Bobby Lewis, whose no-cover Blue Monday jams at his Third Ward juke joint Miss Ann's Playpen welcomed professionals and amateurs alike and became legendary among the Houston blues community, passed away over the weekend from a number of health problems. His age was unknown.
Reg Burns, Director of Finance and Operations of the Miller Outdoor Theatre Advisory Board, confirmed the news Sunday night via Steve Sucher of the Musicians' Benevolent Society of Houston; Sucher had spoken with Lewis' widow, Beverly, Burns said.
Local blues scholar Dr. Roger Wood, author of Down In Houston: Bayou City Blues, said Lewis had been in poor health and "getting worse for some time." Burns added that besides diabetes, Lewis had recently been diagnosed with Alzeheimer's Disease.
According to Dr. Wood, Lewis and his wife Beverly opened Miss Ann's in the mid-'90s at the corner of Alabama and Dowling streets. They named the place after their young daughter, he adds -- she had the run of the place when the couple was renovating the club while preparing to open. As part of the Blue Monday scene, the Lewises also provided a free soul-food spread to go along with the music.
"I mean complete, excellent soul-food dinners, tasty and absolutely free of charge," Dr. Wood remembers.
He says Miss Ann's was a "home base" for him in the late '90s while working on Down In Houston, which was published in 2003. The blues jams could be packed with a who's who of local players, "and many more, sometimes all on the same night": Joe "Guitar" Hughes, Sherman Robertson, Trudy Lynn, Wilber McFarland, I.J. Gosey, Carolyn Blanchard, Eugene Moody and Little Joe Washington, as well as neighborhood figures known as "The Candyman" and "Lil Buck."
The Miss Ann's jams carried on a local tradition that stretched back decades, Wood wrote in an article for the Houston Press in January 2000:
It's a tradition almost as old as the blues, one that reportedly thrived in Houston (and elsewhere) earlier in the century at long-gone establishments such as Shady's Playhouse in the Third Ward. "Whoo! On Blue Mondays the place was jumping!" once said the late Teddy Reynolds, Shady's original house pianist.
"You know, folks would go to work, or not, with a hangover on Monday morning, and then they just had to have a little drink and go listen at some blues after work, first thing."
A different R&B singer named Bobby Lewis is still living and had a No. 1 hit in 1961 with "Tossin' and Turnin," which was later used on the soundtrack for the 1978 movie Animal House.
Wood remembers Houston's Lewis as a tall, muscular former football player; he was known to close down his own jams with Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll." According to Burns, this Bobby Lewis was a stage name, and the Miss Ann's owner's real name was Phillip Mystro.
"He could sing soul-blues in the most exquisite voice, falsetto really," says Dr. Wood. "It could be profoundly moving. Every December I recall him really knocking us all out with his tastefully soulful rendition of Christmas songs, too."
Miss Ann's received Houston Press "Best of Houston" awards for Best Blues Club in 2002 and 2003, but had already closed by the time the second was announced.
"Bobby Lewis was a businessman, I guess, but he was also a unifier who brought a lot of folks together and made them happy to be alive," says Roger Wood. "He had many friends, and I am grateful to be among them."
A memorial service is tentatively planned for Saturday, says Burns.
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