Never too old to rock n’ roll

Chuck Strong, on drums, Stuart Brooks, on bass, Skip Van Winkle, on keyboard, and James Martin Kelly, on guitar, jam during a Tuesday night session at Bergie's Bar and Grill. Katharine Lotze/Signal
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The tiny dance floor filled up quickly as the six piece band broke into a bluesy rendition of “Some Kind of Wonderful.”

It’s a common sight on Tuesday night at Bergie’s Bar and Grill in Canyon Country, where Strong Van Winkle performs from 7 to 10 p.m.

While the band does play originals, the focus is on timeless tunes that get the all-ages crowd grooving.

Lise Meyers of Canyon Country was one of the first to boogie. “They’re great performers and a lot of fun to watch,” she said.

Craig Williams, left, and TJ Sullivan, right, finish up a jam at Bergie’s Bar and Grill in Canyon Country. Katharine Lotze/Signal

Strong Van Winkle started off as a duo almost three years ago with drummer Chuck Strong, president of the SCV Blues Society, and Skip Van Winkle, a keyboard player known for being half of the 1970s band Teegarden & Vankle, who scored a hit with “God, Love and Rock & Roll” in 1972.

Over time, they started adding special guest artists to join in and jam.

Tonight, one of the rotating musicians is singer/songwriter/guitarist Alan Wright, who leads a searing version of Bill Wither’s “Use Me.”

There’s no set list. Each player throws out a request and the band obliges.

“All we need is a key and the rest falls into place,” Strong said.

The 60 year old Strong keeps the beat on each track with a big smile on his face. He’s been playing for decades but finds himself continually inspired.

“I enjoy it more now. Back in the day, it was about ego and girls. Now it’s for the groove and the feel,” Strong said. “I was a fast drummer when I was younger, but now, I’m just a good old blues player.”

Skip Van Winkle, a character with a big brown suede hat and long silver ponytail, adds a psychedelic touch both on and off the keyboards.

He once played to 200,000 people at the Goose Lake Festival, Michigan’s version of Woodstock, in 1970.

“It was just people and sky. Whoa,” Van Winkle recalled.

Skip Van Winkle, right, and Chuck Strong, left, jam during their regular Tuesday night jam at Bergie’s Bar and Grill in Canyon Country. Katharine Lotze/Signal

The keyboardist has also toured with Bob Seger and played the same stage as Alice Cooper and Rod Stewart.

“Rod yelled at me because he didn’t like how I introduced him,” Van Winkle said with a twinkle in his eye. “I have some feathers in my bonnet. I miss the success but I don’t like being bored.”

That’s why Van Winkle continues to play gigs whenever possible.

“We always have a good Tuesday here,” he said.

Strong was particularly happy this evening about the unexpected appearance of longtime friend and guitarist James Martin Kelly, who is returning to the Santa Clarita Valley after living in Atlanta for a time.

“He wanted to play, so I moved the other scheduled guests. It’s like herding wild cats sometimes, but it all works out,” Strong said.

Kelly’s guitar licks were reminiscent of Chuck Berry as he closed out the night with a fast-paced “Reeling and Rocking.”

Craig Williams of Valencia was clearly enjoying himself as he sat in on saxophone.

“We do it because we love it,” he said. “It’s just a cool scene.”

Strong couldn’t agree more.

“There’s 200 to 250 years of experience on that stage,” he said proudly.

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