Last month I reminisced about the early years of the Kentuckiana Blues Society from late 1988, when it was founded, through 1994. This month, we will take a journey through the middle years, from 1995 to 2000.
The January issue of Louisville Music News had an excellent cover article about Louisville guitarist Foree Wells. Mark Clark did the interview for the story, with photos by Jean Metcalf and Eddie Davis. The article stated, "Foree Wells & The Walnut Street Blues Band recently finished recording its first album, which is slated for early 1995 release by Rooster Records." What was to be a few months turned out to be twelve years. Blues News co-editor Brenda Bogert completed "The Story of Sylvester Weaver - The First Guitarist To Record, Parts 1-3," which was later reprinted in Blues & Rhythmmagazine.
On April 8, we boarded a bus for the first Louisville Bluesland Cruise. A group of forty-four blues soulmates met in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn at 2ndand Broadway and headed to Willie's 537 Restaurant for dinner. Then we went to Stevie Ray's to hear the Red Snapper Blues Band. The next stop was the Backstage Café, where the Cincinnati Blues Allstars were performing. The climax was the 26thStreet Tavern, where the 26thStreet Blues Band was holding court. Fred Murphy's down-home vocals and harp, plus Joe Wells' soulful blues standards were backed by a band that had been playing together for fourteen years. Sue O'Neil, one of our cruisers, got up and sang "I've Got Bad News" and for a brief moment, we were all one with the blues. The tradition of the KBS Annual Blues Cruise would continue for the next twelve years.
Winston Hardy was featured in the May issue of LMN, coinciding with the release of his CD Mumbo Jumbo. A memorial tribute to Bill Gaither, a Kentucky bluesman who recorded over one hundred songs from 1931-1944, was held at the New Crown Cemetery in Indianapolis on June 11. The KBS raised $100 for the base of his military headstone. On August 8, KBS members were guests at the Derby City Bop Association Tuesday dances for "Bop & Blues" night at Jim Porters, thanks to KBS Board member and bop deejay, Ron Wallace. The KBS printed up promotional brochures and a blue and white banner was made to use at festivals and events.
The Blues to the Point - Two Rivers Blues Festivalstarted in Carrollton on September 8 and 9 with the legendary Lonnie Mack as the closer. In October, the KBS moved its meetings from Willie's Place to the Velvet Rose Supper Club, which was also owned by KBS board member Willie Bright. Two blues clubs opened: The Blues Castle at 10thand Dumesnil, where the Red Devils Motorcycle Club was located and Big Heavy's Blues and Dance Club at 227 E. Market St. Fred Murphy received the Sylvester Weaver Award at the 1995 Garvin Gate Blues Festival, The festival was headlined by Magic Slim, Dietra Farr with Mississippi Heat and Byther Smith. Pen and Brenda Bogert relinquished their editor duties for Blues Newsand Paul Schneider took over as editor as well as serving as secretary.
"Blues in the Night," a blues musical, opened at Actors Theatre in February 1996. During its run there was a display called "When The Blues Start Talking," based on information obtained during the KBS Oral History Project. With the growing backlog of archival materials (books, newsletters, VHS) the Louisville Academy of Music at 2240 Frankfort Avenue was selected to be the custodian of our blues material, under the supervision of Robert French. During May, Zena's Café reopened at 122 W. Main Street, continuing a long tradition of presenting live local blues seven days a week. The KBS started having Board meeting at Zena's in August.
The Second Blues Cruise started with dinner at the Velvet Rose Supper Club, where David 'Honeyboy' Edwards was the guest. Then we went around the block to Big Heavy's, where "Honeyboy" was accompanied by Rick Sherry. The Nasty Weather Blues Band closed the set. The last stop was the Blues Garden (formerly the Blues Castle), where it was blues al frescowith the 10thStreet Blues Band and guests Mary Ann Fisher, George Brackens and the indomitable Fred Murphy.
The Louisville Blues Legacy Project was completed, with the tapes and transcripts of twenty interviews given to the U of L Archives and a final report submitted by Pen Bogert to the Kentucky Historical Society. The Tyler Henderson Blues Band won the 4thAnnual Amateur Competition held at the Velvet Rose on August 17, which was also the first anniversary of Willie Bright's club. Mary Ann Fisher received the Sylvester Weaver Award as well as a KBS sweatshirt at the 1996 Garvin Gate Blues Festival. She added "Fish" on the back of her sweatshirt, which was the nickname Ray Charles gave her when she went on the road with him during the 50s.
The year 1997 began with the sudden and sad news of the passing of Foree Wells on January 8. The February/March newsletter was devoted to remembrances and photos of Foree. Memorial concerts for Foree were held at Zena's Café and Jim Porter's during March, with the proceeds going to the Wells family. Pen Bogert took over duties as treasurer, the position Foree had held since the beginning of the KBS. Debbie Wilson began developing the KBS web site at www.aye.net/~kbsblues. This web site has now been simplified to www.kbsblues.org.
