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MUSIC | LOCAL ANGLE

Blues 'n' BBQs

Where the players are smokin' onstage, as a side of beef is cookin' in the kitchen.

July 16, 1998|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Smoke seems to be a recurring theme at Smokin' Johnnie's in Studio City, and that's not even considering the air quality in the Valley outside. Plenty of the smokin' occurs on the stage, where blues is the real deal here.

There is seldom a cover at Smokin' Johnnie's, open every day, where all the best local bluesmen seem to play. Tony Galla, Janiva Magness, the Hammer Smith Band, Pat Hennessey and even the incredible one-man band Ironman Mike Curtis are just a few of the acts that have played the venue, and that's just for July.

The motto on the marquee outside sets the tone for what's happening inside: "Booze, blues & BBQs."

If you don't get the gist yet, you need only look on the walls inside, which are virtually covered with pictures of blues artists such as Jackie Lomax, James Harman, William Clarke, Little Jonny Lawton and Patrick Landrevillem, with Lomax and Lawton up there twice. Elvira and the Laker Girls also get some wall space, even though they don't sing.

There is also some serious smokin' goin' on in the kitchen, where Johnnie's $10,000 smoker does the right thing to a whole side of beef. The place smells good. The menu features some serious grub such as soups, salads, munchies, Italian and BBQ everything.

The fries are great. Manager Bobby Cottonwood, not surprisingly, agrees.

"There are some venues around that happen to have food. This place is an A-rated restaurant known for its food, and we sell more food than we do alcohol. And the French fries are the best in the Valley."

"Patio smokin' " reads the sign in the place where final Gs remain superfluous. There's a neon sign of a cigarette in the renovated patio, just to remind those of the ongoing cancer experiments in progress.

The smoking area itself is quite comfy, with metal rocking chairs near a waterfall bubbling down an ivy-covered back cliff. There are also a couple of video games and a dining area.

Overall, Johnnie's is rather cozy, holding just 150 people inside. The walls are all wood, with a couple of nervous ceiling fans trying to get away, but doing their job most admirably.

There's a small bar with a big TV, and the band room itself features just 11 tables and no bad seats. Five bucks for a Bass Ale isn't a deal, but a T-shirt for 10 bucks isn't bad.

The only recurring gigs at Johnnie's are the acoustic blues showcase on Sundays, New Talent Comedy Showcase on Monday and Oscar Jordan's Blues Machine, which hosts the Wednesday night jam session.

The acoustic jam on Sundays, which begins at 4:30 p.m., has been a hit since Day 1. The first Sunday of the month is for bluegrass and swing, followed by blues and jazz, singers and songwriters, Celtic and American traditional and, when there's a fifth Sunday, guitar and instrumental music. There is a $5 cover for this one.

Smokin' Johnnie's is the brainchild of John E. Ferris, a studio executive at Paramount. He's busy more often than not doing Hollywood stuff over the hill, but lest anyone forget who's who, Johnnie's mug is everywhere, including on the T-shirts, the menu, the band schedule.

Ferris, who was the CEO of a prop-rental company for 19 years before joining Paramount, originally opened the place 2 1/2 years ago to entertain his friends.

Prior incarnations of the site were a jazz club and a Swiss alpine restaurant.

With Ferris' Hollywood connections, the place still hosts plenty of wrap and post-production parties, "Cybill" and "Gary Shandling" being a few of the more recent shindigs. They also cater location shoots and all things Hollywood.

"We live for catering," said Cottonwood. "Everything is handmade every day, and it's all John's recipes and he's the blues guy. We have a ball here. The place is located in a real good neighborhood. We have a great clientele, good music and good food."

BE THERE

Smokin' Johnnie's, 11720 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 760-6631. Billy Sheet & the Blues Diamonds and the Kid Tracy Band play blues tonight; the Hammer Smith Band plays blues Friday; Dirty Pictures plays blues and original rock Saturday; Acoustic Blues Jam and Farless Ladylike Tendencies play blues Sunday; New Talent Comedy Showcase on Monday; Devhra & the Lounge Lizards play blues and original rock Tuesday; Oscar Jordan's Blues Machine hosts a blues jam Wednesday.

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