PEDcoverFrom the April 2015 Issue of Positively Entertainment

Mike Branch Band adds keyboardist/vocalist, continues to draw fans to local area venues

By Cat McGinnis
Photo Credit: Jim Dorothy

You may know The Mike Branch Band (MBB) as Portland’s musical court jesters and the ultimate purveyors of Bombastic Jackassery™. There are those that love them or hate them for their relentless marketing, exceptionally busy schedule and seemingly endless selection of merchandise. They are highly visible. They are hard to escape. They are everywhere.

Some significant changes have occurred in the world of the MBB since the first of the year. Mike Branch is still on guitar and Rojer Blaine continues to hold down the bottom end on the bass, along with drummer Joe Fazzolari rounding out the rhythm section. But it’s the recent addition of Tom Crockwell on lead vocals and keyboards that is the big news in the MBB personnel department.

Here are a few of Branch’s thoughts about bringing Crockwell on board: “I was introduced to Tom last summer by our dear, mutual friend John Ward of Irishtown’s Sunday showcase fame. Tom was playing in the band Spellbound at the time and was interested but reluctant to leave his current situation. I continued to chip away at him for about five months, but it wasn’t until I gave him the winning numbers for the Nigerian lotto that Tom became convinced that I meant business.”

Playing a wide variety of classic rock spanning the ‘50s through today, the MBB likes to say that they are playing the soundtrack of people’s lives. The addition of Crockwell on the keyboards expands the band’s play list and opens up even greater boundaries than ever before. Branch comments, “Tom knew a bunch of our stuff but still had to learn an additional 50 or so songs,” says Mike. “After we were done catching him up to a total of about 65 songs, we’ve added another 17 new songs just since January. We have such a great, regular following that we’re always looking to add new material to keep it fresh and interesting to both us and the regulars.”

Branch continues, “All kidding aside, Tom turned out to be the perfect choice. He ‘got’ all the MBB core philosophies and concepts immediately; the FAMClub, the Jackassery™, the self-deprecating humor and the fact that we’re serious but don’t take ourselves too serious. He’s funny and witty and brings a new, high level of energy to the lineup that we absolutely love. The fact that he’s also a keyboard player was a huge plus that opens up a ton of musical options for us as well. It’s all worked out so well that we don’t have the heart to tell him he’s on permanent probationary status.”

As you can see, MBB definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously. What they are serious about is putting on the party week in and week out and constantly building the fan base. Starting with unrelenting promotion and culminating in some of the most engaging live shows in the region, MBB continues to add to their extremely loyal following. Drummer Fazzolari sums it up like this: “We came up with this FAMClub (no fans, just family) thing and we take it pretty seriously. Our base of followers is as loyal a group of people as you’d find in any family. We don’t take it for granted for one minute. Without those people coming out week after week, show after show, we don’t get to do what we love to do. We couldn’t be more grateful for each and every one of them. Make no mistake, they are family. We don’t take our good fortune for granted.”

The MBB will be the first to tell you they’re not the greatest band in the city. Even if they were, they wouldn’t say it. But, what they can lay claim to is having some of the strongest marketing in the city. It’s the marketing that initially engaged the people that then made it out to the shows. It’s the shows where the engagement process kicks into high gear in real time, face to face, both on and off stage. Branch points out, “We have people tell us all the time that they appreciate that we seem to go out of our way to make them feel welcome and part of something. For us, that’s not calculated or premeditated. It is part of paying back the gratitude we have for them. My wife Brandy, Rojer’s wife Linda, Joe’s wife Debbie and Tom’s fiancée Vicki are also a huge part of that engagement process. I say this with a smile but it’s at least half true, people come out to see the wives; the band is just background music. Our wives are the MBB’s secret sauce.”

And speaking of shows, MBB has played close to 400 shows in just the last three years alone. “We’d play more if we could,” says bassist Blaine, “but unfortunately, the nature of the market just doesn’t allow for it anymore. All four of us came from an old school background of playing five to seven nights a week back in the day.”

