On the second Sunday of every month, Newhall’s American Legion Hall transforms into a rollicking blues club.
Armed with guitars and harmonicas, local musicians and members of the Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society take to the stage for impromptu jams, covering classics with a style all their own.
First up is a sextet comprised of Mr. Blues on harmonica, Surfer Joe and Richard Gordon on guitar, Wendy Hirsch on bass, the single monikered Alana on drums, and Ben Govia on congas.
After a brief consultation, they quickly launch into “Little Sister,” followed by “Le Freak”, and closing with the soulful “Have You Ever Loved a Woman?” sounding tight for never having played together before.
That’s because these “society” members all have a singular passion: playing and preserving the music they love.
“The blues is my thing,” said Joe Ramieri, aka Surfer Joe, of Saugus. “I love the feeling, I love the structure. It all comes from the heart.”
There’s a $5 cover to attend the jam, which starts at 5 p.m. with a host band. Recently, it was Wumbloozoo, a quartet and the house band for December’s “holiday” jam, which collects Toys for Tots donations.
The jam starts at 5:45 p.m. and is open to anyone who wants to play. Musicians sign up on a list and are then put together in random groups of 3 to 5.
All proceeds support the nonprofit SCV Blues Society, which puts on the event, as well as several others throughout the year. Memberships are $20 for individuals and $30 for families (but are not required to attend the jam).
The society uses all funds raised to maintain their website, do outreach, and send local member musicians to the International Blues Challenge held annually in Memphis, Tenn.
Last year’s SCV Blues Society entrant, Artur Menezes, won the Albert King Guitar Award at the event; while this year’s winner, the Celco Selim Band, will represent at the 2019 competition.
“Our goal is to keep American-based blues music alive and to promote it to the younger generations and whoever wants to hear it,” said vice president Chuck Strong, a songwriter who also plays the drums.
Judging from the audience, many of whom get up and dance throughout the evening, there are quite a few people that still want to hear the blues.
As for young people, guitarist Luke Thompson, 17, drove all the way from Simi Valley with his family to participate in the jam, his second with the SCV Blues Society and fifth overall.
While he’s only been playing for four years, Thompson easily keeps up with seasoned musicians several to many decades older.
“The more you do it, the more confident you get,” he said. “I jam whenever I get the chance.”
Thompson cites influences ranging from Stevie Ray Vaughn to BB King and said he wants to carry on the blues tradition for his generation and beyond.
“There’s so much history behind the blues. It would be sad for all this blood, sweat, and tears go to waste,” he said.
Back on stage, guitarists Jay Dean and Danny Costello, bass player Rocco Guarino, and drummer/SCV Blues Society president Steve Brittain are rocking the house with revved up versions of “Going to Louisiana” and “Rock Me All Night Long,” finishing off the set with a rousing rendition of James Brown’s “I Feel Good.”
Chuck Strong looked on with admiration as each group played on.
“There’s only 12 notes in music, but the style and feel, the roots of the blues comes from the soul,” he said. “We all feel it. It’s just the blues.”
Catch The Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society Jam the second Sunday of every month at American Legion Hall, 24527 Spruce Street, Newhall. For more information, call (661) 210-7220 or visit www.scvblues.com.