Dishing up tasty tunes

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer July 31, 2013 10:42 am

The Homemade Jam Band formed in the spring of 2010. From left, are Mike Ragsdale, Laura Skovlin, Caleb Samples,  accordion player Lorraine Ragsdale, Ryya Fluit, Sandi Richerson and Larry Richerson. (Courtesy photo)
The Homemade Jam Band formed in the spring of 2010. From left, are Mike Ragsdale, Laura Skovlin, Caleb Samples, accordion player Lorraine Ragsdale, Ryya Fluit, Sandi Richerson and Larry Richerson. (Courtesy photo)

No, their most popular song is not called “Peanut Butter.” But Homemade Jam Band of Joseph does serve up tasty music. 

The Homemade Jam Band first formed in the spring of 2010. When Sandi and Larry Richerson, Sandi’s mom, Lorraine, and her husband, Mike Ragsdale, had moved to Joseph, they played music together often. Soon, they asked other musicians to join the fun. They teamed up with Laura Skovlin, Caleb Samples and Ryya Fluit.

Not much later, they made their debut as the band they are today. 

They continued practicing weekly. Soon they were playing at many other community events: farmers’ markets, local pubs, art events, old-time dances and street fairs. 

“Playing with Homemade Jam is immensely rewarding,” Sandi Richerson said. “With all the different instruments, different personalities and technical challenges we face with a seven-piece band, it seems that there are always new issues. But working through them together, working through a song together and finally producing that sound we’re striving for, is wonderful.”

In fall 2012, the band members decided to make their own CD. They contacted Bob Web, a sound and recording engineer in Enterprise, and began recording. The result, “First Batch,” was featured at a CD Release party at Josephy Center June 15.

The old-timey, familiar tunes have proven popular in Wallowa County and fit well with the rural lifestyle of the area. Homemade Jam’s diverse blend of instruments and vocals is brought to life in “First Batch.”

The band is unconventional. Sandi Richerson plays the autoharp, a 36-stringed instrument from the late 1800s, seldom seen in contemporary bands. In 1995, after taking a break from music for several years to pursue a career, she bought the autoharp and got hooked. The autoharp adds a rich, old-time folk
sound to the complex blend of instruments. 

“Playing chords on the autoharp is easy, but learning to pick out melodies on it was a bit more challenging,” Sandi said. “With 36 strings, finding the right notes for a tune definitely took some practice. The autoharp has its limitations, too. There are only so many chord bars on an autoharp, so playing a song in a different key often requires switching to another autoharp with a completely different chord setup.”

Sandi started out playing the piano. Later, she added saxophone, clarinet and flute to her repertoire. As if that’s not enough, lately she has added the mandolin, fiddle and djembe drum to the instruments she is learning to play.

Larry Richerson, the rhythm guitar player, keeps the band on a steady track. Larry had no musical background when growing up. Still, after Sandi bought him a guitar, he soon realized playing would be a lot of fun.

Skovlin, the banjo player, grew up in La Grande, singing along with her mom playing folk songs on the guitar. In her 20s, Skovlin became hooked on folk and traditional music while attending old-time community dances. She soon bought her first resonator-back banjo at a yard sale, but wanted a more old-timey sound.

Her husband had a custom open-backed clawhammer-style banjo made for her. For the next 15 years, though, it mostly sat in the case, while she raised their children. 

Fast forward to two years ago, when she heard about a local event looking for folk musicians. She has been playing ever since.

Mike Ragsdale, the vocalist and lead guitar player, started playing the guitar when young and he has always loved to sing. Many of his family — his grandpa, uncles and dad — played in bands, so it was natural that Ragsdale had interest in playing the guitar. Ragsdale also played the trumpet in school and has tried his hand at the bass. But the guitar is his favorite.

Samples, a multi-talented musician, plays the fiddle, mandolin and bass on the CD. Samples also sings lead and harmony, and is a gifted songwriter. One of his songs, “Untouched Ground,” appears on the CD.

Samples began playing as a kid. He’d go to fiddle shows and contests almost every summer weekend. He comes from a musically talented family in Joseph, and with compulsive habits toward music brought much musical expertise to the band.

Fluit, Homemade Jam’s fiddle player, started playing about 12 years ago. Fluit loves playing for fun and wants to learn to play more instruments. She played with The Prairie Creek Girls for a few years and learns songs quickly.

Lorraine Ragsdale, Sandi’s mom and Homemade Jam’s accordion player, started playing the piano at 4 years old in 1937. Music was always a focal point of the family. Lorraine’s mother taught piano lessons, played the cello in the Walla Walla Symphony Orchestra and had a small orchestra of her own. Her dad played bass fiddle, and her sister played the violin and flute. 

In the late 1940s, Lorraine started playing the accordion, and later added bass fiddle. 

She has played with several bands, mostly Western, playing bass, accordion or piano, and even played in a Dixieland jazz band. Lorraine has sampled many other instruments, including the guitar and autoharp. The accordion, a complicated instrument, with its big, full sound, compliments the mix of stringed instruments and adds to Homemade Jam’s flavor.

“We are so fortunate to have a band with such dedicated people who are willing to come to practice every week and put the time and effort in to make it all work,” Sandi Richerson said. “We all have lives and it’s not always easy to give our time to the band, but it sure is fun and well worth it.”