Muddy Waters didn't get his start in Chicago in the '40s until Big Bill Broonzy introduced him to all the blues jams on Chicago's South Side. And where would Junior Wells be in our blues history if Little Walter never took a chance and gave the 12-year-old kid his mike to harp on at the Ebony Lounge on Chicago's North Side?
Well, I know this isn't Chicago and we may not have Muddy Waters and Junior Wells poppin' out of the woodwork, but we do have the fixin's for a great blues jam here in town. If you mosey on down to Laura Belle's on a Wednesday night with instrument in hand, you might just get to take the stage with Magic Dave & The New Mules. And don't worry if you're not a musician; there's always room on the dance floor, or at the bar where you can kick back and enjoy the music.
Now, in order to have a successful blues jam you need two things: a venue worn in character and a host band of exceptional musicians. Laura Belle's and Magic Dave have no problem fulfilling the requirements, which is why they've had growing success with their blues jam for almost a year now.
"The real credit goes to the club," said Dave Therault, a.k.a. Magic Dave, at a recent jam night. "The owners, Nancy and Phil, love musicians and see the need to support the struggling music scene here in Colorado Springs." Laura Belle's has been supporting live music since the early '80s. It's an aged bar -- not some trendy one that was built to look aged. It's kind of like the bar on the other side of the tracks that evokes a bit of hesitation from the outside, but once you step inside you see that it's a neighborhood bar with more regulars than newcomers. The dance floor is worn in and so are the red leather bar seats to cradle your tush. There's a sense of community at Laura Belle's and Pattie, the bartender, will remember what you like to sip on before you even sidle up to the bar.
Armed with talent and humor, Magic Dave & The New Mules is the perfect band to lead a blues jam. As the host, Magic Dave has the musical talent to earn him respect, tempered with a goofiness to give anyone the confidence to take the stage. Dave is the kind of guy that holds up his smile with his chin. Dave has been playing the harmonica since he was a teenager growing up in Hartford, Conn. "I've been chasing it around since high school," said Dave. "I met a girl who claimed she had kissed Jim Morrison and wasn't going out with anyone who wasn't a musician, so I picked up the harp figuring I could learn to play it the quickest."
Now some 20 years older, he plays harp for Joanne Taylor and has collected enough wacky stories to be the frontman for some of Colorado Springs' hottest blues cats at Laura Belle's blues jam.
The rhythm section, with Lenny Campanaro on drums and John Wise on upright bass, is the strongest backbone you're going to find in town. They keep it together no matter how amateur the musician is on stage. But, then again, with the kind of experience they have, it's no wonder they never falter. Campanaro hails from L.A. where Eddie Van Halen produced two of his albums on the Warner label with a band called Private Life. He's toured with Eddie Money and now backs Joanne Taylor around town. "I like Laura Belle's because we can play fairly loud," said Campanaro. "I also like the atmosphere which is more supportive than cut-throat."
Not only can Wise cut the rug with upright bass in hand -- boy, can he belt out a tune. Don't worry if you can't sing, because Mr. Wise will be happy to cover for you. A member of the local Blues Alert for seven years, and later a member of the Otherwise Blues Band, Wise has been around the musical block a few times. He's got enough positive energy to encourage anyone to take the stage. "It's great to have a jam session venue," said Wise. "It's a chance for different people to play together and it becomes this great social thing. I couldn't believe the camararaderie among the musicians when we first started."
If Campanaro and Wise are the stabilizers on stage, then Joe Sciallo on guitar is there to inspire. One of the best blues guitarists I've heard in town, Sciallo is the elusive genius. He can steal the show if he's playing lead or he can be the creative, subtle rhythm player you always wanted backing you.
"These guys are my spiritual advisors," said Dave referring to his band. "It's a love thing. I mean we could be bowling, but instead we're here creating music."
They've also created an environment to support the blues community no matter what the skill level. "We know the thrill of being able to express a story," said Dave. "That's what it's about, your story, and I think you can get past anything in life with music. Plus you get a free drink if you take the stage."