Without Bend, there probably wouldn’t have been a Quarterflash. Without Portland, the band might never have scored its 1981 hit, “Harden My Heart.”
Though it was almost four decades ago, the band’s story isn’t unusual for Central Oregon musicians seeking fame and success. Large markets such as Portland, Los Angeles, New York City or Nashville offer more opportunities for musicians and bands looking for their big break.
“(Central Oregon) is isolated physically, even though the internet has connected us all more obviously on that level,” Quarterflash guitarist and co-founder Marv Ross said. “You’ve gotta travel a long ways from Bend to do a gig that isn’t a Bend gig. There’s not much obviously going on in Prineville or Redmond. Sisters has obviously become more, but it was nothing when we were living here.”
Marv and Rindy Ross arrived in Bend in 1973. They were in their early 20s, newly married and with teaching jobs — Rindy at John Tuck Elementary School in Redmond and Marv at Cascade Junior High School.
At first, the couple focused on their teaching duties. By the fall of that first year, the duo, who played together in bands and duos while in college at Western Oregon University, got the itch to start playing again. The music scene in Bend at the time was dominated by country and cover bands, and the Rosses’ band Jones Road learned at least three sets: an all-country show, a general covers show and a set of their original songs.
“It was for me great as a writer because I never played those (country) songs — my dad played them on the radio, Johnny Cash and stuff, but I never knew those tunes,” Marv Ross said. He said that without learning those songs, “it would have made me a less educated writer.”
“And also, just the experience of walking into an Elks Club and you’re nervous because you’re only 20-some years old and everybody in there has fought in World War II, practically,” he continued. “There’s a challenge to that: Can we win these people over? You know, tuck our long hair underneath a cowboy hat and go in there and do it.”
The Rosses used the next couple of years in Bend to hone their playing and writing. Notably, Rindy Ross learned saxophone, and her soulful playing would become a key component in Quarterflash.
“It was probably halfway through the second year (in Bend) that it entered our minds to take a shot and try to go a little further than where we were going,” Marv Ross said. “I think up until then we were just aware, I guess, enough that we weren’t good enough to take a shot earlier. Right out of college, we just were too inexperienced.”
The Rosses finally made the move back to Portland in 1977, where they grew up, forming a new band, Seafood Mama, that would eventually evolve into Quarterflash. It took some time to break into the Portland market. For the first year, the duo still primarily played in Bend. By 1979, “Harden My Heart” was on local radio, and Geffen Records came calling soon after.
The Rosses’ heavy touring days are behind them, and the couple actually has a vacation home in Tumalo.
Portland still offers benefits for a working musician that Bend doesn’t.
“Portland’s a big enough area that if you count in Eugene and Salem, actually, we’ve played for 25 years now not ever having to tour again, and we perform all that we want, really,” Marv Ross said. “So the market, if you live in Portland or a big metropolitan hub, it’s easier. This hub is just not big enough, unless you’re happy just playing every Tuesday night at some place, something like that — that’s a different thing.”
Last summer, rising Bend rock band Gonzo announced it would relocate to Los Angeles.
The band spent four years in Bend, releasing its debut album “Slideshow” last year and touring the West Coast, which prompted the move.
Lead singer Rickey Havern, guitarist Ryan Pickard, drummer Andrew La Flamme and guitarist Leo Dolan staggered their arrivals in L.A. (original bassist Jack Tobias moved to New York, and was replaced by Gael Garcia).
For the last few months, they have worked on restarting the band, now named The Junes, and establishing themselves on the Los Angeles scene.
“We did do well in Bend, and I think for what we were doing at the time, I think we did kind of max out,” lead vocalist Rickey Havern said. “We hit that tipping point where we had to make the decision. … If you’re willing to put in the time and effort to get to where you can in Bend, then I’d highly recommend getting out, because whatever opportunities you can find yourself getting in Bend is just a precursor for how much you can do in L.A.”
Finding their voice
Chasing success may be the most obvious reason a musician skips town, and often the choice is more personal.
Tyler Parsons, a Bendite since age 5 and best known on the music scene as bassist for Corner Gospel Explosion, relocated to Seattle in September for a change of pace musically and in his life generally.
Parsons and his brother and bandmate in Corner Gospel, Brad Parsons, released the religious- and childhood-themed concept album “It’s Hard to Be a Kid,” earlier this year. When the duo sat down to write new material again, Tyler struggled to come up with anything.
“When we recorded ‘It’s Hard to Be a Kid,’ we both had a very strong direction we wanted to go,” Tyler said. “I picked sonically what I wanted to do, and I felt like I was finding my voice musically and stuff. We sat down this time, I just had nothing in me. It was weird; there was just nothing I had in me that wanted to come out. I started looking around, like, what’s going on? What is music to me? What do I want to do? I’ve been doing the band thing for three years, four years at this point.”
At first glance, it would seem Cloverdayle left Oregon for Nashville to pursue country-music stardom.
In reality, married couple Chad and Rachel Hamar, the latter of whom is originally from Bend, left to explore Music City’s famed songwriting operation.
“We get to write, we get to perform, we teach music privately, I do voiceover work and commercial-type of work, so all those different aspects of the business we love,” Rachel Hamar said. “For us, it really felt like it was just the season that we needed to actually go and explore the songwriting community in Nashville. And we had been visiting Nashville for four or five years prior to moving, so it wasn’t like we just got off the bus and hoped for the best.”
