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The Potato Varies Its Flavor

North Hollywood jazz venue shifts mood on Tuesdays with rock 'n' roll jams.

November 30, 2000|KASTLE WASERMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Baked Potato jazz house in North Hollywood seems an unlikely venue for rock jams. But things are a little different on Tuesdays. That night belongs to former Guns 'N Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke, who leads his Blues Mafia in improvised sets weekly at the Potato.

Notable musicians, including CC Deville, Wayne Kramer, Jani Lane and Bruce Kulick, have lent their talents to the Blues Mafia, playing blues classics and rock standards in spontaneous sessions with the band. The crowds pack in and stay late, reveling in the band's lighthearted vibe and gently sarcastic patter, often until 2:30 a.m.

The Blues Mafia's core members include Clarke (guitar, vocals), Stefan Adika (bass), Teddy Andreas (keyboards) and Eric Singer, formerly of KISS (drums). The Tuesday night tradition started when Andreas invited Clarke to join his long-running Screaming Cocktail Hour jam band at the Potato. "We changed the band around and added Stefan and Eric. Between the four of us, we have quite a collection of songs we can do," says Clarke.

Ending Up With Cheap Trick Songs

The new band of rockers proved to be a hit, despite the fact they don't play the usual Baked Potato fare, Clarke says. "We always laugh about that. We try to stay blues based, but we start getting drunk and end up playing Cheap Trick songs!"

Located in the traditionally un-rock 'n' roll 818 area code, the 100-capacity restaurant-bar's tables fill up with Clarke's friends and fans, and those hoping for a glimpse of some of his famous associates. The kitchen serves up the venue's famous baked potatoes, with any of 21 toppings, until 1 a.m.

Clarke says he never made a single phone call to round up players--or an audience--for his jam nights. "Word just gets out," he says, speculating that the main appeal is the band's unpretentious attitude. "It's a night where you can let your hair down. We just play, and if we know you, you can come up and jam with us."

Clarke gained A-list recognition when he joined Guns 'N Roses in 1991, replacing Izzy Stradlin, but he was already known in Hollywood clubs as a guitarist in Candy and Kill for Thrills. He also leads another jam band at the Cat Club in West Hollywood on Thursdays but says the Valley scene is much more laid-back.

The anything-can-happen atmosphere at the club and the collective star power of the Blues Mafia seem to be what brings out the big names, including some of the musicians' former bandmates. Singer's KISS connection lured in Ace Frehley one night, and Clarke's time with GNR routinely draws in Slash, Steven Adler and Matt Sorum.

Clarke says they're sometimes surprised when an actor turns up to jam, recalling the night that Bruce Willis sat in. "He played harmonica with us. He's very serious about his music. He doesn't take control or grandstand. He just sat back and played. It was really cool."

Occasionally, entire bands take the stage for a song or two. "We'll take a break if there's a whole band there," says Clarke. "One night, The Romantics were in town, and we let them come up and play."

Blues Mafia on Indefinite Run

The Blues Mafia is scheduled to perform every Tuesday. Clarke says that the key to the success of their indefinite run is the simple fact that it's spirited and it's fun. "We're not pretentious about what we do. If we're not having a good time, then we're not going to do it. I think that goes over to the audience. Our thing is, 'Go out, have a drink and have a good time.' "

But there are limits. Not everyone can get in on the show.

"Every once in a while, we get some guy who will sit right in front of me asking, 'Can I jam? Can I jam?' It gets a little ridiculous."

* Gilby Clarke's Blues Mafia, Tuesdays at the Baked Potato, 3787 Cahuenga Blvd. West, North Hollywood. $10 cover. (818) 980-1615.

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