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SOUTH-CENTRAL : Club's Hit Combo: Blues, Friendliness

June 20, 1993|ELSTON CARR

Before there was jazz, rock and roll, R&B and funk, there was the blues. And Babe's and Ricky's is one the best places in Los Angeles for some down-home blues.

The only blues nightspot in South-Central, Babe's and Ricky's is a remnant of when ballrooms, jazz clubs and theaters dotted the area, when Central Avenue was a required stop for musicians such as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday and B.B. King.

On a recent Monday night, a small crowd gathered in front of the tiny club at 53rd Street and South Central Avenue. Mondays are jam nights when blues fans and musicians come together to shake their heads, stomp their feet and clap their hands to plaintive guitar solos and the stirring vibrations of an electric organ.

Patrons arrive from as close as around the corner and as far as Orange and San Diego counties. They praise the high-quality music, but say the friendly atmosphere is what keeps them coming back.

Every Monday for the past year, 43-year-old Robert Carmack has driven more that 40 miles from his Mission Hills homes to jam with other musicians. Carmack, who plays the soprano saxophone, sat in a dark corner as Deacon Jones, John Lee Hooker's organist, played on a small stage facing the bar near the entrance of the club.

"It's the best place to hear the blues," Carmack said "It's in the community . . . real homey and friendly just like a juke joint in the South."

Laura Gross, who opened Babe's and Ricky's 1965, said the club has evolved from an entertainment spot to a place where the blues tradition can be nurtured and preserved for a new generations of musicians.

The vivacious Gross directs the traffic of musicians on and off the stage and greets patrons at the door. The cover charge is $2, and on Monday nights that includes a fried chicken dinner that Gross prepares and personally serves to each customer.

When she's not busy, Gross sits in a booth near the stage, with nods indicating her praise of the music and a shake of the head showing her disapproval. During a recent jam session, Gross sat smiling when 18-year Marx Njoroge of Culver City excited the house with his guitar solos.

After Njoroge's set, Gross called him over to the booth with a wave of her hand. "Young man," she said, "you keep on playing."

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