Soul Sisters Productions, LLC

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Music on the Street talks with Tracy Pain and Susan Mills of Soul Sisters Productions

by Matthew Bernstein on September 26, 2014

Everyone dreams of a job where they can fulfill their passion. It’s great when talent and purpose fit. But it’s even more inspiring when that job is all about helping others. Soul Sisters Productions and the two friends who founded it demonstrate that friendship, fun, family, and financial funding for musicians in time of need make for a really cool job. Music on the Street talked with Tracy Pain and Susan Mills about their approach.

What role did music play in your life growing up?

Tracy: I grew up in Hawaii and fell in love with Hawaiian music. I also worked briefly at a radio station as a DJ production assistant answering request lines and going to a lot of concerts. I loved all genres of music except for country—and then when I recently attended a George Strait concert, I loved that, too!  But Hawaiian music is still my favorite.

Susan: I have always loved listening to music. I tried playing piano when I was 8 years old, but didn’t connect. I resigned myself to the fact that I was not going to be a musician, but rather a listener. Musicians need an audience!

How did you two come together?

Tracy: Susan and I met through our husband’s musical collaboration. Dave Mills is trumpeter and bandleader with Soul Vaccination and my husband, Louis, was the band’s keyboardist for four years. Susan and I hung out together at Soul Vax gigs and became close—so much so that Dave would call us “Soul Sisters.”  Although we both had other jobs, (hers as an administrative assistant for the school district and mine as a flight attendant) Susan and I would sell CDs together and support the band whenever we could.  Ours was really an instant friendship, one that is still very dear to me.

Susan: We had a lot in common. It really was an instant friendship!

What was the inspiration for this organization?

Tracy: Soul Sisters Productions basically began as a whim. Louis and Dave had arranged for Louis’ old friend Bruce Conte, former guitarist with Tower Of Power, to come play with Soul Vax as special guest at the blues festival and at Jimmy Mak’s in July, 2011.  The latter gig was recorded as a live CD.  Susan and I decided to produce the CD project, and for fun we called ourselves “Soul Sisters Productions.”

But later, after I had served on the committee for “Love For Linda”—a November, 2012 benefit for Louis’ and my long-time friend Linda Hornbuckle—Susan and I discussed making a production company a reality.

We’d had many discussions about how sad and frustrating it was to see some of our dearest friends struggle because they didn’t have a safety net when they got sick. We wondered how could we do something about that. We contacted a music attorney and Soul Sisters Productions, LLC was born!  When Bruce saw how successful Linda’s benefit was, he reached out to me, and Susan and I teamed up to produce a pair of successful benefits for him: “What Is Hip” at Jimmy Mak’s (March, 2013) and “East Bay Grease” at Yoshi’s Oakland (September, 2013).  The highlight of “Love For Linda” had been a spontaneous duet by Linda and her friend LaRhonda Steele on “Natural Woman,”  and LaRhonda had also sung at Bruce Conte’s Jimmy Mak’s benefit.  So when LaRhonda herself was later diagnosed with cancer, naturally she asked if Susan and I could help, and we produced “A Benefit For LaRhonda Steele” in October, 2013.

Susan: We really came together through the love of music, the fact that both our husbands are musicians, and the great need to support and assist others, especially musicians who are not insured or under insured.

For those unfamiliar, please describe what you do, and how.

Susan: Our initial focus is to provide support to musicians who are under insured or without medical insurance by producing musical benefits to raise money to assist with expenses associated with the illness or needs for the musician or foundation. Our focus has been on musicians, but we are not limited to musicians.  We also produce social functions and concerts.

Tracy: In addition to producing events, we also this year partnered with non-profits to help raise money for their charities and/or to create awareness for their causes.  In July, we collaborated with the Caring Ambassadors Program and HealthNet to create awareness among musicians of the HealthNet Pavilion at the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival.  That pavilion provides free health screenings. More recently, we raised money for Katie’s Kause, a non-profit that provides financial support for cystic fibrosis children and their families, by collecting signatures from prominent musicians on three guitars. The guitars were provided to us by Brasher’s Portland Auto Auction, who subsequently ran an auction at which the guitars sold for nearly $9,000.

