The Norman Sylvester Band – Live at Clyde’s

The Norman Sylvester Band playing at Clyde’s Prime Rib Restaurant. This outstanding blues band know how to deliver a great performance and as you can see in the video, there was a party going on!! This is definitely a Portland, Oregon band that needs recognition!!

What I Say – A Tribute To Ray Charles

Norman Sylvester sings “What I Say” with the Ray Charles Tribute at the Portland Art Museum!

Having a party for David Mackay at Halibut’s II

Having a party for David Mackay right after his surgery.

Fine As Frog Hair

Performed at the Positively Entertainment & Dining 34th Anniversary party at The New Copper Penny Pantheon Ballroom.

“Please Come Home for Christmas”

Patrick Lamb and Norman Sylvester perform “Please Come Home for Christmas.”

A Humanitarian Movement

Norman Sylvester joins the movement to “Heal the Health Care Blues”

Musicians are used to playing benefits for colleagues with medical needs and no health insurance. But this time, they’re being proactive — they’re playing a benefit concert for a movement that’s designed to get them all covered. If the campaign for single payer health care in Oregon succeeds, musicians should never have to play a fund-raiser for an ailing colleague again.

“Healing the Health Care Blues” is the theme for the Inner City Blues Festival Reunion, scheduled

for Saturday, April 14, 7:00 pm to midnight, at the Melody Balloom.

It’s a benefit for the Oregon Single Payer Health Care Campaign,and features a host of blues, world beat and jazz artists.

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Norman Sylvester understands the need first-hand. That’s why he volunteered to organize music and sound for the event. “One of the biggest things that can take you off the planet as far as finances go, is a catastrophic medical emergency,” says Sylvester, who’s spent 40 years on the Portland blues scene.

“I’ve had four major hip surgeries,” he says, “and I was blessed that my wife had a job and I was able to get on her insurance. A self-employed musician couldn’t pay for a $92,000 hip surgery.”

Now, Sylvester, 66, is on Medicare. But this cause goes beyond the personal for a man who plays multiple benefits for community organizations each year and mentored such musicians as Patrick Lamb, Gretchen Mitchell and his daughter, Lenanne Sylvester.

“It’s a humanitarian movement to advocate for change,” he explains. “Musicians basically try to stay neutral as far as politics go, but health care is a humanitarian thing. Everybody has to have a health care program.

“Where is the money for health care going to come from for a musician who has to haul his equipment across town, play four hours, and gets $300 for the whole band? Health care is this astronomical iceberg, and we’re on the Titanic now.”

The revival of the Inner City Blues Festival is an appropriate way to raise funds for the Oregon

Single Payer Campaign, too. An annual event from 1989-2003, the Festival was sponsored by the Portland Rainbow Coalition, which led many campaigns bringing together a multi-racial, multi-cultural alliance.

With its slogan — “Everybody in – Nobody out” — the movement advocates for a system in which “… all Oregonians would be covered for all medically necessary services,” and, according to the Oregon Single Payer Campaign website, “there would be no premiums or deductibles; simply a dedicated tax that everyone pays into, much like Medicare.”

Currently, 18 other states have organizations advocating for comprehensive, no deductible, no co-pay, all-medications included health care. Vermont has already adopted the system.

Sylvester has written and recorded a theme song for the movement called “HealthCare Blues.”

Union musicians back Inner City Blues Festival

It’s considered a jinx in the performing arts industry to wish someone “good luck” before a show. Instead, it’s customary to say “break a leg.”

But, say a performer was to break their leg, chances are it would put them in such financial straits that it could take years for them to climb out. That’s because many performers can’t afford to buy health insurance. And it’s why more than a dozen blues musicians from Portland are getting together April 14 for a “Healing the Health Care Blues” concert at Melody Ballroom.

The concert is a reunion of the Inner City Blues Festival, a popular annual event that started in 1988 by the Portland Rainbow Coalition. The last concert was held in 2003.

This year’s reunion is a fundraiser for the Oregon Single Payer Campaign, a coalition promoting a universal, affordable health care system for all. Headlining the event will be the Norman Sylvester Band. Sylvester and his band mates are members of Portland-based Musicians Local 99.

The union is endorsing the event. In fact, the American Federation of Musicians was an early endorser of a national campaign promoting a single-payer health care system.

Musicians don’t work a typical 9-to-5 job with health care covered under an employer’s insurance plan, said Bruce Fife, president of Local 99 and an international vice president of the American Federation of Musicians. When Fife was performing decades ago, he had to buy his own health insurance, too. But, he said, pay was much better, he worked a steady five nights a week, and insurance premiums were more affordable.

“Union density in the industry at that time was more than 80 percent,” Fife said. “The union had agreements with booking agents and venues, and musicians could make a good living. Today, most musicians can’t survive playing music alone; they need other jobs to survive.”

Fife said the industry began to unravel starting in 1978, following a court ruling that declared musicians independent contractors. The decision stemmed from a lawsuit the music industry filed against the union.

