Jeff Hino gets the blues

Jeff Hino showcases his old National steel guitar. (photo:  Jeff Hino)

Jeff Hino showcases his old National steel guitar. (photo: Bob Crum)

It was a cathartic moment in 1991 when Jeff Hino walked into a Seattle music store and saw it hanging there on the wall.  Possibly from Blind Boy Fuller, an original great blues-man from the 1930s and 40s, the 1934 National steel guitar with two bullet holes through it was “like an old friend,” recalls Hino.  “It spoke to me with its gutsy, soulful sound that carries the blues right to your heart.”

And if you listen to the music of Jeff Hino, learning technology leader with Extension Experiment Station Communications, and his musical partner Dave Plaehn, who graduated from OSU with a Ph.D. in math, you’ll find that the old slide guitar blends right in with their unique style of blues.

“We bring our own identity to old blues songs,” said Hino.  “We create our own experiences based on the greats like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Bukka White before us.”

“Jeff is good at improvising,” said Plaehn. “He’s one of the best slide players in the state.”

In their first homespun CD “On Your Bond,” Hino reflects that it felt right to be their flagship.  “It’s about trust and helping each other.  It is spiritual,” he said.  The CD earned critical acclaim with its mix of rural and urban blues and simple acoustic approach.

In their latest release, “Can’t Get My Rest,” they featured more original songs, more musicians and added color from additional instruments such as drums that they didn’t have on their first CD.  The sound ranges from country blues to pop blues to R&B.

Like most kids, Hino recalls, he was attracted to music in middle school.  He started with an electric guitar and played in the equivalent of a “garage band” in high school.  By his senior year, “we were the best rock band in Taiwan,” said Hino.

When he moved to Arizona to attend college, Hino experienced a big shift from rock to Americana, country and bluegrass.  He sold is guitar for a banjo, and when he played, “It resonated with the sense of being American,” recalled Hino.

By the mid-70s, Hino was attracted to Corvallis because of the folk music scene.  He moved to play banjo and dobro (a resonator slide guitar) for the Highwater String Band.  By the late ‘80s, he became interested in acoustic blues.

“The release of the Robert Johnson CD was really a milestone for me,” said Hino.  “It was inspiring to hear original artists from the ‘30s like that.”

Jeff Hino and Dave Plaehn have been performing acoustic blues since 1990.  Their next local performance is on Nov. 22, 8:30 p.m., at Big River Restaurant, Corvallis.

Jeff Hino and Dave Plaehn have been performing acoustic blues since 1990. Their next local performance is on Nov. 22, 8:30 p.m., at Big River Restaurant, Corvallis. (photo: Bob Crum)

Then, in 1990, he joined Plaehn, a singer/songwriter and harmonica player.  “People enjoy the interplay of Dave’s harmonica and my steel guitar.  The energy and fusion of blues, country, etc., is the heart of what we do.”

With a master’s degree in educational media and experience as a library media specialist, Hino went from substitute teaching when he moved to Corvallis to working for the College of Forestry as a hands-on media specialist.  From his start at OSU in 1984, he eventually rose to COF media center director in 2002. Recently, he joined the EESC to help them use technology to better communicate Extension information across Oregon.

“My job, and my music, feed my creative side each in different ways,” said Hino. “In my job, I bring new ideas on how to deliver information using new methods.

“Music is a social outlet for me. It is incredibly rewarding being with other people in a variety of musical spaces.”

On a recent trip, he carried a ukulele on his back as he visited the Karen tribe in the hills of Thailand.  “I played an elephant folk song and some blues in the jungles of Thailand and they started playing (Eric) Clapton!”

“Music is just this incredible shared experience for everyone,” said Hino.  “It is a voice through which you can speak with anyone, and they can appreciate it. It is a wonderful feeling.”

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