Michele D'amour and the Love Dealers Arise from Lost Nights at the Leopard Lounge

For every band that headlines Lollapalooza, Burning Man or Coachella, there's more relegated to the side stages and tents. And for every festival, there are those groups that might make mention on the bill, plus those just working to get that kind of notice.

The hardworking band is the one that plays the bars, vineyards, breweries and outdoor events, and its members aren't afraid to show up at open mics or jam sessions, despite lack of pay. That sometimes is how bands get made.Michele D'amour and the Love Dealers Arise from Lost Nights at the Leopard Lounge

Such a lineup comes out of the Seattle area, where Michele D'amour and the Love Dealers are to be found. Formed in 2011, they came about through those impromptu plays. "At the time," D'amour recalls, "I was singing in local blues jams, and the Seattle area has a plethora of those. My friend Rick Bowen approached me after getting to know me and said, 'You know, you should really have your own band.' To which I responded, 'Okay, but you have to be the drummer.'"

D'amour then recruited Patrick McDanel to play bass, "because I knew that he worked well with Rick, and the two would lock in together really well, and that Patrick would bring that funkiness that I wanted for the sound."

Sin Comin' On was the band's debut in 2014, followed by 2015's Ante Up. The Love Dealers have returned in 2017 with Lost Nights at the Leopard Lounge. From the start of "No Good," there is a serious groove, with roots in the blues and R&B. Ryan Higgins' lead guitar is stinging and distinctive, and the foursome cooks through D'amour originals that include "Lost My Mojo" and "Last Man Standing." Ronnie Bishop has replaced Bowen full time on drums, (Bowen did play on several of the tracks) and the reception has gone beyond the Pacific Northwest.

"It has just amazed us all," D'amour says. "I'll buy a CD, and typically I like maybe three tracks from it, or maybe five. Our past CDs we would get airplay for a few of the tunes; all twelve of the songs from Lost Nights... are getting airplay, both terrestrial or Internet Radio, including Sirius/XM's Bluesville."

And what of that title? "I liked the alliteration in the name Leopard Lounge," D'amour replies. "There are some Leopard Lounges throughout the world, certainly in the US. Where that song came from was, the band sort of swapping stories about some of the more colorful places we've played, the kinds of venues that have a storied past: where perhaps the venue a hundred or more years ago was a brothel, and then maybe it was a jail at one point, a dancehall, a disco in the seventies. And then you go to these places and kind of see that history, and the clientele have that kind of checkered past as well, and it's fascinating people watching. And so, we started swapping stories--every character, the pool shark, the mobster, those are characters we've encountered at least once, probably more than once. The stories in that song are all real, but we combined them into this once fictitious place."

Michele D'amour and the Love Dealers Arise from Lost Nights at the Leopard Lounge
Michele D'amour

When looking back at the previous recordings, D'amour considers the growth with Leopard Lounge. "I would say the songwriting is stronger," she says, "and this particular incarnation of the band I am really enjoying working with. I've always approached by band as being like family; so, we start off when we're going to rehearse with dinner, and then we rehearse or work on new material, and I just think the camaraderie between the members of the band is really coming through."

Seattle's rich musical history is also noted. "People like Jimi Hendrix came from Seattle," D'amour reminds us, "and there is a very lively blues scene. Quincy Jones is also a Seattleite. Just about any weeknight you can find a jam within about a half an hour of where you live, probably more than one.

'You get such great experience working with all sorts of different people, levels of musicianship. It's great training, especially for a bandleader to really own that song, count it off and know what key it's in, and be able to describe to the bass player and drummer what the groove is."

D'amour's own musical background was rooted deep in her family, and encouraged. "My dad was an incredible fan of all kinds of music," remembers. "He had an extensive and eclectic collection, and I do mean vinyl. Everything from jazz, blues, reggae, the Rat Pack, show tunes, and he also liked some country; he liked Roger Miller and Willie Nelson. Those latter two are excellent lyricists, and so I was exposed to that."Michele D'amour and the Love Dealers Arise from Lost Nights at the Leopard Lounge

Then there was telling moment when Michele's parents had to know what they had on their hands: "Family legend has it when I was about five, five and a half," D'amour recalls with humor, "I hopped up at the piano bench and started playing the theme song from 'All in the Family' by ear."

