When Steven Hettum’s bandmates heard about Steven’s worsening health issues, they quickly got to work on creating a final album for release. Tracks they’d collected over the last few years were quickly shaped into an album called Folks Like Us. Yet another parting musical gift. We lost Steve last night on 2.8.2016.
Here’s the story of the band, of J. Michael Kearsey’s arrival to Portland in 1972. And of course, Steven’s work with bands like Billy Rancher, and his own musical life. Very richly lived. The song at the end of our conversation is off the new album. “Get On Board”. We will.
Here’s a write-up on the new release, from S.P. Clarke:
“Steven “Pearly” Hettum has always been a musical chameleon and he displays all his many colors within the fourteen tracks presented here, on this, his final album.
A fixture in the Portland music scene for over thirty-five years Steve assembles a stellar cast of Portland veterans to support him on most of the tracks. In addition to his longtime backup band the Janglers (J. Michael Kearsey, Dennis Elmer and Houston Bolles), Steve is joined by sax man Danny Schauffler (Nu Shooz, Crazy 8s) and blues keyboardist extraordinaire Dover Weinberg (Paul Delay/Jim Mesi/Robert Cray, and countless others), as well as a host of other expert side-players, for a musical journey that stops in many different stylistic stations along the way.
Folk and country genres, with a touch of rock, dominate the songs here. Honest, homespun lyrics and an unassuming vocal delivery can easily deceive the casual listener into thinking the songs and their arrangements are more simple than they really are. The craft and skill displayed in the creation of this music is of the highest order at all times.
Country roots, Hank and Buck, Clint and Garth, weave through the title track. An element of Townes Van Zandt or Jerry Jeff Walker colors “A Cowboy Song.” The muddy Doctor John meets Creedence swamp drama of “Boogie Man” is offset by the haunting siren call of “Luella.”
Folk qualities reminiscent of Dylan/Simon/Prine are neatly sewn into “If I Were a Christian” and the touching “My Old Man.” Hettum is sentimental, as his song “Sentimental Bastard” clearly suggests. But he is never mawkish or maudlin. Though he obviously holds good old American family values in very high esteem.
The three cover songs presented convey the stylistic breadth of Pearly’s influences, and illustrate perfectly his ability to make a song his own. Van Morrison’s “Wild Night” is given a straight-ahead arrangement with Schauffler’s sax section humming nicely. Prine’s “Souvenirs” is a touching piece of sentiment. And Hettum’s version of Bad Company’s “Weep No More” far outshines the original.
But the best is saved for last, with the deeply touching gospel send-up, send-off, “Get On Board.” A choir of angels guides Steve home as all the musicians join in for a proper and fitting finale to a great career and a great life.
This is an intimate recording. There are times when it sounds as if Steven “Pearly” Hettum is sitting right in the room, solitarily singing and strumming his guitar just for you. For those who knew him during his long and illustrious years in the Portland music scene—his magical appearance will be decidedly welcome. For those who have never heard him before, they will wish they had known of him sooner.
In addition to The Janglers, some other very talented people on this album shown below the image from a Eugenio’s open-mic session.
This album is available at Locals Only.