Gig Seeker Pro


Band Americana Rock


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos


The best kept secret in music


"Wheatfield is back!"

Wheatfield is back! In the mid-1970s, the band was the top unsigned band in the Pacific Northwest; it has reunited and is currently playing small venues and private parties.

Wheatfield formed in October 1971, born out of a folk duo composed of Will Hobbs and Peter Wolfe, who first met in Eugene, Ore., at the Odyssey Coffee House. The duo soon added a bass player, lead guitarist and finally a drummer. As each new member joined the group, more musical styles and influences were added, contributing to the band’s signature sound and penchant for musical variety and eclecticism. They cover folk, bluegrass, country, country rock, rock and roll and even classical and jazz. Then, as now, a prerequisite for all new members is that they sing and most members play multiple instruments.

Wheatfield’s range and reputation spread as the band grew, ultimately playing venues from British Columbia to Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Their services were in demand at clubs, colleges, concerts and festivals. They opened for an even wider range of artists, including Norton Buffalo, Maria Muldaur, Doc Watson, John Fahey, Bo Diddley and even the Ramones. The band eventually found much regional success, releasing a self-titled album in 1980 and a 45 released in 1972, but ultimately disbanded in 1982. Involvement in the lives of their growing families and the hardship of the road contributed to the group's demise.

After a reunion concert in 2002, to benefit drummer Kenny Sawyer who has successfully battled cancer but amassed staggering medical bills, they decided to make it official and regroup.

The current line-up is nearly identical to the band’s original make-up. Hobbs and Wolfe are still the keystones of this great band’s basis, and are joined by Paul Douglas on fiddle, harp, guitar and piano; Kerry Canfield, keyboards, guitar, lap steel guitar, accordion and trumpet; and Kenny Sawyer on drums. All members contribute lead vocals and vocal harmonies. Will Hobbs plays guitar (electric and acoustic), mandolin, flute, harmonica, saxophone and the occasional cowbell; Peter Wolfe plays bass and both acoustic and electric guitars, banjo and even spoons.

Their infectious brand of country rock is once again timely; Duff’s Garage was the perfect venue to showcase the band’s rebirth at a recent Saturday night gig. The venue features all types of American music, from rockabilly and country-western to blues, surf and ‘60s garage music. Tucked into an industrial corner of inner southeast, Duff’s walls are decorated with old license plates and hubcaps, vintage automobile and motorcycle memorabilia, funky faded metal beer and automotive shop signs and neon. Fast cars and cold beer--it doesn’t get more American than that!

Wheatfield can and does cover all those styles in a night of fun and raucous musical entertainment. In fact, when asked to define the genre of the band’s music, founding member Will Hobbs called it “Americana.”

Now, as during the band's prior 11-year history of playing together, the play list contains a strong dose of Wheatfield originals. Some of the older tunes have been rearranged dramatically, but the mix still consists of about 30-40 percent original material, in Hobbs’ estimation. When they do play cover tunes, they prefer to choose the more obscure numbers and always seem to make the song their own when they deliver it to their audience. Hobbs says they hope to record again--no, they have "a strong need to record," and probably have half an album's worth of tunes ready to lay down.

Hobbs kicked off the evening at Duff's with a solo turn on stage. The band started off their first set with Poncho and Lefty, a number penned by Townes VanZandt. Wheatfield has always put its own stamp on the tune, which features Paul Douglas on violin and Hobbs’ distinctive vocals and acoustic guitar. The band consistently displays great vocal harmonies, this song as a fine example.

Black Mountain Rag, an instrumental bluegrass rave-up number, showcases two acoustic guitars played by Hobbs and Wolfe and a banjo sound courtesy of Kerry Canfield’s Yamaha keyboard. Wild Milly the Mountain Girl got a couple up to dance and sing along to all the words. It was not long before this writer realized that she, too, could remember the lyrics to many of the band’s most-played numbers and was eagerly singing along as well. This brings up a good point about Wheatfield’s repertoire; the band has a familiar sound to it and it’s hard to know if the familiarity comes from knowing the material, or just that the songs have a timeless quality to them.

