Michael Locke and the Repeat Offenders Bring Delta Blues to Oregon Express
By Matt Clevenger
Dayton has many great blues bands, but when it comes to lightning-fast guitar riffs, rock-solid rhythms and authentic Delta-blues soul, Michael Locke and the Repeat Offenders are the best of the best.
Based in Germantown, the band tours regularly throughout the U.S., and has played with a long list of rock and blues greats including Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Little Anthony, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and many others. Locally, they also play at many Dayton-area blues venues, and host the popular Oregon Express Blues Jam every Thursday night when they’re not out on the road.
“I’ve been at the Oregon Express for seven or eight years,” Locke said of the long-running blues jam recently. “It feels like home when I go in there … my band plays the first set every Thursday, and then we invite people to come sit in.”
Originally from Florida, Locke started playing guitar when he was seven years old, inspired by his jazz-aficionado father. “I did all the kind of traditional approaches,” he explained. “I had a guitar teacher and learned how to read music. My dad was a big influence, having me listen to jazz players like Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane and all those guys.”
Eventually, that path led Locke to enroll in the University of Miami’s well-known jazz program. “At the time, they had the best jazz program in the country,” he said. “People like Pat Metheny and Steve Morse from the Dixie Dregs and different people like that were coming out of the University of Miami, and so that’s where I wanted to go.”
After graduating, Locke went on to land several high-profile gigs playing with nationally-known acts like Chuck Berry, Del Shannon, Ben E. King and Sam Moore. About that time, he also got a phone call that would end up changing his career forever.
“I got a call to play guitar and sub for this guy who was sick in a blues band,” Locke said. “I did that for a little while and decided I really wanted to go in that direction. Since then I’ve been playing R&B, mostly straight-ahead blues stuff.”
He then formed a band in Florida called the Night Stalkers, releasing a well-received album, and moved to San Francisco, where he soon befriended the famous Bay-area bluesmen Johnny Nitro and Tommy Castro. “I was in Johnny’s band for about a year,” he said. “Johnny kind of hipped me to developing my own style.”
After that, Locke moved back to Florida, where he formed the first incarnation of his Repeat Offenders band about 15 years ago. “It’s been that name ever since,” he said.
A few years later, Locke married a woman from Germantown and the Repeat Offenders soon became an Ohio-based act. “I’ve been living up here in Germantown for about the last eight years almost,” he said. “When I got up here, about six months later I started gigging again and wound up putting a band together to do the blues jam at the Oregon Express. That’s been like a house gig pretty much every Thursday for about seven years now.”
The Repeat Offenders’ membership has changed slightly over the years, but the current line-up of Locke on guitar/vocals, James Higgins on bass, Stephen Keith on drums and Da’Rosa Richardson on keys has been together for about a year and a half now. “They are amazing talents,” Locke said of the band. “The three of those guys definitely make me sound like I know what I’m doing.”
“James Higgins, the bass player, he’s probably … if not the original, than one of the original founding blues players in Dayton,” Locke added. “He’s been doing this in Dayton probably 30 years or whatever … I met Steve and Da’Rosa at the same time, and they’re both amazing talents. I guess they play a lot for their church and they’ve been playing together for years and years. When I met them, it was like no rehearsal needed – they just got up on stage and played as though we’d been playing forever.”
Locke has released three albums since forming the Repeat Offenders, including two studio discs, The Lost Files and You Done Did It, under his name and a live album, Get Offended, under Michael Locke and the Repeat Offenders. The band also tours heavily throughout the year, playing high-profile gigs throughout the eastern U.S. “I still travel,” Locke said. “We go out and play national rooms like the Slippery Noodle over in Indianapolis, and we do college dates up in Michigan, and go down to B.B. King’s in Nashville, and still go down through Georgia and the Carolinas and Florida.”
For now, Locke and his band are busy working on two new releases, and planning national tour dates for spring and summer. “We’re actually working on a couple new discs right now,” he said. “We’re working on a live release that I think is going to be focused around the Oregon District. We’ve done several gigs at Gilly’s and we’re focusing also on the Thursday night Oregon Express blues jams … so we may try to focus on two or three of the bars in the Oregon District, and put out a disc that way for the live one. We’ve got a studio thing happening too; it’s probably halfway done.”
“We’ve got a tour coming up going to south Florida in March,” Locke added. “Right now, the things I’m getting ready for are trying to get those CDs finished and this tour that I have coming up.”
Michael Locke and the Repeat Offenders will host the Oregon Express Blues Jam on Feb. 10, Feb. 17 and Feb. 24 before leaving for a string of tour dates in Florida. The weekly blues jams starts at 8:30 p.m., and more information can be found online at www.michaellocke.net or www.myspace.com/oregonexpress.
Reach DCP freelance writer Matt Clevenger at email@example.com.