Installment One: Beginnings
It was the mid-90s and Blues music in the Knoxville region was happening. Music to browse or buy at the Blues Depot record store. Jams at Sassy Ann’s club (the very walls had stories to tell). BB King’s Blues Revue, featuring Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Delbert McClinton, The Neville Brothers, and B.B. King, came to town in September 1996, one month before the first newsletter of the blues society was published. (Side note: This is the same blues show that this writer saw in Radio City Music hall that year.)
Before even talk of forming a blues society people love to recall the show that “Fast Eddie” Choat threw where musicians played on a flatbed across from the Regal 7 theatre.
So many bands were playing the blues in Knoxville then, especially at the Wednesday night jams at Sassy Ann’s. In true jams’ style, it wasn’t just musicians who got in on it. To name just a few of the bands back then: Bad Weather Bluezz, BlueBlasters, Blues Bone, Boogeymen, Michael Crawdaddy & MacDaddies, Delta Flyers, The King Bee’s, King Johnson, Jenna & Her Cool Friends, The Jordan Project, Labron Lazenby & LA3, The Leftovers, Lost & Found Blues Band, Loudpack, Owrutsky (Mojo), Relentless Blues, Slow Blind Hill, and Kenny Lee & BBQ Blues Band. Knoxville’s “Queen of the Blues”— Sara Jordan—graced many bands over the years.
The Knoxville Blues Society (the original name before Smoky Mountain Blues Society) was conceived in June 1995. Johnny Mack, Ed Shoat, Lynn Stinnett and others gathered at the Blues Depot to form a blues society with the desire to bring people together to enjoy blues music.
The group wasted little time and by October 1996 had joined the Blues Foundation as an affiliate society and printed their first newsletter, Blues Groove, edited by Herman Long. They elected the first slate of offices, established membership fees and benefits, began work on educational/cultural programs, and got a logo contest going. A couple of more months and Blues Night Out emerged. A combination of general membership meeting and live show, this monthly gathering underscored the mission to support Blues artists and the venues that hire them.
1996 ended on a sad note as the Blues Depot record store ended its brief spectacular run in Knoxville. And with that, we’d just like to quote Mr. Buddy Guy. “If you don’t think you have the blues, just keep living.”
Come back to this space to read about the music, the names, the great times that have gone into Keeping the Blues Alive in East Tennessee.