The ballad Caroline filled the floor with couples eager to dance to a slow tune and this tune showcases all the best the band has to offer. Written by one of the band’s original members, John Powell, it features four vocalists in sweet harmony.

The next tune, Margarita, also penned by John Powell, features a Latin beat that really rocks out. This one shows how much fun the band has onstage and how enjoyable it is to listen to them play. All members contribute vocals on this number. Canfield’s keys add a horn effect ala Tijuana Brass to punctuate the catchy south-of-the-border feel of the song.

The next two numbers featured Kerry Canfield’s keyboard and vocal expertise, first on a song with a decided Ragtime flair, then on the outrageous instrumental Nutrocker Suite. This tune has long been a featured number in the band’s show. Canfield arranged it himself and it is always a high point.

Canfield switched from keyboards to a lap steel guitar for the surf tune Sleepwalk, another audience dance favorite. Douglas moved to the keyboard from guitar for the next tune, demonstrating the awesome versatility of all band members. Portland Town brought back memories of the old days, of the crowd packed in shoulder to shoulder at Sack’s Front Avenue to enjoy the fresh, original sound the band offered. This was in sharp contrast to the disco garbage that was almost unavoidable at that time.

Next up was a groovy version of the rock ‘n’ roll classic, Little Sister, done in a uniquely Wheatfield style. Then came one of the band’s most solid and popular numbers, You Can Depend of Me. So sweet! A personal favorite, it was a joy to hear the band in their element once again. This song has so many layers to it that it never fails to impress. All five members add their voices on this tune, but Wolfe’s vocals are especially effective on this number. It’s punctuated with a rollicking ragtime keyboard and a killer, unforgettable melody. It definitely has that "hook" that songwriters and musicians seek.

The song was co-written by Hobbs and Douglas, with an assist from Norton Buffalo. Buffalo produced the CD back in 1980, and it received modest airplay. Asked when or how the band first met up with the infamous harmonica wizard, Hobbs could not recall. That’s the sign of a long-standing friendship and association that transcends those little details.

That tune leads off the 12-song CD that is now available for just $10 at the band’s gigs and the soon-to-be-online website. www.WheatfieldOregon.com should be up and running by the time this story goes to press. The site is designed and ready to go, it just needs a host to be fully operational. You can also e-mail the band at Wheatfield01@hotmail.com. The disc is currently in heavy rotation on this writer’s CD player, and probably will be for sometime.

An a cappella version of Chain Gang opened the second set, again spotlighting the wonderful vocal harmonies. The band played two 15-song sets this night, remaining true to something that Will Hobbs noted as far back as a March 1977 interview, appearing in the second issue of this magazine (then known as Positively Rock ‘N Roll). When asked about the reason for the band’s popularity, Hobbs states that they keep the music coming, not leaving much time between songs.

A kick-butt version of the old standard Silver Threads and Golden Needles followed, another crowd favorite. A mini-Beatles tribute covered One After 909 and the phenomenal In My Life, complete with Canfield’s keyboards reproducing the authentic sound. Researching the instrument used to produce the harpsichord-like sound on the original, it turns out to be an electric piano, played at half speed, then replayed at double speed. Unbelievable that Canfield is able to reproduce the sound so effectively!

The song Gandy Dancer, another personal and crowd favorite, was written by a friend of Douglas’ in Eugene, Ore. It led into the Del Shannon hit Runaway, the rollicking Southbound Passenger Train and another original, Gotta Get Away, all examples of the band’s choice to include goodtime music on their play list. It’s hard not to sing and clap along when the band members are all up front picking and grinning. They encored with the Beach Boys classic Barbara Ann and, to prove they really can play anything, the Rice Crispies jingle, Snap, Crackle & Pop. Versatile, yes indeed, and proving it to the very end.

Not much has really changed with the band’s music since that 1977 article, except as Hobbs noted in a phone interview subsequent to the gig, they are all better musicians now. That, and maybe the haircuts. Photos of the band from that era show most members with a pretty good crop of hair, as was the style then, with Hobbs wearing his nearly down to his navel! The band members still love connecting with their audience and are extremely pleased with the audience response, as much now as ever. They were clearly having a great time on stage, and the audience could not have been more attentive and engaged.