Currently on the MBB agenda is, not surprisingly, expanding the turf geographically and continuing to build the base following. A couple of things are still labeled “TOP SECRET & CLASSIFIED.” They are also constantly adding to the broad selection of merchandise they offer, which has become quite collectible. “We’re in a pretty luxurious position when it comes to swag production,” says Branch, “Rojer and his wife Linda have a company called Sew Fine Dezign that does custom embroidery, silk screening and are able to put the MBB brand on virtually anything. We can cook up an idea for a new T-shirt or button on a Monday and have it ready to go at shows by the weekend.”

In the meantime, you can catch MBB at a local venue in your area. And if they’re not in your area, they will be soon as you can see by glancing at this snippet from their schedule: March 20-21 at Hollywood’s Hot Rod Bar & Grill; March 27 at Spud Monkey’s; April 3-4 at the World Famous M&M Lounge; April 10-11 at the Lehrer; April 17 at The Springs; April 24 at Trails End Saloon; April 25 at Billy Blues Bar and Grill, just to name a few.

positiveent21From the July 2014 Issue of Positively Entertainment

The Mike Branch Band plays a smoldering combination of classic rock hits and bombastic blues

By Cathy Hansen

The Mike Branch Band plays a smoldering combination of classic rock hits and bombastic blues, covering the soundtrack of your life from the last five decades. From AC/DC to ZZ Top, they’ve got you covered. With over 100 dates per year, the MBB brings a tight, complete show, including sound and lights to fulfill the needs of your special event, venue or casino entertainment requirements. With extensive regional, national and international touring experience, MBB is made up of seasoned professionals that know full well how to turn on the party atmosphere that gets the dance floor jumping!

The Mike Branch Band has played together for two-and-a-half years, since roughly June, 2011. Current members of the band are Rojer Blaine (bass), Jeff Parrish (vocals), Joe Fazzolari (drums) and Mike Branch (guitar). This is the only lineup you will ever see. “We don’t use subs,” says Branch. The only way out of the band is with a toe tag on.

Blaine has literally toured much of the world, including all of Canada, Japan and South Korea, to name a few. He has been an established player on the local Portland scene most of his adult life. He is a member of a very small and unique club; he was one of the few in town on both of the KGON Homegrown albums (two different bands) back in the late ‘70s. Blaine, along with his wife Linda, also owns Sewfine Dezign, which produces all of the MBB (and many other local bands and organizations) swag and merchandise from embroidery, silk screening and virtually anything imprintable.

Branch and Parrish have played together off and on for so long they don’t even remember, but roughly since the early ‘80s or so. Parrish also sang in a variety of other notable projects over the years including Liquid Crystal, which had a respectable degree of success in the latter part of the ‘80s. He took a long step away from the spotlight for the better part of the ‘90s and didn’t start singing again until Branch approached him to sing for BABY Simone, an all original project Branch started on the East Coast and continued here in the Northwest.

Fazzolari (Fazz) has played drums in the area since he was in his late teens. He enjoyed some success in a variety of working bands over the years, only stopping for a period of time to raise his two kids. After his kids were grown with kids of their own, Fazz more recently started looking for an opportunity that would fit with his musical goals; which quite simply are to play as much as humanly possible. At over 100 dates a year, that goal makes the MBB a good fit. Fazz was the last guy to join the band, replacing the original drummer.

Branch played guitar for over 40 years in a variety of very satisfying projects from coast to coast, both covers and originals, he says, “but the MBB is the band I waited my whole life for. It fuels all of my creative passions, from playing to marketing and graphic design. Though I have done radio commercials and TV commercials and hosted my own TV show in Reno, Nev., the bottom line is I came in this world a guitar bum and that’s how I’m going out. I absolutely love guitars. Mostly Fenders and Gibsons; and mostly nice, expensive ones. Life is too short to play substandard guitars.”

Branch continues, “By local music standards, we have been fortunate in our success. We play as much or more than any band on the rock circuit and we wouldn’t have it any other way. When it comes to skill sets beyond playing music, the MBB is a fully self-contained unit. We do all our own marketing, graphic design, web design and merchandising. We tend to do more of it than most other bands and we do it well. Venues continue to like working with us because of our strong marketing, which has allowed us to develop a loyal following (The MBB FamClub: no fans, just family), which makes for good crowds and repeat bookings.”

