For a while, it seemed as if the blues had hit on hard times around these parts.
Lucille’s is long gone … 4620 Jazz and Blues Club became 4620 Reinvented which later turned into the Velvet Nightclub and Show Bar … Sassy Ann’s House of Blues has become more of a dance venue … and most other venues that offer blues musicians a place to play, like Coyote Joe’s in North Knoxville, make the genre share time with karaoke and bike nights.
Brackins Blues Bar, in downtown Maryville, was the lone holdout. But the economic woes that struck in late 2008 took their toll on owners Mark and Linda Brackins as well, and the long-running Brackins Blues Jam slowly ground to a halt after five-plus years.
“It was very sad,” said Robert Higginbotham, a local guitar teacher and player in such local bands as Avenue C, Kings County Gumbo and One Step Up. “Mark did the best he could, and he hung by us for a long time, but at the end, there we were, playing to an empty room.”
And so Brackins called for a change, and the blues jam was no more. Until Thursday, April 22, that is — Brackins and Higginbotham recently talked about the slow economic recovery around these parts, reminisced about some of the magic made at those old jams and decided to give in another go. Starting every Thursday at 9 p.m. for the next six weeks, the Brackins Blues Jam is back.
“It was a wonderful experience, and I’m looking forward to doing it again,” said Higginbotham, who will return as part of the jam’s host band. “It’s been a year and a half, so there are some new players on the scene and some new cats coming up. I’ve been going out to a jam at Smokey’s (Sports Pub and Grill) in Fountain City, and the question that’s been coming up more lately is, ‘Is the Brackins jam coming back?’”
Members of the host band, in addition to Higginbotham, include the rest of the Avenue C rhythm section: Stan Gibert on bass and vocals and Barry Schwartz on drums. The format is simple — things get started at 9 p.m. with the host band, and prospective jammers must sign up on a sheet to perform. Those who jam do so in the order they sign up, and all they have to bring is their own instrument — bass and guitar amps are provided, as is the Brackins house PA and a drumkit. It’s an electric jam session, but there’s no discrimination — if you play congas or some type of horn, you’re welcome to participate as well, as long as you bring your own instrument.
“I tell mystudents that I learn more by playing with someone for a half hour than I could out of a book in a week,” Higginbotham said.
There’s no cover for the blues jam; you must be 21 or older to patronize Brackins.