I had heard of Bee Dees Music Bar through both Emily and Paul Meredith at Oscar’s. It turned out that Jeffrey Davis, the American expat founding owner of Bee Dees was also at Oscar’s later in the evening, and we spoke and he told me to come around on Thursday, since that was open jam night.
“It’s more rock ‘n roll and blues than Oscar’s,” he said, “and the format is more jam than open mic. But we’ll get you up.”
The Janis Joplin woman had also told me that even on Fridays and Saturdays Bee Dees musical evening with a band usually turned into a jam at the end of the night. Jeff confirmed that. One of the coolest rock moments of the evening was when Hassan of Weghur played – I go into more detail about him below – and I caught a bit on video:
So after my day at the race track far outside Shanghai I returned to the city on the media shuttle. I was very relaxed about the time – usually it can take an hour and a half or more to get back into the city because of traffic. Jeff had told me that the jam did not start until 10 PM, so I had no rush.
I took a cab to Bee Dees and found it on a cool street lined with shops, at 433 Da Gu Lu street. It looked nightclub like outside with its Bee Dees sign all lit up and no windows into the place.
Inside was a laid back, long room with a bar down the left side and a band was setting up at the far end of the room. The walls were lined with photos and posters of musicians, a little in the New York City, Kenny’s Castaways style. In fact, the room reminded me a little of that Village joint, except the Bee Dees building did not look like a far west saloon the way Kenny’s does.
I saw that Jeff was with the band helping them set up, so I went straight down to speak to him first, since he had a guitar in his hands and it looked like he might play. Jeff is around 60 or so, and when I met him the previous night I saw him as the owner, arts promoter kind of guy. But I had not realized, and did not picture him, as being one likely to play in the jam himself.
Jeff later told me that he had first played in Shanghai with the two Mongolians that Paul now plays with, whose names, by the way, are the unlikely combination of Tom and Jerry.
But it turned out that Jeff was not going to play with the band immediately and he was up there to help set up and to introduce them, which he did, by saying that they had never played in Bee Dees before.
It was a bass player, a lead guitar player on a Stratocaster and a drummer. There was also a keyboard that Jeff would later use in addition to the guitar he played when he joined the band. But for the moment it was just the three musicians.
The guitar player with the Strat, I would learn, was Irish and his name was Hugh. He lived in Shanghai working as a guitar tester. That is, he tests guitars made at a Chinese factory to make sure that they are well constructed and well set up. Here’s a video of Hugh playing his Strat at the start of the evening:
The first thing I asked Jeff, though, was if it was possible to eat there. It was 10 PM and I had not had dinner yet. It was possible, and I ate a good chicken something or other and drank some Bordeaux wine. (Coming all the way from Paris to drink Bordeaux!)
I listened to these jammers and it was definitely a rock venue this place. Nothing like Oscar’s. A completely different experience.
The highlights included a reggae singer who did pretty much nothing but Bob Marley, and he did it well. The band members shifted about as is the way at a jam.
And later on came a young Chinese musician who was very interesting. Hassan is his name, which does not sound very Chinese, but that’s because he is from the Turkestan region of China.
Hassan is 24 years old and he came to Shanghai to make music. He started playing guitar at 13, and he also sings. He played a mean Strat lead. And I learned later that his band won the Shanghai contest of the battle of the guitars sponsored by Gibson.
“I won a Gibson Les Paul,” he said.
He also told me that the name of his band was Weghur, and I gave it a listen on Myspace. But he said it is tough making music in Shanghai, or rather, tough getting noticed. But he said he did an EP and sold a respectable number of copies, and he’s done a few concerts and the audience has grown each time.
The band is described this way on Myspace: “Weghur is a shanghai-based garage rock outfit whose music is a curious of hard-hitting classic rock and traditional Xinjiang (chinese Turkestan) elements-a sound resembling something like psychedelic 70’s with a bit of post -punk emo thrown in. Poetic Uyghur lyrics fused with hardcore guitar riffs by forntman Hassan bring an almost maddening energy to the group’s epic melodies.”
My moment? I played a 20 minute set all by myself, giving the other musicians a break. It went over very well, and there was quite a warm audience of some 30 people perhaps at the highest point. But it was cozy and I got good responses.
In fact, later on, it turned out there was a Harry Chapin fan present who I got to talking to, and I told him the story of my meeting with Chapin. So I went back up at the end of the evening to play “Cat’s Cradle,” and I just kept getting encores from those still there. I must have ended up doing another 20 minute set. So that was two 20 minute sets of different material. I set up the video camera on me this time, but it is a 20 minute video, so if I ever put anything up, I’ll edit it first….
The highlight of the discussion with some of the people present was when an expat Australian summed up for me one of his weirdest experiences in China:
“I was in this traffic jam,” he said. “And it was out in the country and there was this bridge. And the jam was caused by this Chinese guy standing on the bridge and threatening to commit suicide. The cops were there trying to stop him and the whole thing was causing this very long, tiring traffic jam. So some Chinese guy gets out of his car and goes up to the guy on the bridge threatening suicide. ‘You come one step closer and I’ll jump,’ said the man. So the other guy takes the step forward and grabs the suicidal guy and actually gives him a little shove so he fell off the bridge. He fell down and died. The cops said, ‘What the hell was that?’ And the guy who pushed the victim off the bridge said, ‘Well, I’ve been waiting so long in this traffic jam, I mean, I just decided to help.’”
Hmm…. He swore it was true.