Branch asserts, “While we love our local scene, the MBB has plans beyond just playing the clubs around the clock. We like to keep some of the more proprietary details of the game plan under wraps, but among the things to look forward to are a 2014 release of an MBB EP of original music, which will become the launch pad for some of our other plans. And, the best part of all: We’re in no hurry for any of it because we already have the best thing in town going.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Jim Dorothy

bluesnotesFrom the January 2014 edition of Blues Notes magazine:

For a Rockin’ Night of Music, Go See the Mike Branch Band

By Laurie Morrisey

It’s a new year and time to get out and listen to some music. One of the acts to get you dancing the night away is the Mike Branch Band.

Mike is a native Portlander, who wandered for a bit to Reno, NV, to work as the slot manager at Circus Circus and then to South Florida to work on an all original band called BABY Simone. He moved back to the Pacific Northwest in 1999.

He has spent approximately the last 40 years playing music professionally, having played his first professional gigs at age 13.

When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he responded, “The first thing I wanted to be when I grew up was to not grow up.  Since realizing that, I have been misspending my youth ever since…”

In addition to playing music, Mike has been doing freelance graphic design, web design and marketing for the last 20+ years.  “My company is called Media Services, I work out of my house, preferably in my jammies,” he said.

Listening to Mike play, you can hear the host of rock influences in his music. “My playing style has been most greatly influenced by Billy F Gibbons of ZZ Top, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick and local guitar legend and dear friend, Jim Mesi.  Might as well throw in some Chuck Berry, Keith Richards (Stones) and Joe Perry (Aerosmith) while we’re at it.”

Those influences have helped shape the sound of The Mike Branch Band. In one word he describes it as, “BOMBASTIC!  We are a guitar-driven, rock and roll band that specializes in a classic rock sound geared to pack dance floors. BAM!”

This completely self taught guitar player describes himself as, “a guitar junkie.  I love guitars.  I like nice ones.  Expensive ones.  And after 40+ years I can still make one sound just as bad as the next.”

And if you haven’t figured it out, yet, this guy is a character. His list of awards includes: Spelling Bee, 4th grade. (I tried to verify this fact, but was unable to find any records still in existence from that time period.)

In addition to the spelling award, The Mike Branch Band was first runner up for their now semi legendary, fully animated video of their original song “Peel the Paint” on makeastar.com. The video can be found on the band’s website, www.mikebranchband.com.

The band is currently working on material for the first Mike Branch Band release.  Slated at this time to be an EP and scheduled for release hopefully sometime in 2014.  “Our intention is to record tracks at Nettleingham Audio which is a killer studio in Vancouver, WA and have the project co-produced by Kevin Nettleingham; who’s production track record is truly one of the finest in the city and speaks for itself,” Mike said.

Mike has informally played with a veritable who’s who of the Portland music scene.  Certainly everybody of note in the rock genre and many of note in the blues genre.

When asked about his current bandmembers, he says, “I have an amazing band that, quite fortunately, shares my work ethic, goals and determination. Hard work doesn’t scare these cats.  The Mike Branch Band works more than any band on the local rock scene hands down.  In 2012 we worked approximately 80 dates.  In 2013 we worked over 100 dates.  New Years Eve 2013 was booked sine last February.  New Years Eve 2014 is already booked.  We already have close to 70 dates on our 2014 calendar and I fully expect that number to go over 100 before we’re done with the year.  My band mates are warriors!!”

The Mike Branch Band includes:

Lead Vocals: Jeffrey Parrish.  “Jeff and I have played together off and on for somewhere around 30 or so years. He is a seasoned, veteran front man.”

Bass Guitar, Lead & Backing Vocals: Rojer Blaine. “Rojer has been with us for about 3 years now.  He has played in a number of local bands over the years and is exceptionally well respected.  He is the only musician in the city who has the distinction of having played on both KGON Homegrown albums back in the 70’s.  Rojer has toured the world including Canada, South Korea and Japan.”

Drums: Joe Fazzolari. “Joe is the new guy.  He’s a left handed drummer, which we have decided looks strangely weird and cool at the same time. Joe is officially with us for the long haul/duration since death is the only legitimate way out of the Mike Branch Band.”

“We are the only band in the city that travels with a dedicated light man (Lloyd Lee) and sound man (Doug McKenzie, formerly of Johnny Limbo fame among others) for EVERY show we do, large or small. Big club, little club; doesn’t matter, we take the boys with us. It guarantees a quality control at shows that is tough to beat. It costs us more money but is worth every penny and remains yet another thing that distinguishes us from the crowd,” Mike said.