The band dynamics allow all members to play to their strengths since they have known each other for so long, and are good friends. Songwriting and arrangements are usually done as a collaborative effort. Democratic is the word Hobbs used to describe both processes. Douglas generally handles bookings, Canfield covers advertising and posters, while Wolfe also assists in bookings and plays in another band, The Buckles. Hobbs is clearly the band's spokesman and often takes over the mike duties in regards to announcements and band introductions.

Wheatfield is back together now because they enjoy it, not for the money. They hope to book a couple of gigs a month, ranging from weddings and private parties to gigs like the Duff's show and possibly opening for larger acts. They intend to continue to capitalize on their wealth of original material and their prior reputation. The band is looking for bookings and currently seeks a full-time drummer to take Sawyer's place. They will play the Rose Festival on June 11.

Hobbs told a great story about being asked to play recently for a couple's 25th wedding anniversary, at a time that coincided with the band's same milestone. The wife booked them without the husband's knowledge and the surprise brought tears to the man's eyes. Wheatfield asked for no monetary compensation for this booking. All they asked was that they be allowed to invite their own friends and family to the invitation-only party at the Melody Ballroom. This gig was clearly one of the catalysts that brought Wheatfield back to the performance arena. Whoever those Wheatfield fans are, thank you and happy anniversary; and the same goes to the band itself. Your fans will be glad to hear of your return.

- Positively Entertainment (www.positivelyentertainment.com/features/apr2005/wheatfield.html)

"Wheatfield: Mixing Down and a Night on the Town"

Sunday, June 25, 2006
Wheatfield: Mixing Down and a Night on the Town

Now today was more like it. My wife is in Chicago so I had an opportunity to relive my past, but would I take it? Obviously, some parts of the program have been canceled. Namely the drinking and the pot and whatever else was handy. Plus the being single part is over, but guess what? There's no way I could recreate that anyhow. All I have left is the music - and that was the driving purity of those times anyway. Some things go on. Why not live my life like I used to - work on music and then go out and hear a group? I had two gigs of the Lighter Notes in the can and it was time to mix them down on CD. Maybe put them on cable access or at least make a DVD. You know...do an artistic project. My strategy is to get okay video and great sound. Most musical shows on cable have okay video and terrible sound, so it's just a matter of synching them up later, once you see what came out. One thing I've learned is that it is rare when both the video and the portable studio work right at the same time. For example, the Rose Festival gig in the Big Top, had slightly overdriven sound and a video that cuts off one of the singers. The strategy at Hillsboro was supposed to start simple on the recording and add more tracks between sets. As a result, the first set is usable and sounds great. Then it slowly goes to hell the more we worked on it. Surprise, surprise, the video of the first set is also good. Of course, the camera was pointed wrong later and the 2nd and 3rd sets are missing one of the guitar players almost entirely. Not a problem. I have one gig where the video just shows everybody's knees. This is not an exact science, folks.

So technically, I had a good first set. That's one out of 4 and I'll take it. Now we move on to the band's performance. I'd say we are normally 40% great, 35% okay, and 25% awful. What that means is we basically have 4 excellent songs from the first set, video taped and recorded and played great. Spending all day mixing everything down is exactly how I used to spend my time when I was a young man and music was everything.

