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Helen Silvis of The Skanner
Published: 13 May 2009

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One of his first gigs in Portland was to play bass with the Wu Tang Clan. He's also worked with Erykah Badu, Liv Warfield, Jill Scott, Karen Briggs, Lauryn Hill, Jay-Z, Common and many other established stars.

None of this was handed to Lewis on a gold plate. He grew up in Compton, the son of a single mother. He and his twin brother, Derrick, couldn't afford to attend the high-priced concerts they heard about in church and at school. His family didn't have fancy clothes, cars or music lessons. What Lewis did have was his passion for playing music, a loving mother, the dedication to master his craft and a solid grounding in his church, where he played gospel music every Sunday. In fact, it was at church he earned his first musician's fees -- $25 a week.

When Lewis says music saved his life, he isn't talking theory. On the desperate streets of LA's ghettos, he's witnessed fatal shootings, and been shot twice himself – once when gang members opened up on a bus he was on, and another time when he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"Most of the friends I came up with are either dead or in jail," he told The Skanner. "I've played at so many funerals – I played at funerals every week. And most of them were children."

But while so many of Lewis's friends and neighbors were pulled into the gang life, he concentrated on music. At first he was a drummer. Before his mother bought him a battered two-piece drum set he would rap out beats on anything around him—tables, furniture, the kitchen sink. Later entering his teens, he switched to bass, starting an enduring love affair with the instrument.

Today he has around 15 basses including instruments crafted by nationally recognized luthiers: Mike Tobias and Portland's own David Minnieweather.

Lewis says he probably won't stay in Portland for ever – New York, Atlanta and Europe all sound good to him too – but he loves living here right now. Portland has an incredible array of musical talent, he says, mentioning local artists such as: Liv Warfield, Tony Ozier, Sherree Lewis, Gretchen Mitchell, Damien Erskine and Dennis Dove.

Lewis currently is working on his new solo album, produced at Portland Recording Studio, which will feature artists he has worked with – among them Erika Badyu and Karen Briggs. "He's gotten 10 sponsorships this year," studio owner Rex Johnston said. "He's on such a run right now."

Coming so far so fast has only stoked Lewis' ambitions. He has big plans for his band Errick Lewis and The Vibe. He hopes a sponsorship deal with Nike's Jordan brand will take the band into high schools to play for and with high school students. Lewis says he wants to give back, and to tell other young people that life has something to offer each one of them.

"Everyone has a talent – he says. You have to find out what it is and go hard after it." 

Find out more about Errick Lewis on his web page.


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