Portland’s “Boogie Cat”, Norman Sylvester, his band and special guests LaRhonda Steele, Margo Tufo and Andy Stokes, pay tribute to the late, lamented Candlelight Room — the scene of countless epic jam sessions, head-cutting guitar shootouts and vocal duels. Every night of the week the Candlelight was packed, particularly its tiny dance floor, which some assert gave birth to Portland’s thriving young blues/swing dance scene. The Candlelight’s host bands—fronted by Linda Hornbuckle, Paul deLay, DK Stewart, LaRhonda Steele, Margo Tufo, Andy Stokes, Norman Sylvester—held down weekly gigs, often for a year or more, during which they developed into fine, in some cases truly world-class ensembles. The Candlelight also became the late night hang for touring blues, soul and funk legends to stop by to sit in after their major-venue shows. This was particularly true during Blues Festival. To name just a few who Norman and others hosted over the years: Bernard Purdy (legendary drummer for Aretha Franklin, James Brown), Johnny Shines, Jesse Mae Hemphill, band mates of Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington, BB King’s band, Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith, Hubert Sumlin…
For this tribute, Norman is joined by vocalist LaRhonda Steele, whose first Portland gigs with Norman’s band at the Candlelight; Margo Tufo, whose tight and seamless band was a launching pad for saxophonist Renato Caranto (Merle Haggard, Esperanza Spalding) and drummer Brian Foxworth (Curtis Salgado and too many to mention); and guitarist Peter Dammann, who spent five years’ of Sundays at the Candlelight with the Paul deLay Band, and three more with DK Stewart’s Quartet.
Norman Sylvester was born in Bonita, Louisiana in 1945. His earliest musical influence came from hearing gospel singing in church, and blues greats; BB King, Johnny Taylor & T-Bone Walker coming from the Juke Joints on the back streets of town. After his family moved to Portland, Norman’s first professional gig was in 1963 with Isaac Scott, and by the late 70s, he’d sat in with Buddy Guy and Albert Collins, both of whom encouraged him to leave the trucking industry and devote himself to a full-time music career. He formed his current band in 1987, playing the first Waterfront Blues Festival that year as well as opening for BB King.
They had the honor of opening for BB again as well as James Cotton, Mavis Staples, Little Ed & the Blues Imperials, Tower of Power, the Five Blind Boys, Peter Frampton and many others.
Norman is an inductee in the Oregon Music Hall of Fame recipient of the Cascade Blues Association Life Time Achievement Award. The Norman Sylvester band—a blues staple in Northwest clubs, festivals, schools and private events—includes: