When I left Bee Dees bar after the jam session last year I have a vivid memory of my talk with Jeffrey Davis on the sidewalk out front. I had been coming to this great bar to play music in the Tuesday and Thursday jam session on my visits to Shanghai for the previous two or three years. Jeff told me that there was bad news: The bar was going to close in June. The rent was going up too much for him, but he did not despair because he had a new plan he could not tell me in detail. But he said it involved music, and jam sessions, and the spirit of Bee Dees would live on.
I could never have imagined that I would return this year to find that Bee Dees is still here, the jam session is still running but Jeff is gone. He died in the fall of some kind of nerve disease, thought to be Lou Gehrig’s disease. In fact, I had learned of his death in the fall over Facebook, but I knew few details.
Upon returning to Bee Dees last night I found the great news that the bar was only closed briefly before it was taken over by a new manager, that it is been cleaned up to a degree but without losing its charm or the original concept of being like in someone’s living room, and that the jam sessions do continue in the same spirit on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
And I learned a little more about Jeff’s unexpected death. It is clear, however, that Jeff would be very happy that his creation has lived on. I thought of him quite a bit last night, during the sets of the other musicians, when I hoped to see him go up with his guitar and screaming blues vocals, and when I went up to play, and thought of absence.
For the first time at Bee Dees I played with other musicians, a drummer, bassist and lead guitarist. I started solo on my “Crazy Lady,” and then did “Wicked Game” and “Mad World,” in order to facilitate playing with the other musicians.
There were some other great acts, like the guys who did the jazz fusion, and the African with his bamboo xylophone – or whatever it is. And now that Jeff is gone, the genial Nathan, of Kentucky, is acting as the organizer of the jam. Nathan is also a singer and guitar player.
Another interesting moment was my talk with a French drummer who lived in Belgium until he moved to Shanghai a week or so ago in order to look for work as a musician. He said he thought Shanghai, China was the place to go for European musicians looking for a future in music….
I returned to Bee Dee’s last night for my final night in Shanghai before I head off today to Bahrain. I only learned at the end of the evening that Bee Dee’s will cease to operate in a few months, when its lease runs out, and so I will never play in its wonderful jam night again, as I have no plans to return to China before this time next year. That’s crappy news, as Bee Dee’s is one of the great little open mic and jam venues of Shanghai. So go while you can! Oh, there is some good news, though.
The good news is that since Bee Dee’s opened up just a few years ago, Shanghai has sprouted up all sorts of live music joints for jamming and open mics. So maybe I will have no problem finding places to play next year if I do come. The other good news is that Jeff Davis, the Bee Dee’s owner and brains and jammer, tells me that he is working on a very interesting project, that if it comes to fruition, will be a worthy thing to have seen Bee Dee’s sacrficed for….
There was some fun jamming at Bee Dee’s last night, with a far bigger crowd and more musicians than last Thursday. I particularly enjoyed the dueling keyboard and guitar moment, and the woman drummer, Helena from Sweden. What I clearly do not particularly enjoy is once again being defeated by the Chinese Internet policy, which means that unfortunately, for a second day in a row I have had very poor access to getting videos up on YouTube for this blog. In fact, the first of the videos I wanted to put up is only 58 percent up at the moment after a couple of hours of uploading… and I have to run off to the airport. So the videos will have to wait until whenever Bahrain gives me a chance to put them up….
I changed my program a little in Paris on Monday, visiting both the Coolin bar open mic and then the Galway Pub open mic, which I have not attended for a long time. Although I had fun things to do and sing in both places, please forgive me if that feels like 500 years ago and that I really want to talk more about Wednesday and Thursday night in Shanghai, China.
Fortunately my flight on Tuesday as in the afternoon, so I could do those two open mics in Paris, get home relatively early, sleep, and then spend the next more than 24 hours traveling to China by way of Dubai. I had about two hours sleep on the flight and immediately checked out upon arrival at my hotel in the Bund area of Shanghai whether or not the open mics I had done on the Wednesday night last year still existed. I figured that although I really wanted to go to bed, I would be far better off forcing myself to stay awake until late and especially, not missing the opportunity of an open mic in China.
I found out that one of them, Oscar’s Pub, no longer runs an open mic. But the other, the open mic at the Not Me bar, was advertised on the bar’s web site as happening that night. So I sped off to the Not Me, had a quick dinner of Shanghai braised porc at the Bao Luo restaurant and then went to Not Me. There was little waiting at the restaurant – a fabulous local icon of a place with huge high ceilings and voluminous dining room – and there was no waiting at the open mic either.
The Not Me is a superb bar that has not only a comfortable bar at the front, a lounge kind of room at the back, and an extensive club room in the back for DJs, parties, dance and other celebrations and inspired by the Cocoon club in Frankfurt.
The open mic has been going for just about a year, and I think I must have come to one of the first open mic evenings thee last year when I performed along with Sista Fay the Swede who I met in Paris and who was passing some time in Shanghai. This open mic is unusual in that the bar is owned and run by Chinese businessmen, and they have instigated the open mic even though they say it is not really part of Chinese culture. There is no MC, but anyone can come and play on a Wednesday night. I immediately played, in fact, I played two sets since it was not exactly overflowing with musicians.
Listen to the interview with one of the Not Me bar partners, Jacky, in my podcast interview, part of this year’s series of podcasts for the blog. Oh, and by the way, strange but when I introduce Jacky on the podcast I call the place the “Be There” bar, which is a Paris venue that I used to go to! You will actually hear me at the end give the place its correct name, “Not Me,” as well as asking Jacky for the meaning of the name….
Brad Spurgeon interviews Jacky, one of the organizers of the open mic at the Not-Me bar in Shanghai:
I was so pressed for time with all that travel and doing open mics that I had no time to write about Monday Wednesday nights’ open mics before I ran off to Bee Dee’s open mic/open jam last night. Bee Dee’s is run by an American, Jeffrey Davis, and is very much an American expat bar that might be located in the U.S. somewhere. But there is some Chinese clientele, and as a magnet for musicians, it also attracts some excellent Chinese musicians.
In fact, last night I almost immediately recognized the extraordinary Joe Chou even before he went up on stage for his set. I had met Joe Chou two years ago when I first started this blog, but I had met him at Oscar’s Pub and then played at his open jam session at the Melting Pot on the Monday. Joe had done some remarkable playing with my guitar, and he seemed to fall in love with it. Last night Joe tried it out again, as well as doing some of his very cool and deeply spaced-out stuff on a stratocaster. I wanted to play with Joe, and he had said we should, but we did not end up doing so.
Bee Dee’s just seemed to get better and better as the night progressed, and if I am still in Shanghai next Tuesday, which I am scheduled to be, then I will return again for more.
I did not expect to play for my fifth time in Shanghai last night. I was invited to Bee Dees to hear Sister Fay, otherwise known as Frida Andersson, play as the opening act to the house band. But Frida and Jeff and a request by some people in the audience led to me doing a few songs part way through the night. I was really grateful, since I just love playing – but the biggest news was the fabulous concert by Frida with the house band, and the discovery of the music of the man who calls himself Bone.
Bone first. I met this Chinese guy who works behind the bar on Thursday when I first went to Bee Dees on this trip. He complimented my singing very warmly, and I thanked him. I had no idea that he wrote songs, and played guitar and sang and that his voice is bloody fantastic. So the compliment came back to me as being even stronger. Also, last night when I was invited to play, it was Bone who offered me his Ovation, since I did not have my guitar with me.
Frida did a first set all by herself, and I will not put up the videos here since I have put up a few other videos of Frida’s solo stuff in recent months. But it was very cool to see her do a second set along with the house band, a lead guitar player from Russia, Jeff on bass, and the house drummer. Frida did a wide cross-section of cover songs, including stuff that really surprised me like, “What a day for a daydream….” (Which reminded me of when I met John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful when I was a teenager on a TV program he played on.) And the video I put below with her “Georgia on my mind.” The band was quite together, given the fact that it was essentially an unrehearsed jam.
After promising Frida I would not take too much time, just doing four songs, I got a request for a fifth song – “Memories.” So I did that, and it was nice to have the request for my own song. Frida did a video of me doing two or three of them, and I put up “Borderline,” below.
This roll just keeps going on. My second night in Shanghai and I got to do two more open mics. One of these was very different than anything I’ve done before, and it was thanks to a discovery by Frida Andersson, also known as Sister Fay.
The first was run by a guy from Quebec who calls himself Max Wengel and who is a sound engineer living in Shanghai. This is a songwriter’s open mic called, “Your Songs, Your Show,” and it happens around every two weeks. The principle is that you book a slot in advance and you play for between 20 minutes and half an hour, depending on the number of performers, and you only sing your own songs, no cover songs.
I was slightly reticent about that format because I like to throw in cover songs to give a shift in speed and tone, etc., sprinkling my own songs with covers. And so I had a hard time as I awaited my turn trying to figure out what songs to do and in what order. One of the performers who played before me, however, did a whole set linked to the story of an imaginary “Dave,” and American living in Shanghai – loosely based on himself. This was Tom Mangione, who calls himself, “Ho-Tom the Conqueror,” and his band, “The Horde.” That gave me the idea of simply playing my own songs in the order I wrote them over the last two years. I narrated a little of their genesis as I went along. It turned out to be good fun for me, and judging by the audience reaction, for them too.
The aforesaid Ho-Tom had in the band, The Horde, a mandolin player and a harmonica player, and they played some very good and together music. It turned out that he had seen me playing at Oscar’s pub last year in Shanghai and I remembered having seen him too. It grows, this voyage.
Also up was Sister Fay, Frida, as I mentioned above and in yesterday’s post. And her songs came out all the stronger in this format too – even though they are strong enough to begin with.
There was a woman from Virginia, Nancy, who played keyboards and sang a couple of her beautiful songs in a great strong voice that had a country pop sound to it. One of the songs was half written by her grandmother in 1937, and the part that was lost had been written by her. Very touching.
The open mic was located in a very down-at-the-heals shopping mall called Fanfare in a music studio, and it felt very strange to walk the halls after hours like that. A very, very authentic off-the-beaten path experience – but with little Chinese content in terms of music or spectators, although there were two or three Chinese spectators.
After that Frida and I – and her mother – went off to Bee Dees, where I had performed last year. The advantage to Bee Dees is that it will go on very late. So we got there around midnight and played for another hour before another group of musicians took to the stage. When we arrived Jeff, the owner of the club, was playing bass with a drummer and a couple of guitarists. Although there is a lot of rock music at this place, which is a cross between a jam bar and an open mic, all kinds of music are accepted and encouraged.
It was a little slow when we arrived, but then it picked up and turned out to be a fine evening. If I sang only my own songs at the first place, I decided to sing only cover songs at Bee Dees. That was fun too. And Frida did a number of cover songs herself, including two Joni Mitchell songs. That was a treat.
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.