[Best of Silicon Valley 1999]

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Hall of Fame

JJ's Blues

For 18 years fans have packed the club's tiny floor to see the best names in blues

By Michael Vaughn

During strategy sessions for my just-starting-to-gig blues band, the discussion inevitably works it way around to JJ's, and inevitably draws the same response: "No no no. We're not ready yet."

On the outside, the little club across the street from Guitar Center looks like your basic hole-in-the-wall neighborhood bar. On the inside, however, the walls have echoed with the riffs of greats like John Lee Hooker, Albert King, Albert Collins, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy and the recently departed Charles Brown.

Photograph by Scott Cookson

The Sounds 'Round Midnight: The tiny venue that is JJ's offers up-close-and-personal views of jazz and blues musicians like John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins and, here, the members of World Press.

The whole thing started 18 years ago, when owner June Stanley booked harp player Gary Smith and his band to add a little festivity to a barbecue. The blues barbecue became a weekly event, followed by after-hours jam sessions led by the employee/ musicians at Guitar Center. Word got out on the well-stocked Bay Area blues circuit, and before you knew it Stanley had herself a blues club.

With the ascent of local acts like Little John Chrisley, Chris Cain and Rene Solis' Nitecry, as well as the addition of larger venues in Mountain View and downtown San Jose, JJ's threatened to become a blues empire in the early '90s, but the operation soon became unwieldy.

"I thought the downtown club, especially, would be the big one," Stanley says. "But it was too much to handle; it was too big for a blues club."

Stanley's back in her familiar niche again, nabbing the bigger names for weeknight gigs on their way to larger venues in San Francisco and Oakland, and filling up the club's seven-days-a-week live schedule with other roots genres: Cajun, R&B, funk, soul and new swing bands like England's Jive Aces.

For blues believers, the original JJ's was always the best, anyway, offering a genuine blue-collar atmosphere and the chance to see top-flight, close-up acts for a price that might get you into the parking lot at Shoreline. Just be careful when you walk in the stage-right front door, however, or the drummer might whack you with a backswing.

3439 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara 408.243.6411

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From the September 30-October 6, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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