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Ben Rice and the ILLamatics at Club 66

Ben Rice and his band have an eclectic repertoire to share
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Ben Rice’s live shows are a nonstop, mixed bag of blues, rock, soul and punk-infused blues. Photo courtesy of Ben Rice
 Posted: 2:00 AM October 31, 2013

Blues artist Ben Rice and his band — bassist Tommy Rice and drummer Ryan Rustrum — billed their gigs under a lot of different monikers before settling on the ILLamatics. A play on Willamette Valley, perhaps?

Rice, who is based in Newberg, and the other members, based in Portland, say the band just wants to stand out.

Its live shows are a nonstop, mixed bag of blues, rock, soul and punk-infused blues.

If you go

Who: Ben Rice the ILLamatics

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1

Where: Club 66, 1951 Highway 66, Ashland

Cover: $5

Call: 541-450-2656

"We call it roots, rhythm and groove," Rice says during a telephone interview. "It's an eclectic mix. I'm a big blues fan, and I love jazz. I'll compose a song in either of those styles and present it to the band, and they'll arrange it in their collective styles. Ryan is a classic rock fan, and Tommy is a punk rock fan.

"We like to play a little bit of everything at our shows," he says. "We keep the sets dynamic with maybe a fast Texas swing, then a hard-rockin' thing, then something more like an Al Green soul ballad and then a jump blues. The songs are back to back and completely different in their feel."

Rice — electric guitar, lap steel, cigar box guitar and vocals — and his band will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1, at Club 66, 1951 Highway 66, Ashland. The cover for the show is $5. Call 541-450-2656.

The show will feature sax player and Grants Pass music teacher Jim Vermilya, along with a second bassist, Jonathan Letts. Vermilya also plays harmonica.

The 25-year-old Rice has played music since he was 12. His sixth album, "Pour Me Some Whiskey," was released in 2011, and is a testament to his favorite styles of blues. The album features such songs as the hard-rocking "Wreck on You" that sounds as though Johnny Cash met up with Motorhead, along with "Chop You Up," a straight-ahead West Coast-style jump blues, "Don't Worry Mama," a ballad inspired by the late blues guitarist and singer Reverend Gary Davis, and "I Know You Love Me," styled after traditional Memphis soul.

"The first thing I listened to this morning was music by Al Green," he says. "I love B.B. King, of course, and Sam Cooke."

Rice and the ILLamatics will represent the Cascade Blues Society at the International Blues Challenge early next year in Memphis, Tenn. Rice also competed in 2007 at the IBC.

"A lot of Oregon blues artists are going to Memphis this year," he says.

Rogue Valley steel guitarist Pete Herzog and blues band In the Pocket were nominated by the Ashland Blues Society, and David Pinsky and Phil Newton were nominated as a duo by the Rainy Day Blues Society based in Eugene.

The ILLamatics earned its nomination with a July performance at the Waterfront Blues Festival in downtown Portland.

"Cascade Blues Society also nominated us for performance of the year for that show," Rice says. "We'll know if we won that one in November."

Rice says he's excited about returning to the IBC because this time he is of drinking age. "I will be able to get into the bars where a lot of the bands are competing."

Ben Rice and the ILLamatics, along with Vermilya, also will play from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, at 2Hawk Winery, 2335 N. Phoenix Road, Medford. Admission is free. Call 541-779-9463.

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