A little bit of history…
For nearly 20 years The Vipers have been entertaining fans in the Pacific Northwest and Europe. These veteran musicians mix an intoxicating brew of Chicago and Delta blues, funky R&B, and New Orleans rhythms that will bring you out of your seat and onto the dance floor. The Vipers is comprised of Deb Cleveland (vocals) Jon Silvermoon (vocals, harmonica), Johnny “Guitar” Ward (guitar), Russ Whitlach (bass), and Peter Burger (drums).
Since their formation in 1992, The Vipers have supported the best of Eugene, Oregon’s blues musician. Their 1993 CD Venom featured the incendiary guitar work of the late Canned Heat guitarist Henry Vestine. After Vestine’s untimely death in 1997, veteran bluesman Eagle Park Slim joined the band. Several of his original songs are featured on the 2000 release Good Times Live! and he toured Europe with The Vipers in 2002. Deb Cleveland performed with The Vipers from late 2002 through early 2011 and was featured on The Vipers’ 2004 release Tickle My Toes. She toured Europe with the band in 2004.
The Vipers have performed at numerous festivals including The Waterfront Blues Festival, the Eugene Celebration, the Salem Art Fair and Festival, the Florence Fall Festival, the Willamette Valley Folk Festival, the Oregon Country Fair, and the Linköping Jazz and Blues Festival (Sweden). Their European tours have taken them to Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Belgium, and The Netherlands.
Over the years, The Vipers have supported the best of Eugene, Oregon’s blues musicians from the late Henry Vestine, who is featured on the 1993 release “Venom,” to Eagle Park Slim, who sang on their 2000 release “Good Times Live” and on their 2002 European tour, to their current lead vocalist, Deb Cleveland who sang on their 20054 release “Tickle My Toes.”
DEB CLEVELAND – Vocals
Born and raised in east Waco, Texas, Deb Cleveland first began to sing as a child in her Sunday School Southern Baptist gospel choir. Whenever Deb’s mother cleaned house she would play the blues, exposing Deb to Bobby Blue Bland, Johnny Taylor, B.B. King, Jimmy Reed, and many others. She was always singing and kind of prayed that way with gospel hymns, “like breathing air.” Deb and her mother used to go and listen to the different gospel choirs in the area. Her father was in the Air Force. He played harmonica and sang blues and gospel spirituals in a deep baritone voice. Deb’s grandmother sang in church and played piano at home. Every Sunday, after listening to her grandmother play a hymn or two at home, Deb would persuade her to play Boogie Woogie on the piano, much to her mother’s dismay. To this day Deb loves Boogie Woogie.
Deb moved to Phoenix, Arizona at age six. Her parents ruled the radio at home. Then Deb got the first transistor radio on her block and a world of music opened to her. She listened to everything from the gospel of the Mighty Clouds of Joy and Shirley Caesar to the rock of The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. She listened to Motown, The Supremes, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, Wilson Pickett, and quite a bit of Perry Como and Dean Martin. As a little girl Dinah Washington was her favorite. Then at age 11 she was crushed when her mother would not let her go see Tina Turner at the Calderon Ballroom, a local bar. To this day Deb says she still has some issues with that.
By 15 her mother thought Deb was incorrigible. So she sent her to live with relatives in Salem, Oregon. By 16 Deb was more or less on her own. She got pregnant, earned her GED, worked in a plywood mill, became a custodian and spent the next ten years working various jobs and partying. In 1985, when in her 30s, she went to the University of Oregon in Eugene and got a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services. She was encouraged to take a “fun” class and auditioned for the University gospel ensemble. To her surprise the instructor, Jack Gaynor, said she had potential. Until then Deb had never thought of herself as a singer. Within three or four years Deb was doing solos with the ensemble. She joined a local band, Willie Dee and Shakabuku, and played congas and sang backup. Then one evening she sang lead for the first time and was amazed with the audience’s response.
Deb went to graduate school in Social Work at Portland State University where she became friends with Judy Vogelsang and sang harmonies in Judy’s band, Everybody and Their Uncle. Marty Weissbrath, the band’s saxophonist, was impressed by Deb’s voice and asked her to sing with another small group. That led to the formation of the Deb Cleveland Band in 1994 and their 1998 release, Live! All Night Long. A song from that CD appeared on the Eugene Blues anthology CD, and in his review Real Blues editor Andy Grigg praised Cleveland as a “big voiced” vocalist who “deserves to be on a big label.”
Deb would occasionally sit in with The Vipers. When the band needed a new lead singer. Deb stepped up. Together they soon began to produce a CD featuring Deb that is scheduled for full release in early 2004. Included are songs by Ida Cox, Memphis Minnie, Big Maybelle, Mighty Joe Young, Albert Collins, and Muddy Waters, as well as an original tune by Deb that gave the CD by The Vipers Featuring Deb Cleveland it’s title: Tickle My Toes.
JON SILVERMOON – Harmonica
Jon Silvermoon began playing harmonica in 1971. In 1992 he founded The Vipers with his good friend the late Henry Vestine, guitarist with Canned Heat. They collaborated on The Vipers’ first CD, Venom, and played together throughout Oregon until Henry’s passing in 1997. A local promoter and producer Jon released The Vipers’ new CD Good Times Live! and Eugene Blues An Anthology under his own Vipertoons label in early 2000 and Tickle My Toes with Deb Cleveland in 2004, In his review of Good Times Live! Tom Hyslop of Blues Revue wrote that “Silvermoon blows a sometimes teasing, sometime bonecrushing harp.”
JOHN WARD – Guitar
Guitarist for The Vipers is Johnny “Guitar” Ward. A long-time veteran of the Eugene blues scene, he has played with The Party Kings, The Allnighterz, and Li’l Lynne and the Smokin’ Soles. In his review of Good Times Live!, Greg Johnson of the Cascade Blues Association wrote that it was John’s “performance on Claustrophobia Blues that made a believer out of me, with it’s low-down, slow-burn riffs that simply cry out the blues.” John enjoys playing instrumentals from such artists as Albert Collins and The Meters.
RUSS WHITLACH – Bass
Bass player Russ Whitlach is the newest addition to The Vipers but is no newcomer to the Eugene music scene having played with Rose de Lima, RMS McConnell, Xstatic, and Midnight Rodeo amomg many bands. Russ’s inspirations on bass have been Rocco Prestia from Tower hof Power and David Schallock from Sons o Champlin
PETE “THE BEAT” BURGER – Drums
Rounding out The Vipers’ rhythm section is Pete “The Beat” Burger. Pete started playing drums when he was a kid in the 1960’s He has an uncanny knack for never over or under-playing, even at very low volumes. He’s always unerringly right there on the beat and intuitively seems to sense dynamic changes as they happen. Pete has played with who’s who of regional and national blues artists including Carey Bell, Chuck Berry, Hubert Sumlin, John Cephas & Phil Wiggins, Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson, Henry Vestine, The Coasters, James Cotton, Johnny Dyer, and Mark Hummel.