“I am blessed to count myself as a member and be recognized as a huge supporter of the ENTIRE local music community; both musicians and venues. I enjoy promoting my friends right along with the Mike Branch Band.  I think it makes for a healthier music community and is in turn good for all of us. If venues do well, if my friends do well, then we all do well and the Mike Branch Band does well.  I like to think of the scene in its entirety as opposed to just my little slice of it. I get requests on a regular basis to consult with my peers on the subject of marketing and do so frequently.”

“I believe that much of our success comes down to marketing.  The Mike Branch Band is considered to have the best marketing in the city hands down.  This isn’t us saying it, this is what we hear from our peers and business associates,” Mike said.

“I am a second generation advertising brat.  My father had the largest ad agency in Portland for over 40 years.  I inherited his PT Barnum gene. Along with the graphic and web design skills and a reasonably savvy attack in the social media arena, we have been able to produce a large and loyal following that we refer to as the ‘FamClub—no fans, just family.’  We are proud of our marketing efforts and believe we are raising the promotional bar on the local scene.  We believe this will strengthen the entire scene.”

“A companion to our marketing efforts that allows us to be leaders in certain areas of promotion is our merchandising.  We have produced one of the largest merchandise catalogs in the city.  Everything from buttons, bumper stickers, key chains, custom jewelry, mugs and a huge variety of t-shirts and custom apparel, all heavily branded with the iconic Mike Branch Band logo.  When it comes to marketing, branding is king and we do it well.  We are able to do our swag because Rojer (the bass player) and his wife Linda do silk screening, embroidery and custom ad specialties through their company, Sew Fine Dezign.  If you can print on it, they can produce it.”

But aside from the marketing, promotions, etc., Mike knows what truly keeps the fans coming, the music. “Finally and maybe most importantly, we are sincerely humbled with gratitude by our growing success and consider ourselves extremely fortunate to be able to do what we love to do.  We never take that gift for granted.”

Visit the band’s website at www.mikebranchband.com for information about upcoming shows and to purchase some of the swag.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jim Dorothy

positivelyFrom the August 2011 edition of Positively Entertainment magazine:

Mike Branch Band delivers full-throttle performance loaded with entertainment
MBB Mike Branch Band – “WANTED”

Rewind to New Years Eve week, 2010. This writer placed a hurried ad on Facebook to book a last-minute gig requiring a “New-Years-Eve-Party band kinda attitude.” Within five minutes, a message was sent stating, “You have found the band.” It was Mike Branch! Not knowing him at all, a chance meeting turned into a business friendship riddled with respect and lots of laughter. In this case, it was precise timing and a verbal commitment to the cause that sealed the deal. In no time, this writer told Branch, “Let’s rock!” and “You are hired!” With no hesitation, no drama, Mike Branch and his band now have a home with GC PRODUCTIONS.

Sharing common interests in the non-stop creation of media, graphics, marketing plans and, oh, yes – the music – Mike Branch delivers 100% every time he takes the stage. This is a tireless bandleader and loyal business partner with the ability to package his product, sell it and deliver it every single night; he makes the band performances scream, “Look out, the paint is coming off the walls!”

Branch’s performance style runs full-throttle, open with both barrels loaded and it is non-stop entertainment. This writer notes that although he did not shoot the sheriff, when first viewing Branch’s now über-famous logo, the “circle star,” visions of Dirty Harry came to mind, federal marshal by day and rock star by night. There are numerous adjectives to describe Branch – bandleader, bombastic buffoon and bastion of all things bodacious. He screams rock confidence in his “git-’er-done“ style and knows his way around his personal collection of guitars like old friends who expect only a good time, every time. This is Mike Branch.

In his own words, Branch, the professional musician, has been “playing guitar for 40 years. I can still make one sound just as awful as the next. My mom bought me a Learn to Play Guitar in 30 Minutes book and, by gum, I was playing within 20 minutes or so. Learned to play by ear, slowing records down by putting quarters on the record needle just like everybody else of my era. No Internet. No YouTube lessons. No Tab. Just my trusty hear bones.”

