I had been a solo singer and musician for many years, performing mirror images of the music of Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, CSNY etc.. often joining others for live shows in New England, NYC, & California. Once I moved to the southern Oregon coast, Les Stansell’s name was thrown about several times to me, as someone I must meet and play music with.
Les Stansell is not only a world renown Luthier, but a very skilled, and talented musician, singer, performer, and producer. We had friends in common, and I paid a visit to his Pistol River, Oregon workshop in 2018, and we hit it off. I recall him playing an Eagles song on a guitar he’d just finished building, and I immediately harmonized effortlessly, thus beginning our music partnership.
Les and I began our collaboration in April of 2018. I learned so much from him. How to modulate my very powerful voice, how to play ukulele and guitar more effectively, letting chords and notes, shine, being softer with my strumming and picking, letting the lyrics and melody take the upper hand.
I learned many of the songs and artists he’s played for years, and he, mine. For both of us, this was all new material and artists. Very exciting to come home from practice and feel energized about the songs I’d learned, lots of roots stuff, artist’s I was unfamiliar with, and eager to learn.
One of the first songs we collaborated on together, was Shallow, from A Star is Born, featuring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, this was new territory for Les, as, he’s genuinely more interested in older contemporary rock / folk artists.
This was the start of our musical journey into stripping down great songs, to melody and harmony, keeping the instrumentation sparse, to allow the song to re-emerge as a stand alone piece of music. We developed this method of delving into the songs by artists we loved, and always working off of the original footprint of the song, and simply adding lead vocals and harmony, and primary melodic and secondary harmonic components.
I’m sure that sounds confusing, if you listen to any of our music you will notice this at once, and it draws the listener in. As we began to perform, we could see it in the active attention of the audience, as if, they’d never quite actually heard the lyrics or melody just like that.
We experimented with artists we loved like Springsteen, CSNY ,Neil Young, James Taylor, Tom Petty, and moved onto Amy Winehouse, Chris Isaak, Sting, George Michael, Sia, and a myriad of songs styles, essentially, stripping down the songs to a simpler melodic component, which truly engaged all listeners, in most cases , allowing them to fully understand the lyrics and melody to one of their favorite songs.
Along the way, We added other musicians into our mix, and the Stansell Divens Band was created. Steve Boyer added Bass, & Melodica to our songs, and Dan Delaney added Keyboards. They are both enormously talented musicians. Steve plays Accordion, Stand Up & Electric Bass, & Melodica. Les had played music with him for years doing eastern European folk dance songs, which featured; Accordion, Melodica, Guitar and Ukulele. He just was the perfect fit to add another dimension to the music. He initially would just appear like magic, while we were practicing, and then we began to incorporate his parts into many of our songs.
Dan was a neighbor of Les’s and was well known as the keyboard player of a very popular local cover band. I believe, one day Les called him up and asked him to come by the studio. Dan set up his keyboard and jumped in with some great passages on a few iconic songs like White Bird (its a beautiful day), One ( Three Dog Night) and Do it Again ( Steely Dan). We realized Dan, added a perfect element to our songs.
We practiced at the studio Les had built, recording all 5 of our CD’s there in 2021 and then as Les began building a pickleball court ( a paddle court sport like tennis and paddle ball ) in turned out that it was acoustically as live in sound as a cathedral, so we practiced there once the construction was completed.
We realized the room was so perfect for acoustic balance, that we should start performing there, and really did not want to play anywhere else. We were asked to perform in many other places, and began to decline playing anywhere but Pistol River in the Spring of 2021. Les came up with the idea of doing small, invitation only shows of 30+ seats on the first Thursday of each month.
This became First Thursday at the Pickle Ballroom in Pistol River.
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