The Thrill Is Gone
Billy Blues Bar & Grill (6025 Richmond), the famed playhouse best known for its music, food and that big-ass saxophone out front, officially shut its doors at the end of January. The club's abrupt closing, which came about a month after management promised that the 12-bar venue/rib shack would morph into a "Texas music" outlet, has left folks wondering where the hell national and regional blues acts will turn to in Houston.
The Big Easy Social & Pleasure Club (5731 Kirby), with its sporadic jam sessions and jukebox appreciation nights, seems a likely candidate to pick up some of the slack. The same goes for the Shakespeare Pub (14129 Memorial) or even that occasional blues hangout, the much-ballyhooed Continental Club (3700 Main). But the time may be ripe for a revitalization, a renaissance even, on Washington Avenue, that much-revered street that has been home to blues venues in years past, including the Bon Ton Room, Club Hey Hey and the pre-wedding-hall Rockefeller's. It appears folks in the blues biz are again targeting that old-school strip, and why not? It's dotted with such die-hard dives as Silky's Blues Bar (4219 Washington), the Fabulous Satellite Lounge (3616 Washington) and the recently resurrected Local Charm (1815 Washington, see "Staying Alive," by Aaron Howard, January 4).
Satellite proprietor Dickie Malone already has received calls from booking agents looking to have their blues artists play his club. But since his prime weekend slots are already dedicated to mid-level (read: profitable) acts like Tab Benoit and Guy Forsyth, the possibility of booking even more such performers on the weekdays are slim as Harlem. "I thought about, you know, trying to do some blues stuff on another night of the week," says Malone. "But the problem is I can't pay these guys the money that they want -- that you could make on Friday and Saturday -- on a Wednesday."
Cutter Kearns, co-owner of Silky's, also has been getting calls, but unlike her neighbor, she's been a little more receptive. Recently, Billy Blues refugee Matt Leddy played at the bare-bones watering hole. Kearns figures the more acts that come around, the more people will think of Washington Avenue as a blues mecca. "If somebody came to me and said would this be a good street to put a blues bar on, you know, to get the national acts like [the ones Billy Blues] had, I'd say yeah," says Kearns, who along with her brother Tim acquired the club last September from its previous owner. "It would be a great place because it's revitalizing -- new buildings are going up, new homes are going up. You'll get a different kind of crowd in."
The cats over at Local Charm aren't looking to scoop up any major touring artists just yet. The owners of the small yet cozily authentic spot -- the former home of Club Madrid -- are still trying to get the club up to minimal standards. (Translation: They don't even have a cooler yet, just ice chests to keep the beer cold.) Plus, they're content with the up-and-coming local acts that have been gracing their stage. "Right now," says co-owner Rory Miggins, "I think we're gonna dance with who brung ya, you know, that old saying, that old Texas saying. The local artists, the local musicians, and the folks that have known us and are established with us will be here, and we're dancing with them right now."
Well, whoever dances with whom where, rest assured the local blues scene has not shriveled up and died since Billy Blues expired. "There's a rich history of blues in Houston," says local harp blower Sonny Boy Terry, who plays Thursday nights at the Shakespeare Pub. "It has a tradition here."
Blues, in other words, will always find a home somewhere around Houston -- even if you don't have a big-ass saxophone in front of your place.
Say what you will about Tonic (310 Main) -- its dress code is too much, its cover charge too high -- but for the fortunate few who have found their way inside, you have to agree the place is the most luxurious-looking club on the whole damn block. (Sorry, Prague followers, that place still looks like the club Martin Lawrence and Will Smith shot to hell in Bad Boys.) This Friday, February 16, the unflappably swanky club is celebrating its second anniversary of "bringing excellence to Main Street." Starting off with a cocktail reception at 8 p.m., DJs Blake Davidson, Johnny J, Steve Nice and Ryan E will be spinning throughout the night. The management types may be feeling charitable that evening, so show up wearing a Hawaiian shirt, jeans and a pair of Chuck Taylors and see if they'll let you in. If they don't, there's always No tsu oH (314 Main) a couple of doors up.
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