'Sometime later when I was about six I was very upset with my mother, I remember going to my room, tearing off a piece of drawing paper grabbing a purple colored drawing pencil and writing a song called my mom is so mean, and it went a little like 'Mannish Boy...'"

D'amour sings for me a part of it with laughter to follow. "We sometimes perform a snippet of that," she says. "I used to get in trouble with my mother for singing songs at an early age that she thought were inappropriate, but she would be amused at the same time."

Writing of songs took "a left turn," as D'amour continued, into poetry. She studied under Nelson Bentley, who taught at the University of Washington in Seattle, (his works include The Flying Oyster: The Collected Comic Apocalypses, Bellowing Ark Press).

"He (Bentley) valued being a teacher more than anything," D'amour recalled, "and was so nurturing. (He) taught about imagery, and making the story come alive, but also writing with meter."

'I was a published poet when I was in college," D'amour continued, "but once I turned to writing songs, the discipline was there. I've gotten more adventurous in terms of mixing up rhythms, and just getting a little bit more experimental while being firmly rooted in the blues tradition."

D'amour has also paid attention to other writers, those from her past and present. "I loved Roger Miller and his sense of lyrics," D'amour says, "and even when he is writing something incredibly sad, there's a sense of humor to it. I grew up with a lot of that, and I will chuckle over a good lyric. I am enjoying Jason Ricci's CD right now, and some of the stuff he's doing is cracking me up!"

When it comes to new generations of artists carrying the battle flag for the blues, D'amour sees the changes, but these are not just in personnel and the age of those playing it. "I think I'm too old to be in the new generation," she says with a laugh. "I do see some amazing players in their twenties and thirties who are picking up the blues. It isn't easy to be a full-time musician; I have a day job, but it affords me a lot of flexibility."

D'amour see another issue, and it is partly economics: "I think this affects all genres right now," she says, "but what happens is, you've got these bars, and they want to have live music. So they get these bands comprised of people who work at a software company or whatever the big employer is regionally, and those guys want to play rock star for the night. Their day job is funding their work, they equipment, and so they'll play for nothing or for very little. The bar owner doesn't necessarily have enough discernment to tell between professionals and somebody who is dabbling. They'd rather book that band they don't have to pay. And when a professional band comes in, there's sticker shock. The other advantage, of course, is that, if you have a day job, you have coworkers and friends that will find it amusing to go out to see you play rock star. A lot of my friends are musicians, so they have their own gigs, and there's only so many gigs my family will come to because they do other things to do as well, so you have to work on building a following. That's tough to do; you have to find your niche, your people who get what you are trying to do."

As for the future of the music, D'amour touches on how the blues especially has changed, but she does not think it's all bad. "I see it more as just that there's such a richness to the blues," she explains. "Blues-rock, soul blues, and years ago it would have been Chicago blues, Memphis blues, Piedmont, and now people stratify it even more. Then there are the blues purists who say blues-rock isn't blues. There are certain artists that people absolutely will not play who are more in the blues-rock genre. We get stratified typically into contemporary blues which I take to mean and this is based on what I've read, that it means that we are pushing the genre a bit, we are incorporating other elements perhaps from jazz, which is certainly the case for us, or rock into the blues, but it's still very much in the tradition."Michele D'amour and the Love Dealers Arise from Lost Nights at the Leopard Lounge

This, D'amour believes, with a firmness as solid as her experience: "I don't see any other genre that does not progress. Jazz progresses, hip-hop progresses, rock progresses, why shouldn't blues as well...if we were all playing stuff that sounds like Muddy Waters or like Howlin' Wolf's written it, what would be the point?"

(The Love Dealers are on the road this fall, hitting familiar Seattle-area haunts in Olympia, Everett, and Townsend. They're also making inroads into California, with a string of shows through September, and will be in Oldtown, Idaho in late October.)

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(Photos by Denise Hathaway)

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