Like our neighbors over at Eating Our Words, Rocks Off would like to tell you about some places that didn't quite make the cut in our few most recent Best of Houston issues (categories change every year, mostly), but that are worthy on their own merits; today we begin our weekly journey with blues clubs. Don't forget to look at all the winners with our mobile apps for both iPhone and Android.
The sad fact is, given its amazing blues heritage, there just aren't that many blues joints left in Houston -- at least not many that offer blues and nothing but the blues on a nightly basis. In 2010, the Bronze Peacock Room at House of Blues was named best blues venue, but only hosts maybe a dozen blues gigs per year, although it has tried to make a go with some Monday blues shows featuring mostly locals, and does grab the occasional national touring act.
But for those willing to dig a little deeper, Houston still offers some fine blues-oriented waterholes where world class musicians keep the blues alive. Keep in mind, for most venues blues is a part time thing, not the bread and butter. Below are the best venues where blues is still happening.
8. D Bar: This recently renamed lounge on historic Dowling Street, not too far from the Project Row Houses and the Lightnin' Hopkins historical marker, has become a local hot spot on the weekends, with crowds spilling out onto the patio and cars parked for blocks.
But the club has recently instituted a Blue Monday program that features Trudy Lynn and Gloria Edwards. Running from 6-9 p.m., the show includes a short set by either Lynn or Edwards followed by a jam. The last time we popped in, we met Texas Johnny Brown toting his guitar in for some jamming with some of Houston's top players in the form of Pops Stewart, Pee Wee Stephens, John McVey and Little Joe Frenchwood.
Once-in-a-lifetime combos like that make this is a very cool scene that we hope will grow some legs and stick around a while.
4409 Dowling, 832-304-4409, Facebook page
7. The Hideaway on Dunvale: Rick Lee, a lifelong Houstonian and serious guitar slinger, fronts the Hideaway's Tuesday night jams which bring out many of the folks who also participate in the jams at Big Easy and Dan Electro's.
The last time we were there, Lee was playing drums behind Eric Demmer and Evelyn Rubio, and those two sax maniacs were trying to blow the roof off the joint. Aside from the weekly blues jam, the club also hosts local and touring blues acts as part of its live music mix. A little off the beaten path, this one is worth finding.
3122 Dunvale, 713-977-3515, Web site
6. 6. Dan Electro's Guitar Bar: Guitar whiz Teri Greene fronts the longest-running blues jam in Houston every Thursday night. Greene's jam is frequented by battle-hardened warriors like Ardis Turner, Moe Hansum, and Guy Schwartz as well as part-timers who just want to get out of the bedroom and play a couple of tunes in front of an audience. Sax badass Eric Demmer and members of his Sax Dawgs are frequently hanging around, willing to jump onstage and back up other players. We even spotted the legendary Lanier Grieg pounding the keys in Dan's one night.
Owner Bob Edwards is also a big fan of the blues and books touring acts like Pete Anderson, Tommy Castro or John Nemeth when the opportunity arises. He'll also take a chance on names most haven't heard of. It doesn't hurt that Dan's has some of the best sound in town, and the venue is as comfortable as your living room. The club has beer and wine, but if you're a liquor drinker, it's BYOB.
1031 E. 24th, 713-862-8707, Web site
5. Mr. Gino's Lounge: It's sad to report that Mr. Gino's music events have shrunk to once a week. But Sundays, this storied venue is still the place to be for a taste of what Houston was once like as longtime Houston bluesman I. J. Gosey leads a blues jam reminiscent of the Houston Blue Monday tradition. Both Gosey and Mr. Gino's are rare pieces of Houston history. See them now.
7306 Cullen Blvd., 713-738-0555, Facebook page
4. Boondocks: This Montrose bar is becoming known for its noise-ordinance violations and is hardly the epitome of a blues club, but it hosts a weekly Tuesday-night residency by Houston's cherished mascot of the blues, Little Joe Washington, and that alone makes this joint on the Westheimer Strip deserve props for good taste and makes it a must-visit venue for anyone interested in Houston blues.
Washington's sound has recently been augmented by a four-piece horn section led by trombonist/heart surgeon Dr. Billy Cohn, and on our most recent visit to the club this ensemble was laying down the law and taking no prisoners. Washington remains slightly outside the usual Houston blues box due to the rawness and spontaneity of his performances, but that's exactly what makes him so compelling as a performer. It's hard to beat this no-cover show with its mix of young Montrose hipsters and grizzled old hands for a Tuesday-night live music fix.
1417 Westheimer, 713-522-8500, Web site
3. Katie's Bar: Katie's is almost another version of Shakespeare's Pub, booking a practically identical lineup as far as local blues players and bands goes, many on a regular rotating basis. But Katie's also features non-blues bands such as Mitch Jacobs and Chad Ware, both more Americana acts. But it all runs together down here in these Gulf Coast roadhouses anyway.
315 Grand Ave., Bacliff, 281-559-3773, Web site
Sadly there are only two clubs booking the blues daily. Not only the quantity, but the quality of the bookings at both of these bars sets them apart as the crème de la crème.
2. Shakespeare's Pub: As far as live blues, Shake's is the only club in town that holds a candle to the Big Easy. Featuring many of the same artists on the Big Easy calendar, there are, however, subtle differences. Ace timekeeper Sparetime Murray leads a regular Sunday early blues jam, while the rest of the week tends to be filled with the likes of Texas Johnny Brown, John McVey, Eugene Moody, Mojofromopolis, Snit's Dog and Pony Show, Don Kesee, and Jonn Richardson, all reliable local acts. And Shake's books the occasional touring act. The only negative here is the long drive out Memorial -- and the even longer drive back.
14129 Memorial, 281-497-4625, Web site
1. The Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club: Long known as the Big Sleazy, this Kirby dive is as real as it gets as far as blues goes in Houston today. Owner Tom McClendon has a hard and fast policy of $5 cover and no higher, and when he brings in acts like harmonica badass John Nemeth, former Stevie Ray Vaughan mentor Marc Benno, or New Orleans piano virtuoso Jon Cleary for a measly Abraham Lincoln, that's as good a musical bargain as anything you'll find at any venue in any genre in this town.
While McClendon does hold Sundays open for zydeco, the rest of the nights are blues and blues only. The Wednesday blues jams bring out all sorts of known and unknown players. Thursdays feature longtime Houston faves Luther and the Healers, who keep it real with old school blues and soul covers while the Houston Blues Dancing Society fills the floor with swing dancers who can really scoot the boots. Fridays and Saturdays are reserved for the best blues shows McClendon can book, a healthy mix of touring acts and top local blues artists.
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You've got to love a club that books Texas Johnny Brown, Trudy Lynn, Milton Hopkins, John McVey, Grady Gaines, Ezra Charles and other local treasures on a monthly basis. This is one of the friendliest, most laid-back scenes in town night in, night out.
5731 Kirby, 713-523-9999, Web site