David Pinsky's newest recording, "A Case of the Blues," celebrates 42 years of playing, promoting and singing the blues in Southern Oregon.
Though the recording is a solo effort from the singer, guitarist and harmonica player, Pinsky still performs regularly with his band of the past 25 years, The Rhythm Kings.
The band will perform during Ashland's First Friday Art Walk on Friday, July 5, on the patio at Smithfields Restaurant and Bar, 32 S. Ashland St., Ashland. Pinsky will perform his solo act the next night, July 6, also at Smithfields.
Pinksy's first gig in the Rogue Valley came soon after his arrival in 1971, when he joined the house band for something called the Unicorn Magic Show that used to happen at the old Varsity Theatre in Ashland.
"The theatre just had one screen back then — and a stage," he recalls. "David Zaslow and Harry Anderson — you know, the guy from 'Night Court' — they had this vaudeville show of local talent."
Pinsky played guitar in the band and doubled as the show's curtain-puller. Not long after, he and fellow Unicorn Magic band member Paul Jenny started a new band they called Bodhisattva, which he describes as "an all-original jam band with horns." After several years, that band evolved into another, called Deadly Virtue.
In 1980, Pinsky opened a nightclub called Brooklyn (named after his hometown) on Water Street in Ashland — on the site of the current Creekside Pizza.
"I built that bar," he says. "It was an old mortuary when we got it."
For the next five years, he acted as local impresario, booking local and touring bands alike.
"We had some of the greatest musicians in the world play there," he boasts. Names like Albert Collins, Clifton Chenier, Canned Heat, Los Lobos, Paul deLay and Shadowfax. A young and not-entirely-famous-yet Robert Cray — who was based out of Eugene at the time — used to play Brooklyn every six weeks. The club also booked local talent.
"We used to do 25-cent beer night on Thursdays," he remembers, "and 700 or 800 people would pay a dollar cover."
The Thursday night band was a group called the Heartless Dodgers who, Pinsky says, sounded "kind of like the The Police," and were famous for their great poster art.
Pinsky describes a time in the early-1980s when "the music scene in Ashland was incredible."
A legendary Ashland nightclub called Jazmin's was just a few blocks away — in a building on Lithia Way that has since been torn down and replaced with offices and apartments. Pinsky recalls that he and Jazmin's owners, David Zaslow and Steve Sacks, had "this kind of symbiotic relationship" when it came to booking and promoting music. Acts like Bill Monroe, Taj Mahal and John Lee Hooker played Jazmin's during that era.
After Brooklyn closed its doors in 1985, Pinsky continued to play blues music around the region — most notably with the Rhythm Kings. The band was well positioned to share bills with many of the larger-name touring acts that came through town. A series of summer concerts held at Emigrant Lake in the late 1980s saw The Rhythm Kings open for the likes of B.B. King, Jr. Walker and Bo Diddly.
David Pinsky and his Rhythm Kings continue to play around the valley. They have a monthly gig at Bella Union in Jacksonville (they'll play a two-night run there on Friday and Saturday, July 26 and 27). In addition to their July 5 show at Smithfields, they'll also perform at the Jackson County Fair on Tuesday, July 16.
Pinsky's newest project is a duo with "Broadway" Phil Newton. They traveled north to Oregon City to perform in the Cascade Blues Association's annual Journey to Memphis contest earlier this month and played the Ashland Blues Society's fifth annual Beacon Hill Blues Festival last weekend.
Pinsky also plays solo shows. After his July 6 gig at Smithfields, he'll perform solo on Thursday, July 25, at Bella Union.
Jef Fretwell is a musician and freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.