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Strange Tones to ring in the New Year

Swampy sounding rockers support brand new CD
by: Contributed photo, The Strange Tones kneel at the altar of rockin’ blues music as they get down and do their thing on stage. The four-piece band has earned critical raves and recently released its third CD “We’re On Our Way.”

Guitar Julie Strange sums up how she handles life beneath a volcano.

'You have to be very careful.'

If you respect the volcano, she says, it will assist you. For example, say you want to start a swampy bluesy rockabilly type surf band, like her group The Strange Tones. Rather than rehearsing in some dingy warehouse space, like many bands do, set up your practice space under a volcano.

'We use it as our heat source,' Strange adds.

Strange won't disclose the location of the volcano, although it's reportedly somewhere in the Portland area, so you can do the math. However, she will disclose that she's ready to rock New Year's Eve at McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale.

Strange will be appearing at Edgefield with her husband, Andy Strange, the band's bassist, as well as J.D. Huge, who beats the skins, and Suburban Slim, who plays guitar.

Older listeners would probably think of Creedence Clearwater Revival or Louisiana swamp blues upon hearing The Strange Tones. Younger listeners could draw parallels with the band and Southern Culture on the Skids, and the band's rhythm section incorporates a wide variety of influences, from Latin to rock to Mersey beat.

On its latest CD 'We're On Our Way,' the band likes it tremolo guitar sounds, twanging and twitching all over the place as it spins percussive tales of speedin', fightin', fussin' and struttin'. The CD contains a bonus track on the end, 'Fourteen Dollars in the Bank,' penned by late great Portland harmonica player Paul DeLay. The harp player recorded with the band, Strange says, and meant a lot to the members.

'He was just a real sweetheart,' she says. 'He was always encouraging to us.'

It all started with a love affair - actually two. One was between Julie and Andy, who met at an event 18 years ago hosted by the Cascade Blues Association, which promotes blues and roots music in the Northwest.

The other affair was the one they both had with the blues - especially as practiced by 1950s hit maker Jimmy Reed, he of 'Bright Lights, Big City' fame. Reed was one of Julie's earliest musical heroes, she says, noting she took up guitar at 14.

'I would just hole up in my room and listen to that stuff all the time,' she says. She adds that Lightnin' Hopkins and Ike and Tina Turner were also big influences.

'That guitar and singing style pretty much blew me away.'

When she met Andy, Julie says she was impressed that her future love was also a Reed fan.

'Most people I tell that to have never heard of Jimmy Reed,' she says, a twinkle in her eye hinting at that fateful encounter.

The pair does much of the band's songwriting and got married a decade ago. They're now enshrined in the Muddy Award Hall of Fame, along with the other Strange Tones, by the very association that set the stage for their first meeting. The Cascade Blues Association inducts performers who win three consecutive annual awards in the same category. The Strange Tones have been named Best Contemporary Blues Act three years in a row by the association.

'We get a lot of love from the blues community,' Julie says. 'That's really nice.'

The blues community has certainly been good to The Strange Tones. The group's members have performed with a veritable Who's Who of blues and rock icons - Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Pinetop Perkins, Howlin' Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Rogers, Jeff Healy, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker - the list literally goes on and on.

However, the band doesn't expect to bask in the reflected glow of any of its heroes, and is steadily building its own fan base, Guitar Julie says. The Strange Tones play out nearly every weekend, and have appeared at numerous blues festivals. Its 2005 album 'Crime-A-Billy' was a Top 20 blues radio hit in Spain, and the band has received airplay in Europe, Canada, South America and the Northwest.

'To me it feels like a miracle when people want your autograph or CD,' Julie says. 'I think, 'Wow - what a wonderful life we're living here.''