"Babe's and Ricky's Inn," Ramin Niami's new documentary on the legendary L.A. blues club, is a bit like the music that founder Mama Laura gathered up in her big, open-hearted embrace — an improvisational riff filled with weeping guitars, wailing harmonicas, pounding keyboards and sweat-soaked players rather than rigorous storytelling.
If you don't want to get up and move at some point during this film, go see a doctor.
Music in "Babe's and Ricky's" is righteous and raucous and easy to come by, but the story of Mama Laura is more elusive. And that is the frustration. Tantalizing tidbits surface in rambling conversations with a long line of artists who played on her stage. But a rich cultural portrait of a seminal place and the extraordinary person behind it never comes into sharp focus.
That's a pity, for her story is a remarkable one. At age 37, Laura Mae Gross got word that her husband had been stabbed and not long after, the young widow made a bold move to do what she loved. In 1957, Mama Laura, as she soon came to be called, opened Babe's and Ricky's Inn in South Central L.A. She named the club after her nephew and her son, respectively, and she spent the next 53 years nurturing the blues.