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MUSIC: Ventura County | ROCKTALK

Got Shorty

Rendezvous Room has him and his band Sunday afternoon.


More than holding their own in the Sunday afternoon rock wars are Harmonica Shorty & the Tail Draggers. They perform at, of all places, the Rendezvous Room in Ventura. Harmonica Shorty (a.k.a. Ken Sullivan) is easy to pick out--he's the short guy in the corner with the harmonica. The 4 p.m. show is of the ever-affordable free variety.

Shorty is ably assisted by his Tail Draggers, who include Kerry Wenninger (guitar), Paul Kampo (guitar), Mike Hightower (bass) and Richie Vanderwick (drums). Shorty and Wenninger have been playing together for two years, but this version of the band has been at it for about nine months. The blues thing is a hard road, especially when you have to deal with a 9-to-5 slice of the real blues--a job.

"We really haven't been practicing much lately, but we just started," said Shorty, of Carpinteria, during a recent phone interview. "Everyone has a day job. We're working on a tape, but our originals aren't ready to record yet."

Meanwhile the competition in our area is intense for the Sunday afternoon crowd. Blue Stew has been playing at Hi Cees in the Ventura Harbor for what seems to be forever, or since a week after Father Serra left town. The Bombay has dance bands, and up the street from the Rendezvous, Cafe Voltaire has something, usually mellow, going on. While up California 33, Maxie's in Oak View has a classic rock band. Farther up the road, in Meiners Oaks at Deer Lodge, it's usually more blues on Sunday afternoon.

Then there's the Rendezvous, known mostly for the liquid-holding capacity of its older, devoted clientele, a crowd tough on rock stars. On punk-rock nights, some of the patrons, generally as immovable as a Rodin exhibition, have been seen staggering away from the club at a rapid rate. Regulars seem to hate most of the bands that play the joint. Shorty, a man who can transform staggerers into dancers, they love.

"The Rendezvous is fun," he said. "We get a good reception and it's a good crowd. Usually, if you can get one person to dance, you end up with a crowd."

The reason they dance is simple: Rockin' blues makes still feet a physical impossibility. That's why Chess Records is still re-releasing all that great old blues stuff. Shorty and his pals do about 75% covers, but choice covers.

"We do that old-style Chicago blues, like Muddy Waters and Little Walter, with our own thing thrown in," he said. "We try and stay away from the slow, dragging blues. If it's a sad song or a happy song, we keep it sounding upbeat."

Shorty has been keeping things happy for a few years now, plus he's getting "The Blues Look"--dark glasses and a white T-shirt--dialed in. All he needs is a deal with Hohner, the harmonica folks.

"I've been playing with a band for about two years, and I've been playing harmonica for about five years," he said. "I got turned on to some Little Walter and some of that old Chicago stuff, then a friend and I saw [blues musician] Rod Piazza, and I was hooked."

* The Rendezvous Room is located at the corner of Palm and Main streets, a block from the mission, in Ventura; 643-5966.


Zoo News: The San Diego Zoo can't have a much more elaborate press kit than the Zookeepers, an L.A. band that will be playing a free show tonight at Nicholby's in Ventura tonight. The band has its logo plastered all over the large envelope, which holds not only its third CD ("Leaving L.A."), but a pen, a business card, e-mail info, fan club info, merchandise offers, cover letter (on band stationery), band photo, rave reviews, itinerary, venues and a poster. What? No pizza coupons?

The band has played in just about every large and small town on the West Coast, with at least a dozen gigs in April alone. Wherever, this trio can definitely play.

* The band begins at 10 p.m. at the venue at 404 E. Main St. in Ventura; 653-2320.

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