Rip City Rocker: Scott Pemberton’s life changed after he nearly lost it

Scott Pemberton learned to focus his life in a way no one would want to experience.
The metamorphosis began after was hit by a cab while riding a bicycle.

“I wasn’t wearing a helmet,” he said. “If I was, it would have been a broken collarbone and a pretty gashed up leg. Instead, it was near death, ICU, unconsciousness. There was rehabilitation to do. My brain was pretty damaged.”

Scott Pemberton, the Bruce Lee of rock 'n' roll.

Scott Pemberton, the Bruce Lee of rock ‘n’ roll.

Before the accident, Pemberton’s life was hectic. He played with several bands, taught guitar at Reed College, operated his own studio and produced albums for singer-songwriters in the music hotbed Portland, Ore. He said he felt like he could never catch up.

But when the taxi caught up to him, Pemberton could do nothing for several months. Suddenly, his itinerary was empty. When he finally picked up a guitar, he had an epiphany.

“I could play,” he said. “I’d almost forgotten that I could. It was like I had woken up and could do Kung Fu like Bruce Lee. It was the first time I was able to honor all the hard work that I had put in previously because I was always so demanding on myself to get better at work and play great. To be able to sit back from almost an outside view and see it, it was like, “Wow. That’s really good. Nice work.”

Next came the organization, the focus.

“What I really want to do is be in a touring band,” Pemberton said. “I want to be performing and playing the guitar for a living, playing with a band. So that’s what I created, and that’s what I am doing. And it’s going well, and it’s super fun.”

Reed College administrators told him he’s welcome to come back and teach any time. So while Professor Pemberton is on sabbatical, the Rip City Rocker is blazing across the country. He covered more than 40,000 miles last year.

He said his influences are Jim Hendrix, Fela Kuti and Charlie Parker.

“I’m hoping you can hear some of them in my music,” he said.

The music styles vary from song to song, sometimes even within songs. He is adept at playing surf rock as he is Afrofunk. Attacking the guitar from all angles, he might play it like a piano with his fingers or a drum with karate chops.

What does he call his style?

“I am trying not to worry about it too much,” he said. “Another thing about the brain injury, I was not able to worry about those types of borders of genres and styles and playing techniques.”

Pemberton has been accepted by the blues community, getting rare back to back invitations to play at Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival. He also played the 2013 and 2014 High Sierra Music Festivals.

His second album with renowned producer Steve Berlin is in the works.

Scott Pemberton
Hangtown Haloween Appreciation Party
When: 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13
Where: Crystal Bay Casino Red Room
Cost: free



About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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