Bits 'n' Pieces: Father, son share Steel and Velvet

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Some bands bond like family. Steel and Velvet is family.

Comprised of 84-year-old bassist Lowell Neil; his son, guitarist Kevin Neil; and drummer Denny Wall, Steel and Velvet plays old-fashioned music fit for dancing every Wednesday at the Vancouver Elks Lodge.

Lowell has performed regular gigs in the area for many decades. He was joined by his son in the last few years after his previous guitarist and friend, Dennis Doyle, had to hang up his ax after suffering serious health problems. Kevin has devoted much of his life to mastering his instrument, having played with a number of local bands and also the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra.

"He is — of course you have to assume I'm somewhat biased — a great player," Lowell said. "One of the best I've heard."

Through their years jamming together, the father and son have found a musical harmony, which makes it a never-ending joy to take the stage, Lowell said. The musician said he no longer has time to deal with troublesome bandmates, preferring to share his passion with those closest to him.

"You kind of know what everybody is going to do and when they are going to do it. It's quite comfortable," Lowell said of playing with his current lineup. "If I had to play with some of the players I played with early on, I wouldn't be playing."

Get the audience moving

Steel and Velvet typically performs for Lowell's age group, preferring to give the older crowd tunes that resonate with them: some old country, a mix of rhythm and blues standards, the occasional blast of fiery rock 'n' roll.

Whether the song is "Route 66" or "Kansas City" there's an overarching goal to Steel and Velvet's rotating set list: get the audience up on their feet and ready to boogie down.

"We're playing for people who are what we might call 'elderly,'" Lowell said. But their advanced ages doesn't do much to slow them down. "Many will come in with a cane and throw it down and dance."

The band's name comes from the 1972 book, "Man of Steel and Velvet: A Guide to Masculine Development," which has a place on Lowell's shelf, though he acknowledges some of its male-focused lessons about family dynamics aren't entirely in keeping with the modern age.

But the main message behind the book -- that an ideal man is a mix of tough steel and silky velvet -- is also the foundation of Steel and Velvet's song choices.

They play some harder-edged numbers, but find balance with a solid dose of mushy love ballads.

"Rarely do you find that in a man," Lowell said.

Steel and Velvet typically plays from 7 to 10 p.m. on Wednesdays at the Vancouver Elks Lodge, 11605 S.E. McGillivray Blvd. The cost is $5.

— Stover E. Harger III

Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.