By Dennis "Zab" Zyvoloski
Salmon Bay Eagles Music Coordinator
The Salmon Bay Eagles ClubI was talking with Sheri Humphres the other day. Sheri is a partner in a recording studio with her husband, Raven Humphres, who is also a sax player in some of the longest playing blues bands in this area. Sheri is also a music and event promoter and had offered me some help in planning the celebration for the two decades of blues music at the Salmon Bay Eagles.
Since I had only come onto the local blues music scene a mere ten or so years ago, I was also particularly interested in having Sheri fill me in about the beginnings of the blues at the “Slammin’” Bay Eagles, as I’ve heard it informally referred to. I took some notes and wrote up the following story, and she failed to correct me in time before I sent this out, so she had her chance to stop me. Anyhow, the following tale is how I reconstructed the conversations.
Back in 1988, David Duff was the president of the Salmon Bay Eagles. Dave had this idea that music would attract a younger crowd and that younger crowd would increase their membership. He was a fan of the Kevin Wallace Exchange Band, so he hired Kevin’s Band, as long as they would play Dave’s favorite song, “Loan Me A Dime.”
At that time, Jimi Jean Tuttle was a bartender at the Eagles, and she and her husband, drummer Kirk "KT" Tuttle, lived in an apartment next door to the club. Jimi Jean and Dave put together the concept of a jam with guitarist Kevin Wallace organizing and running it on Sunday nights.
The original Kevin Wallace Band consisted of Kevin on guitar, Raven Humphries on sax, Pete “The Beat” on drums, Jeff Davies on bass, Dr O. (aka Kevin O’Reilly) on keyboards, with Eddie Garr sometimes filling in on bass and Sam Pierce stopping in to crank out some stellar vocals. KT would sit in on drums when Pete (aka Gig Pig) would have other commitments. Raven would provide the PA system, because the club didn’t have one at that time.
Kevin and Raven ran this jam for about two years and it grew with a lot of our well-known musicians showing up to jam. At that time, there weren’t any other jams like this on a Sunday night. After two years of Raven dragging in his equipment into the club and packing it out every night, Jimi Jean and Sheri decided to look for ways to raise money for a house PA system. They started having special dinners, raffles, tip jars, etc. and raised enough money to buy the present system. It was a lot of work!
Shortly thereafter, Kevin had some conflicts that prevented him from playing every Sunday night. He started putting together replacement bands for the Sunday nights. That is how he got into trouble with the IRS. All the contracts were in his name, and the replacement bands would just cash the check at the bar. With the contracts in his name, the IRS assumed that it was all his income and they wanted their cut. As far as they were concerned, he owed them a lot of back taxes, which of course, he didn’t have. This was a hard lesson to learn. About this time, Dave retired as the Eagles President and Jimi took over booking the bands, since she knew all the musicians in the community. The music was then moved to Thursday nights, where it has remained for the next twenty years.
Like the majority of self-employed musicians, Kevin had no health insurance and rarely, if ever, went to the doctor. In December of 1999 Kevin passed away due to an easily remedied health condition. Kevin’s untimely passing was a great loss to the Blues community. There’s a memorial plaque on the wall next to the stage honoring Kevin and his efforts to promote the blues community. At this time, Sheri was the Vice President of the Blues Society and this incident prompted her to personally donate $500 to start off the Kevin Wallace Musician’s Relief Fund. She told me that she felt that no musician without money or insurance should ever be unable to see a doctor. This Musician’s Relief Fund is still in place with the Blues Society to this day.
After Kevin’s death, the band was forced to re-group, and Stan Eike joined to replace Kevin on guitar and vocals. The band was re-named by Jimi Jean as The All Stars, No Stripes Band, which by this time consisted of KT on drums, Howard Hooper on bass, Scotty Lind on guitar & vocals, Stan Eike on guitar & vocals, and Raven Humphres on sax.
As an aside, Sheri shared with me a humorous story from the earlier days when the club was without a PA:
“As I said earlier, Raven always hauled the PA into the club, but one night we had equipment problems, so we called a local sound person to bring in some gear. His name was Badger. Later on that evening we found out Eddie Garr wasn't able to play bass that night, so Stan Eike’s bass player filled in. His name was Rabbit. Of course when Raven and I showed up, we just looked at each other and said, “Let me see if we have this right…we have Raven on sax, Rabbit on bass, Badger is running sound, and we are at the Salmon Bay Eagles. We know we have a lot of party animals at the club, but we couldn't believe half of them were on stage!”
While I’m telling stories about the Blues & the Eagles, here’s one that musician and promoter, Bill Freckleton gave me:
“I was playing with Isaac Scott, John Stephan, and Paul Wager at the Salmon Bay Eagles 11 or years ago. We got there about 30 minutes before stage time. Isaac pulled up a table and laid his guitar on it. Just like a Marine, Isaac field striped his guitar like a gun. He unscrewed every nut and bolt he could. Around 8:30 pm Jimmie Jean asked Isaac what the heck he was doing. She looked at Isaac like he had lost his mind. She said he should be playing by now! Isaac was busy fumbling with his guitar. He looked up at her with a sheepish grin and a guitar pickup with a bunch of loose wires in his hand, and asked Jimmie Jean if she had a soldering gun? Luckily his friend, Monte Price, had one in his car. We finally started playing around 9:30.”
