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Estacada has the BLUES


Ellen Whyte Trio to perform family show Dec. 1 at Estacada Auditorium

by: FRANK DESANTIS - (From left) Gene Houck, Ellen Whyte and Jean Pierre Garau will perform a family, friendly holiday concert starting at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1, in Estacada.The blues?

“Oh, I’ve had ‘em all my life,” Ellen Whyte laughs.

It certainly sounds like it. Musically at least.

As a small child in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Whyte picked up the accordion at age 6 and kept playing.

Whyte’s father died when she was 10 and her mother died when she was 15.

Rock ‘n’ roll was the soundtrack to her days back then.

“Rock ‘n’ roll came from the blues,” Whyte said. “I just felt it really lined up with the life I had... Blues is traditionally steeped in hardship and difficult times... (But) blues is transcendent against all lines, all emotions.”

After her mother died, Whyte went to boarding school in North Carolina.

A classmate showed Whyte three guitar chords, but Whyte wasn’t about to stop there.

She “went to town” with the guitar and developed her signature rhythmic style early on.

“It sounds like there’s a build in rhythm the way I strum and attack those notes. Like a drummer would play. I’m a frustrated drummer who plays guitar,” Whyte said.

She was soon swept up in the blue grass movement and learned flat picking techniques.

Whyte volunteered for the army and served for three years at the tail end of the Vietnam War era.

But she never got away from music.

While in the army, Whyte was part of a Motown band called “A Dash of Salt.” As “the only white girl in the group,” Whyte was the “dash of salt.”

Whyte says she has a “big appetite for music.”

She wasn’t kidding.

In the spectrum of music, Motown and pre-punk seem rather far apart. But Whyte also was part of a pre-punk band in the early 1970s.

“Nobody got us, but we got us,” she said.

Whyte moved to Oregon in 1978 and has stuck around ever since.

After a bit of a musical break while she was raising her kids, Whyte started attending jam sessions in the then seedy Alberta district of Portland in the late 1970s and ‘80s.

It wasn’t long before Whyte was forming musical partnerships once again.

There was the band “Whyte Knuckles.”

“We were unplugged before unplugged was popular,” Whyte said of the group.

Then there was “Ellen and the Night Watchers” a classic rock group.

After years of performing “other people’s music,” Whyte became hungry to start writing original pieces.

The effort paid off.

Whyte’s original pieces earned her two Grammy award nominations in 1999 and 2008.

She describes her personal style as contemporary blues with jazz, funk and R & B influences.

A few years ago, Whyte teamed up with keyboardist Jean Pierre Garau for an event that called for all-union musicians.

The two enjoyed playing together so much they kept on.

“JP has a real feel and sensibility for arrangements,” Whyte said.

Bass-guitarist and vocalist Gene Houck came on board, rounding out the trio.

“He’s got this really great soulful R & B singer voice,” Whyte said of Houck.

Houck has lent his vocals for Taco Bell and Budweiser commercials

All three take turns singing and playing, combining their backgrounds to form a unique trio.

“There’s very few bands in this area doing what we’re doing,” Whyte said.

For example, on the trio’s 2012 “Season of Peace” album, the group uses a portion of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” in their rendition of “O Holy Night.”

“Now when I sing ‘O Holy Night’ I can’t even remember what the original one sounds like,” Whyte said.

The trio will give a family friendly, holiday concert at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1, at the Estacada Auditorium.

Tickets may be purchased online at www.estacadatogether.org or at the door.

Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors or $20 per family. Children under 5 get in for free.

The concert is presented by Estacada Together.