“It took time for the lawsuit to affect the industry,” Fife said. “But it changed the whole dynamic in so many ways.”

[Symphony musicians are the exception. In fact, Local 99 recently ratified a new three-year contract with the Oregon Symphony that provides 100 percent employer-paid health insurance.]

Fife said one of the first things he did as president of the union was to reach out to Kaiser Permanente to acquire health insurance for musicians. He polled members, asking them what would be most beneficial in a health care package. Kaiser determined that it was impossible to provide a health care package because musicians have too many different employers.

“So we turned our focus to single-payer,” Fife said.

Reforming the health care system to a single-payer format would benefit all Oregonians, supporters say, by replacing an expensive and complicated system — dominated by a multitude of private insurance companies — with a single non-profit agency that would collect and distribute funds equitably and fairly.

One of the premier bluesmen on the West Coast, Sylvester has shared the stage with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Junior Wells, Otis Clay, Tower of Power, Peter Frampton and many other national touring stars.

Early in his career, Sylvester needed to work a day job to survive. But even after becoming an established star he relied on his wife’s business to pay for his health insurance.

“I’m one of the blessed ones,” he said.

Sylvester worked for 23 years at P-I-E International  trucking company — starting in the shop, moving to the parts department, and ending up as a purchasing agent.

He recalled a time in 1987 — after performing at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and partying most of the night with B.B. King — how he was up early the next morning at his Teamster job at P-I-E International.

It was only after the trucking company filed for bankruptcy and closed in 1990 that Sylvester took the bold step of trying to make a living playing music. Prior to that decision he was in a dislocated worker program (that tried to steer him toward accounting), and he relied on the government to pay for his health insurance.

“You learn to deal with pain, or you try home remedies or to diagnose and heal yourself using the Internet,” he said, pointing out that it didn’t take him long to discover that The Mayo Clinic “has a killer web site.”

There was a four-year stretch from 1990 to 1994 that Sylvester said he was under tremendous stress. What if something happened to him? What if his kid falls off the monkey bars at school (and gets hurt)? What if he cracks a tooth?

“One of the biggest health care issues out there is stress,” he said. “Stress can lead to a bunch of other bad things. Having universal health care would take a lot of the stress out of peoples’ lives.”

In 1994, Sylvester married Paula. She operated a small janitorial business and was able to pay for family coverage health insurance.

Today, at 66, Sylvester is in his second year under Medicare, a program that single-payer health care advocates would like to emulate.

To help promote the single-payer plan, the Sylvesters and more than a dozen co-sponsors have put together a  show April 14 featuring a host of Northwest blues stars. In addition to the Norman Sylvester Band, which will unveil a new song, “Healing the Health Care Blues,” guests will include tap and sax sensation Shoehorn (members of Local 99), Lloyd Jones Struggle, Chatta Addy, Lloyd Allen, Sara Billings, LaRhonda Steele, Sonny Hess, Jim Mesi, Richard Arnold, Bill Rhoades,  Peter Moss, Lenanne Miller-Sylvester and Janice Scroggins.

Sylvester said Melody Ballroom is donating the venue for the event. Music will be performed upstairs, and tables will be set up downstairs with information about Mad as Hell Doctors, Nurses for Single Payer, Musicians Local 99, the Fair Trade Music campaign, the Diabetes Association, and others.

Food will be for sale, along with a full service bar.

Tickets to the Inner City Blues Festival Reunion are $15 and can be purchased online. You must be 21 or older. Melody Ballroom is located at 615 SE Alder, Portland. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

For more information about the  Oregon Single Payer Campaign, go to

Apr 3, 2012  |  Filed under: Health Care,Top Stories – NWLaborPress.Org

Let the Good Times Roll

A Tribute To Ray Charles
by Thom Jurek – Allmusic.Com

This tribute to Ray Charles is performed by a host of regional artists from the northwestern United States. It’s well-meaning, and in some cases very well done. It’s also a benefit recording for the Oregon Food Bank, by Patrick Lamb Productions.

The best moments here are by Lamb himself on “Let the Good Times Roll,” with a solid horn chart; “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” by Olivia Warfield and Paul deLay; Norman Sylvester’s rollicking read of “What’d I Say” (not an easy tune to pull off convincingly, but he does it like he wrote it); Linda Hornbuckle’s “Unchain My Heart”; and Duffy Bishop’s beautiful read of “You Don’t Know Me.”

There is plenty, plenty soul on this tribute, and it’s a fitting one — far better in execution, passion, and intent than many recorded by the “big stars.”

A Family Affair

A Family Affair Boogie Cat – bcp 103 by Jim DeKoster – Living Blues Magazine Issue 171, Vol. 35, #1

Norman Sylvester was born in Bonita, Louisiana, in 1945 and moved with his family to Portland, Oregon, when he was twelve. After picking up the guitar with his buddy Isaac Scott, he formed his first band in 1969 and has been an important player on the Portland music scene ever since.

