Andy Stokes is “infinitely better” than all the other modern-day soul singers out there Peter Dammann told me. He should know: He’s the artistic director and booker of the Waterfront Blues Festival and has been for more than 20 years. Hand-picked by Dammann, Stokes will be singing “The Star-Spangled Banner" on the Fourth of July before the largest fireworks show in the state lights up the Willamette River.
“When he called me to do the national anthem, dude, I was almost emotional,” Stokes recalls. “I started to think about Linda [Hornbuckle—who held the honor in year’s past but passed away last year]. Wow, this is a big deal right here.”
“Music wasn’t my first choice in life,” Stokes says. “I was a jock, a football player, and I wanted to play pro football. Football is what brought me out to Oregon.”
Born in Danville, Va., “I was an Army brat,” he says, bouncing between the States and Germany through high school, but a football scholarship landed Stokes in the Northwest in 1975—the same year Mt. Hood Community College won their first junior college football title. Football was still on Stokes’ mind as he continued to the University of Oregon, also playing tailback there.
Although it wasn’t a focus back then, “I grew up listening to music with my father—that’s how I got into music,” Stokes says. “I always sang. I sang around the house with dad—did my little broomstick thing, standing in front of the hi-fi, pretending that was my band. My dad had everybody from Percy Sledge to Stevie Wonder and I would just sing—that’s how I got into singing. But James Brown, watching him perform, he’s who I kind of mimic a little bit on stage—that’s my thing. It’s just the funk.”
After a stint as the lead singer for R&B band Cool'R in the '80s, Stokes started his own band in 1991, simply dubbed the Andy Stokes Band.
“ASB is the shit when it comes to funk,” Stokes laughs. “I’m a big kid at heart and I love what I do.” He feels blessed these days—and grateful: “I owe a lot of people who helped me. I was green and didn’t know nothing—I didn’t do all this by myself.”
This includes his band members: Rusty Cox (drums, vocals), Ricky Varnado (keys, bass) and Doug Lewis (lead guitar). “I’m blessed to have them,” he says. “I’m very proud of playing original music and people coming and packing the house. The best feeling in the world to me is when somebody comes to your show and they request your song.”
You can expect fans to be requesting “Get Stoked” soon—a new track from an R&B and soul project that Stokes is currently hard at work on with producer Marlon McClain. The as-yet-untitled album is still being recorded but Stokes hopes it’ll be out by the end of the year.
Originals aside, Stokes is also honored to pay homage to Marvin Gaye with an encore performance of his tribute show. He sold out two shows last year at Jimmy Mak’s so he was invited back for two more shows on Saturday, June 27—both are expected to sell out again!
No matter what happens next, “I’m happy,” Stokes says. “Just ride the wave, man. Ride the wave.”
R&B and soul singer and bandleader with a funky side
Been singing for 35 years, inducted into Oregon Music Hall of Fame in 2009 with Cool’R and also into the Junior College Football Hall of Fame with Mt. Hood Community College, plus voiced a California Raisin and has worked as an extra on Grimm recently.
"Hoochie Coochie Man" by Muddy Waters: “Coming up, I’d never really listened to blues but my dad had Robert Johnson and all the old blues cats—Muddy Waters and all that. I was so much into the funk and R&B that I kind of shoved it aside. But lately, I started reading up on it: They got started with the blues and R&B comes from that and you can see the transition.”
“The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King: “That’s my favorite.”
INSPIRATIONAL AND INFLUENTIAL:
“My forte is singing ballads: Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’ and ‘What You Won't Do For Love’ by Bobby Caldwell.”
“When A Man Loves A Woman” by Percy Sledge: “That’s the first song I kind of fell in love with—one I listened to with my dad. Singing ballads and love songs is what I love to do. My goal in life is to do a CD full of love songs—that’s something I really want to do.”
EARLY MUSICAL MEMORY:
“I Got You (I Feel Good)” by James Brown: “My dad said, ‘Boy, come here! James Brown’s on TV!’ So I ran in there and he was doing his thing so I got up—I don’t know how old I was, 5 or 6—and started trying to do all that stuff—the splits and everything. That all started me. It was the first time I attempted to dance [laughs]. And tried to sing—I tried to mimic him and played it over and over and over.”
DESERT ISLAND SONG:
“Sweet Baby James” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” by James Taylor: “If I was on a desert island, just to keep my nerves down and stress low, I’d listen to James Taylor—for real. I would. The tone of his voice and his music always soothes me.”
“Right Thurr” by Chingy: “When I’m getting ready to get hyped up for a gig, I put it on in the car on repeat. That groove…”
Curtis Salgado, Ty Curtis, Ken DeRouchie, Soul Vaccination, Richard Arnold, DK Stewart, The Portland Soul All-Stars and Norman Sylvester: “I basically grew up learning from all of those cats.”
And Lisa Mann: “I love her to death. I love singing with her.”
DOWNLOAD ANDY STOKES: “Gitty Up” from Live at Jimmy Mak's
“We we’re trying to come up with new songs and our keyboard player and bass player came up with this groove, and then the drummer and I came up with ‘gitty up, gitty up.’ I wrote some lyrics to it and it’s one of the most popular songs that we do. The audience knows we’re gonna do it as the first song of the second set and I’m telling you, people are on the dance floor waiting. And some people, after we play that song, they leave [laughs]. It’s amazing—it’s like: We come to hear ‘Gitty Up’ and then we’re outta here.”