According to legend, Jaime St. James and Tommy Thayer met sometime in the mid-'70s, when their respective high-school marching bands played a Rose Festival parade. Thayer played sax for Sunset, while St. James played drums for Cleveland.
Maybe it was fate, or maybe it was Rose Festival magic, but that day the saga of one of Portland's most underappreciated rock-and-roll legends began.
In the '80s, heavy metal ruled. Black 'N Blue came closer to donning the fearsome iron crown of metal stardom than any other Portland band. You may never have heard of them, brothers and sisters, but once they were kings.
After St. James and Thayer hooked up, St. James traded his drum sticks for vocal duties. The two recruited drummer Pete Holmes, a Madison High School track star, and bassist Patrick Young, whose older brother Steve was the band's roadie. Jef "Woop" Warner, a longtime friend of Young's from Lake Oswego High, joined the band as the second guitar player. The name Black 'N Blue was chosen. The rest was history--of a certain kind.
Portland's early-'80s music scene didn't exactly roll out the red carpet for hard-rock bands that weren't national touring stars like Van Halen or UFO. With few opportunities to play beyond opening for local acts like Sequel at the Last Hurrah or Key Largo, BNB decided to test the waters in Los Angeles, ground zero for the '80s metal scene.
In 1983 in L.A., Black 'N Blue quickly built a sizable fan base in the scene that spawned the likes of Mštley CrŸe. Don Dokken, lead singer of Dokken, was so impressed with BNB's powerhouse live show, he produced a demo for the band, leading to a deal with Geffen Records. "We were one of the first bands out of L.A. to get signed," recalls Young, "but one of the last to put out their album."
Rather than rush into the studio, BNB decided to wait until producer Dieter Dierks was done working with the Scorpions on Love at First Sting. By the time the band's debut finally arrived in 1984, Black 'N Blue appeared to be riding the metal invasion's war wagon rather than leading it. The album was as strong as that of their contemporaries, and their debut single, "Hold on to 18," remains a classic rock anthem of intentionally arrested development. But despite the power of their live shows and studio recordings--two of which were produced by KISS' Gene Simmons--the band never broke out in a big way. In 1989, after recording four albums and touring with such acts as KISS, Dio and Whitesnake, Black 'N Blue decided to call it a day.
This weekend, Black 'N Blue will reunite for its first live show since a 1997 gig at Key Largo, the club now known as Ohm. Since the breakup, band members remained friends but went in different directions. Thayer now plays with KISS. St. James tried several other careers, including electrician, before returning to music. Young and Warner, who both moved back to Portland, recently formed AC/DISCO, a cover band that pays tribute to '80s hard rock.
Unlike other '80s retreads that dust off old material to cash in, Black 'N Blue's reunion motives are altruistic rather than mercenary. Sure, longtime fans will have a chance to see the guys back in action (along with other local rockers Sequel and Labansky), but the real purpose of the show is to help raise money for Jeff Young, another brother of bass player Patrick.
Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) in 1983, Jeff was only given a few years to live. A single father who struggles to get by on Social Security disability, he also receives assistance from Friends of Jeff, a foundation started by friends to help with his needs. Patrick worked with Friends of Jeff to put together the Black 'N Blue reunion show, which will be hosted by none other than Gene Simmons.
With blistering dual lead guitars inspired by bands like Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy, as well as a healthy dose of KISS, Black 'N Blue made its mark on the metal scene that dominated popular music two decades ago. And while the rockers built a solid reputation and fan base, they never reached the heights of fame they hoped for.
"There was a lot of bad timing with Black 'N Blue," says Patrick Young, without regret. Fame and fortune may have eluded the band, but compared to the Quaalude-'n'-Southern Comfort post-fame horror stories of bands like Mštley CrŸe, the tradeoff seems fair.
"I don't have 20 cars--just two," says the bass player turned husband and father. "But I'm happy."
Roseland, 8 NW 6th Ave. 8 pm Saturday, June 14. $20.
KISS bass player Gene Simmons will host the show, which also includes Sequel, Labansky and AC/DISCO.
According to singer Jaime St. James, Black 'N Blue will be recording a new album later this year.