Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009

12/17/2021

Portland Music Scene Mourns Musician/Technician John C. 'Chuck' Davidshofer 1952-2021

By MICHAEL "SHOEHORN' CONLEY //  He was a man who intersected with a broad slice of the local music scene and beyond: Oregon Symphony wind players, school band directors, band parents, and freelance saxophone players all came to Chuck. Plus, he had another life as a bluegrass performer with the Sawtooth Mountain Boys; Whisky Deaf; Sam Hill; and the Sleepy-eyed Johns.

“He had a lot of friends, and to me that is what makes a person successful” Steve Bond
Wally’s Music Service, Washington Street in Oregon City

I park in front of a squat cement building crusted with burglar bars on the bluff in uptown Oregon City. I've been coming to Wally's Music Service for three decades to get work done on my saxophone and buy accessories. Inside it looks as if nothing has changed since the 1960s. There is a small display case of rare antique wind instruments in an entryway hung with pictures, fliers, and a bulletin board. There is an American-made tenor sax on top of the display case behind the sales counter which is not for sale. It belonged to the late uncle of the store’s co-owner. On the far wall is a glass showcase full of brass and woodwinds topped with a row of vintage saxophones. This is where my story with Chuck began.

I was sad if not surprised when I heard that my good friend John “Chuck” Davidshofer had passed away from lymphoma. I managed to catch up with him a couple of weeks before he died— he looked frail and had to excuse himself after a brief visit on his porch. He had previously struggled with leukemia for years, but until recently we thought the worst of it was behind him.

He continued to work at his music shop until earlier this year. Musicians from all over the region would bring their instruments to him for expert service, and that's how I met Chuck, before I even moved here, when a local sax player told me about him.

In the back of the shop, past sheet music and random used instruments, workbenches frame the space which is my favorite part of the store. In the very back is where Chuck worked, in a chaotic-looking sprawl across several counters and large tool stations. There were instruments crammed on shelves above, against the wall, and under the counters, along with a turntable and stacks of vinyl of all flavors- Classical, Jazz, Americana, R&B, Country, Pop….even kitsch. The guys were always bringing in odd things to listen to while they worked.

As my all-time favorite instrument technician, Chuck became a good friend. In a way he was like my confessor, and he knew a lot about me just by working on my horns. He was a man who intersected with a broad slice of the local music scene and beyond: Oregon Symphony wind players, school band directors, band parents, and freelance saxophone players all came to Chuck. Plus, he had another life as a bluegrass performer with the Sawtooth Mountain Boys; Whisky Deaf; Sam Hill; and the Sleepy-eyed Johns.

Originally from Dubuque, Iowa, Chuck was in many ways emblematic of the kind of people that came from around the country to Portland in the 1970s-80s— working class, creative, practical, savvy, and skilled— and he was a vital part of that community. One day we were discussing the changes to our neighborhood when he said “You used to be able to come to Portland, rent a shitball house and do whatever you wanted”.
Western Iowa Tech, Sioux City, Iowa

I interviewed Steve Bond from Wally's, who knew Chuck for 50 years— they met at the instrument repair department at Western Iowa Tech in Sioux City, Iowa, in September of 1971. “At school in Iowa we were 18 or 19 years old, and the first thing everybody did was grow their hair out— you’re not around your parents anymore so you can— and one day the teacher said you guys all gotta get haircuts or you’re going to have to wear hairnets. So Chuck instantly went out and got all these hairnets for us and they were all pink or yellow, with little ribbons on ‘em. Later we found out the state college board was going to come inspect the school and he [the teacher] didn’t want them to see us in these hairnets so he said we didn’t have to wear the hairnets anymore, but we did anyway just to mess with him”.

Bond added “Chuck would find instruments at garage sales to fix up and then just give to people who needed them. He had a lot of friends, and to me that is what makes a person successful.”
Laurelhurst Club, SE Portland. November 20th, 2021

Around 150 masked guests gathered for Chuck’s memorial potluck, most of them unknown to me. A microphone was passed around, and about a dozen people offered personal reminiscences. Chuck’s sister Cathy Ludwig, the oldest of his seven younger siblings, was perhaps more notable for her energy and enthusiasm than any anecdotes she shared. Yet a couple of her stories did stand out. The manager of their hometown music store had called their parents to tell them that Chuck knew more than their teaching staff, and they could not teach him anything more. She also mentioned that her brother had played guitar for the Folk Mass services at Dubuque’s Church of the Nativity. Later, when I reached her by telephone, she told me Chuck, the firstborn, was the adored “golden boy” of their whole family, and “I really think he was a genius in his own right, I really do.”

