Ron Stephens has been performing, writing and recording music since the age of 7. And although rarely the center of attention, he has been at the core of several of Portland’s most popular and successful bands, both on stage and behind the scenes in the recording studio.
After several years in the trenches of the northwest club scene, it was his role in the mid-70’s post Urban Cowboy country-rock band Hank Rasco and The Wasted Rangers that first garnered attention. Playing guitar and pedal steel, he also engineered and produced the band’s two LPs, as well as contributing several original songs to the Rangers repertoire.
As the Wasted Rangers morphed into Jon Koonce’s new band, demos were recorded in Ron’s basement studio that would launch Johnny and The Distractions toward a contract with A&M Records. As he said at his 2011 induction into the Oregon Music Hall Of Fame as an original Distraction, “I wasn’t there for the whole ride, but I was there at the first gig, and I was there at the last gig – various reunions notwithstanding. The only other one who can say that is Johnny himself.”
In 1981 Ron co-founded Puzzle, an all-star lineup that featured Bill Feldmann, Mark Bosnian, Calvin Walker and Rick Edwards. Their remake of The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee” not only received local airplay but, according to manager Monte Von Struck, made it on to the Billboard chart. “I wrote the string arrangement on a napkin during the flight to the studio” he offers. “The Philidelphia String Quarted were not pleased – until they played through the arrangement.”
Another notable collaboration is Ron’s long-term association with singer/songwriter Jack McMahon, which has resulted in two excellent CDs (“Toe The Line” and “The Man Love Forgot”) which he not only performed on, but also produced, engineered and mixed at his own studio, the wryly named Short Attention Span Theater. Both CDs exhibit Ron’s distinct signature of musical and technical excellence.
The Hurrmann Burrmann Band, Sleeper, Buckboard, ClamGun, Marv Ross, John Bunzow, Gary Ogan, Craig Carothers, Sara Evans, Great Plains, and Caryl Mack-Parker; These are just a few of the other artists Ron has performed or recorded with.
After a brief stint in Nashville in the late ’90s Ron returned to the northwest, but has only recently relocated to the Rose City with his uniquely soulful, funky blues/rock, “white boy got the woo woo” style. “I grew up on the three B’s: The Beatles, The Buckaroos, and James Brown” he says. “But no matter who I might try to sound like, it always comes out sounding like me. And I’m finally OK with that. I’ve come to accept it, and even embrace it.
Stephens’ latest venture, Freak Flag Fly (a phrase taken from David Crosby’s “Almost Cut My Hair” on the second CSN album), includes fellow Oregon Music Hall of Famers Carlton Jackson and Denny Bixby performing original songs from every era of his career, along with personal favorites that span the spectrum from ZZ Top to Motown. You’ll also find him performing solo at wineries, coffee houses, and other venues too small for the trio.
“These days I don’t have any fantasies about global domination. I just enjoy playing these songs with these guys. The big stages and big crowds are great. But give me a Tuesday night at O’Connors and I’m good to go.”