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Man behind others' CDs makes his own

PERSON OF THE WEEK: Mike Coykendall
by: ©2007 JULIE FORWARD, Mike Coykendall wears his hat in his hand and his songs on his sleeve as he and his bandmates present his solo material tonight.

Mike Coykendall is definitely not in Kansas anymore.

The lanky singer-songwriter- guitarist-producer may have grown up there, but he inhabits an entirely different universe these days.

In addition to traveling the world playing with critically lauded songwriter M. Ward, Coykendall just worked on the new EP by indie rock darlings Bright Eyes as well as the debut album by actress Zooey Deschanel.

For a guy whose first band once had to learn 'Born to Be Wild' on the spot in order to escape unscathed from a Midwestern biker bar, Coykendall's come far.

A few years ago, he celebrated his 40th birthday in the Silver Lake mansion formerly owned by a silent movie star while working on tracks with renowned British chanteuse Beth Orton.

'I did not predict that, no,' he laughs. 'I grew up in Kansas, in a town of 500 people, so it was a pretty strange place to turn 40.'

Coykendall landed in Portland in '99, seeking refuge from San Francisco's skyrocketing cost of living. He quickly put down roots, partially through former tourmate Fernando, who introduced him to a network of friends, and partially through an introduction to emerging singer-songwriter Matt Ward.

Music ties link up friends

'I had a mutual friend, Carlos Forrester,' he explains, 'and when he heard I was moving to Portland he said, 'You've got to meet my friend Matt Ward,' who had just moved here like six months before.

'So as soon as I got here I called him and we got to know each other, and I played in his band for a little while and then we did a record together and I got to know a lot of people through that. You do a few records with people and you get to know a lot of different people.'

'Getting to know a lot of different people' is one thing, but Coykendall's résumé - and continued work with some of Portland's most respected artists - tells a deeper story.

In addition to playing with and producing albums with M. Ward and Fernando, he's also worked on critically lauded albums by Richmond Fontaine and Amelia, among others.

A huge part of that has to do with Coykendall's remarkably amiable approach and dedication, as well as his stature as one of the city's more underappreciated and talented artists.

Fernando's a believer

'Mike Coykendall is one of the most honest and believable songwriters that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing,' says Fernando, who's received plenty of acclaim on his own. 'If Mike told me one day that the Ford Pinto was the safest car on the road, I'd drive around town in one with my seat belt unlatched.

'We co-produced my CD 'Dreams of the Sun and Sky' together in 2001, and it was the most rewarding experience I've had in music to date,' he continues.

Coykendall's own solo album, 'Hello Hello Hello,' is some of the most effortless and easygoing music to emerge from the City of Roses in some time - a beautifully ambling, irresistible collection of slightly experimental, sun-drenched pop/rock tunes.

After recording comes a push

By his own account, making the record almost drove Coykendall over the brink.

In typically self-effacing terms, he admits that it's easier to work on other people's material but adds: 'Having gone through that, I can also understand when somebody's at the end of a project and all of a sudden they're really stressing over some little detail that didn't bother them earlier. I can say, 'I know how you feel,' and then give them a story about me doing something similar and ease them.'

He's making a rare appearance playing his own material tonight at the World Famous Kenton Club. He's finally stepping into the limelight himself. If all goes according to plan, this will be a less isolated occurrence.

'It's been kind of slow but gradual - there have been no real peaks - but no valleys, really. I don't like having a big agenda or anything,' says the 43- year-old. 'I'm just going to continue doing what I've been doing. Maybe I'll have to go back to work one of these days, but I try not to think about it.'

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Mike Coykendall CD release

Where: World Famous Kenton Club, 2025 N. Kilpatrick St., 503-285-3717

When: 8 p.m. Friday, March 30

Cost: Free