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Friday, February 10, 2006

Running the Blues Jam

Mr. G and the Mystery Band was the house band for the blues jam at Bill's Blues Bar on Tuesday, January 31. This correspondent was the host, which means I collected the names and performance capabilities of the jammers, called them up, and set them down after their time on stage was through. We had a managable number of musicians - some folks even got to play twice. There were a number of observers, and some of them were drinking hard for a Tuesday night.

The reason to run a jam is to assist in the creation of a few magical musical moments. I have been to jams where there was no magic; the combination of inadequate talent and lack of jam leadership turned the proceedings into the aural equivalent of the dry heaves - painful and unproductive. But we caught some breaks last Tuesday. There were some fine musicians in the house (including the members of the Mystery Band) and we even were graced by the presence of a minor blues celebrity - Mr. Sammy Fender.

Sammy Fender has been on the Chicago blues scene for years, one of the raucous West Side guitar monsters. His hair is grey now, but his energy level is still high. The volume knob on his amp and guitar are also set on "high" - he is an ear-breaking player. Sammy has carries a lot of music in his head and he can get a band of jammers into a hellacious groove.

We were also lucky to have Steve Hart in the house - a bass player, tuba player and drummer of prodigious skill. Steve has a six-string electric bass (not the typical four-string instrument). He settled in with the three other players and laid down the nastiest funk bass line you ever heard in your life. The entire club snapped into the groove, and Steve's bandmates scrambled to give him the support he needed. It worked. Steve loooks like an old lefty with his greying pony tail and wire frame glasses, but the man is way too funky.

Bill's Blues Bar is beginning to feel like a true blues dive now. It is in its third year of existence and it doesn't look new anymore. Evanston still lets folks smoke in the bars (two neighboring suburbs banned smoking, thus sending the nicotine fiends to Evanston establishments like Bill's Blues). The smell of old cigarette smoke and stale beer is beginning to permeate Bill's Blues - it isn't an unpleasant aroma, really, and it sure does fit with the down and dirty blues vibe.

The Mystery Band will play at C.J. Arthur's in Wilmette IL tonight, February 10th. C.J. Arthur's is the antithesis of Bill's Blues. It is clean, no smoking allowed, family friendly, etc. Wilmette is a pretty tony suburb - the Mystery Band has never been booked in a town like this. We might flop. Guess I will have to tone down some of my XXX-rated blues songs.......


Joe said...

Sammy may not have a huge recording legacy, but he's a strong player and he's stood the test of time. He's been around for a long time. He used to hold down weekends at the Mines over 20 years ago.

Minor celebrity, no. Under-recognized, yes.

Nice site! I've always enjoyed dropping by here.

Anonymous said...

Joe - thanks for your comments. You obviously know the Chicago blues scene. Hope to hoist a beer with you someday.

Mr. G