Branch “bummed around” in a number of NW bands over the years; the “workingist” of them was a band called Rooster and one called The Take. Rooster started as an all-original project, then morphed into playing both original and cover tunes. The Take was a straight cover band, 250-plus songs and amazing five-piece harmonies. That band played a lot and made a ton of money.

During other chapters of his life, Branch took to radio spots and TV commercials and hosted his own TV show when living in Reno, Nevada. He was also the manager of the slot department at Circus Circus in Reno for several years, when he thought a straight job might be the thing to try.

When his daughter Simone was born, Branch moved from Reno to South Florida, where he started an all-original band called Baby Simone with a notable degree of success. They played a really nice, high-end club circuit where they were treated like rock stars every night. That band ended up moving back to the Northwest with Branch in 1999; he only finally put it in mothballs in the last year or so to start the Mike Branch Band (MBB).

Originally scheduled to record their first CD this summer, MBB has now pushed that date back to concentrate on writing, live shows and ironing out some wrinkles in the line-up. The Mike Branch Band hopes to get in the studio by this fall at the latest and have a full-length release ready by the holidays.

The Mike Branch Band’s recognizable logo, a Facebook listing and good old word-of-mouth have been their most successful weapons of choice in promoting the band. They’ve been lucky; people like the band. Their mix of heavier blues along with great classic rock covers has the ability to please a large demographic. Their Facebook strategy has allowed them to reach out and touch an incredible amount of people that would otherwise be out of reach. “We’ve also had great success and response to our ‘Worldwide 1-inch Button’ campaign. We have mailed those pesky, but cute-as-hell little buttons all over the USA, Canada and even as far as South Africa. People love ‘em.”

The buttons are a great and inexpensive little promo tool for keeping awareness alive. They’ve also littered the globe with MBB T-shirts with great response. The band members consider themselves extremely fortunate due to the relationships forged within Portland’s truly amazing music community. Both the blues cats and rock crowd have been very accepting of these rocker dudes. Portland is loaded with incredible talent and Branch is thrilled to call them friends.

On a personal note, Branch has this to say: “Peter Phreakin’ Pan! I may grow old, but I refuse to grow up. I am the proudest parent on the planet and dad to my amazing 19-year old daughter, Simone. I’m in a very supportive relationship with Brandy Whitney, without whom none of my antics would be possible. Most musicians have an amazing someone behind them. Brandy is my someone. Two dogs. Both cute but stupid. To enjoy free time…wait, no such thing as free time! I am the classic ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ guy.”

The MBB consists of Mike Branch, Jeff Parrish, Rojer Blaine, Dennis Elmer and Ed Neumann, who currently works the keyboards for the band.

Parrish is the lead vocalist. He and Branch have played together off and on for close to 30 years. Parrish has a two-and-a-half octave vocal range and sings from a diverse catalog of material. He had a certain degree of local notoriety in the ’80s with a band called Liquid Crystal.

Blaine plays bass for MBB. He is a veteran of the Northwest and Canadian music scenes for many years and had a fair degree of success with Doogie and The Brats (along with bandmate Frank Murray). Blaine is new to the MBB and Branch says they couldn’t be happier to have him.

Elmer mans the beat as drummer. He and Branch have also played together for close to 30 years; Elmer was the drummer in the band Rooster. He is currently on “sub” status with the band and his main project is local band St. James Gate.

While not a permanent member of the band, Neumann plays extensively with the group while his regular slot as keyboardist for the Jim Mesi Band is on break. Branch shares his opinion that Neumann is a pure joy to work with, probably the most talented keyboard player in the region and has won numerous Muddy Awards for his outstanding musical work in the community. Musically, Neumann is always the 800-pound gorilla in any room.

Branch claims three top guitar heroes have influenced his style: Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick and local legend and personal friend, Jim Mesi. ZZ Top is a major influence in his music; Branch plays red-hot rock, boogie and blues. The band’s enduring appeal owes much to their mastery of the attitude and feeling that “this is everyone’s party.”

From the beginning, Mike Branch seems to have developed a hard-rocking, power-approach to his style; he cultivates new audiences with superior musicianship as well as attitude, style and some sweet licks, accompanied by a flashing smile and playful drop of the shades. He’s loose, funny, sometimes serious, but sophisticated. He thrives on taking his audience for a “hold-on, the-ride-has-just-begun” kind of trip. Go make his day and experience the Mike Branch Band.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jim Dorothy

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