Q&A with Portland-based multitalented musician Richard Wilkins, performing and recording most of his life

"Every life lesson we all go through is expressed through the music we make. Music can heal us and allow us to make life long friends. Music seems to underscore our very existence usually for the better."

Richard Wilkins: Life's for Livin

Portland, Oregon blues singer/songwriter, bass guitar/ tenor sax player Richard Wilkins has been performing and recording most of his life. Starting back in San Francisco in 1967 to New York City in 1969 than Los Angeles, Orange County, and now to the Portland Oregon area. Blues singer/songwriter, bass guitar/ tenor sax player Richard Wilkins is accompanied here on drums by Jimi Bott [Fabulous Thunderbirds, Mannish Boys] and Kevin Selfe on guitar [Vizztone label]. The self produced CD titled “Life's for Livin” (2022) is an epic journey through four stunning originals, and covers of Jimmy Reed, Willie Dixon, Rod Piazza, Tab Benoit, and Eric Clapton.

(Photo: Richard Wilkins)

It’s been 3 years since Richard's last CD “What a Life” was released with Jimi and Kevin on board with that project as well. “Life's for Livin’” features top Portland keyboardist Steve Kerin on piano and organ. Since the late1960s, Wilkins has shared stages big and small with everyone from Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, John Bonham, Jeff Beck, Buddy Miles, James Cotton, Lightning Hopkins, Boz Skaggs, Johnny Winter, Mathew Fisher, and many more. This CD is a tribute to his roots growing up in LA listening to the blues like Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, and Rolling Stones. The title track “Life's for Livin’” is a testament to the love and joy of playing music all these years.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

The Blues offers me a chance to get back to the simpler things in life. Free from the everyday turmoil of politics, covid, and the general anxiety of the our current times. When I travel in the states or overseas, I always seek out Blues clubs and other musical venues. There's a connection with other musicians I real enjoy.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? What touched you from the sound of saxophone?

My sound is based on two things, tone and phrasing. When I was learning the sax back in grade school the one thing that was always impressed upon me more then technique was tone. The big players of my day were King Curtis, Boots Randolph, Louie Prima, Illinois Jacquet. They all had great tone and awesome phrasing. My songbook is from early surf and rock bands, and blues greats like Jimmy Reed and BB King. I was inspired to play Bass guitar by attending Dick Dale concerts in Anaheim, CA Realizing in my opinion, that was where all the movement for dancing was coming from. My musical philosophy is to keep it simple, and make it appealing to the ears of the average listener.

"The Portland blues community is a very close nit group. Everyone for the most part supports each other and try's to lift one another up. Even though were in competition for the same gigs, there's still a since of community here I love.  I like the hometown feel of Portland." (Photo: Richard Wilkins)

What is the music legacy of Jimmy Reed and Willie Dixon music? What do you think is key to a music life well lived?

The music legacy of Jimmy Reed and Willie Dixon is its timeless quality. Everyone gets the blues about something. Everyone has struggles in life and the blues expressed by those two artists really speaks to a lot of people. The key to a music life well lived is listening to other musicians while your playing together and collaborating together to produce something bigger then the sum of its parts. Space is equally important. Music, like all living things, has to has to breathe.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

There are so many memories and highlights I've been blessed to have. Receiving praise from other fantastic musicians is always the best. I was recording with my band Under Milkwood for our album for A&M Records at Electric Lady land studios in NY in 1969 when I met Mathew Fisher [organist from Procul Harum] in a bar and asked him if would like to come and sit in our session? He came by and added a beautiful organ part to a song we were doing. He expressed how much fun he had. That was huge. Another highlight was when Eric Clapton gave me a real good compliment about my bass playing. I had just finished jamming with him, Muddy Waters, James Cotton, and Buddy Miles in a club called Unganos in upper Manhattan in New York the spring of 1969. That was definitely a highlight.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the simple arrangements and natural sounds of real instruments. I'm not a big fan of over produced synthetic music. My fears our that musicians won't be able to support themselves. The money has become horrible and record sales have dropped as a result of streaming services. My Hope is that we won't loose this Art form. It's such valuable part of our existence. I for one could not live without live music.

"The Blues offers me a chance to get back to the simpler things in life. Free from the everyday turmoil of politics, covid, and the general anxiety of the our current times. When I travel in the states or overseas, I always seek out Blues clubs and other musical venues. There's a connection with other musicians I real enjoy." (Photo: Portland, Oregon blues singer/songwriter, bass guitar/ tenor sax player. Richard Wilkins)

What would you say characterizes Portland, Oregon blues scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

The Portland blues community is a very close nit group. Everyone for the most part supports each other and try's to lift one another up. Even though were in competition for the same gigs, there's still a since of community here I love.  I like the hometown feel of Portland.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

This a hard question. The best advice I received was to practice and really own your instrument. Treat it like a lover. Be gentle but firm. Make it laugh or make it cry. But be honest and genuine in your expression.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Every life lesson we all go through is expressed through the music we make. Music can heal us and allow us to make life long friends. Music seems to underscore our very existence usually for the better.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

Music is the very fabric of our social-cultural experience. Hopefully music will move you somehow. Dance, be still, laugh, or cry its our soundtrack of life!

Richard Wilkins - Home

(Photos: Richard Wilkins)

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