Americana with a 'yippie-ay-yay' attitude

Ponderosa Breeze plays original songs with local references
Ponderosa Breeze is, left to right, Franklin Jonez Gus Johnson and Larry West.Photo by Bob Pennell

Earlier this month, Ponderosa Breeze took first place over "heavy hitters" Shybo, Game 6 and Frankie Hernandez in a semifinal round of the second annual Rising Stars competition at South Stage Cellars.

The local Americana trio, which is barely a year old, will advance to the April 26-27 finals, where it will compete against five other finalists before a Britt Festivals panel of judges for a shot at the grand prize — a slot as an opener on Britt Festivals' prestigious main stage, $1,000, a recording session at Blackstone Audio and a radio show with Jefferson Public Radio.

If you go

Who: Ponderosa Breeze

When: 5:30 p.m. Sundays

Where: Blue — Greek on Granite, 5 Granite St., Ashland

Cover: Free

Call: 541-708-5150

In preparation, the band — guitarist Larry West, guitarist and banjoist Franklin Jonez and keyboardist Gus Johnson — is rehearsing three to four hours twice per week, in addition to playing at 5:30 p.m. Sundays at Blue — Greek on Granite, 5 Granite St., Ashland.

All three musicians met in the mid-'90s through the Southern Oregon Songwriters Association, and when West's and Jonez's band, Hired Gun, retired in 2011, the pair recruited Johnson for their new project, Ponderosa Breeze.

With three songwriters on the roster, the band is a package deal in which audiences get to hear originals by three different writers in three different styles.

"Franklin (Jonez) has more of a blues approach, Gus (Johnson) comes from a popular-music background and I'm more rock," West says. "We are all coming at it from different angles, and that's what makes it fun and keeps it fresh."

Depending on whose song is being played, Jonez, Johnson and West unselfishly take turns singing lead and backup vocals.

To keep things uniform, they throw on cowboy hats, and each incorporates Southern Oregon references into his lyrics, as in "Oregon Wine" by Johnson, "Down to the Valley" by West and "Sweet Medicine Calling" by Jonez.

West adds that they are all equally influenced by the singing cowboys of the silver screen and early rockers and blues singers.

"And we can't go without mentioning The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and (Bob) Dylan," he says.

Since its first gig in May 2012, Ponderosa Breeze has released three albums: the comprehensive "Sweet Medicine Calling," the cowboy-country "Code of the West" and the rockin' "Come on and Dance." All three are available on iTunes and Amazon.

"A lot of music genres are all attitude," West says. "Your reggae, punk and rockabilly, they are all the same chords and notes. It's all in the attitude of how you play them. We have a yippie-ay-yay attitude."

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