By The T
The Boogie Cat,- Norman Sylvester, says “Meow, Meow” to all you cats and kittens out there. WhenThe Boogie Cat says “Meow”, you can believe it! The anxious rumors creeping around town about him having a heart attack, while untrue, are testimonies to the man’s popularity as a performing artist, and as a person. The true rumor is that, during his 22 years working for a trucking company, he collected various physical injuries and insults, as is often the case with industrial strength labor. His hip was starting to cause him major pain, even while just playing his guitar. The Blues can cure a lot of stuff, but for some jobs you need a bigger hammer. His quality of life was deteriorating, and the pain was not biologically usefull, so he and his physician decided it was time to replace the hip, (“Getting hip” takes on new meaning), which took place in April.
Many musicians put off health care issues, mainly because of the cost, but sometimes also because, well, if you’re the Boogie Cat, you’re “busy”. Now recovered enough to start working again, Norman Sylvester talks about how he put his down time to good use.
During the time he was waiting for his hip to heal, The Boogie Cat was doing the Soap Opera Blues, since the TV news was too depressing and repetitive. Ordinarily, he was working so much he wasn’t getting any new tunes written; the words just weren’t coming. During his medical hiatus, he copyrighted eight new original tunes. These are be included in the new recording project.
This is where the Boogie Cat really shows his true colors. Before talking much about himself, he praises his co-workers, calling them a blessing. “I don’t believe so much in the omnipotence of one performer in a venue,” he says modestly. Bassist Rob Shoemaker has been part of the Boogie Cat family since 1985. Sylvester says Shoemaker is “as dependable as the rain in Oregon.” That’s a pretty strong statement. It’s a known fact that Shoemaker is absolutely the fight guy for a Blues/Soul groove. Regulars with the band include Peter Moss, who plays some horns that are bigger than he is. Fans can also enjoy the wonderful percussion work of Ashbolt Stewart, whose styles range across the international arena. Other guests often performing with the Norman Sylvester Band are award winning pianist and vocalist, Janice Scroggins, keyboardist/vocalist and Frankie Redding, and “blonde bombshell” LaRhonda Steele.
Frankie Redding, Sylvester’s high-school buddy and frequent band partner, is a popular personality and stylish keyboard player. He performed in the Portland area in his early years, at venues such as the Cotton Club. Redding is welcome everywhere, with his clever and great-sounding chordal contributions. He has a winning smile for everybody. Frankie Redding performs services on keyboards for any size group, from duo on up, and is a longstanding Boogie Cat music participant.
Norman Sylvester says, “When it comes down to puttin’ on a show, I have the right people to call upon. I consider myself blessed.” He reminisces about his very first recording, back in 1969, and today feels like he is “living a dream.”
“I love to see people having a good time,” he says. He considers it a privilege to be a messenger like that. “You can feel bad and sick,” he continues, “and after playing (music) you are ‘up”‘. Music and playing music are food for the soul. “That’s what keeps people here.” He notes that even if a musician is feeling down, “once you get to the gig, you feel fine.”
Sylvester cites some of his past performing credentials as if they were in fact a very good dream. He was invited to participate in James DePreist’s “Jammin’ with Jimmy” concert, and was backed by the Oregon Symphony. This kind of gig takes your performance to another level, and you ask yourself, “Where do you want to go from here?” “I’m doing just what can be done here in Portland,” Sylvesterstates. He describes himself as coming from the “old school” of valuing warm family relationships. He and his three sisters meet every Sunday to catch up on personal news and enjoy each other’s company. Sylvester has a 16 year old son, Norman Jr, who attends Benson High School. He has four daughters in Portland, a stepson Tyson, and two young grandchildren. Norman and wife Paula trade shifts caring for their four year old child, and working. Mr. and Mrs. Sylvester run Rose Town Cleaning Services, a residential and commercial cleaning business. After spending the day with his child, Norman will go to his bandstand “office”, play a gig, then go to work cleaning other people’s offices. “My night is real long sometimes,” he says in a modest understatement. When does this cat nap?
The Sylvesters bought a house that was built in 1903, and put a lot of work into it. Now, Norman looks forward to coming home after a gig.
“We are all over the place doing stuff,” he says of the band. Sylvester has booked the “Good In The Hood” neighborhood festival for 10 years, and still books music acts for the Inner City Festivalbenefiting the Rainbow Coalition.
The band would like to get out to other towns, doing more festivals and concerts. The recording on tape, “On The Right Track” has been re-mixed and is now available on CD, so if you wore out your copy, you can get a better one. The release titled, “Ain’t Nothin’ But A Party” is also still in print.Sylvester says his legacy to the community and to the world will be his original compositions. “That’s my struggle, to keep my music original,” he says. Fans find themselves humming Sylvester’s tunes, requesting the tunes at live shows, and singing along with certain lyrics. Sylvester talks about “raising these songs up like children.” He talks about how every performance gives him something to take home. “If you didn’t learn something, you didn’t look at the show.” He says musicians need always to keep learning, and to try to keep remembering what people liked.
He says, “This is an open town – a lot is going on. This is as good as it gets.” Even so, he knows that musicians are often very self-critical, and promises that the newest recording project will be warm, live, not over-processed and good quality.
Norman Sylvester recalls jamming with and opening for artists such as BB King, James Cotton, andTower of Power. Sylvester especially treasures the memory of a trip to San Francisco in 1990 with local Blues hero, Mel Soloman, and the group, The Terraplanes, for an evening at the famed Mile High Club in Oakland, California, which was owned by the late Bluesman, Troyce Key. He jammed with Blues legend Luther Tucker on that memorable occasion. Sylvester, who shares a birthdate with BB King (September 16th) , has a lot of stories to tell. In looking back on the early years of the CBA, he talks about the great people and great organization. Special Boogie Cat thanks are relayed to Rick Hall, and to everyone, for their support while he was down and out. “I’m blessed,” Sylvester states often.
Job One for the Boogie Cat is “trying to keep the fans jumpin’.” Jump into a Boogie Cat Blues session soon. Check the Calendar listings or call the Boogie Cat Hot Line at 281-5989.