SPOTLIGHT ON THE SKAGWAY MUSIC SCENE
By Joseph Stephenson
Rev. shreds and talks iconic bassist Jerry Scheff
The Rev. Neil Down, looking very serious in his tiger duds. Photo submitted
Rev Neil Down has been a fan favorite in Skagway since the 1990s, whether playing solo or alongside Lahna Deering in their band Deering and Down.
Together they have recorded three albums including Coup de Villa, Break This Record, and Out There Somewhere, which they recorded at Royal Studio in Memphis and were backed by Al Green’s legendary band, the Hi Rhythm Section.
Deering and Down play regularly in Skagway each year, most traditionally on July 4th at the Bonanza Bar and Grill. The duo are well-established in Memphis where they are known as the “best one- two punch in the city,” according to Marc Jordan of the Commercial Appeal. They’ve also been written up by the Washington Post, the Memphis Flyer, and Americana UK.
One of the many highlights in the Rev’s career came when he recorded a solo album in 1998 called American Friend. Rev recorded the album with iconic bassist Jerry Obern Scheff.
“Just from listening to the radio you’ve heard Scheff a million times,” said the Rev. “He’s played with Dylan, the Monkees, the Association, Nancy Sinatra, Neil Diamond. He recorded ‘LA Woman’ with the Doors. The list just goes on and on.”
Scheff is best known as the bass player who backed Elvis Presley in Presley’s TCB (Taking Care of Business) band from 1969 until Elvis’s death in 1977. Scheff went on to back John Denver, Emmylou Harris, and Roy Orbison along with many others.
When did you first meet Jerry Scheff?
I met him first when I was a kid in the late 70s in Burbank, CA, at a place called Chadney’s. He was playing with Bobby Hebb. Hebb was famous for writing the hit song, “Sunny” (1966). Twenty years later I was invited to play at a fundraiser in Salt Springs Island in British Columbia. It turned out that the woman putting it on was Jerry’s wife. She said her husband had some gear upstairs that we could use if we wanted. So we went up there and right on the speaker cabinets it said Jerry Scheff - Elvis Presley Tour.
How did you come to record with Scheff?
I called him up and asked if he’d like to come to Alaska and make a record with me. He said ‘okay, let’s make it happen.’ So, I went down to Juneau and met him… you know… if Saint Christopher’s coming to town you gotta be there to meet him at the docks, right. So we made the drive to Whitehorse. I borrowed the Korsmos’ rig, cause my rig you needed a tetanus shot to ride in it… it was so rusty. The best thing about the Korsmos’ Explorer was that there was no radio, no cassette player, no CD player. So, all Jerry did the whole time was tell me stories. Wow! It was great. A magical experience. We recorded at Bob Hamilton’s Old Crow Studio in Whitehorse over a period of five days.
How much did the whole experience mean to you?
There’s no price on it. It was priceless. Jerry Scheff as a musician is at least seven steps beyond. He’s a hero. A sonic seamster. His contributions made records. His clairvoyance, his intuition. Anybody who knows anything about bass players and rock ‘n’ roll know Jerry Scheff. Other bass players chase him around with their shine boxes.
This winter Rev is heading back to Memphis where he plans to record another original album. I’ll look forward to hearing it and seeing him on stage when he’s back home in Skagway in 2014. Thanks for taking the time Rev! American Friend is available at Glacial Smoothies & Espresso and the News Depot. Find more information on Rev. Neil Down at deeringanddown.com