IMAGE: Missy Prince
Lewi Longmire’s preferred list of his own recordings runs 42 albums—the complete discography (from acoustic to rock to Valvoline ad spots) would choke a Nano. Regarding live shows, it’s more likely the 37-year-old Portland musician has a gig scheduled around town than not. “The peak of the madness was 2003,” says the local legend. “I played 282 shows that year. I musta been nuts...and young. Peter Buck recently joked about my presence around town. He thought it was weird to go see a band in Portland and find I wasn’t playing in it.”
Born to a family of musicians in a Rio Grande farming community, Longmire has a famed versatility (he plays electric and upright bass, pedal and lap steel and traditional guitar, organ and piano, mandolin, drums, harmonica, banjo, trumpet, fitful violin and, as a Universal Life Church minister, has been known to marry bandmates), which led to him being called “the session musician’s session musician.” He started early, mastering instruments in school and playing whatever was needed for those few bands available. After a brief stint at the University of New Mexico, Longmire started touring a folk-punk project around the West Coast, and, a decade later, finally settled ’round Portland. He says he “devoted [him]self to being a hired gun in the Americana circles.”
As you’d expect, Longmire’s latest album, Fire ’Neath The Still—a relaxed stroll through rootsy songwriting and coiled instrumental facility—takes advantage of his Rolodex of fellow players, with guests ranging from the Decemberists’ Jenny Conlee to Richmond Fontaine’s Paul Brainard. Rather than attempt to explain all his connections, we asked Lewi to hand us a sort of family tree of his associated projects. This is the result.
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James Low Band (2001-2005, although still plays occasional shows with the band)
Longmire: “James brought me into the LaurelThirst scene with which I became so strongly associated. It’s a testament to the quality of players he surrounds himself with that a later version of his band was wholly appropriated by Mark Everett to be a version of the Eels.”
Caleb Klauder Band (2000-2003, plus occasional shows)
“That version of Caleb’s band seemed to exist just to have fun, like some kind of roving imps. I remember things like driving the van up onto the sidewalk, destroying backstage furniture, taking apart hotel rooms...this all culminated in an outdoor, all-ages show at the Edgefield where, for some intoxicated reason, I was moved to strip naked from the waist down and run full speed around the grounds, jumping over terrified families’ picnic blankets, all the while swinging my pants over my head and trying not to get nabbed by security. This led to a proposed ban of not only our band, but any band that had a member of our crew in it, since the other players had stood on the sidelines and cheered. But word got to Mike McMenamin, who apparently thought it was hilarious and issued a pardon.”
Little Sue Band (2002-2005)
“I was brought in when Sue Weaver decided she wanted to play Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” live with a full 30-person chorus for her The Long Goodbye CD-release party in 2002. I guess they figured I was the classic-rock guitar go-to guy, and I’ve been playing on and off with her ever since. Sue is like the local answer to Emmylou Harris—a pop-rock version of the cowboy sweetheart.”
Casey Neill & the Norway Rats (2000-present)
“It’s always interesting doing road work with Casey, since he’s got all these disparate elements in his music, and each have their own followers: the crusty eco-punk, the Irish drinker, the storyteller, the Springsteen fan. The current lineup is kind of like the PDX roots all-stars now that Casey moved back from New York and Jenny C [Conlee of the Decemberists] is around more. You’ve never heard a more accomplished group of folks play so loosely.”
I Can Lick Any S.O.B. In the House (2000, 2005-2006)
“The original version was basically Nann Alleman’s band Spigot playing Mike Damron’s songs. We didn’t last long in this lineup (the later version went on to much more success), but I was glad to be asked by Mike to produce his first solo CD years later. It was dangerous for me to play in S.O.B. The violence and darkness in Mike’s music would get me really worked up during shows—kicking my amp and throwing my guitar across the stage. It would take me hours to calm down after an S.O.B. show. It was like recovering from a fight.”
Fernando (2005-2006, 2007-present)
“When I moved to Portland in 1998, I was blown away by Fern’s whole deal: songs, voice, band, everything. It’s a rare songwriter for whom I would consistently haul a 300-pound Hammond organ and heavy electric piano into clubs, persuade three big guys to lift it onto a high stage, and then try to find three more at the end of the night who are sober enough to repeat the process in reverse without hurting themselves or the 54-year-old keyboard. My pounds-of-equipment-per-note ratio in this band is staggering.”
Jackie-O Motherfucker (2005)
“I only played on one CD and a few shows with JOMF. During the first, at Berbati’s, I got a bit of broken glass wedged into one of my middle picking fingers moments before the set started. I had to play pedal steel while flipping the audience the bird with a throbbing, bloody bandage the whole set. Maybe that’s why I didn’t last long....”
SEE IT: Longmire celebrates the release of Fire ’Neath the Still Saturday, April 26, with Caleb Klauder at the Mission Theater. 9 pm. $10. 21+. Longmire's website is http://www.lewilongmire.com.