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The Ramblin' Mike

Joel Tepp
by Michael Guthrie

Live Music

Summertime is a great time to get out of the box and attend some of the many outdoor festivals happening in the Northwest. No matter where you live, there are festivals within a few hours drive. I just returned from the 23rd Annual Yakima Folklife Festival, which has an open mic stage nestled under a big tree with food and crafts booths all around it. Even though I had my own time slot on the main stage the night before, I decided to play the open mic stage the next day, thinking I would connect with a few more people who had never heard of me before. Other performers at the festival also played the open mic stage, including the group Waterbound who played a nice set of traditional music with autoharp, vocals and mandolins. This festival is one of many in the Northwest where you can meet new musicians and run into musicians you already know.

On Saturday night I ran into Victory Music member Joel Tepp at one of the club venues that the festival sponsors. Joel had come to the festival to accompany Amy Martin, a wonderful songwriter from Montana. Joel met Amy at the Kerrville Festival in Texas when he went there to accompany Caroline Aiken. For Joel, this is what it's all about—going to festivals, connecting with new talent and being inspired by new ideas from the bounty of musicians he hears there. As a result of that meeting I went to hear Amy Martin with Joel sitting in, and I was inspired by her warm personality on stage and her fine songwriting and vocals. Even though Joel and I have seen each other at the Victory Music open mic a number of times, we never had talked. "We had to go to Yakima to finally have a conversation" was the way Joel put it.

For those of you who attend the Ravenna Third Place Books open mic, you probably have seen Joel play there. Maybe you were around when he played rhythm guitar in the Spencer Davis Group, or you may have seen him playing with his long time friends Little Feat. There isn't enough room in the Victory Review to list all of Joel's credits but I can give you a little background on this man who loves to play music and is always willing to help others succeed at their music. I think it's great that a musician of Joel's caliber comes out to play open mics and sit in with everyone from beginners to veterans.

Joel Tepp was born in Hollywood, California, where he grew up and started playing music at The Ash Grove, a stellar folk club of the day. He moved to Berkeley in 1966 to go to college. He played there at The Freight and Salvage, a folk club that is still in operation today. Fate had it that he would rent an apartment across the street from the legendary Charlie Musselwhite. They became friends, and Joel learned a great deal about playing harmonica from this extraordinary musician. He developed the foundation of his playing style as well as some killer harmonica chops, and even played some gigs with Musselwhite!

While in Berkley, Joel made trips up and down the West Coast buying instruments and bringing them back to the city to sell and pay for his college education. He also traveled around playing gigs. His first paid gig was in 1967 at the Ice House (a famous 1960s folk club in Pasadena, California), which was run by Bob Stane. The group Joel played his first paid gig with was a jug band called The Lydia E. Pinkham Superior Orchestra. Megan Berleson played in that band with Joel, and she now lives in the Northwest. Joel promises to bring her to the Victory Open Mic sometime to share her wonderful voice with us. On his travels up and down the coast he met songwriter Danny O'Keefe and formed a long-lasting music relationship that still goes on today. Danny introduced Joel to Seattle, where he has lived for the past 20 years while raising his two children.

Before moving to Seattle, Joel worked as a studio musician in Los Angeles. You can find his name in the credits of many studio recordings that were made there by artists such as Iain Matthews, Kate & Anna McGarrigle and Cris Williamson.

Now that his kids are grown Joel is getting back into playing more and is also starting to write his own songs. He still loves playing as a sideman and helping others sound good, but he feels it's time to make his own contribution to songwriting.

Joel finds great value in the Victory open mic, because it helps build community and is "a place where someone can come and get encouragement to get their guitar out again and get back into playing." He likes to just go and listen to what others are doing even though he can't get there in time to sign up. He really likes to see young players show up and is inspired by their ideas and how they use chords in ways he wouldn't think of. He also connects with the jug band music of Stanislove, which takes him back to his own jug band days. For Joel, playing this open mic is a chance to try out new songs with a live audience.

He also likes to support Third Place Books by buying books there, even though he could get a discount at other stores. He is thankful to them for hosting the Victory open mic.

Although most small festivals can't afford to pay musicians, the value of networking with other musicians is great. I was inspired by some fine performers and became more acquainted with musicians like Joel Tepp, Amy Martin and Camille Bloom. Support your local festival and it will support you.

Michael Guthrie is a singer/songwriter who regularly plays venues in the Northwest and is a Victory Music sound volunteer. He has produced his own CD and run his own coffee house/cafe, The Village Green Cafe, in Kaslo, BC from 1973-79. He studied sound engineering and recording at Sound Master Recording Studios in North Hollywood, CA in 1987.

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