Standing at the Crossroads
Last October, I mentioned the demise of the Blues Society of Indiana, which was due to the legal and financial problems surrounding their bingo operations. A new organization has recently been formed called the Crossroads Blues Society. The Society is now incorporated and is meeting on the third Monday of each month at the Slippery Noodle in Indy. To raise money more legitimately, they have been holding monthly Blues Jam/Fund Raisers at Bucket's on the third Sunday.
This organization is a fresh start for Hoosier blues fans, with a special emphasis on working with local musicians. A new website will soon be up and running that will list the local bands and provide a Musicians' Network for hiring bands, purchasing equipment, collaborating on songwriting and referrals for musicians. In their first newsletter, Blues Groove, their new President Sue Brown says "We want to bring back the feeling we started with years ago. We have no Bingo, no Blues Hall, and no baggage. What we do have is the love for music and what we do with it is up to us. Let's put our feelings of frustration in the past and work toward what we are all about - the preservation, promotion and perpetuation of our music - the Blues." Coincidently, the Crossroads Blues Society has the same "3P's" in their mission statement as the Kentuckiana Blues Society.
You can contact Sue at 4510 Norwald Ave. Indianapolis, IN 46205 or e-mail her at email@example.com for more information.
Where Were You, Mary Jean
When Mary Jean Zena departed this world last Christmas Eve, she left a big spiritual void on Main Street. Everyone has a story about her attitude and what she did in her steady, determined way to promote the local blues scene at her cafes, first at 3rd and Market and then at 122 W. Main.
Both fans and musicians had the opportunity to pay tribute to her on February 8 at a Memorial Blues Jam and fund raiser for MERF at the club. The idea came about following her funeral at St. Boniface. A wake was held at Zena's for a small group of friends and family. Her son Randy, longtime friend Jose DeKeyer and all the bartenders - Allen, Kelley and Brad - wanted to do something special. The duties were delegated and within five weeks, the most memorable local blues event in recent history took place. Local distributors contributed tee shirts, which Jose threw out to the crowd between sets; Mike Lunch provided the basic sound equipment for the musicians; John White and Jeffrey Lee Puckett got the word out in LEO and the C-J Scene (as did LMN) and finally, all the bands who had a connection with Mary Jean responded with nearly eight hours of blues.
When I arrived at 8 p.m., it was already wall-to-wall people, back to the pool table. All of the photos of the past actors and apprentices from Actors Theatre, including Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine from Seinfeld) were looking down with Mary Jean on all the good vibes that filled the room.
Blues Swing Shooz was warming up the crowd along with Peter Rhee's flamboyant fiddling. Reed Davis, Gene Wickliffe and Mike Lynch rounded out the band, which hosts the blues jams at Zena's every Wednesday night. As a nice legacy, Mary Jean's granddaughter, Megan Zena, sang "Hey, Big Spender" with the band. (She also had sung a hymn at her grandmother's funeral. )
Planet Blues followed, with Greg Claggett on lead guitar and vocals. This group, which includes Danny Hord's fine harp playing, has come a long way, becoming on of Louisville's solid blues bands. "Ashamed of Myself" is one of the many original tunes they performed that night.
The Mudcats were next, and, according to Rob Pickett, they are "getting back to the blues," with just Gene Wickliffe, Mike Lynch and Rob. When Lynch sang Jim Rosen's "Big Back yard" with the same deep, rough voice, it was like Jim was there sitting in. Sue and Rick O'Neil joined the band to do some of the songs from the vintage Mudcat years, including "Let the Good Times Roll," "I'd Rather Go Blind," and "Meet Me with Your Black Drawers On."
Robbie Bartlett always excites the crowd when she is on stage. She opened with "Keep On Using Me" and never let up. Guitarist Greg Land was standing in for Donny Pollard that night and showed some of his fine licks. The Walnut Street Blues Revue had Arti Chinn's gritty vocal overlaying their polished sound. Chinn sang some of the same songs that Sue O'Neil sang earlier. A brief jam session followed that featured Sal, a musician from New York, on guitar, harp and vocals, doing several blues standards, including "I'm A Man" and "Hoochie Cookie Man." Steve sharp, formerly with Sweet Soul Vibe, sat in and sang "Rock Me Baby."
The current house band at Zena's on the weekends is the Original 26th Street Blues Band with Joe Wells. Wells was decked out in a killer white suit, hat and funky red shirt. His attire reminded me of the late Junior Wells (no relation). These musicians are original players from the old 26th Street Tavern at Garland and 26th St, where they used to have live music in the smoky back room every Friday and Saturday night. The band got a lot of help, with both a harp and keyboard player sitting in. When they finished about midnight, it was past my bedtime but I heard the music went on until nearly 4 a.m. Tim Krekel and his band The Groovebillies performed later, as well as Tanita Gaines. Tanita and Robbie did an extended duet of "Baby I Love You" to highlight the wee hours.
When I talked to Randy about the event and the future of Zena's,. he said "I will stick to what Mom believed in." He will continue the tradition by booking the bands and managing the place. Both he and Jose said to not forget to mention Mary Jean's husband Bob, who has been the strong, if silent, force behind the long history of Zena' Café.
Thanks to all who came and had a good time. Your generosity added up to $1,171 for MERF.