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Blue Stew Still Hot

The local band, which feeds a variety of musical appetites, celebrates the release of its third CD, 'Stumbling Blocks & Stepping Stones.'


After six years together, the four guys in Blue Stew definitely have the blues thing figured out. They will be expanding their horizons with a party Thursday night at the Ban-Dar in Ventura to celebrate the release of their third CD, "Stumbling Blocks & Stepping Stones."

Imagine your favorite chair or your most comfortable pair of shoes as a band. Blue Stew has that smooth, cool blues groove going. They don't wail enough to break your eardrums, nor do they play so slow you get bored. And they ably mix styles such as T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Reed, Taj Mahal, Big Joe Turner and Freddy King.

The group features the guitars of John Boutell and Michael Miller and drums by Matt Rolston with Kirk Maxson on bass. Miller writes most of the songs, and both he and Boutell sing.

As for the new CD, Miller said, "This one is all originals--we don't do any covers. It has more of a pop-ish, Bonnie Raitt-ish edge to it. We've been playing West Coast blues and swing for the last six years. It's all danceable stuff."

Very danceable. Blue Stew performs every weekend at the Hi Cees at the Ventura Harbor, at gigs packed with energetic swing dancers and assorted tourists. The four have been at this gig for so long that the Blue Stew sign is screwed into the wall of Hi Cees.

All the players are locals with long musical histories, including many forgotten bands and songs. For example, Maxson has been playing in local groups since he was a student at Santa Paula High School.


One of his first bands had two guitar players, but needed a bassist. Since the other guy was better, Maxson picked up the bass. Both Maxson and Miller were playing at Hi Cees when guitarist Buddy Smith, leader of the house band, died in 1994. They inherited Smith's gig, but the band had no name.

"We finally came up with one that describes what we do, Blue Stew," Maxson said. "We do a lot of blues styles--Chicago blues, Texas blues, the jump stuff, country blues, Delta blues and Stevie Ray Vaughan stuff. We try to cater to what the dancers like, but we can do all sorts of stuff."

While the Hi Cees gig is as predictable as a Capricorn with a watch, Blue Stew also plays locally at the Deer Lodge and Wine Lovers occasionally, plus they have even been known to venture to L.A. But mostly, the local gigs suffice. As Rolston admits, "We're lazy. We all have day jobs and families."

Boutell also has stories to tell. In the late '60s he wanted to be a rock star, so he moved from Oxnard to Hollywood, where he found equal parts freedom and youthful immaturity in bands such as Spyder and Bandanna. One of his memorable gigs was backing up blues and boogie legend John Lee Hooker.

In 1970, Boutell loaned his amp and speakers to promoter Jim Salzer so Jimi Hendrix could use them when he played the Ventura County Fairgrounds. Boutell was the guy staring in amazement backstage while Hendrix was showing the guitarist Alan Thornhill how to play "Hey Joe."

"I was the one that kind of stood there with my mouth open, but I was in the presence," Boutell said.

Blue Stew has released three albums in six years, which is the height of musical dedication.

"Blue Stew is probably the only band I've been in that has survived artistic differences," Boutell said. "We've managed to do this thing for six years and nothing is perfect, but hopefully our maturity both musically and personally has allowed us to sort of honor the other person's interpretation. I'm not a prolific writer like Mike is, but I put out a few songs. And the way these guys treat them allows me to play the guitar parts and sing it the way it feels good to me. You can't ask for anything better."

At the CD party, the band will be reinforced by the keyboard player of their dreams, Jim Calire, as well as multi-instrumentalist and singer Steve White of Bar Stool Pigeons fame.

A pair of transplanted Texans, Roy and Daphne Jones, will play the bluesy opening set.

"Hopefully our loyal fans--and we have a fairly good following--will help us celebrate," Boutell said. "I hope they come and just share this time with us. We have some people that have played on this CD that we like, so let's just have some fun."


Blue Stew with Jimmy Calire and Steve White and Jones & Jones at the Ban-Dar, 3005 E. Main St., Ventura, 8 p.m. Thursday; $5 or $15 with CD; 643-4420. Also, 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Hi Cees, 1583 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura; free; 650-7773.



There is another ska pop band out of Orange County with an attractive lead singer that's not No Doubt. This would be the seven-piece Save Ferris, which will headline a dance-fest tonight at the Ventura Theatre. Second Nature and Hoobastank will open the festivities.

Save Ferris is fronted by the charismatic guy magnet, Monique Powell.

The band also features a guy named T-Bone Willy. He is the trombone player, which is one thing ska has accomplished--resurrecting or prolonging the careers of countless trombone players.

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