Bits 'n' Pieces: Guitarists Brooks and John split licks

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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Some guitarists play to impress other guitarists. Not Brooks and John — although they're capable of being mighty impressive.

"Right off the bat, we said, with the amount of time and work this takes, let's make it count. Instead of inbred guitar player music, let's take songs that people know — but we'll do them in a fresh way," John Standefer said. The ironic result, he added, is that "Even guitar players are flipping over it. We were pretty much the belles of the ball" at this summer's Chet Atkins Appreciation Society conference in Nashville.

It was at the previous summer's gathering of fingerstyle guitar players and worshippers that Standefer, a nationally known fingerstylist himself, first ran across Brooks Robertson, who was all of 22 years old and already a "guitarist extraordinaire," Standefer said. "He's got hands like fire."

Standefer learned that Robertson had just moved to Portland, and invited him up to Vancouver for a friendly round of casual jamming. But it blew past casual almost immediately, he said.

"It was like a breath of fresh air. The very first thing, we were playing these harmony lines, weaving parts in and out of each other right away," he said. A new musical partnership was born that day.

"It's not like I'm the mentor and he's the student," Standefer added. Rather, each contributor brings something to the stew. Standefer, 62, said he's a long-standing fan of "smooth, pretty melodies and cool chords," while his new partner, now 23, is a devotee of the "funky chicken pickin'" of country guitarists like Atkins and the late Eugene resident Buster B. Jones.

Put those styles together, Standefer said, and it's "mutual discovery all the way."

It's time for you to join in the discovery. The duo has recorded a CD and is eager to debut it at Washougal's Washburn Performing Arts Center. The album is called "We Came to Play" and it includes a broad range of material, from James Taylor to George Gershwin and Cyndi Lauper to "The Wizard of Oz." "It's a broad, diverse pile of music but the one thing it all has in common is strong, classic melodies," Standefer said.

Brooks and John will play at 7 p.m. Oct. 5 at the Washburn, 1201 39th St. in Washougal. Tickets are $15 in advance -- through the website http://www.johnstandefer.com — or $17 at the door. If you can't make it to the show, check out Brooks and John's version of "Summertime" on YouTube at http://youtu.be/t6q_b6mg4ZE.

Watch out as well for the unveiling of a new website, brooksandjohn.com, and for more Brooks and John concerts in the future. Standefer said he's hoping to lift the duo out of bars and small venues and land in some serious concert halls.

After 50 years playing music, Standefer is totally excited. "I wake up every day anxious to work out the next tune and take the next step toward a successful career," he said.

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