Rogue Suspects duo optimistic about music biz post-pandemic
Despite the devastating effects of the pandemic and wildfires on the performing arts, one long-time Rogue Valley band is optimistic about the future.
Greg Frederick and Shae Celine share management responsibilities for Rogue Suspects, the funk, pop, rock, soul, blues and jazz band that has entertained valley audiences for 22 years.
“We have worked very hard to create a new business model for the Suspects,” Frederick said. “We produce, market and even sell our tickets. We rent venues or partner with them to create new shows. The Suspects are on line to have one of the most successful years ever.”
Celine sees people seeking more joy in their lives as the pandemic winds down.
“And that includes music and dance,” she said. “I have never been busier. When businesses started opening back up, we gained back all of our ‘lost’ shows and more.”
Frederick, a founding member of the band with Dirk Price, plays bass and does backup vocals. Celine, who has been with the band for 12 years, is a vocalist.
“Shae has amazing marketing instincts,” Frederick said. “She has created most of the Suspects’ fresh image. She’s the cat wrangler.”
Frederick is the bricks-and-mortar guy, working with sound, stage setup, and with venues and producers. The two work together on securing bookings.
The band just finished a Camelot Theatre season-opening run, performing The Rogue Suspects Motown Soul Revue. They are booked for another Camelot show Aug. 19 - Sept. 12 with Spotlight on Aretha Franklin, featuring the band and its three female vocalists — Celine, Jennifer Abdo and Jade Chavis.
The band has opened for some big names over the years, including James Brown, Peter Frampton, Maceo Parker, Michael McDonald, the Brubeck Brothers, Tower of Power, Pablo Cruise and many others. And the Suspects were the band behind Bo Diddley, Craig Chaquico and others playing the valley’s top clubs, wineries and concert venues.
Despite that, both Celine and Frederick find their inspiration from their fellow band members — Price on guitar and vocals; Christo Pellani, drums; Helen Thea-Marcus, keyboard and vocals; and vocalists Abdo and Chavis.
“The members of this group from the beginning have been friends,” Frederick said. “Even those who have moved on remain friends. Most of us talk to each other daily. All of the gang have made me a better musician. The best music in the world is the music you make.”
Celine attributes the longevity of the band to the members’ love of music and each other.
“We are a musical family,” she said. “We care deeply about each other and we all agree that nothing is more important than creating joy from music.”
Celine was born and raised in Ashland in a musical family. “There was no TV, just music,” she said. “I started singing in my car seat.”
She remembers listening to her parents’ vinyl records of Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. “I would close my eyes and try to imitate their sound.”
As a child, she was in awe of Wonder’s sense of rhythm and phrasing. “I don’t know why I am drawn to soul and R&B, but it was very early on when I felt it,” she said.
In high school, she was in choir, orchestra and performed in all the musicals. Post-high school, she studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Today, she performs in several groups, some of them iterations of the Rogue Suspects. She also is a full-time music and dance instructor. She says it was tough during the pandemic.
“We did some online shows,” she said, “but it didn’t pay well. I went to karaoke to keep my voice tuned up.”
Health and wellness have become a priority for Celine, helping her keep her voice in good form and allowing her to perform with energy.
“I went plant-based vegan four years ago after struggling with vocal issues due to my health,” she said. “I now have a certificate in plant-based nutrition from eCornell online and I have healed my body. I haven’t been sick in four years and my voice is stronger than ever.”
Celine recorded an album of all originals with multi-Grammy winning producer Narada Michael Walden. “Can You Feel the Music” is available on iTunes and Bandcamp, and you can listen to tracks on her website, shaeceline.com.
Frederick, 70, has been in the music game a long time. He and Suspects co-founder Price met at a show where they were both hired to sub for other musicians in a group called Blues Hawks. Both men had moved to the Rogue Valley from California, Frederick from Carmel and Price from Los Angeles.
They stayed with Blues Hawks for about a year before forming the Usual Suspects, which morphed into Rogue Suspects because of a trademark issue.
Frederick is a fifth-generation musician, and his children are carrying on the tradition. His daughter, a recent University of Oregon grad, is a concert violinist and teaches music in the Medford school system. His son is a jazz and rock guitarist and bass player.
“I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s and played in rock bands and in the high school jazz band,” he said. “I started playing professionally at the age of 17.”
Like most musicians, Frederick worked a number of day jobs along the way, to support his musical life.
“I worked in steel mills and construction jobs, and I was in the Merchant Marine,” he said. “But most of my life, I made a living with music, film, television and music production.”
He worked as a cameraman and audio tech for several national TV networks. And he worked with movie and commercial production companies while playing music at blues and jazz festivals, night clubs and concerts.
“I found that music and media worked well together. So, I created my own production company and provided production services for other filmmakers,” he said.
He also owned a recording studio in Monterey, which he sold before moving to the Rogue Valley in 1997. Here he worked as a producer for PBS and later did project development for KOBI.
“I produced some of the first high-definition long-form projects in the country, featuring Crater Lake National Park and the Oregon Caves.”
The Rogue Suspects has done considerable fundraising with benefit shows. The Suspects and friends built a medical triage camp in Nepal during the earthquakes, sent doctors to Haiti, provided water and shelter to victims of hurricanes in Puerto Rico, and raised tens of thousands of dollars for local fire victims.
Frederick has an ironic point of view about the challenges of making music in the Rogue Valley.
“I always say, the great thing about this valley is there are so many great musicians; and the bad thing about this valley is that there are so many great musicians.”
That can mean a competitive atmosphere at times, with more bands than venues. In fact, not all bands survive on their music making alone.
“We are one of the few groups in the area that make our living from performing, recording and producing music,” he said.
Frederick has high praise for his fellow band members.
“Shae entered the band at age 21 with the strongest vocal skill prowess I’ve ever heard,” he said. “Over the past 12 years, we’ve added Jennifer and Jade, both powerhouses in their own right, and we’ve been able to take on most any artist’s music.”
When drummer David Bolen left the Suspects to create his own project, Christo Pellani jumped into the slot.
“We were happy for Dave and sad to see him leave, but he pops back once in a while,” Frederick said. “We were fortunate there was a dear friend and monster drummer in the wings. Pellani was a former drummer from the ‘80s rock band Air Supply. We convinced him to move up from LA and put him to work.”
The newest member of Suspects also had some big shoes to fill with the retirement of keyboardist Don Harriss.
“Don will pop in on some future Suspects projects,” he said. “Taking his place is Helen Thea-Marcus, a wonderful Ashland keyboardist with great style and a classical-atmospheric sound of her own.”
Although Frederick is optimistic about the future, he is realistic.
“Artists will be the last back to work and the ones that will be paid the least,” he said.
“I grew up in an era when being a musician was a profession in which you could make a good living, own a home and raise kids. There was even a section of the phone book Yellow Pages dedicated to them.
“I want to see the music scene in the Rogue Valley build toward that.”
For more information, a concert calendar and booking contacts, go to roguesuspects.com.
Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org.