I wish the Lowcountry Blues Club was around back when I first started playing drums. I might have become a stronger musician with more confidence and a better feel early in my career in rock. As it is, I'm still working on getting the right swing and groove.
As a young teen with a rickety sparkling red drum set, I could only imagine what it was like to walk on stage with a group and perform in front of people. The closest I ever got to an actual onstage live band experience was when I tuned to rock radio stations or played along with records on the stereo. There were no teen open mic nights around town. There were no all-ages blues jams at local clubs. There was no rock class at school.
I was 15 when I joined my first proper band. I learned the joys and pains of sound checks, long sets, high volumes, and messy load-outs. Playing "Twist and Shout" or "Should I Stay or Should I Go" was pretty easy stuff. Some of the heavier Stones, Zeppelin, and Who tunes required more serious effort, skill, and energy, though. We managed to wing it on most of the renditions we attempted, but we never quite got the hang of doing any genuine blues at all. Our stiff versions of The Doors' "Love Me Two Times" and ZZ Top's "La Grange" were tolerable but never too groovy. For years, I approached playing drums to blues songs with a "What would Frank Beard do?" attitude.
These days, the Lowcountry Blues Club provides remarkable onstage opportunities for budding young players who are already deeply into authentic blues music. Once a week, youngsters with enough skill to hang with semi-pro blues, rock, and R&B musicians in the scene can sign up, plug in, and dive into the real stuff.
After three years in residency at the East Cooper venue A Dough Re Mi, the Blues Club kicked off a new live music series at the West Ashley Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ last week. The jams continue every Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Blues Club President Tim Shaw is enthusiastic about the mix of young and old musicians. Every week, one can see and hear kids swapping licks, taking musical and visual cues, and improvising with skilled adults.
"We've got some young guns out here who are doing a phenomenal job," says Shaw. "We've got Sarah Cole, Wyatt Garey, Tanner Cooper, and others who are just great. It's a valuable experience for them and the older players as well."
Shaw has played guitar since his own teen years in the 1970s. He currently jams with local bands like the Fabulous Porch Dogs and Highway 17 and works on annual charity events.
"Some of us are older players who are all professionals in other avenues outside the music industry," he says. "We're getting back into it and really enjoying things. Charleston's music gives us an opportunity for that, which is awesome. As players, there is always a real respectful attitude going on. All ages are welcome, and all skill levels are welcome. Nobody overplays anybody. We're all there in a spirt of camaraderie and fellowship and having a great time within the genre of blues."
Maybe I'll bring my sticks this week and request to fill in on ZZ Top's "Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers" — I know I can at least hang on that one.
Visit lowcountrybluesclub.org for more info.