Carneyval: A Ralph Carney Memorial

[TRIBUTE] Ralph Carney only lived in Portland for the final two years of his life. That makes the dozen-plus-band lineup for this show somewhat surprising—until you consider just how much a guy like Ralph Carney can do in two years.

The saxophonist is probably best known for being a longtime sideman to Tom Waits and as the boyhood hero of his nephew, Patrick, drummer of the Black Keys. But the Ohio-born Carney, who played hundreds of instruments, some of his own creation, played in hundreds, if not thousands of projects through the years.

That started with a band called Tin Huey, which he joined out of high school and which was quickly signed to Warner Brothers by the legendary Jerry Wexler. It continued through Smut City Jellyroll, a Portland project which Carney played with just two days before dying after a fall outside the Roseway home where he moved after a decade in San Francisco. This show features performances by another Carney project, Pepper Grinders, plus Joe Baker, with whom he'd formed a Portland band to do obscure '20s jazz songs. This was all totally within the predictable bounds of the Carneysphere.

As weird as Carney got, he never lost failed to delight with his infections energy, warmth and off-kilter sensibility. He stuck out in any band he played—in a good way.

Take one story told to me by Nick Nicholas, who ran an indie label called Clone Records in Akron. Seeking to launch his label with big city tastemasters, Nicholas had booked a showcase at a New York venue called Danceteria, only to have two acts cancel.

"So I called Ralph Carney who was living in New York City at the time, in Brooklyn and I said, 'Ralph, man, do you have anything going that you can be a third group for my Clone Records night?'

Ralph was happy to put something together—which turned out to be important, because the New York media showed up.

"He put together some of his friends to pay the rent and they opened, and called them, like, Klangfarben. It was a real cacophony of sound, real Ralph Carney stuff," Nicholas told me. "It got reviewed in the New York Times and the only thing they loved was Klangfarben."

SEE IT: Carneyval is at Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., 503-288-3895. 7 pm doors on Tuesday, Jan. 23. Free. 21+.