Longtime friends and musicians Cal Scott and Richard Moore keep the music going at their bimonthly songwriter circles

by: MATT MINER - Richard Moore, left, and Cal Scott, right, with Kathryn Claire at one of their Songwriter Circles.

Cal Scott and Richard Moore have been friends since the late 1960s, when they met as students at Lewis & Clark College and started playing music together — songs by The Beatles, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, music that stirred a generation during “the era of hootenannies,” as Moore calls it.

“You always find the other guitar-strumming, singing compadres,” Scott adds.

And that’s how it’s been ever since, from the Lewis & Clark music trio that Scott and Moore formed with fellow student Markie Post (who became an actress in Los Angeles), to the band they played in during the 1970s, to the duos and trios they formed in the 1980s.

Since graduating from Lewis & Clark — Moore with a degree in English, Scott with a psychology degree — the two have built successful careers in Portland’s entertainment industry. Moore, 64, does commercial voice-over work and audio engineering, and he’s written a musical. Scott, 63, composes music for film and television, records and tours with Irish fiddler Kevin Burke and serves as musical director of The Trail Band. Both run independent studios at their homes — Moore in Lake Oswego, Scott in Tigard.

But both are also singers-songwriters at heart. So 2-1/2 years ago, Moore and Scott started co-hosting a songwriter circle, inviting a third performer to join them at a bimonthly gig before an audience. Their songwriter circle started at the Alberta Street Pub, then moved to O’Connor’s, the popular restaurant and bar in Portland’s Multnomah Village, where it’s held the first Monday night every other month in the bar known as The Vault (it was once a bank vault).

Scott says the idea of a songwriter circle came from Nashville, where many songwriters don’t sing their own compositions — they write for other performers. Former Portland musician Craig Carothers, who’s now based in Nashville, has held songwriter circles when he comes back to visit; Scott and Moore joined Carothers a couple of times before they started their own circle.

They and their guest performers take turns playing each other’s songs, accompanying themselves (usually on guitar) and throwing in a couple of well-loved famous tunes, maybe a song from James Taylor or Arlo Guthrie. Their guests have ranged from Jon Koonce of Portland’s legendary Johnny and the Distractions to Chris Kokesh of the all-female acoustic band Misty River. Moore says some guests are about the age of his own kids, but it’s the music that matters. “It’s about sharing and learning and comparing songs,” he says.

What they love about the songwriter circles, Moore and Scott say, is the intimacy and connection with the audience. Playing live music can be tough, they agree — onstage in a big club, you’re drowned out by audience chatter; sitting in a corner of a bar, you feel like part of the woodwork.

What makes the songwriter circle a remarkable experience “is the audience is listening,” Scott says.

“A song is nothing unless it’s performed,” Moore adds. These gigs attract audiences, he says, “because they want to experience something special.”

It’s something special, all right. One time, while taking audience requests, they heard a fan yell, “Gluten free!” Several weeks later, Scott and Moore performed their own goofy lyrics set to the tune of The Beatles’ “Let It Be” (“When I find myself in Dunkin’ Donuts, Oprah Winfrey comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, gluten free .... and when my kitchen cupboard’s calling, ‘Set that bag of Cheetos free!’ hard to stay committed, gluten free ...”).

“It’s like a living room,” Scott says. “It’ll go from a wacky tune to some heartfelt song, and the audience is there with you.”

Other pursuits

Moore and Scott keep finding new outlets for their creativity. In 2005, Moore had two big items on his to-do list: Write a musical, and record a new CD of tunes about Portland. He combined the two, and the result was “RAIN The Musical!” A staged reading of it took place at the 2013 Fertile Ground festival, the annual citywide showcase of new works in the performing arts.

And Scott has reunited with his very first bandmates. As a 14-year-old growing up in La Grande, he had a rock ‘n’ roll band called the Sceptres, which played surf music and British Invasion hits. The Sceptres were revived at their 40-year high school reunion in 2008, and ever since then, the guys have gotten together for an occasional gig.

They play songs from 1963 to 1969 — “the best music,” says Scott, who plays electric guitar.

But singing and songwriting will always be in their orbit, whatever else they do. Moore has an idea for the two of them to host a songwriter mentorship program at Lewis & Clark. And they both are available to perform house concerts, either as soloists or as a duo.

Meanwhile, the songwriter circle goes round and round. The next one is coming up in February.

“Whatever that magic has been, it’s working,” Scott says.

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