The Walnut Street Blues Band won the KBS 5thAmateur Blues contest at Stevie Ray's in September, competing against seven other bands. With the departure of Howard Rosenberg, the driving force behind the Garvin Gate Blues Festival, the Garvin Gate Association agreed they could no longer present the festival. When the Palace became the new sponsor for the festival, it moved uptown to Theater Square and charged admission. Smoketown Red received the Sylvester Weaver Award during that festival. Fourteen KBS members were away that same October weekend attending the King Biscuit Festival in Helena, Arkansas. We rented two vans, stayed in Clarksdale, Mississippi and got our first exposure to the Mississippi Delta and what the Biscuit was all about.
At the General Membership meeting in November, Brenda Major was promoted from secretary to president of the KBS. Little did she know that she would have that awesome responsibility for the next eight years. The Backstage Blues Café stopped featuring blues music and succumbed to a disco format, while Stevie Ray's came under new management, with Mike Kenney booking top blues talent.
In 1998 the KBS started raising money for a memorial fund to purchase a headstone for Foree Wells. A committee was formed and a blues dance fundraiser was held at Horsefeathers on April 4, with Ron Wallace as deejay.
Jim Rosen left this world on February 18 after a two-year struggle with cancer. There were many benefits during that time to defray his medical expenses. Shortly before he died, Brenda Major and Bob Cox did a very probing interview with Jim that was published in two parts in Blues News. The pain of the loss was transformed into a night of mixed emotions during Jim's Memorial Concert on March 2 at the Butchertown Pub. Londa Crenshaw opened an evening that no one wanted to end, with all the musicians and friends that Jim had touched reminiscing and jamming together, including a "Bubba Girl" Jam.
The KBS moved their meetings to the Main Street Smoke House in April until it abruptly closed five months later. Our transient meetings moved form Brenda's house to Mark's Feed Store until the end of the year. The annual KBS membership dues were increased by $5 to $15 for singles and $20 for couples, which went into effect on June 1. These dues have remained the same for the past ten years, providing the best deal in town.
During the summer, the Belle of Louisville and Public Radio Partnership launched three Blues Cruises, which included Tim Krekel, Steve Ferguson and the Metropolitan Blues All-Stars. The Garvin Gate Blues Festival was in its second year at Theater Square, where Lamont Gillispie was presented the Weaver Award. Paul Schneider did a two-part interview, in which Lamont talked about his experiences with The Stray Cats, Lefty Dizz and the Homewreckers. The year closed out with the KBS General Membership meeting and a second fundraiser for Foree Wells at Billy's Place on November 7 with the Walnut Street Blues Band providing the music.
In January 1999, the KBS began meeting in the back room of the Germantown Café. Lorene Wells, a KBS Board member and widow of Foree Wells, died on February 20. Lorene managed the Walnut Street Blues Band and her passing gave more urgency to providing a headstone for the Wells family.
Harry Lewman, musician, Lead Belly (Leadbelly) scholar and KBS member, published the book Lead Belly - No Stranger to the Blues, in which he transcribed both Lead Belly's vocals and 12-string guitar arrangements. Harry also released his self-produced CD, Gonna Be The Death Of You, which paid tribute to Barbecue Bob, Blind Willie McTell and Lead Belly.
Speaking of books, Lonnie Brooks and his son, Wayne Baker Brooks, signed copies of "Blues For Dummies" as contributing authors at Hawley Cooke Bookstore on June 10. They appeared at Headliners Music Hall the following night. The KBS sponsored a tee-shirt design contest, as it was time for a fresh new look. From over sixty entries, the winning design by Frank O'Connell was unveiled at Stevie Ray's during the Annual Blues Cruise in May.
Martha McNeal took over as secretary, replacing Lynn Gollar. Martha had become a dependable contributor of blues events and CD reviews for the newsletter. Mike Suttles and Kerry Ferrell began hosting "Sunday Night Blues and Stuff" on WQMF 95.7 FM from 10 p.m. to midnight. This show was a continuation of what Jim Rosen had started on Sunday morning on FOX. Kerry and Mike had sat in occasionally for Jim when his health was failing, so the transition was easy.
Six Flags at Kentucky Kingdom initiated their blues festival calledBlues, Brews and Barbecuein September. The Louisville Blues Festival on Fourth (formerly Garvin Gate) held their third and final festival in October. The Fat Possum Juke Joint Caravan with Elmo Williams, T-Model Ford and R. L. Burnside was right on target but Big Daddy & The Holding Company was way off the blues bulls-eye. Brenda presented the Weaver Award to Tanita Gaines during the Festival.
The headstone for Foree and Lorene Wells was dedicated at Calvary Cemetery on October 17. The shiny black granite monument displayed their pictures; below Foree's name was the quote "Some people get up to play the blues, think that all you do is play three changes. There's more to it than that. The blues is a feeling." Both Mary Ann Fisher and Winston Hardy, who was in frail condition, attended the ceremony. The year closed out with the KBS 10thAnniversary Party at Stevie Ray's on November 14. Jimmy Roberts Blues Band, the winner of the 1999 Unsigned Blues Competition, opened the party and E.C. Scott, the sassy lady from the West Coast, closed it down.
Join me next month as I take you through the recent years from 2000 to the present.