Lots of live music in the Gastro Mania Vault in March
He's not the owner, it's not called O'Connor's and Steve Arel isn't managing a staff of 30 while running his Multnomah Village restaurant 19 hours a day, seven days a week.
But he's far from retired.
Arel is busier than ever booking musical acts for the venue on Southwest Capitol Highway that is now known as the Vault at Gastro Mania. In March alone he's booked four performers inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame in its first year, 2007.
They are: Lloyd Jones on March 1, Mel Brown on March 5, Curtis Salgado on March 21 and Steve Bradley on March 22.
When it was O'Connor's Vault there was live music and comedy on a regular basis but since he sold the business to Alex Nenchev last May, Arel has really gone to work on the star power and frequency of performances.
"I've been booking acts since 1991 when we opened O'Connor's Vault and I used to book acts when we were located downtown at Fourth and Alder," he said.
"Now that I don't have to deal with the restaurant, I'm in the process of increasing the number of shows. I've dedicated my whole life to music. Now I've got time and I'm really ready to excel at it right here," said Arel, who's 70.
"Musicians are my favorite people. I've never met one I didn't like. They're the best people on the planet," he said. Arel points out that while it may look like putting on live music shows is a labor of love for him, it's the musicians who are playing from the heart at the Vault.
"The money they're making now playing music is the same it was 40 years ago. In the old days they'd make $150 a night. Forty years ago. Now it's the same scenario. Artists have to live meagerly, but that's their world," he said.
As for the type of acts he'll be booking, "It's the 70's, 80's and 90's legendary members of Portland's most popular bands that have a foothold in the Vault in addition to musicians who have toured the world or lived in Nashville or elsewhere," he said in an e mail.
It helps to have been around Portland during those decades to recognize some of the names on the flyers posted in the windows of the Vault.
Take Lloyd Jones. He'll be playing the Vault on March 1. He might be best known to Portland music fans of a certain vintage as the front man for the band Brown Sugar in the 1970s. As a guitarist he has shared the stage with B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John, Taj Mahal, Robert Cray and Albert Collins among other legends.
Jones grew up in Multnomah and first got turned on to blues artists like Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters by grade school buddies at Multnomah School. He formed his first band at Wilson High School.
By 1972 he was playing with harmonica virtuoso Charlie Musselwhite. They played a concert in Eugene. In the audience that night watching Jones's every move was future blues star Robert Cray. With Cray, watching Charlie Musselwhite work the harmonica, was a young musician named Curtis Salgado.
Salgado, who went on to become arguably Portland's top bluesman, will play the Vault on March 21 with Alan Hager.
Then there's Mel Brown, who may not need an introduction. He'll be playing the Vault on March 5. Brown is a graduate of Washington High School (now Revolution Hall in Southeast Portland) and Portland State University. There's no argument that he is synonymous with jazz in Portland.
It's fairly well known that Brown performed with many of Motown's biggest acts in the late 1960's, both in the studio as an unacknowledged session drummer and on tour.
What's not commonly known is that Brown found his way to Motown by way of Vancouver, Washington. While still at PSU he would play at a night club owned by Tommy Chong. Yes. He of Cheech and Chong. Chong, born in Canada, started in show business in the Pacific Northwest as a guitarist, band leader and after-hours club owner.
It was at that club, The Elegant Parlor according to allmusic.com, that Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas first heard Mel Brown play and recruited him to Motown. As for Chong, he had a falling out with fellow musicians who objected to how much marijuana he smoked and he went in a different direction.
Arel is particularly looking forward to hosting Brown and his trio on March 5th. "Although I enjoy all genres of music, my first love is jazz. I used to go listen to Mel at Geneva's when we both were in our 20's," he said of a Northeast Portland jazz club now long gone. And he loves that downtown Portland's newest jazz venue, the Jack London Revue where Brown hosts Thursday night sessions, is standing right where his downstairs office used to be when O'Connors was located at Fourth and Alder.
DETAILS. Most shows go from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and charge an $8 cover. The Mel Brown show is sold out. Advance tickets for Curtis Salgado can be purchased through Brown Bag Events.The full list of performers playing at the Vault at Gastro Mania can be found at Gastromaniapdx.com. Click on Events.