Bruce Bears / Blog

Wally's and More

Amyl was into Ramblers… he was also into hard core R&B and low down funk like Dyke & the Blazers, William Bell, James Brown and gutter rock like The MC Five and Mink DeVille. Learning how many popular recording artists had gleaned material from unknown artists like Dyke was really eye opening. The J. Geils band covered Dyke, and Wilson Pickett had one of his biggest hits with Dyke’s “Funky Broadway”. To this very day nine out of ten people who know their songs have no idea who Dyke and The Blazers are. I started to find songs and material like that when I developed a repertoire as band leader for the band “Blue China” in ’84. Blue China covered some of the same artists that I learned about in college, including Little Feat, and Robert Palmer, artists who lead me to Allen Toussaint, Professor Longhair and New Orleans songwriting great Earl King, material that hadn’t been heard by most of my white middle class friends. At the same time I was still listening to Jazz and going to shows at The Regatta Bar and jazz clubs in New York City. We also covered traditional Blues material by artists like BB King. Starting that band, even though it was short lived, was good practice for playing with The MC Kings. In the 80’s people were fascinated by the disparity between Black culture and suburban norms. Adventurous white people were heading into black neighborhoods looking for Blues and R&B clubs and bands, and, after leaving Amyl’s band so was I. But I was looking for them so I could play keyboards. And I found them in the person of “Weeping Willy, Buddy Johnson and The All Stars” who I played with on a freelance basis for many years. At the same time I helped start a Monday night Blues jam at Wally’s. Wally’s is the oldest jazz club in Boston, and one of the oldest in the country, in continuous operation since around 1930 or so. In 86 the original owner Mr. Walcott was still alive. He was at least 90 at the time. Wally’s Blues Jam was the epitome of cultural curiosity. White kids from the suburbs were discovering the blues, and every Monday they’d come to the jam to try their hand at playing it. There to greet them would be a plethora of older black musicians and singers from Roxbury and Mattapan. Some of the players had legitimate blues pedigrees. There was “Earring” George Mayweather, a harmonica player who had played with Muddy Waters in Chicago, and his cousin Silas Hubbard who I played with every Sunday in Cambridge at Cantares Mexican Restaurant.