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Ben Rice Has The Blues

Ben Rice stands at an average 5 feet 6 inches. He wears square-rimmed glasses, collared button-up shirts, jeans, and black loafers. He mumbles softly into the microphone as he introduces himself and The Ben Rice Blues Band. At first glance, Rice looks like your stereotypical nerd from high school; all that he’s missing is the pocket protector. New audience members hoping to hear some great blues music seem shocked when Rice walks on stage – he is the complete opposite of what a blues singer looks like. However, once Rice picks up his guitar and starts singing, the Eugene audience is taken straight to the Deep South.

A fan of Rice’s describes him as a “black blues singer stuck inside a normal white guy.” Rice, originally from Newberg, Oregon, is the lead singer and guitarist of The Ben Rice Blues Band here in Eugene. He is a perfect example of why you should never judge based on appearance. He describes himself as a shy and awkward person, but you would never perceive that about him from his performances. Rice says that the biggest influences of his music are artists like Carlos Santana and B.B. King. However, he is inspired by music from a large range of varying genres – everything from blues to rock, soul, and even eastern African music.

In addition to having the voice of a Southern black blues singer, Rice is an amazing guitarist. He picked up his first guitar, a 1981 Washburn A10, when he was only five years old. At the age of seven, he began taking lessons, and now, at the prime age of 22, Rice says that he can “convincingly play four instruments” – the guitar, bass, trombone, and drums.

Once Rice begins performing, a complete character transformation happens before the audience’s eyes. As Rice closes his eyes and begins playing his guitar, you can see his feelings in his face as he is moved by his own music. He’s a natural onstage. Then, he opens his mouth, and this deep, soulful voice comes out and blows the audience away. It doesn’t take long for the audience to get involved with the music. One verse into the first song and people are already tapping their feet or clapping along with the beat. Rice sways back and forth, eyes still closed, and belts out his blues.

Rice wasn’t always into the blues, though. He joined his first band in 1997 as a guitarist when he was nine years old. It was his two older brothers’ metal band, Minor Effects. The same year that he joined, Minor Effects opened for both Motörhead and Iron Maiden, two very popular metal bands. Rice’s blues career began two years later when he performed his first blues gig at the Hop Madness Celebration in Oregon.

Rice and The Ben Rice Blues Band have been nominated for the Cascade Blues Association’s Muddy Awards 10 times. They have performed in multiple cities in Oregon, Washington, and California. In 2007, Rice and his band represented the Cascade Blues Society at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee. They placed second in the King of Beale Street competition. Aside from his music, Rice is a student majoring in music at the University of Oregon with only one term left until his graduation.

Rice is also a guitarist with the Eugene band, Winter Time Carousel. Their genre, a combination of indie rock and folk, has an entirely different sound from The Ben Rice Blues Band, but his face and composure onstage still reveal the same passion and emotion he has for his music.

“I wanted to try something new,” says Rice on agreeing to play with Winter Time Carousel. “I like that I get to use the slide technique (a popular blues guitar technique) in a completely different context [than blues guitar].”

With Winter Time Carousel, the audience still has the pleasure of hearing Rice’s phenomenal guitar talent. Unfortunately, they do not get to hear the jaw-dropping combination of his guitar skills and his unbelievable voice.

Rice is unsure about what lies ahead for both of the bands, but his dream is to travel solo and perform his music all over the globe. He refers to both of the bands as “side projects” because he is aware that there is always room for change and growth in the future.

“It’s important to spread out with your music and network,” says Rice. “This way you have more potential for future gigs.”

Rice’s biggest focus right now is finishing his final term of college, but you can still catch him playing with The Ben Rice Blues Band every Wednesday at Diablo’s Bar in downtown Eugene and with Winter Time Carousel at different cafes like The Buzz in the EMU and at The Wandering Goat in the Whiteaker neighborhood.

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