The Kentuckiana Blues Society (KBS) started very humbly with the first meeting at the Rudyard Kipling on October 18, 1988. There were seven of us sitting around the table, dreaming about what the society could be. It was an exciting time, because the first Garvin Gate Blues Festival was coming up in a few days; the Rud was hosting weekly Tuesday Bluesday jams and several bands were in the studio, recording for the Louisville Blues Compilation Album at Artist's Recording Service. Annual membership dues were set at just $5 and our treasurer, Foree Wells, opened an account at First National Bank. Rocky Adcock, our first president, ran the meetings and I took the minutes as secretary. Vice President Scott Mullins was editing our early newsletters plus hosting the "Saturday Night Blues Party" on WFPL.
In 1989, Uncle Pleasants was booking national blues acts, thanks to owner Mark Smalley. The KBS sponsored these events, which included Phillip Walker in January, William Clarke in February and the Legendary Blues Band in April, plus Jimmy Dawkins in May. Louisville Homefront Performances teamed up with the KBS to feature the blues of Henry Woodruff and the Noisemakers and Catfish Keith at their Fifth anniversary concert in March.
Our meeting place soon moved to the offices of the Louisville Federation of Musicians Union, Local 11-637, to avoid scheduling conflicts at the Rud. Our Articles of Incorporation were approved by the state, so the KBS was officially a registered tax-exempt organization. The 2nd Annual Garvin Gate Blues Festival expanded from one to two days in October with local, regional and national acts including Eddie, "The Chief" Clearwater performing in the Rud. Henry Woodruff received the first Sylvester Weaver Award during the festival.
In 1990, the KBS dues went up to $7. We celebrated our first anniversary in February with a blues bash in conjunction with Homefront at Bellarmine in Wyatt Hall. The show included Byther Smith & The Nightriders, H-Bomb Ferguson and da Mudcats. Kevin Hines briefly took over as editor of the newsletter and the KBS became an affiliate member of the Blues Foundation based in Memphis. The musical highlights include the Spring Blues Festival at U of L's Red Barn with Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters. The American Music Festival, held on the Belvedere and Main Street over Labor Day, had plenty of blues and R & B. It climaxed with a monster jam later that night at the Cherokee Blues Club.
A special moment occurred in June during the Charlie Musselwhite concert at the Rud, when Jim Rosen was invited to join Musselwhite to jam on harp for an extended version of "She's 19 Years Old." The Louisville Blues Compilation Album, partially sponsored by the KBS, was finally released by Scott Mullins with 500 LPs and 500 cassettes.
Nineteen-ninety-one started with new co-editors for Blues News. Jeff Crowder plus Sue and Rick O'Neil revived the newsletter after a brief dormancy. Mike Suttles and Kerry Ferrell became staff reporters, with Kerry starting his Happy Birthday columns and Mike doing his reviews of shows and events.
Perry Aberli became our second president. His strict interpretations of the blues got plenty of reaction from the members. Fundraising began for a headstone for Sylvester Weaver's unmarked grave in the Louisville Cemetery. In June, the KBS began meeting at Willie's 537 Club, thanks to new board member Willie Bright. The Waterside Arts and Blues Festival started its run in July with a three-day event featuring headliners Luther "Guitar Jr." Johnson, Marcia Ball and Albert King.
In August, our General Membership Meeting offered food and entertainment from "Pinetop" Perkins, backed by Foree Wells and the Walnut Street Blues Band. A Louisville Blues All-Star Band was voted on by the members and they performed at Willie's 537 Club. The Blues News started running ads to earn some extra income and the August/September issue had a new guitar/harmonica masthead designed by Amy Marlatt, which we still use today.
