An irresistable sonic blast

The Rogue Suspects lend an artful touch to cover songs
Left to right: bassist Greg Frederick, keyboard player Don Harriss, vocalist Shae Johnson, drummer David Bolen and guitarist Dirk Price are The Rogue Suspects.Photo by Jamie Lusch

Music genres were created for the convenience of the recording industry, and The Rogue Suspects will have none of it. Try to pigeonhole this band's tight, all-night sound into an easily referenced rock, jazz, blues or soul category, and things get blurry in a hurry. That's the way the Rogue Valley band likes it.

"We pick classic songs in tribute to the original artists," says Greg Frederick, bass player and co-founder of the group. "Then we put other forces to work. We craft the songs to a level that makes them irresistible for the audience to listen and dance to — and fun for us to play."

If you go

Who: The Rogue Suspects

When: 8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14

Where: Red Lion Hotel, 200 N. Riverside Ave., Medford

Cover: Free

Call: 541-779-5811

In the creative hands of The Rogue Suspects, raw rhythms of rock 'n' roll merge with harmonies to weave euphonic tapestries of funk and sophisticated jazz inflections riding cozily on tunes that are true to their roots.

"It's a big soup pot," says keyboard player Don Harriss. "And that pot has a whole bunch of styles in it. We can't call any particular piece of music one thing or another. We don't even think of it like that."

The band, also featuring guitarist Dirk Price, drummer David Bolen and vocalist Shae Johnson, will perform at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14, at the Red Lion Hotel, 200 N. Riverside Ave., Medford. There is no cover charge.

The members' diversity is what drives the band's musical blend.

"Greg and I started out as The Jazz Hawks, playing just jazz instrumentals," Price says. "Then we changed to The Blues Hawks because a club owner liked blues. About eight years later, Dean Angermeier joined us on keys, bringing his favorite Steely Dan songs to the mix. Then guitarist Jeff Pevar stepped in, and every note he plays drips with emotion and creativity. That really woke us up."

Angermeier and Pevar stay close to The Rogue Suspects, along with percussionist Mary Rydman, trombone player Gary Nelson and others often joining the band as accomplices.

Price's first rock band, The Smile, played gigs from Texas to Alaska in the early '80s, and later he toured the world with dance artist Kristine W. He is a music educator who owns and operates School Without Walls, distance-learning programs that offer instruction for professional guitarists, composers and keyboard players.

"Everyone in The Rogue Suspects is a master musician," Price says. "We always have a blast at our shows."

Harriss left San Francisco State University in 1967 to perform and record with rock 'n' roll artists, including rockabilly musician Ronnie Hawkins and rocker Pat Travers. After two Top 10 Billboard tours in the U.S., Harriss began composing and recording his own music. Three of his albums made it to the Top 10 on Billboard's new-age charts.

Johnson trained classically at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

"When Shae started singing with us, she brought about another evolution for the band," Price says. "She understands that her voice is like an instrument. We even trade solos when she improvises, which is really a blast."

It was an unexpected change for The Rogue Suspects.

"Dirk and I never wanted to play in support of a singer," Frederick says. "If you became a Rogue Suspect, you needed to play an instrument as well as sing. Then Shae showed up, and it turned out that she understands more about music and arranging than most musicians we know."

The group played together long enough that is has developed an almost telepathic communication during live performances.

"I never think about the beat," Bolen says. "I listen to where Dirk and Greg are going, and it just happens."

"We've been told that the best part of our show is watching us onstage," Frederick says. "We move each other from one musical place to another and have fun with it. The result is that we never play any song the same way twice. What would be the fun in that?"


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