In it for the long haul
“What we have is really good songwriting and harmony vocals,” says Willamina resident Kevin Nortness, aka Casey Nova, talking about his band Bluestar. “We also came up in a time when live performances were everything. That’s what we made our living on, by getting on a stage every night.”
Bluestar, which plays tonight, March 15, at Cornerstone Coffee Roasters, is singer/guitarist Nova, singer/guitarist Mick Roy and veteran drummer Wade Daughtry. The band’s roots go back decades.
Nova and Roy met as teenagers, and became friends while their respective Portland rocks bands competed for gigs in the late 1970s and early ’80s. In 1983, Roy came to Nova with a proposal to start a band together and hit the road. But there was one stipulation. Nova, a prolific songwriter — “I think 300 is a conservative estimate,” he said when asked how many songs he’s written — with punk rock roots, would have to incorporate cover songs into his performances.
“I remember that day real well,” Nova said. “Mick and his girlfriend knocked on my Burnside studio apartment. I had a cardboard box full of songs on the floor — living in abject poverty to a degree. He thought my voice would fit Beatles songs well. He said, ‘Sing Beatles songs and you’ll make a living.’
“Initially, I thought, ‘This is prostitution.’ Hack. Covers. Might as well be playing in a casino,” Nova said. “But the truth is, it was a blast.”
The duo toured with their band, the Cool Rays, for a decade. They learned to harmonize with one another by practicing 100 Beatles songs. Their repertoire grew to include material from The Who, the Rolling Stones and The Doors, along with originals.
“I loved the grind of five to seven gigs a week, and you had to win over every audience,” Nova said. “We got to where we had a small crew that went on the road with us. It was a working class band.”
He moved to Willamina in 1996 after the group disbanded. His love of music stuck with him through other life endeavors, including a run for the Oregon Senate in 2008. About that time, he founded Bluestar Express with Michael Beckley and Joi Bailey-Saucy, whom he met through open mic nights at the Wildwood Hotel in Willamina. The trio released a record in 2009, “Budget Motel.”
Nova jokes about the Americana scene that’s risen in popularity in recent years at venues like Wildwood, and throughout Portland.
“I just don’t have country roots,” he said. “I don’t have a flannel shirt.”
While he enjoys indie roots music, he grew up inspired by The Clash and the MC5.
“We’re clearly not Americana. We’re clearly rock with pop and British influences.”
Nova and Roy reunited in October 2011 for a show at Oaks Park and have not looked back, playing about once a month with Daughtry rounding out the group. Nova said most gigs are in Portland, but he wants to maintain a presence in Yamhill County, too. The group first played at Cornerstone last year for its annual Beatles Night, and followed with a show last November. He said they will play 30 songs tonight, 15 originals and 15 covers. Though the acoustic setting of the venue is a change for the electric rock act, he enjoys the receptive audience that always turns out for the coffee shop gigs.
From his experience, being able to please the crowd, no matter the setting, is the key to playing music for life. It’s the life he was pleased to take on, and he sees young talent all the time who could do the same with the right drive.
“We never said we’d be rock stars. We said we’d do this instead of sell life insurance or something,” Nova said. “People are often timid to pursue a musical career if it’s not made a big deal. I wish more people believed in themselves and learned what it means to connect with an audience.”
Bluestar’s show will begin at 7 p.m. tonight at Cornerstone Coffee Roasters.