Rachel Hamar graduated from high school in Bend in 1997, and left to join the jazz program at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City. She met Chad Hamar soon after, and the couple started playing together in Portland, eventually marrying.
She left Bend primarily because there weren’t many college options, something that has changed since Oregon State University-Cascades opened a new campus in Bend in 2016.
“There’s different opportunities that would make it easier for people to stay and be able to get their education but also still pursue (music),” Rachel Hamar said. “And Bend’s gotten so much bigger — I mean, every year it gets so much bigger. So with that, you have more people that want to come out and listen to music too, and people are moving from places that they’re used to being able to see live music.”
Before leaving Bend, Rachel Hamar cut her teeth as a performer at venues such as the now-closed Cafe Paradiso and Local Joe. Despite the increase in venues and Central Oregon’s growth in general, Rachel Hamar still has no regrets about leaving the city. Cloverdayle still returns to Bend at least once a year, if not more.
“It’s entirely possible (I would have stayed), however, I would have potentially missed out in meeting my husband, which was a very defining, important part of my life,” Rachel Hamar said. “And really, that was what made me the musician that I am today, and the vocalist that I am today and the artists that we are today.”
A course of study
Sisters native Slater Smith left town for college. After participating in the Americana Project, the Sisters Folk Festival’s music and arts education program in Sisters middle and high schools, he wanted to explore other avenues, and studied political science.
He couldn’t stay away from music, and he formed The Weather Machine based on his folk-leaning songs after college. The band gained some national attention with a music video for the song “Back O’er Oregon,” which featured Smith performing in Oregon’s state parks (the video was a partnership with Oregon State Parks and Recreation). The band has since opened for Alabama Shakes and The Lumineers.
“I think now with the band, we probably have more flexibility to live wherever, because we’ve been able to build it up in Portland, and we could probably do an annual or biannual show here and be fine,” Smith said. “But I think it took living in Portland for a while to be able to make that happen. And I think the community in Bend is just different. I find the shows that work really well for us out there are more public events that are outdoors after everybody’s been skiing all day and wants to go and drink beer and listen to a band and mingle.”
Travis Ehrenstrom, another Americana Project alumnus, left Sisters to attend college in Portland, then spent a few years in Seattle playing with indie-folk band Noah Gundersen & The Courage before returning to Bend in 2010. He came back for financial reasons.
“The job market at the time up there was pretty competitive, and I was struggling to find a job that fit with the schedule of being a musician,” he said.
Ehrenstrom, who now leads his eponymous band in Bend, has noticed what he calls a lack of infrastructure for musicians in Bend. The Central Oregon region has no shortage of venues to perform in, as well as studios including The Firing Room, Oxiliary, Brent Alan Studios, Central Oregon Recording and radio support from KPOV. It lacks larger record labels or radio stations with national reach, Ehrenstrom said.
“I was thinking this morning about this: In Seattle, there’s Sub Pop Records, KEXP, which is a nationally syndicated radio show,” he said. “Economies of scale is, I think, one of the challenges of being a musician here, and that also goes to, I think, the folks that are trying to make a living playing music here. They’re playing five nights a week usually in smaller configurations, not a full band setup, and that’s really hard to sustain.”
Staying home (or coming back)
While cases such as Quarterflash or The Junes leaving town to find music stardom are more common, there are bands that stuck around and found success on a national scale. Larry and His Flask, which recently staged a comeback with its first album in five years, “This Remedy,” has always maintained roots in Bend. Although some members no longer live in the area, the band still considers Central Oregon its home base.
Bassist Jeshua Marshall said the band thought about renting a loft in Brooklyn “back when it was actually more of an attainable thing.… But then we started to see some success just from being on the road all the time, and so we were like, well, let’s just keep doing it, especially because our families are here.”
For Marshall, Bend is home in a way no other city could be.
“After going and seeing so many other places, we just kept realizing how beautiful and how awesome the community of folks are here, and everything like that to make us want to stay put,” he said.
That love of the community keeps musicians here, even if they have to leave town to make a living doing their art.
Singer-songwriter Kelcey Lassen has traveled to Europe and South America and spent a few weeks in Nashville this summer. She said she thought about relocating to Music City, and in the end, she couldn’t leave Bend.
“I think the main reason that keeps me coming back would have to be … just the community and how easy it is to get gigs here because I already have the connection,” she said. “And honestly, I haven’t played too many gigs in Bend this summer, but it’s a really good way to see it all at home with the community here, but also be a home base … to come back to after touring and after traveling.”
Trevor Martell, who played guitar and sang for blues-rock band Patrimony and subsequent iterations AKA Faceless and MASQ, is currently in Huntsville, Alabama. Patrimony formed in Sisters, but spent time in Portland and Nashville before splitting up and evolving into AKA Faceless. Though Martell has been on the road quite a bit in recent years, he always seems to return to Bend.
“Central Oregon — Bend and Sisters, basically — will always be my home,” he said. “That’s something that will never change. I’ll never feel as comfortable (anywhere else). It’s just as an artist, I really like to take myself out of that comfort box to make unorthodox creative decisions, I guess. But like I said, that comes with a lot of compromises of sorts. I would say, I would love to be based out of Bend once I have made a name for myself elsewhere, which I have not done yet. There’s thousands of people doing the same thing as me.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7814, firstname.lastname@example.org