Native Portland harmonica master Paul deLay
died in the early hours of Wednesday morning, just a month or so past his 55th birthday, and just days after learning he had terminal leukemia. He'd battled health problems for years, but he must have counted his blessings the whole time, knowing how fortunate he was to enjoy a resurgent career following his early-'90s cocaine bust and subsequent 2 1/2 year incarceration. As a testament to his influence and spirit, I'd like to share this (slightly edited) email that local, next-generation harp whiz David Lipkind
sent to his list on Wednesday evening.
Last night, the world lost an amazing talent. Paul DeLay was one of the most original harp players, blues songwriters, and singers in the business. He had been through so much in his life, and came through with such humility and spirit, it was inspiring.
I remember living in Lawrence, Kansas, when I first heard a cassette recording of Paulzilla and the Other One. My head spun around! What phrasing! What a voice! And such witty, non-cliched songwriting. I had just started writing for the Harmonica Educator magazine, and wrote a review of Paul's music. This mag was a quarterly publication. Well, 4 months went by, and I found myself in Portland for the first time, for one day. I looked through the Willy Week, and the Paul DeLay trio was playing at a west side bar! I was so happy! It just so happened that the issue of the Harmonica Educator was coming out that day, and I had my editor fax the review to the bar so I could show it to Paul. That was my first time meeting the man, and he seemed very happy to meet someone who was as big a harp geek as he was (I went into detail about his harp playing, it being a harp magazine!). We chatted for awhile, then I left him alone….he came out and tore it up! It was the old Flannagins, with the upstairs stage. It was drums, harp, and keys, and Paul sang and blew his ass off.
This was in 1996 or so, before I moved to Portland. Years later, I had the honor of playing a few harp blowoffs with him. The last one was at Lefty's, in Portland, with James Harmon and Mark Hummel (two other legends), as well as John Nemeth (another legend in the making). I remember playing my set, and opening my eyes toward the end, and Paul had come out of the dressing room to hear what Mark Lemhouse and I were doing. Mark and I did a Cajun inspired, old-time harp piece that Paul told me he loved, and that he thought I should record it. Someday I will. I reminded him about the Harmonica Educator article, and he said I was a better harp player than writer! At the end of the night, all of the harp players got up on stage and traded licks. I got a few smiles out of Paul, and that was about the nicest thing anyone never said to me! I have a copy of that night on CD, and I'll treasure it.
If you have never heard Paul before, do yourself a favor and pick up something by him. There is a great cd called Take it from the Turnaround, that features songs from a few of his older CDs [Jeff's note: namely, Just This One and Paulzilla]. Also, Jimi Bott's new CD, called Bott and Paid For, has a bunch of live tracks with Paul. I think this might be the last stuff Paul recorded.
Take care and RIP Paul,
Thanks, Dave, for letting us post that on LC. Readers, please feel free to use this page to share your own memories of Paul
as audience members, collaborators, or friends. Between this sad, sudden news and the recent illnesses of Sonny Hess
and Curtis Salgado
, it seems as though cancer is stalking Portland's blues community. So I'll echo Dave's thoughts—take care, everybody.
Photo courtesy of pauldelay.com.