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Enjoy Magazine

Classic Country Duo James Sasser and Chris Miller

08/08/2013 10:38AM ● By Enjoy Magazine
James Sasser and Chris Miller have a lot of respect for each other and the gifts they each bring to their Portland, Ore.-based classic country duo. As an ace guitarist and slide player for artists like Dave Alvin, Asleep at the Wheel and Marcia Ball, Miller’s credentials are well established. But the Oregon Music Hall of Fame inductee has plenty of admiration for the young singer-songwriter he’s teamed up with.

“We write songs together and James is a terrific songwriter,” says Miller. “We love playing together, whether it’s a duo, trio or the whole band.”

The two will join bassist Dan Lowinger for an 8 pm show on Aug. 22 at the Vintage Wine Bar in Redding.

Miller and Sasser have been making music in tandem since meeting at a Portland gig on Halloween four years ago. Everyone was supposed to dress up and Sasser came as a dead Buddy Holly. And Miller?

“Chris Miller was dressed as Chris Miller,” says Sasser, amused at the memory. “We kind of knew of each other, but we figured out right away it was a good match. It was probably good odds we’d end up playing music together.”

The two are influenced by classic country, especially the era of the 1960s and ‘70s with artists like Ray Price, Charlie Pride and Conway Twitty. Those artists and their bands were inspiring, partly because of the flexibility of their sound. From shuffles to ballads, country and rock and roll, they tended to do it all.

“That’s kind of what we want to stay true to with what we’re doing together,” says Sasser. “We sing a lot of harmonies and it’s not all one hardcore sound and one sound only.”

A blog from the Tucson (Ariz.) Weekly described their music this way: “(Portland’s) not a city that one would consider a hotbed of country music, but once you hear the rich baritone voice and the plaintive notes of the Telecaster, you’d swear they came from a place like Bakersfield. Perhaps the sound comes from the fact that Chris Miller spent so many years in Austin as a sideman for the likes of Wayne Hancock, Dale Watson, Chris Gaffney, Ted Roddy and Marcia Ball. Or maybe it’s because James Sasser originated from cowboy stock out in rural Oregon. In any case, the end result is pure honky-tonk music, the way Waylon, George and Hank would’ve liked it.”

Sasser learned to sing harmonies with his younger brother, and music is something that was passed down from his piano-playing grandmother. His grandfather was “more of a poet,” he says.

Miller and Sasser are putting the final touches on a new album this summer and have enough material for about two more. As a live act, they’re touring regionally in addition to their regular gigs in Portland. It’s been a refreshing outlet for Miller, who continues to tour with Dave Alvin and the Guilty Ones, and is well-known for his two decades of playing music in Texas. Miller, who was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall last year, played in one of Portland’s most popular bands, the Rockin’ Razorbacks, in the late 1980s and early ’90s. He then played in a blues band called the Terraplanes before moving to Texas with a band that was catching fire at the time, The Derailers.

“James and I know lots of songs and we love to have people dancing, even when we’re playing acoustic,” Miller says. “We’d love to establish a presence in Redding. It’s a real good stop along I-5 when we’re traveling to the L.A. area to play gigs down there.”•

James Sasser and Chris Miller, 8 pm Aug. 22 Vintage Wine Bar, 1790 Market St., Redding