Q&A: King Louie

King Louie and LaRhonda Steele
King Louie took time out of his busy schedule to participate in a Q&A interview with show producer Don Lucoff ahead of his highly anticipated Washington Park summer concert on Thursday, August 1. King Louie talks about his new album, longtime musical relationship with LaRhonda Steele and recent health scare.
Q: Louis, You are arguably the most in-demand organist in Portland, performing in numerous settings. Is this your first time playing in Washington Park? Its expansive outdoor location in the southwest hills overlooking downtown is certainly a jewel.
A: I’ve actually played in Washington Park several times over the years in various bands I’ve played in, including with Paul deLay, Mel Brown, Sweet Baby James and Soul Vaccination, as I recall. It certainly IS a gorgeous setting to play in, and the audiences always have a great time.
Q: Working with LaRhonda Steele has been one of your special longstanding collaborations. Elaborate on the uniqueness of her singing style and having a vocalist perform with your working group?
A: I’m kind of fortunate in that, unlike some instrumentalists, I truly love working with vocalists—if they’re soulful, that is. And LaRhonda is VERY soulful.  We’ve played together quite a bit over the years, most frequently since releasing our CD, Rock Me Baby, in 1996. That was a quicky project, but sometimes that’s a good thing, and DownBeat made it one of their “Best Albums of the Year” in 1997. LaRhonda is very versatile, but it is her gospel spirit that really “scratches my itch”: that and her deep, rich tone.
Q: I understand you have a new album, will you be featuring some of that material? Anything you want to add about the recording and the process of bringing it to market?
A: Yes, we’ll be playing several tunes from the King Louie Organ Trio’s new all-original album, It’s About Time. The title reflects how the CD came about: my wife & manager Tracy Turner-Pain got tired of fans asking where they could buy those catchy instrumentals we’d play between the vocal tunes!
Budget was really the issue that held us up. I was certainly excited about the idea of recording our trio (featuring Renato Caranto, sax, and Edwin Coleman III, drums). We just have wonderful chemistry and spontaneity when we play together. Then we got offered a great deal to record at a brand new studio, Jim Hage’s Long Play Recording—tracking on analog tape, with no editing. That process really captured our unique sound and style.
Q: You recently had a health scare but made a remarkable recovery in a short amount of time. Your resilience is an understatement.
A: Well, a lot of the credit for that goes to the cardiac team at Peace Health in Vancouver. They were able to unblock a blocked artery using two stents—with no need to open up my chest. I’m still not 100%; I did suffer a “widow maker” heart attack. But thanks to my wife Tracy’s urging and fast driving, I made it to the hospital in time to survive and to avoid too much heart damage.
I’m in cardiac rehab three days a week now and eating much more healthy. And I’m gradually ramping up my gigging schedule. More than ever, I appreciate the healing power of music and the opportunity to share that with audiences and my bandmates.