SEATTLE HAS A RICH blues tradition worthy of the same kind of treatment Paul De Barros gave jazz in his 1993 book Jackson Street After


Almost blues

Without a permanent Seattle home, blues musicians split their time between five Ballard venues.

SEATTLE HAS A RICH blues tradition worthy of the same kind of treatment Paul De Barros gave jazz in his 1993 book Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle. Fans will remember the Jolly Roger and the Owl Cafe as Seattle's blues bastions during the 1980s and early '90s, but since they closed, there has been no single venue hosting blues on a nightly basis. There still isn't. The Owl's old neighborhood, however, is experiencing something of a blues renaissance four nights a week.

Just in time for the onset of seasonal affective disorder, here's a guide to maneuvering through Ballard's emerging, house-rocking, down-in-the-alley blues scene:

BAD ALBERT'S TAP & GRILL A fan with a taste for Chicago and traditional blues, owner Steve Katsandres enjoys exposing his patrons to a variety of blues styles. Having transformed the dingiest of dives, Trader Van's, into a sparkling clean and very stylish room, Katsandres went for class and hired Annieville Blues four years ago to play her special brand of piano blues and boogie-woogie, with weekly special guests. She plays Thursdays 8:00-10:30pm, often featuring the golden throat of Mark Dufresne on harp and vocals. Bad Albert's also features blues on Saturday nights, with upcoming performances by Eric Madis, Bill Chism, the Blues Healers, and Henry Cooper. Katsandres toys with the idea of expanding into a full-blown club with food, table service, and blues seven nights a week. 5100 Ballard NW, 782-9623.

THE BIT TAVERN Drew Greer, the new owner of the Bit Tavern, is a friendly, enthusiastic blues lover who wants his cozy space to become a hangout for blues musicians and their fans.

Greer was busy selling his famous Cajun salmon burgers from his Ballard Brothers cart at the seafood fest when Greg Roberts and Guy Quintino started playing. He was knocked out by their renditions of traditional blues, with Greg on guitar and vocals and Guy on upright bass. He knew he'd found the high quality blues he'd been wanting to feature at his joint and was delighted when Greg and Guy agreed to become the house band for a Wednesday jam.

Their jam draws guest players curious to hear Bay Area transplant Roberts, a veteran of bands with Rusty Zinn, R.J. Mischo, and Rick Estrin, front man for Little Charlie & the Nightcats. Jammers have included Jack Cook (Phantoms of Soul), Charlene Grant (Isaac Scott), Dana Lupinacci (Dana & the Jive Guys), John Marshall (Trouble at Home, Wild Rhododendrons), Kimball Conant, harp player Kim Field, Jeff Ziontz, Chris Stevens (the King-a-Lings), and Twist Turner from Chicago. 4818 17th NW, 782-1680.

THE LOCK & KEEL This Ballard Avenue tavern next door to Conor Byrne's (previously the Owl Cafe) has recently undergone a change in ownership. The spacious club features microbrews on tap, imported beers, wine, and several full-size pool tables as well as an elevated stage and good acoustics.

New owner John Hermann has just started featuring music on the weekends, with Dave Conant & the D-Rangers on Thursdays. Their special guests have included Mark Dufresne, Michael Rollins, Larry Barrett, and John Marshall. Conant, veteran of Seattle's archetype grunge/punk band Red Dress in addition to numerous blues bands, aims to play with versatile musicians not necessarily known exclusively for blues.

New owner Hermann makes no claim to blues aficionado status; he hired Conant for a weekend, loved what he heard, and decided to hire him for Thursdays. He says that his patrons, from rockabilly to alternative fans, have been extremely receptive to Conant's soulful blues. 5144 Ballard NW, 781-8023.

SALMON BAY EAGLES The nationwide web of Eagles clubs, a community service organization whose motto is "People Helping People," was started by vaudevillians in Seattle in 1898. The Salmon Bay Eagles started its current incarnation as a music venue with a Sunday jam in 1990. In 1994, Jimie Jean Tuttle, a blues club denizen, moved the music to Thursdays and won the Best Blues Club BB award from the Washington Blues Society. Tuttle is a congenial and knowledgeable hostess who was awarded the WBS Keeping the Blues Alive award in 1999. "My main goal is to have a club for the musicians, a place where they'll feel like they are at home. When they are set free in a place they can call their own, we as an audience reap the rewards."

Some people have been confused by the Eagles status as a private club into thinking one must be a member to gain admittance. Not true. Tell the doorman you're Jimie Jean's guest and he will sign you in when you enter. 5216 20th NW, 783-7791.

THE SUNSET TAVERN Max Genereaux, the Sunset's new owner, moved to Seattle when he was 18, got a fake ID, and was introduced to the blues by a friend. They were regulars at Patrick Lynch's Blue Monday at the Owl for three years, had a ball, and fell in love with the music. So when blues bassist and Tractor Tavern doorman Bill Freckleton approached him about a Blue Monday at the Sunset, he jumped at the chance to bring the blues back to Ballard. Genereaux, a former bartender at Hattie's Hat, started his career as a bar owner with Al's Tavern in Wallingford. Under his ownership, the Sunset has undergone a remarkable transformation, morphing from another gritty Ballard Avenue dive into a beautifully designed and decorated venue. Everything about the place—from the rich, curved bar to the pool table to the art on the walls—bids a hip, comfortable welcome. "My goal was to create exactly what I got: a small, groovy lounge with a great stage and a kickass sound system to showcase all kinds of music," Genereaux says.

Into this gorgeous space roar David Brewer and the Intimidators every Monday night (check calendar for exceptions), featuring mystery guests who have included Isaac Scott, Dave Conant, Billy Joe Huels (vocals and trumpet) and Micah Hulscher (keyboards) of the Dusty 45s, John Hodgkin, lap steel player Don Pawluk, Del Ray, Daddy Treetops, and Chris Carlson. Brewer—whose songs have been covered by Canadian Colin James, Brit Long John Baldry, and Mississippi harp legend Carey Bell, and others—plans to continue introducing non-blues players to the mix, which makes for some spontaneous, intense collaborations. 5433 Ballard NW, 784-4880.

SO THERE YOU HAVE IT: a plethora of blues. Remember the Caballero, Tokyo West, the Boulder, the Ridge, the Fresh Air, the Walrus, the Cosmos, Pig Alley, the Fremont Tavern? These are only some of the blues clubs that dotted Seattle's landscape in decades past. Though the new names don't carry the historical weight of their predecessors, the musicians—some of whom frequented the stages of those bygone clubs—remain as committed as ever to the blues and the audiences who support it.

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