Then it was the hour to hit the streets and go see a band. Who better to recreate that old time feeling than Wheatfield? Portlanders should make a point of seeing these guys. Vocals for days! Harmony from God! I saw 4 guys singing which meant the background vocals had three parts. What a sound! Professional quality like Poco only all their own. Then I ran into a woman, who - to make a long story short - once set something up that allowed me to spend 4 hours with Bill Cosby. That was quite a day. Anyway, she is very interested in promoting this band, out of her love as a fan. She introduced me to Will Hobbs, one of the founders, outside, and I slowly realized the woman thought I still wrote for the Trib. Awkward! Actually, it was just funny, and I had a great talk with Will about politics. He apologized for messing up one of the songs and I told him it was a huge relief. These guys are so good, any kind of mistake makes it easier for the rest of us to carry on. The band went back to work and next thing you know I was out on the dance floor with this woman and then later her sister or sister-in-law. I bring this up because there is a magical place to hear a band in a club, which is around 6 feet in front of the stage. That's when everything is visceral and the sounds are coming from the most different points directly to your brain. Folks, I heard Wheatfield singing up close and it was quite stunning. This is an impressive sound. It's transcendent. You know how even great music can wear you out? It's rare when it doesn't. I once was at a Paul Simon concert and I reached the point where I would have stayed there for 10 hours. Go ahead, Paul, play anything you know. Everything was so gorgeous, and rather than wearing out, I couldn't get enough. After all these years, in the outskirts of the music business, I wear out pretty easily, but these Wheatfield vocals are so polished and beautiful that you just relax, knowing nothing bad is going to happen. They can sustain an evening. It's always just a short wait for the next beautiful rush: A chord so professionally perfect, you just want more. Back-up vocals for months, leads from everywhere. I must admit it was a sobering experience having just heard my group all day in the mix-down session.

Our audience can never relax. There is gold but don't get too comfortable, for right around the bend a nasty surprise usually awaits. Wheatfield isn't like that. Portland, we must embrace this group once again. They are worthy. - The Portland Freelancer (http://portlandfreelancer.blogspot.com/2006/06/wheatfield-mixing-down-and-n


1972 - single, "Ashland," b/w "Timekeeper"
1976 - Evatone disk included in June/July issue of "Eugene" (Oregon) magazine, featuring originals "Portland Town" and "Harmony"
1980 - LP, "Wheatfield," produced by Norton Buffalo
2005 - CD comprising Wheatfield LP and 1972 single


Feeling a bit camera shy


Wheatfield formed in October, 1971, as a folk duo by Pete Wolfe and Will Hobbs, who met in the Odyssey Coffee House in Eugene, Oregon. Their first impromptu rendition of "Helplessly Hoping" met with immediate applause, and the two decided they had something special and worth pursuing. Within a week of forming, they were featured on a radio program on alternative music station KZEL, and quickly received many bookings.

They added a bass player and a lead guitarist in the next few weeks, and finally a drummer the following spring. As new musicians came aboard, they added their own musical styles to the group’s sound, and Wheatfield developed its signature penchant for musical variety, covering folk, bluegrass, country, country rock, rock and roll, and even some jazz. One prerequisite of all new members was that they sing, further differentiating Wheatfield from most other bands at the time. Most members also played several instruments (sometimes changing instruments in mid-song).
In 1972, Wheatfield put out a 45, which received modest airplay in a few markets. The A side was a war protest song written by Will, that was also featured on an album recorded at the Second Annual Willamette Valley Folk Festival.

As Wheatfield’s reputation grew, so did its geographical reach, ultimately covering the entire Northwest, from British Columbia to Montana, Idaho, and all over Washington and Oregon. By the mid-70’s, Wheatfield was said to be the top unsigned band in the Northwest. Wheatfield played clubs, colleges, standalone concerts and festivals. Besides headlining in all the venues where Wheatfield played, they also frequently shared the stage with other popular artists, including Doc Watson, Maria Muldaur, Seals and Crofts, Asleep At The Wheel, Utah Phillips, Norton Buffalo, and even the Ramones. One weekend in Seattle, Wheatfield was the backup band for Bo Diddley.

In 1980, Wheatfield released a self-titled album, produced by Norton Buffalo, which also received modest airplay. The songs from the album and 45 are currently available on a CD, which can be ordered through the band's web site (www.wheatfieldoregon.com). In December of 1980, Wheatfield was honored with a prime time TV special that was aired all over Oregon by Portland’s KOIN TV.

In 1982, with increased interest in their growing families, and weary of constant travel, the group disbanded. Occasionally, in the ensuing years, the band would briefly re-form for some specific gig, and in 2002, after a reunion to benefit their drummer, Ken Sawyer, who had fought cancer successfully but was left with massive medical bills, the band decided to get back together.