Jeff Dodge is too busy for fame. He’s multitalented. He knows music, videography, sound engineering, computers and history. With the latest technology he streams a monthly, live TV show from his home office. He makes movies, short films, music videos, produces bands and he recently recorded a 33 song triple concept album. There are more projects in the wings. Jeff’s always up to something.
I’ve written other posts about him but I couldn’t let this significant birthday go without acknowledging his work. Participating in his show, The Peasant Revolution Band Variety Hour, gives me an opportunity to experience any number of interesting Portland characters, musicians and performers. I only have to leave the house once a month for this. Hanging out with Jeff means a whirlwind of ideas, costumes, fun, craziness and the occasional technical difficulty. The suits he wears as the show’s host are hilarious. It’s great to know someone with so much going on. I contribute what I can and the rest of the time I live vicariously through his exploits and I don’t end up exhausted.
After a half century, I am curious about what keeps Jeff going. I thought it would be fun to see where he’s been and hear tales from his associates. I started with members of the Peasant Revolution Band who appear as the house band on the show. I didn’t know how Jeff put the band together. Curtis Worsely, aka The Commander, explained that Jeff “was the one who gave me my name. That was a big leg up in my career.” They’ve had an on and off again musical relationship that goes back 30 years to the days of one of Jeff’s early bands The Bolsheviks. The Commander appreciates how Jeff has always welcomed him in after telling me he joined the Peasant Revolution Band when he moved back to Portland. He described Jeff as a “historical encyclopedia of information.”
Bassist Steve Cebula goes back with Jeff to their days at Central Catholic High School. Steve was a rocker in pleather when Jeff was hanging out with a punk rocker named Tom Nims and sporting a “Travis Bickle” look. These were different circles. They got to know each other in Jazz and Stage Prep Bands and played Cream songs with the Pep Band at football and basketball games. Steve had a front row seat to watch a band teacher trying to keep Jeff in line. I discovered Steve wasn’t in the Middle Fingers but joined Jeff’s next band Pink Milk, a name that could have been inspired by Cream. Both band names were controversial at the school. All these years later Steve, the consumet sideman, tells tales of Jeff being a tyrant in the recording studio. I wanted to believe he’s joking from his vivid description of Jeff Dodge in a “one more take” fervor. “Mannequin parts get thrown against the wall—well, one part but it’s heavy,” Steve said.
In 2013, Jeff organized a Badfinger Tribute Benefit Show for Scott Peterson who had been through a health crisis. Rich Reece sat in on drums. Meeting Jeff, he could see the years of work experience that went into coordinating the event. “Everyone else would have given up,” Rich said considering the logistics of organizing 30 different musicians to perform for two hours. “One of Jeff’s big talents,” he pointed out, “is to just keep going. He doesn’t stop.”
It was Phil Jefferson who inspired me to seek out testimonials. He spoke highly of his experience working with Jeff who recorded and played on his flute centric album Madness of Crowds. He explained that Jeff lives for spontaneity and going into studio sessions fresh not knowing what he’ll be playing. “We didn’t know where it was going to go,” Phil said before offering a comment that explained Jeff’s people person persona. “He wants to be around as many people as he can. That’s his thing.”
When houses in her neighborhood were being demolished, Jordi Leeb decided to make a film about the situation and the impact it had on her and her neighbors. Being a first time film maker, she called on Jeff. Jeff took the lead with some assistance from me. Jordi experienced Jeff’s business side finding him to be professional, methodical and patient. “I never felt judged or talked down to. He laid everything out and it was so helpful for me to understand all of the steps. He was eager and excited about my project. He made the whole experience approachable for me,” she said. Jeff’s efforts earned him Jordi’s respect and their collaboration resulted in the film “Diary of a Street.”
Robert Pardington is also known as Bobby Caesar. I always saw him as an archenemy of Jeff’s because, as legend has it, he left the Peasant Revolution Band to go solo. He later showed up to battle Jeff in the movie WNYCee New York. Robert met Jeff through high school friends and later roomed with him in the “infamous White House” in Eugene in the early 90’s. Robert admires Jeff’s openness. “He always included everyone, frat types, stoners, nerds,” he said. Robert is in awe of Jeff’s musical brilliance, phenomenal ear and their Meerkat brotherhood.
Clint Sargent meet Jeff in 1988 at Western Oregon University in Monmouth. Since then they’ve played music together and partnered to make a cable access TV show and feature length movies. Clint praised Jeff’s prolific nature. “I have never known anyone with so many visions going at once. There seems to be no end to his ideas that flow non stop.”
The stories Jeff shared in a frenetic phone call set the scene. He remembered seeing the puppeteers Sid & Marty Kroft on TV giving career advice, “If you want to make sure you keep control of your content in this society, keep your name on it,” one of them said. Jeff took note giving birth to the Jeff Dodge brand. Somewhere in the middle of playing Plastic Man with his sisters a character named Julio would be involved. Julio was resourceful and had a local connection everywhere he went. Jeff aspired to these qualities that have inspired his modus operandi. It adds up to him being fearless. He let’s everybody in the pool resulting in either Busby Berkeley choreography or everybody drowning.
A half century is something to consider. “The winds of age are upon me,” Jeff says quoting a line from one of the movies about his alterego Jeff Steele. (I know, Jeff Steele and the Lost Civilization of NyoNuc from 2004.) Still, there is time for new beginnings and even old dreams. Jeff hasn’t given up on the one where he owns and operats a historical amusement park. With Portland being the creative place that it is, there could be thousands of Jeff Dodge types out there. I’m talking about catalysts who create scenes of fun loving havoc. And most everyone is too busy creating to know what anybody else is up to. Clint Sargent described what Jeff does as “unmatched entertainment” and that makes all the difference.
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Post Script: The Dodge City from the title is not a nickname anyone ever had for Jeff. Hanging out with him has always felt like visiting another world of his making. I refer to it as Dodge City.