Brush with genius

When Ashland resident Paul Richards and his friend, George Bowen, were kids living in Southern California, they won a contest for a garage recording on FM radio station KGB in San Diego.

"We were over the moon," Richards says. "Hearing yourself on the radio at that age is heady stuff."

Fast forward seven years, and the two boys found themselves working as songwriters and session musicians at various recording studios. Among them, The Record Plant and Laramie Sound in Los Angeles, and Fanfare Studios in San Diego.

"We did session work for Rod Stewart while Fleetwood Mac recorded "Rumors" in the next studio," Richards says. "We did a lot of commercials and played on or produced records for other artists."

Richards and Bowen soon learned that greatness is not equal to fame, Richards says.

"The recording companies were always looking for hit albums, but the studio musicians were more in tune with great, yet obscure, musicians. The session players would take elements from this hyper-creative melting pot and use them to keep their material fresh. It was a creative source that we could draw from."

Richards and Bowen — after a number of years of not playing music together — have reunited to present a theatrical, musical experience titled "The Lost Musical Genius of Saikora Rayne: The Story of the Astounding Rise and Fall of a Recording Studio Prodigy."

The show is a tribute to the world of recording studio musicians and songwriters that spanned from the British Invasion in the '60s through the '70s and early '80s. It's set for 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 7, in the Music Recital Hall on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland. Tickets cost $20 and are available in advance at Music Coop in Ashland or by emailing Proceeds will benefit SOU's Music Department.

Saikora Rayne is a fictional character, a composite of several famous and unknown geniuses who Bowen and Richards knew or worked with, and the setting is a present-day radio broadcast.

"Musicians have convened to showcase the work of this obscure musician who was ahead of his time," Richards says. "We created his songs, album covers and his character to portray his arc to the center of popular music of the day."

Richards' original music will be performed along with other songs from the era, such as Paul Simon's and Art Garfunkel's "The Boxer," James Taylor's "The Frozen Man" and Elton John's "Rocket Man." Django Reinhardt's "Tears" and George Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me," among others, also are slated for the program.

"The music will range from acoustic to driving pop and rock," Richards says. "It's not straight pop. It will have classical, country and jazz flavors."

Guitarist and pianist Richards — an Ashland resident for the past 20 years — and bass player and guitarist Bowen of the San Francisco Bay Area will be joined by Ashland musicians Craig Martin (guitar and pedal-steel), Beth Martin (violin), Michal Palzewicz (cello) and Cecily Palzewicz (violin), along with bass player Ron Sharp from Northern California and Seattle percussionist Steven Crozier.

"The recording industry has changed since then," Richards says. "It used to be run by taking risks on emerging talent. Now it's run by lawyers and accountants.

"The great thing about today is that musicians are able to record their own music, when once it took a million-dollar facility. But we don't have that magic place devoted to audio greatness."

When music went to disco, Richards and Bowen lost interest, and by that time they had wives and families. Richards worked as a subcontractor for NASA and Bowen became vice president of a large insurance company.

"We were very tight as musicians," Richards says. "We had music on the charts and got some Billboard reviews. We gained so much professionalism and expertise working in those recording studios."

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