Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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Bittersweat Time at the Bee Dees Jam in Shanghai

April 12, 2013

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….

Cultural Evolution from Paris to Shanghai – and an Old Friend Rediscovered

April 13, 2012

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.

Bee Dees Music Bar – A Rockin’ Shanghai Jam

April 16, 2010

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.

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