Just this week, we used the same formula to help Linda Hornbuckle, who continues her long battle with cancer. Our longtime friend, Santana keyboardist Dave Mathews, helped us get the guitar signed by Carlos and the band. When I told her that Carlos Santana had signed a guitar for her, her reaction was priceless.

Linda has told me that the outpouring of support has made a difference in her healing and she is so grateful for the love that this community has shown her. She told me that she is determined to get well.

Mark Young sums it up like this: “Thank You to Soul Sister Productions your help is tremendously appreciated. Linda Hornbuckle & I feel that GOD HAS SMILED ON US TODAY!”

What have been some highlights and challenges?

Tracy: The highlights for Soul Sisters Productions have been the joy of being able to help dear friends in their time of need. That is extremely gratifying.  It’s also been wonderful to see the generous responses of the Portland and Bay Area communities to the plight of ill musicians who have given so much to those communities over the years.  It’s also been amazing to witness some of the heartfelt performances by the musicians who have come out to support their own.

Earlier, I mentioned the amazing duet sung by Linda and LaRhonda at “Love For Linda.”  Adding to that performance was the wonderful piano accompaniment by the late, great Janice Scroggins. Since then, it’s been moving to see LaRhonda, who has made a comeback following her cancer scare.

Other performance highlights at our events have included legendary Bay Area artists Elvin Bishop and Lydia Pense at Yoshi’s, and the amazing Chester Thompson, who performed at both of Bruce Conte’s benefits.

The challenges of organizing concert benefits and gathering musician signatures are too many to list.  But our greatest challenge is watching our musician friends struggle.  Music is their life and their passion. When they get sick, everything stops. No medical leave, no safety net.

Susan: The gathering of such stellar musicians to support one of their own is very rewarding and gratifying.  It makes what we are doing genuine. Seeing LaRhonda Steel recover from breast cancer is heart warming. The support and love the Portland community showed for her during the benefit was overwhelming.

Anything else you wish to share?

Yes, we have donate buttons on our website to support the aforementioned musicians and others who need our help.

Oregon Music News

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Jerry Hinton of Brasher’s Portland Auto Auction has graciously donated a hollow body Gretsch electric guitar to support treatment of Linda Hornbuckle. The Portland R&B singer is suffering from kidney cancer. Soul Sisters Productions headed by Tracy Turner-Pain and Susan Mills have worked tirelessly in their mission to get the guitar signed by as many willing musicians as possible (including Carlos Santana and band, Tower of Power band, Robert Cray and others) in order to increase the guitar’s value. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of the guitar will go to the Linda Hornbuckle Medical Fund.

Linda is well known in the Portland area having been inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of fame as well as toured or recorded with Quarterflash, Nu-Shooz, and the Dan Reed Network. She was also lead vocalist for a popular Motown revue, Body & Soul, in the late ‘80s, and in 1992 laid the ground work for the local blues act, No DeLay. Recently Linda recorded and performed in a duo with her long time friend, pianist Janice Scroggins, who passed earlier this year.

Long time keyboardist Dave Mathews was instrumental in tracking down various San Francisco musicians to sign the axe. He wrote, “God bless Linda Hornbuckle……And hold her close to your hearts……She’s Portland Oregon’s treasure,and has always been a selfless performer,uplifting the many,while working a day job too.She’s been fighting kidney cancer for over two years,and the struggle has taken it’s inexorable toll……but she still continues to spread the love to all of us by singing her heart out every chance she can…….See her,listen to her,love her..Take that beautiful spirit into your heart……..And Linda will uplift you when you need solace and comfort in your life…..Her gift is for all of us……..Thank heavens…….”

The Oregonian

What is hip? Helping a friend in benefit for former Tower of Power guitarist Bruce Conte

By Marty Hughley, The Oregonian
on March 06, 2013

Close quarters can create strong friendships. For Bruce Conte and Louis Pain, a drive from San Francisco to Des Moines and back in Volkswagen Beetle – with guitars, amps, and for part of the ride a bass player too – cemented a bond that has lasted more than 40 years.

