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So much is happenin' in this old wicked world Lord. Everytime you pick up the paper, listen to the news, so much is happenin' in this wicked world - Robert Pete Williams, So Much Is Happenin' In This Wicked World

Author Topic: Ash Grove Preserves Old Blues  (Read 1224 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Ash Grove Preserves Old Blues
« on: September 23, 2007, 09:49:43 AM »
This may need to be moved elsewhere but until then it's scanned from Billboard magazine, week-ending Friday, 13 August 1968 (p 36-37) and buried in a "World Of Soul" feature! It is illustratrated with photos of Sonny & Brownie, Son House, Mance Lipscomb, Taj Mahal and Bessie Griffin.

By Eliot Tiegel

The honest, pure, undisciplined strength of rural American blues thrives and pulsates to the delight of aficionados at Los Angeles' Ash Grove nightclub.

The club, which celebrated its 10th anniversary July 11, is unique in its devotion to preserving the blues heritage at a time when psychedelic groups are gaining inroads in the live talent areas which previously boosted authentic Southern blues and folk music.

Owner Ed Pearl and his brother Bernie are by no means totally aesthetic nuts. They are businessmen in that they attempt to book acts for their 200-seat room which the public will accept. But ? and this is a major but ? they also are strong willed in their determination to actively present the driving spirits which keep the authenthic [sic] forms of blues alive and kicking.

These driving spirits include artists with both national reputations and unique abilities which may only have regional followings. "We try to contrast young blues groups with older ones," says Bernie Pearl, the 28-year old club's manager. Whenever possible the Pearls book a vintage blues player on the same bill with someone in the pop vein. "Our basic function is to encourage music," Pearl explains, noting that he is a blues guitarist who is continually learning new tricks by digging the old-timers

The Ash Grove is the only club of its kind in Los Angeles which continually dips back into history. Its large stage has been the scene of memorable performances by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Mance Lipscomb, Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Willie Mae Thornton, Bessie Griffin, Jessie [sic] Fuller.

And by such lesser known performers as blind Sleepy John Estes, Sun House [sic], Mississippi John Hurt, Booker White, Yank Rachel, Babe Stovall, Robert Pete Williams, Freddie King, George Smith and his South Side Blues Band and the Rev. Gary Davis.

Pearl also points to Cajun accordionist Clifton Chenier, Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers, Long Gone Miles, Albert King and Taj Mahal, as offering other brands of blues. Taj Mahal is a newer personality, who came to California from Boston five years ago and has kicked around with local groups. He is with Columbia Records.

There are two acts which especially appeal to Bernie Pearl and he'd like to book them: Snooks Eaglin, a blind guitarist from New Orleans, who apparently refuses to leave his home and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, whose fame has spread out from New Orleans.

"Rural music," Pearl says in the club on Melrose Avenue, "is honest, direct music in which little has changed." Under the banner of rural music, the club also has a strong loyalty to the bluegrass fraternity. Notes Pearl: "The more I listen to it, the more I learn that that's the blues also."

Over its 10-year span, the club has gained a reputation for booking oldtime blues artists. One interesting slant to these bookings is that often visiting British rock 'n' roll band members will drop by the Ash Grove to hear the guitar patterns and vocal inflections of the aging bluesmen.

The club has also been the launching pad for several contemporary rock bands, such as Canned Heat, the Dirty Blues Band and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. But Pearl shies away from their performances. "They're not playing black music; they're playing their rendition of it. The white groups don't emphasize their singing and their approach to solos is overly emotional."

Since the club has booked its share of bands, Pearl bears the scars of inept performances. A lot of the old musicians don't rehearse, he shrugs, and if a good blues shouter is placed with a "ratty band, she's going to sound ratty too." Pearl admits to having booked some clinker bills himself, but claims that 80 per cent of the music heard in the club is worthwhile.

The Ash Grove avoids following musical trends, whereas the Whisky A Go Go, for example, books the rhythm and blues names and anyone it can get with mass appeal.

The Ash Grove does not have a liquor license. "If we did, it would destroy the club," Pearl claims. "It would cut off 75 per cent of our good, young clientele; and it would bring in a drunken crowd."

The room recently initiated a one drink minimum (wines and beer) in addition to a regular $2 door charge. Week nights there are two shows; weekends three. The old-timers have no difficulty working this schedule, Pearl says, adding it may even keep them young artistically.

Listeners to the old blues styles are generally devotees. The city's South Central community does not enthusiastically support the Ash Grove's policy of booking the old Southern blues players. Even within the confines of the Negro community there are no rooms which propagate this musical form. The accent at such locations as the Californian Club, Club La Duce, Memory Lane, and the Pied Piper, for example, leans more toward a younger rhythm and blues sound and blues in a jazz idiom.

In this sense, the Ash Grove is West America's own preservation.

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