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ROCKTALK

Blues Cruise

Reviewer hops behind the wheel, measures the music at local clubs.

March 06, 1997|JAMES E. FOWLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Someplace, somewhere a grad student is writing a thesis that will explain the social forces at work here. Me? I'm just an innocent bystander.

I came cruising out of the West Valley on Thursday night in search of some good music. I had noticed that J.P.'s Lounge, the jazz club in Burbank, had made Thursdays their blues night. Considering the current popularity of the blues right now, it's no wonder.

The blues is deceptively simple music that relies more on emotion than musical technique. You can keep it simple or get fancy. Or you can stay somewhere in between.

The band at J.P.'s on Thursday consisted of fine musicians, but I wouldn't really call them a blues band. Sure, they performed a couple of blues-progression instrumental jams and they did "Route 66," but real blues bands have to have a leader with a nickname of some sort--Little George or Big George or Harmonica Fred or something like that. Also these guys did some very not-blues-like material, such as the old Santo and Johnny instrumental "Sleep Walk."

They played well and the crowd seemed to love them in spite of their loose, extremely laid-back attitude. But I left after one set to check out Texas blues man Gary Primich at Cozy's.

*

As the clubs turn: As I was driving, I passed by the now-closed F.M. Station in North Hollywood. I only recently learned of the club's demise.

The building has had many identities over the last 30 years, but it's always been a dance place for young Valleyettes who wanted to work up a sweat. In the 1960s, it was the Rag Doll. In the 1970s, it was Hag's Place, a country music joint (partly owned by Merle Haggard) that was supposed to challenge the supremacy of the Palomino half a mile down the street. Now both clubs are gone.

While the Valley has lost F.M. Station (at least for the time being), it has gained Borage, a rather fancy supper club that offers jazz on the weekends, on the former site of Pelican's Retreat in Calabasas. More on Borage at a later date.

*

Hippity-hopping: I arrived at Cozy's as Primich was capping off his set of blues material with a respectable version of the jazz nugget "Caravan" performed on the chromatic harmonica. Primich doesn't have a nickname either, but he is from Texas. I was feeling restless, so rather than sit around during Primich's break, I left Cozy's to check out the scene a few doors down the street.

Cafe Cordiale had the Fifth Travis, probably the best cover band I've heard in a long time. As I was walking in, they were doing an excellent version of an Elton John tune. The lead singer was especially good. After a couple more impressive numbers, it was break time and I left.

*

Aftermath: I decided to head over to the Classroom. Two days prior to my visit, the Northridge blues club had been the scene of a robbery.

With all that nasty business getting big play on TV and in the newspaper, I was expecting that people might steer clear of the Classroom for a while.

Boy, was I wrong!

The Classroom's regular Thursday Blues Jam was well under way and the joint was jumpin'. Maybe Classroom regulars were making a statement. Maybe not.

One of the great things about the blues is that almost all musicians know the changes by heart, so it's really easy for people to sit in and sound like they belong.

When I walked in, there were 10 people jamming up on stage, including four horn players. They were cookin' and having a good time doing it.

After all, the show must go on.

BE THERE

Jeff Naideau plays Fri. and Blue Baron and the Stretch play Sat. at the Classroom, 8333 Tampa Ave., Northridge. No cover. (818) 885-0250.

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