The band the two California teens drove to Iowa to work with didn't last a week. But they'd both go on to fruitful careers. Conte played guitar with Bay Area soul titans Tower of Power for seven years and seven albums during that band's 1970s heyday. Pain, an organist, became a Portland stalwart with the likes of Paul deLay, Mel Brown and many others.

Once stuck together for a long haul, they stick together still. Last year, Conte was diagnosed with leukemia. Pain, with the help of his wife Tracy and some of their best friends, has organized a two-night fundraising event to help cover Conte's treatment expenses. The shows Friday and Saturday at Jimmy Mak's will feature Soul Vaccination, a Portland band with a repertoire (and a name) drawn largely from the Tower of Power songbook. Adding fuel to the funk will be guests such as Chester Thompson, the powerhouse organist who's been featured with Tower of Power and Santana, Portland tenor talent Renato Caranto, as well as Conte himself.

"It's going to be pretty dynamite having Bruce and Chester," Pain says. The shows will feature the full horn-oriented Soul Vac plus guests, as well as a soul-jazz quartet with Conte, Pain, Caranto and drummer Edwin Coleman III.  

Conte first joined Tower of Power in 1972, part of a revamping of the band that broadened its stylistic reach without diminishing the propulsive rhythmic power of its gritty, greasy nightclub origins. Check out Conte's stinging tone and fluid phrasing on such classics as "What Is Hip?" and "Squib Cakes," or his slowhand blues embellishments to the band's biggest hit, "So Very Hard To Go." He also wrote two of the band's best melancholy soul ballads, "Just Another Day" and "Love's Been Gone So Long."

"That band always was influenced heavily by James Brown and his rhythm guitarist Jimmy Nolan was big for Bruce, too," says Pain, who calls Conte the best rhythm guitarist he's ever played with. "But Bruce also was influenced by players like (soul-jazz/hard-bop guitarist) Grant Green."

Pain and Conte, who met when the guitarist played in a band with Pain's keyboard teacher, wound up being housemates during Conte's early days with Tower of Power, then joining forces in a Bay Area band Conte led called Hot Street, circa 1982. Pain moved to Portland in 1986, but eventually the two reconnected and talked about ways they might play together again.

In 2011, Conte joined Soul Vaccination, led by the trumpeter Dave Mills, for a performance at the Waterfront Blues Festival and later for a show at Jimmy Mak's. Tracy Pain and Mills' wife Susan started a company called Soul Sisters Productions to turn the latter gig into a live album. (Full disclosure: This reporter wrote liner notes for that Soul Vaccination CD.)

Last fall, Tracy Pain played a big role in organizing Love for Linda, a benefit that raised about $18,000 for Portland singer Linda Hornbuckle, who's been battling kidney cancer. A recent benefit for Conte in his hometown of Fresno netted only a third that much, so he reached out to Tracy Pain, asking if Soul Sisters Productions -- and Portland's supportive music community -- might lend a hand.

After 4,000 miles in a Beetle and 40 years, it's the soulful thing to do.

-- Marty Hughley

©  OregonLive.com. All rights reserved.

 

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What Is Hip? A benefit for former Tower of Power guitarist Bruce Conte

When: 8 p.m. – 11:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday 

Where: Jimmy Mak’s, 221 N.W. 10th Ave. 

Tickets: $25 reserved, $20 general admission, tickettomato.com (available online until noon day-of-show)

Website: jimmymaks.com

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Downbeat

Soul Vaccination: What Is Hip?

(Soulvax 001; 60:33)

 

Securely grounded in blues and jazz, the dozen members of this Portland, Ore., juggernaut express a genuine commitment to funk on this super-charged club gig. Aided by Tower of Power’s blues-inclined guitarist Bruce Conte, this group personalizes songs that are also associated with Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder and Tom Browne without ever stooping to nostalgia. The horn section provides the ensemble’s signature sound, with bandleader-trumpeter Dave Mills’ arrangements offering an outstanding asset. Singers Paul Creighton and Mark Wyatt are more assured than Gigi Wiggins with their assertive take-charge attitude.

 

Ordering info: soulvax.com