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Musician often brushed with history

Piers Munro joins Jonathan Garcia and Rich Waggoner at Park Place on July 13


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Piers Munro plays the harmonica, an instrument he first tried on his 12th birthday. The songwriter will jam at Park Place Coffee July 13.

Piers Munro distinctly remembers the singer on stage.

“He was wearing a gold lamé suit,” he says. “He sang ‘Teddy Bear’ and rolled around on stage with a teddy bear, and my dad said, ‘This is pretty strange.’”

Munro was 12 years old, and for his birthday, his father had taken him to see Elvis Presley perform in the late 1950s in Southern California. That same birthday, he received a harmonica for a present and learned to play “Oh! Susanna” on it.

“When I first played that tune, I thought it was great,” he says.

Munro later also learned guitar and wound up becoming a folk-rock singer, a career at which he’s still working decades later here in the Portland area. He will share the stage with Rich Waggoner, a singer-guitarist with the group Night Folk, as well as singer-guitarist Jonathan Garcia, at Park Place Coffee in Gresham on Saturday, July 13.

The three musicians will spend the night sharing their songs in an onstage songwriter’s circle, “or triangle,” Waggoner adds with a laugh.

Dishwasher blues

Munro’s brushes with fame didn’t end with seeing Elvis. He lived in the famous Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco in 1966, where he got to see such budding new artists as The Grateful Dead. However, he says of the famed hippie district, “it was not as wonderful as I thought,” noting he wasn’t a “druggie” as opposed to many of the other residents.

He later spent time in Las Vegas, playing in a band called The Scatter Blues, which opened for such acts as the Beach Boys and Arthur Lee’s Love.

“We were alternative,” he says. “We didn’t use the term then but in fact that’s what we were.”

In 1968, he found himself washing dishes at The Troubadour, the famed Los Angeles folk music club where the Byrds met and Joni Mitchell made her LA debut.

“The Eagles weren’t even the Eagles then,” he says. “But we used to see them hanging out and drinking beer.”

He got to sing on the storied club’s stage at open mic nights, he adds, laughing as he recalls his co-worker would turn down the lights in the club and shine a spotlight on him. The crowd would momentarily quiet down, he says.

“It was like, ‘This guy must be important,’” he says. “Then they realized quickly how unimportant I was.”

Destination Portland

In late 1969, a friend in Portland sent him a plane ticket to come see the Rose City. However, Munro decided to sell it and hitchike to Oregon instead. On the way, he caught one more concert in California — at Altamont Speedway outside San Francisco.

Yes, once again Munro found himself at the intersection of music and history, as this was the infamous concert featuring the Rolling Stones, as well as Jefferson Airplane, the Flying Burritto Brothers and Santana. Four people died at the show, including one violently, as the Hell’s Angels clashed with concert-goers and musicians.

“There was a lot of dangerous feeling, and it had a feeling like anything could happen,” Munro says. He says the Stones embodied the day’s contradictions.

“They were amping up the crowd and saying ‘Love, love, love!’ and then they would play ‘Street Fighting Man.’”

Fortunately, a much brighter day would dawn for Munro once he got to Portland, where he fell in love not only with the city, but with his wife, Rachelle, to whom he’s still married. The couple has one grown daughter, who lives in New York City, and Rachelle is a well-known area belly dancer whose stage name is Nemra Khan.

Meanwhile, Munro kept playing, and has jammed with various area bands, including The Weeds as well as Night Folk with Waggoner. You can hear some of Munro’s more recent work, the George Harrison-like “Radioland” which he recorded with his longtime collaborator, Terry Nichols, at youtube.com/watch?v=REVw9_beVkI.

Munro also owned the Freedom Guitar Shop in Portland from 1971-86 and worked at another shop until 2012. He says he’s written more than 150 songs, most of them country-flavored tunes about romantic love.

“It’s universal,” he says of the theme. “It’s something I can’t get out of my system.”



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