What do you get when you combine a mandolin, some drums, varying numbers of guitars and four enthusiastic people drawing from all different genres of music?
Though it might sound like a big ol' cup of crazy, it is in fact the make-up of Tualatin-based band Blue Lightning.
With combinations of music that feature everything from zydeco, folk, jazz, blues and rock-a-billy elements, the band works hard to keep its music original and fun.
'The spectrum is covered. I don't think we try to play something for everybody, but we do,' said Tommy Dunne, who plays bass, mandolin, guitar and provides vocals. 'This is fun. This is what we do.'
Dunne is joined in the band by fellow musicians Mary Harvard (lead vocals, guitar and bass), Robert Richter (guitar and vocals) and Bob Anderson (drums and percussion), who all agreed that their music typically leans toward the folk-rock side. They cite their influences as everything from Bob Dylan to The Cowboy Junkies, with a lot of other artists in between, and even when they do cover songs they try to add their own flavor to it.
'We try to present the songs in a unique way,' Harvard said.
'I think we all have influences. We get to use creativity, make our own arrangement,' he said. 'We just like to really mix it up and see what we can do.'
Blue Lightning released its debut CD, 'Maestro In The Jam,' last year, and since that time they have seen a lot of interest begin to generate over their music. Besides playing more than 70 shows in 2006, the band had their music played on the 'Bob Dylan Radio Hour' on Sirius Satellite Network in September. They also said they congregated at Harvard's house to listen to their song stream from a radio station in Philadelphia.
The biggest development in the band's career is the upcoming appearance on the nationally syndicated program 'River City Folk,' which will air March 3. The show, hosted by folk musician Tom May, is heard weekly on more than 200 public radio stations across the country and on XM Satellite Radio. Band members agreed exposure on such a widespread program is a big step for the local act.
'I guess it is just kind of cool when you have enough interest in your music you can go on a national show like that,' Harvard said.
The group also is gearing up for the release of its sophomore CD, which was recorded live at Portland's Aladdin Theater in October. It played the show to an almost sell-out crowd, which is a change from the more low-key shows it usually plays at restaurants and bars. The group will be kicking off the sales of the album with a release party at Macadam Bar and Grill on June 2, More frequent jamming spots for Blue Lightning include Steamer's in Portland and local area farmer's markets, but when it came time to take the stage at the Aladdin, the band members agreed that they didn't even have time to be nervous. They said playing on stage at such a large venue full of people was exciting and fun, though they still love the more intimate shows that give them the chance to interact with the crowd.
'We always kind of make efforts to do that,' Dunne said.
With so much creative energy in the band, some of the sounds the members like to play with are lead vocals and instrument style. For example, they said, they took a Neil Young song and had Harvard sing it, giving it female vocals on the lead and turning it into a nearly new-sounding song. This is something they do quite often.
'It's almost as exciting as a new song,' Richter said.
They also like to change up old classics, such as 'Happy Birthday'; Dunne said he is working on a rendition of the song that will 'blow people away.' Harvard said that even when nobody in the crowd actually has a birthday during a show they are going to arbitrarily pick someone and sing to them.
Upcoming shows for Blue Lightning include The Green Room (2280 N.W. Thurman) on March 2, Macadam Bar and Grill (5833 S.W. Macadam) on March 3, and Steamers (8303 N.E. Sandy) on March 16 and 17. A little further in the future the foursome will rock audiences at Sherwood and Beaverton farmers' markets in July and August, along with a number of other shows on the ever-growing schedule.