Tidings Cafe: Rhythm Kings

David Pinsky and his Rhythm Kings enter the Ashland Daily Tidings newsroom quietly and begin setting up their equipment as they have done one hundred times before. No, Pinsky and his Rhythm Kings (consisting of Tom Stamper on drums, Gary Halliburton on piano, and Mark Cunningham on bass) have not played the Tidings Café before, but they have played a gig together a time or two in the last twenty years.

This veteran Blues quartet is like a well-oiled machine. Pinsky throws out a song title, Stamper starts the band off with the loud rocking rhythm on the snare drum and the whole quartet has already launched into a song that takes you along with it just as if you were floating along the great and wide Mississippi.

This band has had career highlights opening for BB King, Ray Charles and Tower of Power at the Britt Festival in Jacksonville, but a pilgrimage to the Mississippi Delta three years ago made such an impression on Pinsky and his band that they speak about it as if it were yesterday.

"It changed the way we approached the music because we went to the roots, we stood at the crossroads," said Pinsky.

In June of 2008 Pinsky organized a second trip to the South for his band, where they rubbed shoulders with other blues musicians. The group traveled through Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi.

"To a blues musician who has responded to the blues our whole lives, that's like going to Mecca", said Stamper.

In Helena, Ark., the Rhythm Kings competed in the King Biscuit Blues festival, taking third place out of 150 bands.

"We were the only non-southerners there," Pinsky said. "We played great."

For the newest Rhythm King, Gary Halliburton, who was born in Tennessee but had not returned since he was a five-year-old boy, the trip brought him closer to his own roots.

"Going back was such a pilgrimage, because playing piano is one of the things that keep me in touch with my dad," said Halliburton.

The Rhythm Kings were treated so well in the Southern part of the country, they had second thoughts about living in their own Southern part of Oregon.

"They are trying to lift you up, they are thanking you, and treating you with respect and dignity, and we were thinking, this makes it real tempting to get out of Ashland," said Stamper, "because in Ashland you're taken for granted most of the time anyway."

Yep, sounds like the blues. But regular local gigs feed the Rhythm Kings' fire.

"Playing gigs like we do at the first weekend of every month in Jacksonville satisfies the jones of playing. It would be nice if we played for thousands of people, but you really have to bust ass, and sell your soul a little bit," said Pinsky.

As the Rhythm Kings rock the Tidings afternoon crew with an original song called 'Mo Money' Pinsky stops towards the end of the song to address President Obama and the audience in an oration not unlike a southern preacher man. A silent "Amen" can be seen from the Rhythm Kings as they smile and nod.

With Pinsky always on vocals, guitar and harmonica, many different people have come to include the Rhythm Kings over the years.

"We're lucky to have each other, the beauty of this Rhythm King community, and it goes way back 20 years with maybe 40 or 50 different players or something, some still around, some passed on," said Pinsky.

True, though Rhythm Kings may come and go, one thing is for sure, the blues will never die as long as true blues men like David Pinsky and his Rhythm Kings are still playing and recording as passionately as ever.

"I've been attracted to the blues and always have been, because you can spot a phony a mile away. You cannot play the blues unless you really are feeling it. In every night club all over America you will get one thousand phonies to one genuine blues player," said Stamper. "We're lucky to be playing with a genuine blues player," he added pointing at Pinsky.

As the Rhythm Kings wrap up their performance at the Tidings Café, they quietly take down their equipment and already are working out the details of their performances coming up this weekend.

"What I hope, and of course these guys are always included," said Pinsky, "is that we can make another good recording that someone, more than just the regional people, will listen to it and that we'll get lucky."

David Pinsky and his Rhythm Kings are playing the Beacon Hill Blues Festival this Saturday July 10. More information can be found at www.ashlandblues.org.

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