As on his previous CDs, 1990′s On The Right Track and 1994′s It Ain’t Nothin’ But A Party, Sylvester “The Boogie Cat” purveys his own brand of blues, blended with soul and funk. He’s supported by a basic unit of keyboardist Janice Scroggins, bassist Rob Shoemaker, and drummer Ashbolt Stewart, but variety comes from augmenting the group at times with as many as five horns, a group of backup vocalists that includes Sylvester’s daughter Lenanne, a middle-school chorus, organist Dover Weinberg, harpist Bill Rhoades, or singer LaRhonda Steele. The generous seventeen-song playlist consists entirely of Sylvester originals. These range from the burbling funk of the opening All The Funk That You Want to the Caribbean feel of Redemption Time, the soulful blues balladry of the title track, and the humor-spiced Honey Do List and Soap Opera Blues (“the only time my woman goes into the kitchen, when she’s lookin’ for the remote control”). The toughest blues sounds come on the harp-backed Cheating Woman. There’s a tribute to the late Paulette Davis on Soul Diva, and Sylvester closes the program on a spiritual note with a touching, but not maudlin, Mother’s Prayer. The set is well recorded, and the booklet features more than a dozen photos of Sylvester with his family and colleagues.

With his tasteful but exuberant musical values and versatility, Norman Sylvester should be better known outside of Portland. Perhaps this CD will help him get some of the recognition his talent warrants.

Blues Fest opens to perfect weather

Ross William Hamilton / The OregonianJuly 03, 2008

As outdoor music festivals go, it’s hard to imagine a more picture-perfect start than Thursdays kickoff of the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival at Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

waterfrontjam‘It’s perfect,’ said Jean Kempe-Ware, the public relations manager for Oregon Food Bank. ‘We couldn’t have better blues-festival weather. It’s not too hot. It isn’t raining. And we got rid of that lightning.’

The festival, now in its 21st year, is the largest blues festival west of the Mississippi, and it’s a major fund-raiser for the Food Bank. The admission of $10 a day plus two cans of non-perishable food helps people who are hungry throughout Oregon and southwest Washington. This year, organizers are hoping to raise $500,000 at the gate, as well as 110,000 pounds of donated food.

Tualatin’s Karl Jensen and Seattle’s Don Davis are veteran blues festival-goers, having attended every year since it began. This year they plan on being there all four days. The draw is simple. ‘It’s the music, the music, the music,’ Jensen said. ‘And the atmosphere, too. The river, the fireworks, it’s just unbelievable.’ Ross William Hamilton / The Oregonian7-Month-old Halen Nordstrom, of Homer, Alaska hangs with his parents Josh and Lisa, left, well protected from the sun Thursday evening.

By late afternoon Thursday, the main bowl of the park was a tapestry of blankets and early stages of sunburn, with thick crowds jockeying for space near the festival’s Miller Stage, where Portland’s Norman Sylvester stoked the crowd into waving its arms and dancing. ’If you want a piece of the action, let me hear you say ‘yeah,’ ‘ he growled into his microphone.

Sylvester, who’s nickname is ‘The Boogie Cat,’ focused his set on the Memphis R&B sound, dedicating a medley of Otis Redding songs to the memory of Bo Diddley, the legendary blues singer and guitarist who passed away last month. As he sang ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,’ fans near the stage swayed to the beat.

As she looked over the scene, Food Bank Executive Director Rachel Bristol said she was wowed by the size of the crowd. ’Look at how early people have showed up,’ she said. ‘I think this is going to be one of the best festivals ever.’

The festival is known for its amped-up electric guitars and blues belters, but some of its quieter moments showcased the diversity of the music. On the A&E Front Porch Stage, which puts an emphasis on acoustic performances, Mark Lemhouse and the Hollars offered a mellow set combining blues with American roots music. And on the intimate Workshop Stage, lap steel guitar player Colin Lake described the intricacies of the instrument, commenting on the nuance that comes from playing it with his fingers instead of using picks.

One new feature this year is the Louisiana Blues Pavilion located near the Front Porch Stage, which features New Orleans-inspired paintings and photography, an array of Mardi Gras beads and information on local Zydeco dance groups. Adjacent food booths picked up on the Cajun-Creole groove, dishing up New Orleans steak sandwiches and sugar-coated beignets. With a portion of all food sales going to the Food Bank, you could munch without feeling any caloric guilt.

The festival continues through Sunday, with the biggest crowds of the weekend expected today for fireworks at approximately 10 p.m. This year’s display is twice as big as what the festival has offered in the past. Two separate barges will anchor on the Willamette River, with one positioned north of the Hawthorne Bridge, and the other to the south. Festival organizers say the addition of the second barge makes the Blues Festival fireworks twice as large as any other display in Oregon.

Kempe-Ware says the bigger display is a result of the Food Bank having friends in high places: ‘We asked the city if they would help fund it. They said ‘yes.’

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