The Louisville Blues Legacy Project began to take shape, with a grant application submitted to the Kentucky Oral History Commission in November. The grant was approved in early 1992 and the investigation of Louisville's blues history through interviews started. Pen Bogert did most of the research. These tapes and transcripts are catalogued in the Louisville Archives at the U of L Ekstrom Library. Following an interview with Sara Martin's daughter, Ola Thornton, Bogert was permitted to copy her mother's scrapbook. It contained the famous studio shot of Sara and Sylvester Weaver. This photo was later used on our KBS tee shirts and a cover to a Yazoo VCR. A dedication ceremony was held at the Sylvester Weaver gravesite in March, with Pen Bogert playing Weaver's "Guitar Rag."
The KBS had a bigger role in the 1992 Waterside Arts & Blues Festival, presenting two music workshops, a blues history exhibit in the Visual Art Center plus a booth by the beer tent. Mike Suttles introduced the acts. Another grant was received from the Fund for the Arts - City Arts Program to be used for musical performances in the schools and libraries.
Starting in 1993 Pen Bogert took over as editor of Blues News. He and his wife Brenda collaborated to give the publication a strong historically based foundation over the next couple of years. They used a lot of the research material from the oral history project. (Whatever happened to "Ask Miss Blues," tips on blues etiquette?)
The KBS held its first Annual Amateur Blues Contest at the Bluebird in May. There were five contestants and MR2 Blue was judged the winner. They got to play at the Waterside Festival and scored a berth at the W. C. Handy Blues Amateur Contest in Memphis. In June, the Cherokee Blues Club closed by the fire marshal. It was the mainstay of the blues scene on Bardstown Road, thanks to the Cooke Brothers and Jeff Crowder. Fortunately, the Bluebird Café picked up the slack.
A KBS-sponsored exhibit, "Louisville Women In The Blues," was displayed at the U Of L Multicultural Center and later at the Waterside Festival. The Society members got business cards with a new logo designed by Walter McCord. (Do you know who that guitarist is with the baggy pants? Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown)
Foree Wells & The Walnut St. Blues Band signed a recording contract with Jim O'Neal's Rooster Blues Records. (Little did we know how long it would take for the release of his record.) Rick O'Neil and KBS produced "Back To The Blues," a TV cable series of programs hosted by Perry Aberli. These fifteen half-hour shows featured interviews and performances that highlighted our local and regional blues talent and history. Nineteen-ninety-three ended with a special concert at the MeX Theater in the Kentucky Center for the Arts (now the Kentucky Center) in December, featuring St. Louis blues legend Henry Townsend, accompanied by Leroy Pierson. This was the same location where Townsend recorded for Victor Records in 1931, 62 years earlier.
Nineteen-ninety-four began with the opening of the Backstage Café at O'Malley's Corner, which showcased national and local blues acts. There was a memorable blues fundraiser at the Rud on January 16, which turned into the "Blizzard Blues Fest." Three bands showed up; three bands couldn't make it, due to a snow and ice storm that dumped 19 inches of snow on Louisville, closing down the city for several days.
The Cherokee Blues Club made a comeback under new management with a ten-day grand opening in June at 1047 Bardstown Road, the space formerly occupied by the rock club Tweligans. Air Devils Inn, under the ownership of Dan Shockley, started bringing national blues talent, with shows by David 'Honeyboy' Edwards in August and Jimmy Rogers in September of 1994.
The Society combined its General Membership Meeting and its Second Annual Amateur Blues Contest at the Backstage Café, where I officiated as the new president of the KBS. Rude Mood was the winner. Funds were raised for a base for Bill Gaither's headstone at the New Crown Cemetery in Indianapolis. The 1994 Garvin Gate Blues Festival came back to the blues with Junior Kimbrough plus Willie Kent with Bonnie Lee, after straying away the year before.
Mike Pollard and Fred Wooten opened Stevie Ray's Blues Bar on Main Street in October. The KBS "Blue Yule Party" at Stevie Ray's closed out the year with the Billy Bird Blues Band providing the music and Willie Bright catering.
I will continue the KBS saga next month with Part 2, beginning in 1995.