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I've Got A Mind To Ramble
It took me awhile to settle on an idea for this month's column, what with the heat wave of the century bearing down on us; it was hard to think about anything else but how to keep cool. Simply getting into my car after work in the afternoon was like climbing into a toaster oven as the air conditioner strained to spit out only slightly cooler air than what was outside. Since I drive to LaGrange and back everyday for work, by the time I get home my brain is mush and all I want to do is sit in the Lazy Boy with the air conditioner cranked, a fan blowing directly on me with a tall glass of ice water to cool my innards.
So, with a little break in the weather and a deadline quickly approaching, I ventured out to the "Stevie Ray's World Famous Tuesday Night Blues Jam" and talk to Mike Lynch to see what kind of blues news I could dig up.
I arrived at the jam around 9:30 p.m, and there wasn't much of a crowd but the musicians and blues lovers began rolling in around 10, so it picked up a little bit. I was excited to get there in time to hear the host band lay down some smooth blues grooves. Honestly, it's a dream team ensemble, with Mike Lynch, host extraordinaire on bass, both John Burgard and Reed Davis on guitar and Gene Wickliffe on drums. I would expect nothing but sweet delicious ear candy, and it was, so it wasn't long before I was boogieing in my seat.
While waiting for Mike to finish his set and assign another bass player so he could talk to me, I took the opportunity to talk to Amy Schweitzer Johnson of Little T&A, who is hosting a Thursday night all-genre jam at Stevie Rays with Tony Tkac, the T of T&A. Mike Lynch and Mike Alger make up the rest of the band that works it out on Thursday evening, but I believe that Amy does all the heavy lifting when it comes to getting people organized to jam.
Amy explained that originally she and Tony were doing an acoustic thing on Thursday nights at the club but the manager at the time wanted to turn it into an all-genre jam. In other words, musicians could come out and play rock, country, jazz, and blues , whatever they felt like they could pull off. Amy said she liked the idea and was excited to be able to perform songs by some of her favorite artists like Emmy Lou Harris, which is quite a departure from the R&B and blues that she is used to working out on with Little T&A, so they pulled a jam together for Thursday nights.
Ironically, she added that it always seemed to turn into a blues jam, which kind of tickled me. Not to say that Amy was particularly disturbed by these phenomena, or that she had an agenda against the blues , but that she just didn't think that there would be much support for two blues jams at Stevie Ray's. Interestingly enough, it is being supported by musicians, many who can play all kinds of music very well, but are choosing to play the blues (yea blues ).
Mike Lynch began hosting the Tuesday night jam some 14 years ago and has remained faithful to it since inception which, in my mind, is quite a testament to his intestinal fortitude. He did mention that there was a one-year period when the jam was canceled, because the club changed managers. The new manager decided to do a rock showcase on Tuesday nights, but that didn't work out so, Mike graciously resumed his host post when asked to resume the blues jam.
Mike didn't slack when it came to putting together a solid core group of musicians to host the jam every week. The original line up consisted of Mike on bass, Reed Davis on guitar and Gene Wickliffe on drums, so not much has changed in 14 years.
I asked Mike if this was a typical Tuesday night; he stated that it was a little light that evening and that most of the time there were more people there. He said that over the years there have been periods where it was light for a short period of time, and then for no rhyme or reason, it would pick up and they'd have great crowds and great jams for awhile. He said it comes and goes in waves but remains pretty steady for the most part.
Talking to Mike about the jam took me back to the days in the early Nineties when Da Mudcats hosted the Tuesday night jams at the Rudyard Kipling. It was a reminder that there is a lot of pressure on the person running the show. Musicians of many different skill levels show up to play at these jams and the host has to be the one that decides who gets up and plays when and with who and this takes some people skills to pull off without ruffling any feathers. Apparently, Mike has mastered the technique over the years, because he has a lot of the same jammers that have been coming to play for years. There have been a few great blues bands spawned from these jams, for instance, Dog House Kitchen and River City Blues Band, both fine blues bands that play locally and regionally.
I talked to Reed Davis a little bit while Mike did his host thing and he couldn't say enough about how Mike has handled his host job for so many years. He marveled at Mike's ability to deal with some difficult situations good-naturedly.
Reed stated that he had to host one time because Mike couldn't make it and he had a panic attack with so many people coming at him making demands and asking when they were going to get to play. I was quite amused imagining Reed Davis dealing with a bunch of people trying to figure out who to put where and when. Reed is a very talented man, a fine guitar player, but not a host and he is the first to admit it.
When Mike came back to the Voodoo Garden to finish the interview, he told me about the time this couple from Atlanta came to the jam and had such a good time that they came back and did a podcast of the jam. They operated under the name of Dirty South TV and were based out of Atlanta. Mike was told by the couple that they had people from 41 countries watching the blues jam that evening and that is why he has dubbed the jam as "The Stevie Rays World Famous Tuesday Night Blues Jam". Who knew? I thought that was just a tongue-in-cheek name that he made up.
Mike is not showing any signs of backing off of his Tuesday night hosting gig and Stevie Ray's should be mighty grateful. I don't think that they will find anyone more dedicated and capable of handling the job of keeping the people and the jammers happy.
Fourteen years is a long time to hold down a gig like this and Mike seems like he is as happy with the opportunity now as he was when it started. When asked what keeps him at it, he says simply, "It is about the music." It is about the times when someone he really admires as a musician walks through the door and climbs on stage with he and his other band mates and they catch that magic groove, that feeling of oneness, that seamless sound. He said that he enjoys doing the jams and those magic times as he describes it, that happen occasionally make it all worth it.