Bassist with Salem roots was born to rock, but kept it a secret

Statesman Journal

[ download original article | PDF format ]

Written by Capi Lynn
Dain Ryan looks like a rocker with sleeves of tattoos on his arms, including a mighty ant playing guitar.

And he sounds like a rocker when he’s plucking the strings on his bass.

But maybe it’s what’s inside that really makes him one.

Dain has music in his DNA and the blood of four previous generations of musicians running through his veins. You need look no further than his parents to discover where he inherited the genes.

His dad, Mike, is a longtime bass player who still plays in a rock band. His mom, Penney, is a vocalist who for years taught piano and voice lessons. They actually met on stage when they were teenagers and Penney auditioned during the Oregon State Fair to sing for Mike’s band, the Breakaways.

“It was kind of intimidating having the parents I have,” Dain said, “because they’re both so musical.”

As a kid he never showed interest in pursuing their passion on the stage. Yes, he tagged along to band practices with his dad as a youngster, often sitting behind the mixing board. And sure, he listened to students taking piano lessons from his mom while he was in the other room of the house.

“I knew when they hit the wrong note in a scale,” Dain said.

He may have had an ear for music, but it just wasn’t his thing. Or so everyone thought.

On the down-low

Dain was mechanically inclined as a child. His mom remembers the time when he was just 9 and interrupted a lesson announcing that he had fixed the dishwasher. She dismissed the notion at that moment, but later discovered that he really had.

“He had taken it apart and fixed it,” she said. “Dain was always the one who could fix anything.”

His disregard for music early on may have been partly out of spite. With the family legacy always at the forefront — his maternal grandfather was in a family band that toured the Midwest, and his maternal great-grandmother performed in vaudeville — he felt like everyone expected him to be involved in music somehow.

If anything, he grew up wanting to play the drums, but the bass guitar was always around. That was the instrument his dad played.

“I always told the kids you can do anything, just don’t touch my bass guitar,” Mike Ryan said.

Dain apparently did more than just touch it, always when his parents were out of the house. He taught himself to play and eventually joined a band. And he never told a soul in the family.

“I kept it on the down-low,” Dain said. “I wanted to do it at my own pace. I thought they would take the fun out of it.”

The unveiling

Then one day, when he was 18, he invited his parents to come listen to his band. They were stunned to find out he was the bass player and couldn’t believe their ears.

“You could have knocked us both over with a feather,” his mom said. “We had never heard him play a note.

“It was one of the most stunning moments in our parenthood. We both thought, ‘Where in the heck did he learn to play like that?’ ”

Fast forward more than two decades and Dain plays in four bands, including Stone in Love, a popular Journey tribute band that performed two weeks ago at Salem’s Riverfront Park.

It was the Portland-based band’s first show here and a homecoming of sorts for Dain. He grew up in Salem, where his dad works in outside sales for Withers Lumber and his mom works at the Oregon State Treasury. He graduated from Sprague High School in 1990.

Although it was a special night for Dain, he admitted before the show that he still gets uncomfortable whenever he sees people he knows in the audience. Maybe deep down he feels like he’s still sneaking around and doesn’t want anybody to know he plays, let alone that he’s a rock star, at least in northwest circles.

Slammed summers

Stone in Love has quite the following in the Portland area, having played at sold-out Aladdin Theater and at the Crystal Ballroom.

Dain, whose musical influences growing up included Tower of Power, the Ramones and Van Halen, isn’t a huge Journey fan. But if you like the sound of the legendary band from the 1980s, you’d probably like Stone in Love.

“They’re really good,” his mom said. “We go to all their shows. We’re just big groupies.”

They may be a bit biased, but their opinion has credence considering their musical backgrounds.

“He is a much better bass player than I am,” his dad said. “He has a knack for it. You have to have a good ear and sense of rhythm and be the politician of the band.”

Dain is pretty much on tour this time of year, with 70 percent of his gigs scheduled in July and August. Between that and his day job — he is general manager of a glass company in Beaverton — he has little time to do much else.

He has five shows in the next 10 days, for example, including two at this weekend’s Harefest in Canby. And on one recent day, he played a couple of sets with Stone in Love and then rushed off to play at a wedding with Ants in the Kitchen, a rock, blues and funk band that you might have seen this past weekend at the Bite & Brew of Salem.

Dain plays the upright bass with Brian Harrison and the Last Draw. His other band is Dirty Little Fingers, although he said it hasn’t performed in more than a year.

No roadies here

Make no mistake, Stone in Love isn’t Journey. These guys drive themselves to their venues and set up their equipment. Much of it arrived that day in the back of Dain’s pickup.

“This is a lot of fun,” Dain said. “There are no drugs. There’s no weirdness. It’s work, and everybody is committed to putting the best they can out there.”

They still battle the stigma of being rockers, with many people expecting them to raise hell wherever they go.

“Not when you get our age,” said Dain, who is 41 and has a girlfriend. “It never was the case for me.”

He does have those tattoos. A large bass-wielding ant can’t be missed on his left forearm, and Irish-themed tattoos cover both shoulders and biceps.

His mom’s not crazy about them, but she sure loves what’s inside.