome.

This summer, McMahon will return to the Grand Lodge with the 4-piece Jack McMahon Band featuring himself, Ron Stephens, Rudy Battjes and Denny Bixby on Thursday, July 12 and August 16 from 6 to 9 p.m.

Jack McMahon's music is available at the show, on iTunes, his website jackmcmahon.com or cdbaby.com.