O.K., just one more story about the club, this one is from Robert Sawyer:
“My wife, Carol, and I were at the Tractor for a John Hammond show, which was just John, doing his Solo gig. We were representing the Washington Blues Society and we helped John sell his CDs and such. I think Daddy Treetops opened for John that night. After his show we asked if John and his wife wanted to go up to the Eagles for the Thursday Nite Blues show and meet Jimi Jean, who had been running the Blues Night for about 12 years at that time. John Hammond and his wife both said yes, and away we went. Coming thru the door, I noted that Jimi didn't see us enter the club's front door, nor saw us take a table on the north wall across from the bar. John and I went to the bar to meet Jimi and get drinks. The Tractor was only a beer bar back then. I hid John behind me so Jimi couldn't see him, when Jimi came to the end of the bar where I was - I told her someone was here to thank her for the many years supporting the Blues and I stepped aside to expose John Hammond. BAM! It blew Jimi away! John thanked her (big hugs). The John Hogkin band was playing that night and during all the breaks John Hammond took a big interest in all the tunes the band was playing. Hammond was also telling stories and remembering shows they all had in common in the past- truly one of the great nights at the Eagles.”
I also got an email from David Brewer, which I suppose he didn’t think I’d include:
"Zab - I hear you’re looking for stories about the Eagles? Well I'd love to tell you about all of the biker parties and poker runs, all of the New Years bashes (Jimie always had me play New Years Eve when I was in town) and all of my birthday parties (I always have my birthday party there) as well as being on the regular Thurs night rotation. However I don't think I should reveal all the stories of debauchery, too many people might get in trouble. And truth be told, thanks to Jimie Jean’s bartending skills, I can't seem to remember them all that clearly. I'd just have to say that, over the years, The Eagles has become one of the local blue community's favorite places to hold court. It sure has for me. Let's hope it never ends. You’re doing a real good job, and Jimie would be proud of you."
I think that Brewer sums up a lot of people’s recollection of the past 20 years or so!
During the past two decades, we have had a virtual parade of the finest local talent, as well as some national blues acts that have crossed the modest stage of the Salmon Bay Eagles on Thursday evenings. In less than a minute I wrote down a dozen names of people and bands such as Little Bill & The Bluenotes, Mike Lynch and Nitelife, Duffy Bishop, Sweet Talkin’ Jones, Mark Dufresne, Mark Riley, David Brewer, Jack Cook, Paul Green, Chris Stevens, Mark Whitman, Tim Sherman, and many, many more that played the club during this period. Let’s figure this out…20 years times 52 weeks equals 1,040 Blue Thursdays! No wonder that, to this day, Blues musicians and bands continue to play the club as homage to the dedication of the club to this genre of American Roots Music.
New musicians to the area feel that they haven’t quite been accepted in the community until they have been hired to play a gig at this humble venue. The Washington Blues Society (check them out at (http://www.wablues.org/) has had a long standing, and close relationship with the Salmon Bay Eagles, off and on holding concerts, benefits as well as monthly membership and business meetings at the club. Due to its private club status, many people are reluctant to just walk in to hear the music and they feel that they have to be in the presence of an active member when they walk through that door. Not true! Anyone can walk through the door as a visitor and/or guest and enjoy the activities and events that occur in this all-ages venue! All visitors and guest need to check in with the bartender, who will orient them to the club and its activities. Due to this “Private club” status, the Salmon Bay Eagles has remained one of Seattle’s best kept secrets in the greater Seattle music scene. It’s a venue that the Blues community appreciates and, to a certain extent, reveres as the backbone of the Blues community, and certainly a major contributor in the history of the Blues community.
As one those who have been coming to the Blues nights going back a few year know, I have taken over booking the bands in 2009, due to the untimely loss of our friend Jimi Jean earlier this year. Jimi played a huge role in the Blues community and was the recipient of the 2008 Washington Blues Society Keeping the Blues Alive award. A plaque for Jimi Jean is being made and will soon be mounted on the wall next to the one for Kevin Wallace, hopefully, by the time you are reading this. Their memories will live as long as we keep the blues alive.
The only complaints I’ve heard at the club in regards to the music, is that sometimes someone says, “It’s too loud!” To which I can hear in my mind, David Brewer’s retort: “It’s not too loud…you’re too close!”
Come down any Thursday night, after 8pm, as I’ll be there and I would be glad to sign you in as my guest. In times such as these, those of us who value such things as music, art and community need to turn off the TV, get up off the couch, and go hear some live music! Check our website at http://www.salmonbayeagles.com/ and we are also on Facebook…heck, you can also call us at 206-783-7791 to see what’s going on at the club!
Long live the Blues!
The 20th Anniversary of Blue Thursdays at the Salmon Bay Eagles info:
Address: 5216 20th Avenue NW, Seattle (in Ballard)
Date: Sunday, January 17th, 2010
Time: 3:00 to 9:00 PM
This is a no cover, all ages event. Food will be available for purchase.