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Together 'Again'

Stillway and Bonham to show off their world-class guitar playing at Lake Oswego concert


SUBMITTED PHOTO  - Jamie Stillway and Ben Bonham will play at Lakeside Theater and Cafe Monday, Feb. 1. Show starts at 7 p.m.

They may have been born half a world apart, but when Jamie Stillway and Ben Bonham play guitar together, it’s clear their paths were meant to cross.

That happened soon after Stillway, a West Coast native, and Bonham, a British ex-pat, moved to Portland in 2002. The two met at Artichoke Music on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard and quickly formed a musical partnership that’s still going strong.

The duo will celebrate the release of their second CD, titled “Again,” with a performance at Lake Theater and Cafe in Lake Oswego on Monday, Feb. 1.

“You can really hear our musical synergy coming through,” said Stillway, speaking of the 11 original songs that make up the new record. “We recorded it mostly live and limited ourselves to the number of takes we would do. Then, we picked the ones that stood out.”

“Again” is a follow up to a CD Stillway & Bonham released 14 years ago, and since then, the two have played together enough to appreciate their natural, musical chemistry.

When Bonham completed a new recording space in his hometown of Hood River, the two were inspired to write and record another CD’s worth of material.

“You get a hell of an impact from playing with the other person,” he said. “We’re much, much more when we play together than I am on my own.”

Bonham is known in the local picking circles for his extensive work in Hawaiian music and his expert playing on vintage National steel guitars. Concertgoers can expect to see a fine display of slide and lap slide playing from Bonham.

The classically trained Stillway applies a fingerpicking style to older musical realms such as ragtime, gypsy jazz and blues. She’s known nationally as an elite player who works as a representative for Santa Cruz Guitar Company and Munich-based Stevens Custom Guitars.

When meshed, their varying styles combine to give Stillway & Bonham a sound all their own.

“We conveniently gravitate toward styles that we play well,” Bonham said. “Also, we write in the forms that we know best.”

Raised in England, Bonham is far from your typical English folkie.

“I was 12 years old when punk rock hit the U.K.,” he said. “I hated folk. I hated rock. I hated disco.”

But a cassette of old-time American country blues given to him by a girlfriend struck a chord with Bonham.

“It was Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and it changed everything,” he said. “I have always been fascinated by the pre-war musical styles. When I first came to the States, I was playing a lot of country blues stuff and nobody seemed very familiar with it.”

Bonham found a kindred spirit in Stillway, who — after mastering the classical guitar at a young age — began expanding her playing palette under the influence of a ragtime teacher.

“The first thing he showed me was a finger-picking style for 12-bar blues,” Stillway said. “Then I got to learn all this other stuff. And that’s when I started learning to play by ear.”

Working together, Stillway & Bonham capitalize on their talents for improvisation as they seek to complement each other on the songs each brings to the mix.

For the recording sessions for the new CD, each player brought a fresh batch of original compositions and allowed the other to add their instinctive touches to the music.

“It’s very much in the jazz-improvisational format,” Bonham said. “It’s since working with Jamie that’s I’ve learned how to jam.”

“We both realized a long time ago how much fun it is to play together, and it’s been that way since the first day we met,” Stillway said.