VIDEO — The first time I heard Detlef Eismann sing it was 1987. My first thought when I heard this unbelievably gifted singer was that he should be recording at Stax Records or Motown. Yet there he was, tearing up the old lounge in what was the Mark Antony Hotel with his band, The Fabulous Savoys. His soulful, sharply grooved attack had the audience dancing from one hip tune to the next.
The first time I heard Detlef Eismann sing it was 1987. My first thought when I heard this unbelievably gifted singer was that he should be recording at Stax Records or Motown. Yet there he was, tearing up the old lounge in what was the Mark Antony Hotel with his band, The Fabulous Savoys. His soulful, sharply grooved attack had the audience dancing from one hip tune to the next.
Eismann was born in 1946 in Portland and moved to the Rogue Valley in 1950. He began playing sax in the fifth grade and was playing professionally by the time he was in the eighth grade.
The Savoys got its start playing at the Phoenix Rollerina, a rocking roller-skating rink by day and a dance hall by night. The band opened for Fats Domino, Wilson Pickett and an impressive list of other soul singers and bands. Eisemann would often play a solo he calls "The Beatnik Dance," wailing on his horn and dancing around by himself.
In '64, some members of The Savoys left town, leaving Eismann to ponder a new career. He became a carpenter, a fruit packer and finally a mill worker before forming Lionel and the Warfstomprs, playing popular British Invasion music.
It was the soul and blues at the core of that music that Eismann loved. The Warfstomprs fell in with a booking agent named Harry Arnold, who later owned and operated The Varsity Theatre in Ashland. Arnold's clientele included Gabriel and the Velvetones and Neighb'rhood Childr'n, and The Warfstomprs opened for The Turtles, The Beau Brummels and The Yardbirds at Medford and Ashland venues.
In 1966, Eismann took a break to study English at University of Oregon in Eugene. It wasn't long before he met and joined a band called The Palace Meat Market. This is when he met piano and saxophone virtuoso Michael Vannice, a local Rogue Valley living treasure. Opening for such groups as the Steve Miller Band and The Grateful Dead, Palace Meat Market was a hit with audiences.
"The Dead took an hour before coming out to play," Eismann says. "It took that long for the crowd to calm down!"
Eismann formed The Savoys in 1979 with Vannice and guitarist Scott Rogers. Many local musicians have played with the Fabulous Savoys: drummers Keith Harrison and Kent Clinkenbeard and bassists Jeff Addicott and John Hauschild, to name a few. You could hear them in local nightclubs most weekends.
More recently, Eismann founded another great band, The Blue Notes, with Dal Carver, Jeff Addicott, Chicken Hirsch and Vannice. The Blue Notes play a cool version of jazz. Hand in hand, Eismann formed another group with almost the same lineup, The Sultans, with everyone switching instruments and playing blues. This band features Barney Barlowe on harmonica, Addicott on drums, Carver on bass and Eismann on piano and sax.
Eismann says that after 50 years of playing music, it still makes him smile.
"It gives me a feeling of accomplishment," he says. "I love it because when you play it, it keeps you in the moment."