Monday, February 29, 2016

Last Chance Texaco

The last time we saw Rickie Lee Jones, playing in Eugene in the 1980s, she was at the height of her fame. Along with her smoky vocals covering an eclectic mixture of rock, jazz and reggae, what we remember was her berating some loudmouth in the third balcony.

Winning a Grammy as best new artist in 1979, Jones sang soulful ballads like "Last Chance Texaco" and radio-friendly confections like “Chuck E.’s In Love.” Then, after producing three albums, each with diminishing success, she fled the music scene for years.

She was back in Eugene on Friday, February 26, this time at a much smaller, more intimate venue. Accompanied only by one other musician on vibraphone and percussion, Jones played guitar and piano, covering a number of her hits, but also new music.

The verdict? After 30 years, she still has that uniquely sultry voice, with all its rhythmic elasticity, swooping and gliding, even teasing the beat. Jones hit all the right notes and is clearly much more comfortable in her own skin these days. Fabulous concert.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Music Maven

Rolling into Lake Wenatchee Ranger Station for yet another stint as a seasonal employee for the U.S. Forest Service in April, 1978, the new receptionist greeted me warmly, as if she had known me my whole life. Thoroughly engaging and completely engaged, she introduced herself as Char Townley. We would become fast friends.

It was immediately clear that Wilma Charlene Reich Townley, who went by “Char” since birth, was not your garden-variety receptionist. Indeed, this 40-something ball of energy was previously an educator with an undergraduate degree in elementary education and graduate degree in counseling. Char was also a prodigious pianist.

Recently moved to Plain, Washington with her husband Bryce -- who helped start nearby Alpine Boys Ranch, a private boarding school for errant youth -- and family, Char would be the public face of the Lake Wenatchee Ranger Station for nearly a decade. Char passed away recently at age 79 in Leavenworth, Washington.

Because my mailing address and contact phone number were, for all intents and purposes, the Lake Wenatchee Ranger Station, Char was important to me in other ways: she was the key intermediary between me and my new girlfriend (below), a lookout on the Naches Ranger District. She would become a matchmaker, of sorts.

As one who took her job of informing hikers about trail conditions seriously, Char boldly joined our merry band of wilderness rangers on numerous junkets into the backcountry near Lake Wenatchee. She even graciously shared in our crude attempt at daiquiris using mashed strawberries, cheap rum and glacial ice.

A maestro on keyboards, Char was adept at classical, gospel and jazz, along with traditional hymns. A big hit at parties, she also played piano at the Plain Community Church. She even enjoyed our music, specifically "Dixie Chicken" on Waiting For Columbus by Little Feat. “Love that Dixieland piano,” she would say.
Indeed, Char was the entire orchestra for our little group of thespians known as The Plain Players (above), providing background melodies and musical interludes for our plays and variety shows. When my girlfriend became my wife, Char played keyboards at our wedding at The Chapel in the Woods at Camp Field in Leavenworth.

A friend to many in the Upper Wenatchee Valley area, Char was a magical soul: talented, witty and kind, always offering encouraging words to those who needed it. As communications conduit for the ranger district, she always knew our “10-20” in case of an emergency. I, among many others, will fondly remember her always.