Ludwig also revealed that her brother had met his first wife Jo while serving as an MP in Korea. The couple had two children but the marriage ended in divorce. Chuck is survived by their adult children, Charles and Alecia, two grandchildren, and his seven siblings. Charles, reached via messenger, wrote: “My father was the most eclectic man I knew. He could play anything, and everything. But his interests didn’t end there. My dad said to me ‘CJ, I didn’t give you much but I gave you curiosity’. A gift I’m thankful for everyday. He always had a smile on his face, and wanted everyone to have one too!”

Don Davidshofer spoke of his brother from his unique vantage as the only other boy in the family, including a story about the time Chuck asked “Hey Don, you want a car?” It was actually an incomplete bunch of parts to a Volkswagen Beetle they gradually assembled and restored.
Chuck’s partner Kim Neely told some stories about their courtship with fondness and humor.

Other guests who spoke at the memorial included two young women that Chuck had mentored, one in Bluegrass, the other in instrument repair. Both expressed gratitude for his help. People he performed with also spoke, and there was a slideshow, after which musicians performed in tribute, culminating in informal jam sessions as the crowd filtered out.

After the event his friend John Kael wrote “Common themes in all of the stories were Chuck's kindness, generosity, curiosity, and an ability to focus on the good parts of people, places and things.”Alberta Street, NE Portland

Saxophones require regular maintenance, and it can be a source of frustration (and bad notes) when it is not done correctly. The best sax techs, like Chuck, reach a level of skill that brings that extra something to the work and helps our horns sing.

Oregon City is rather far from my house, so Chuck offered to let me drop my horn off at his home, which was not far from mine, and that's when we became closer friends, as I would sit in his front room by the woodstove and we would swap lore, anecdotes, and jokes. After Chuck got sick the first time with leukemia, we shared a different sort of experience— the listening and commiseration that goes with serious illness.

Over the years I made artwork to give to Chuck and would sometimes bring him baked goods from our kitchen. Chuck's home was even more packed with interesting stuff than his workspace. In addition to tools and instruments there were all kinds of magazines, books, and of course, records. For the last few years he had two vintage industrial-size drill presses that he had restored next to the kitchen counter in a place of prominence. He also kept a small workbench for working on horns in his front living area.

On a couple of occasions, Chuck let me see some of his most-prized instruments: and also a few of his more eccentric collections— wooden-handled screwdrivers, vintage flashlights, and old Volkswagen car radios.

Chuck was a man of many interests: mechanical, musical, culinary, botanical— he had a green thumb, and built a sophisticated water catchment system for his garden with an underground tank at his house. More than one person attested to his ability to “fix anything,” and according to Bond, he liked to make sauerkraut, and even acted as a judge for homebrew contests at county fairs. He had a sly sense of humor and a skeptical eye.

Sometimes when I dropped off my horn for service, there would be a Bluegrass session happening on the front porch or in the living room. Chuck's friends would gather, and they would trade solos and vocal features, always following the all-strings format of authentic bluegrass music, ( guitar, upright bass, fiddle, banjo, mandolin) “He was a traditionalist as far as the music goes”, said Bond.

I heard about and saw slides of camping trips to Bluegrass festivals where Chuck liked to hang out. He was adept at bass and guitar especially, but he could play many instruments, and he knew tons of songs. At one point in his career he played guitar in a dixieland band, and one time he pulled out a book of that genre and he and I jammed for a while.

Kevin Blodgett, who worked with Chuck for the last nine years at Wally’s, told me “He was a wonderful guy from the first day I got here, and always brought me neat things to see— such a generous guy, sharing his time and knowledge and stories, and was certainly experienced in the repair world— not just band instruments, but everything.”

And this is where this story ends, back at Wally’s. The week after Chuck passed my saxophone was damaged in a mishap and needed an urgent repair. I used to tell Chuck he had to keep fighting the disease, because I needed him to keep my horn in shape. Our regular maintenance had been on hold as I waited for him to rally to the cause, even as he assured me his coworkers were up to the task. Chuck always knew what he was talking about. My horn works fine.

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