Without Scotland Barr, band is right where its supposed to be
Slow Drags' tribute show pays homage to late band leader
And the guitar goes off in your hand like a bomb/The strings on fire and signing along/If you tried you couldn't hit a bad note/As you're playing the song you just wrote.
- 'Right Where You're Supposed to Be' by Scotland Barr Moritz
The Slow Drags, an Americana band, cook up one tune after another in their Southeast Portland rehearsal space, sending note after note out an open window into the blue and orange dusk sky.
Mont Chris Hubbard, the band's keyboardist, tackles the lead vocal on 'Rock Solid,' a bluesy number written by the late Scotland Barr Moritz, which features Zach Hinkelman's slide guitar.
Bryan Daste, the band's pedal steel player, briefly chides Hubbard for not sounding energetic enough on the tune.
'I obviously can't gravel like Scott could,' Hubbard says, alluding to Barr's gritty voice.
The drummer, Andy Nelson, suggests Hubbard take up chain smoking to enhance his voice, eliciting laughter from the band, which includes Charley Adams on rhythm guitar and Pat Munson on bass. Hubbard goes him one better, making fun of his buttoned down look.
'I will not have my shirt tucked in,' Hubbard says with a smile, referring to the band's upcoming Scotland Barr tribute show at Dante's on Saturday, July 23.
In that moment, it's clear all the band has lost and gained by knowing Barr, who died of pancreatic cancer in September 2009. Barr brought them all together in the first place to create intricate country rock songs that evoke comparisons to Wilco, the Beach Boys and Gram Parsons - and now he's not there to spur them on.
On the other hand, it's because they knew Barr that they're spurring each other on, trying to pay proper tribute to a man who produced some of the best melodies this town's ever heard.
Hubbard remembers Barr as a funny guy who was ready to embrace all life had to offer.
'A common pose in pictures of him is him with his arms spread wide open - he was a tall guy and had a large wingspan - like he is claiming ownership of the entire world,' Hubbard says.
'We Will Be Forgotten'
Barr was diagnosed with cancer in September 2008, one week into a band tour, and Hinkelman remembers the moment well.
'Scott was quite stubborn and refused any medical attention,' he says. 'However, after a harrowing show in Jerome, Ariz., he finally relented to be seen by urgent care.
'I brought him to the facility and waited for him to be seen. As Scott came out and told me that the doctors said that there was likely some sort of cancerous growth and that he needed to fly home, he said something that I'll never forget: 'Well, my life is going to suck for the next year and a half!' Amazingly, this was in somewhat of a positive tone, like he was going to have to fight this for a bit so he could get healthy and get back to his normal life.'
Barr never did get his normal life back, but the band both before and after his death worked on his dream double album, 'We Will Be Forgotten.' About half the record's tracks feature Barr's vocals with guest vocalists on the other songs.
The band doesn't plan to continue after releasing the album - 'It would be like the Heartbreakers without Tom Petty' one member says - but they hope the double CD, which features Jordan Korach on bass, will evoke visions of what Barr was like with the wider public.
All the bandmates note Barr was a 'foodie' - in fact, he invented Secret Aardvark Hot Sauce, which can be found in stores and restaurants all over town. On that note, he met his wife, Stacy Moritz, at Salvador Mali's, a restaurant in Hillsdale where he was founding chef.
Moritz, who oversees Secret Aardvark Trading Co., says she's pleased with the double album and thinks it's a fitting tribute to her husband.
'There are pieces of our life that are a part of every single song in there,' she says, noting Barr would jot down phrases from their conversations, including 'a box of homeless keys' or 'everybody wants a man on fire' that he thought might make good lyrics and that wound up on the band's three albums.
Like Moritz, Hubbard mourns Barr, but he takes comfort in all he gained by knowing him, whether it was his humor, inventiveness or passion.
'I like thinking of him driving the van and leaving the turn signal on for half an hour,' Hubbard says. 'Always ordering twice as much food as the rest of us. The hilarious things he'd say in practice. Or him on stage, whipping his long, stringy hair around as he attacked his guitar.'
The Scotland Bar Memorial CD Release party, featuring The Slow Drags, will be 9:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23 at Dante's, 350 W. Burnside. Tickets are $8. For info, call 503-226-6630.