Jeff Stanley: A full-circle troubadour
“In 2016, 388,392 people in Norway bought one of my songs,” says singer, songwriter and guitar slinger Jeff Stanley. “That’s been the most exciting development for me lately as a musician.”
Interestingly enough, he says, the song, “One of These Days,” was from his first album, “Salvation,” which he soon shelved.
“I recorded the album when I was 24,” Stanley says. “I’m 47 now. I was really excited about it. I sent it off to 40 record companies. I was sure it would be huge. I made 1,700 copies. Then none of the record companies were interested, so I lost faith in it and shelved it. Then my ex-wife put it on my website and CD Baby. I guess Norway heard it. I got a message from CD Baby that all those people bought it and listened to it.”
With seven full-length albums of original music to his credit, Stanley is an independent recording artist. He does his own booking, management and promotion. His newest, “Lifeline,” released in 2016, is a collection of instrumental new age music, available on CD Baby, Amazon, iTunes and Spotify.
“I get gigs by word of mouth,” he says. “If my stuff ever goes huge, I’d probably have to hire someone.”
Stanley was raised in East Africa. His parents, Richard and Joyce Stanley, met in college, then joined the Peace Corps and worked in Sri Lanka. They returned to Midwest America and had three sons. When Stanley was 3, the Swiss government hired his parents as foreign-aid and development workers in Arusha, Tanzania.
“It was an epic childhood, lots of sunshine, lots of outdoor time, perfect for a wild child,” Stanley says. “Then they gave me classical piano lessons. I stopped piano at 14 and picked up the guitar at 16.”
As a teenager, Stanley blended such styles as African pop, rock, jazz, blues, funk, ska and reggae into his music, and African beats can be heard in “Sawa Sawa” on “Lifeline.”
Later, his parents worked for the U.S. government in Gabarone, Botswana, and, in 2003, Stanley moved to Australia.
He spent eight years touring from Brisbane to Melbourne with his band, playing his original guitar instrumentals and selling out the Sydney Opera House. He and acoustic folk artist Renny Field played the Cockatoo Island music festival in Sydney Harbour. He received air play for his single “Life Is Up,” from his 2006 album “32,000 Chances,” and he and Field toured the east coast of Australia and California.
In 2011, Stanley returned to the States.
He was playing one of the Jeff Fests — a group of A-list Rogue Valley guitar players named Jeff — when he met singer Jeffri Lynn Carrington, and the two began collaborating.
“We’ve been playing together for a couple of years,” Stanley says. “I really like the sounds we hit. It’s folk, jazz covers, and bluegrass and funk. Kind of like Americana singers and songwriters with a lot of guitar instrumentals. Jeffri trained in vocal performance for 10 years. She’s a soprano, and her voice can fill a large space without a microphone. She can do opera, classical, jazz and funk, and she writes her own material. She’s toured Europe with Accapellaré, and she performs with Zimbabwe marimba band Rutendo and the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers.”
Billing themselves as Jeff & Jeffri, the guitar and vocal duo are regulars on the Southern Oregon winery circuit.
“I play a lot of solo and duo gigs,” Stanley says. “I played with rock band LOVEBITE at the Heart (Ann Wilson) concert last summer at Britt, and I played lead guitar with Jeff K. and Overtones to open for Rick Springfield at Britt in 2017.
Stanley opened for blues and folk singer and songwriter Kelly Joe Phelps at the Unitarian Fellowship in Ashland, and he plays with Ashland-based guitar ace Jeff Pevar.
“Those are some fun shows,” Stanley says. “Sometimes I play with him and LOVEBITE, and sometimes we call it Double Jefferdy. Playing with him is top-notch, the best on the planet.”
Look for Stanley’s solo gigs Jan. 2 and Feb. 13 at Paschal Winery in Talent.
On select Sundays, Stanley can be heard playing from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Medford.
“That’s a fun gig,” he says. “I’m a Christian, so it’s my favorite gig, and I’ve been gigging since I picked up the guitar. There’s Melanie on piano. I can’t remember her last name. She’s rock steady, and her son Tucker is a fantastic singer. James comes in occasionally on bass, and this lady Carrie brings the gospel vibe to the sound. Then there’s the people on sound.
“I bring my acoustic guitar and plug into an electric amp. The pro sound man taught me how to run it through the house system. It’s an easy gear lug, and it’s professional. Sometimes I jam before the service or after it. They send me a specific playlist to learn during the week, and I get to be part of it. I’m eclectic in my taste. I was brought up with Linda Ronstadt, Eagles, George Benson and East African pop music. I like a variety of stuff.
“We play traditional hymns, contemporary Christian music, gospel jams, and sometimes they feature my originals. So I’m really stoked on the whole situation.”
Stanley has gigged for 30 years, and sometimes there are really cool ones, he says.
He’s toured solo through Indonesia and Mexico, vacationing with his ex-wife.
“Traveling was my ex-wife’s passion,” Stanley says. “One of the nicest things about rolling with her was that she’d consistently want to go to really cool places, like North and South Ireland and New Zealand. She took me to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in the middle of Australia, Byron Bay Music Roots Festival, Roratonga in the Cook Islands, and the Komutan Pyramids in Mexico. Super-cool stuff.”
Before Stanley made the move to Australia, his family settled in Oregon, and he attended Ashland High School. After graduation in ‘89, he headed to the San Francisco Bay Area.
He recorded “Salvation” with Sunday Night Live, a gospel band playing the Living Word Community Church in Oakland.
“Some of the guys played world-class gospel with Olivet Baptist Church in San Francisco,” he says. “I toured with the gospel band to Detroit.”
Then he started working with the Rock Ska Punk Band, and they opened for Michael Franti and Spearhead at a club in the Bay Area. They recorded an album together and broke up.
Stanley’s parents funded his 2016 album, “Lifeline.”
“They wanted me to record instrumentals,” he says. “So they became investors in the album. It was fun, but there was way more pressure. They had deadlines and wanted results. They flew me from Ashland to LA to record at my brother’s studio. When I missed a deadline, they politely asked if they should withdraw their funding on the project, like it was an actual job. So I had to step up and record an album way quicker, harder and more intensely than I’d ever recorded anything else. I liked it because my loving and supportive parents and my brother, we all produced an album in really good time.”
Stanley has recorded at his brother’s studio in LA several times, and in various studios around the world.
Michael Stanley produced “Lifeline.”
“He did a lot of the bass lines, drum beats, even the vocals on ‘The Holy Trinity,’” Stanley says. “He throws down tracks in one or two takes. He’s got this really spontaneous feel in the studio. His ear is extremely profound. As brothers, we’ve been kickin’ it for a long time. It’s a blessing to be able to kick with a bro’ like that. He knows where I’m coming from. Our collaboration is very intuitive. We just kind of read each other and not even know how or why.”
Brother Peter, a teacher and photographer, created Stanley’s website, jeffstanley.net.
Stanley is passionate about teaching, as well.
“I’ve got five students,” he says. “I used to have 25, but I want my students to learn the guitar and not give up on it. It’s a challenging instrument, and performing live is a challenge. Whether my students want to play around a campfire or perform professionally, I want them to enjoy the instrument and give them the vocabulary they might use to tell their story, sing their song.”
Check out jeffstanley.net to find easy to advanced instructional guitar videos (recorded by Peter Stanley), along with “How NOT to create an instructional guitar video” and “How to use the Crazy Riff,” or to sign up for lessons.