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M O D E R N L U X U R Y. C O M

Aki Kumar, who has
described himself as
the only Bombay
blues man, performs
at Little Lous BBQ in
Campbell, one of his
regular venues.
used to being overlooked and undervalued. Despite
Drummer Derrick
serving as the foundational stream for almost every
DMAR Martin American pop music current of the 20th century
during a weekly
Club Fox Blues Jam
from jazz, R&B and Broadway show tunes to rock
in Redwood City n roll, country music and hip-hopthe blues
today occupies a small and neglected niche of the
music market.
In other words, shifting the blues center of
gravity south from Oakland and San Francisco
doesnt require heavy lifting. In order to move
it from one place to another, you need about a
medium-size truck, or maybe a 10-seat van, says
the Norwegian-born Andersen, who cut his teeth
backing touring American blues artists on the
active Oslo scene before relocating to California
in 2001. When I came here it seemed like there
was a remnant of a scene, particularly around
the Poor House Bistro, which is a fantastic club.
Whats happening now is theres this sense all over
the world that the South Bay is happening.
Andersen had been angling for a gig that
would bring him to the United States for years.



He finally found the ticket via veteran blues

saxophonist and vocalist Terry Hanck, who was
based in Santa Cruz at the time and in need of a
guitarist. In 2001, it wasnt an obvious choice for a
gifted and ambitious young European blues player
to move to Northern California, but Andersen says
hed been paying attention to what was going
on in various places in the U.S. I dug what I was
hearing on the West Coast, while most things out
of Chicago had taken place decades before. I did
get an offer from a guy in Chicago, but he had just
finished a four-year prison stint for shooting his old
funny thing happened on the way to tapped for female soul blues artist of the year guitar player, so I passed on that.
Silicon Valley becoming the global and best new artist debut. And Oakland These days, when Andersen isnt recording
center of the digital revolution. saxophonist Nancy Wright is a contender projects at Greaseland, he can be found on the
While producing disruptive for best instrumentalist. All three women road with Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, a long-
tech nolog ie s t hat have are first-time nominees and released albums running gig that has earned him four consecutive
upended one industr y last year recorded and produced by guitarist Blues Awards nominations for best guitarist.
after another, the region Christoffer Kid Andersen at his Greaseland Part of why hes thrived on the South Bay scene
has become a thriving Studios. The San Jose recording facility has is his flexibility. The region isnt associated with
hub for A mericas made such a potent impression that The Blues a particular blues style, like the searing Chicago
most enduring and Foundation bestowed Andersen with a 2017 sound, Oaklands funk-laden East Bay grease DERRICK DMAR MARTIN PHOTO BY BRUCE FRAM

influential indigenous art form: the blues. And Keeping the Blues Alive Award. or the laid-back jazzy West Coast approach that
the world is taking note. Veteran Bay Area blues players increasingly emanated from Los Angeles. Instead, the scene
In January, The Blues Foundation, the flock to the South Bay to record at Greaseland and reflects Silicon Valleys entrepreneurial ethos,
Memphis-based organization that presents the perform in clubs like San Joses Poor House Bistro, in that some of the key movers and shakers are
genres most prestigious awards, announced Campbells Little Lous BBQ and Redwood Citys immigrants like Andersen, artists drawn here by
nominations for the 2017 honors, and three Bay Club Fox, while musicians around the country are the sense of boundless possibilities. No player has
Area women are in the running. San Joses Lara wondering whether to pack up and head west. If garnered more attention over the past year than
Price is up for female soul blues artist of the year. the renaissance has gone largely unnoticed outside harmonica player Aki Kumar, who gave up his tech
Powerhouse Oakland vocalist Terrie Odabiwas of blues circles, well, its a cultural treasure thats day job in 2013 to focus on music full time.

M O D E R N L U X U R Y S I L I C O N VA L L E Y M A R C H /A P R I L 2 0 1 7 | M O D E R N L U X U R Y. C O M
Born and raised in Mumbai, India, he grew to go out of your way to find it. LISTEN UP
up hearing a global array of sounds, from John The blues scene sometimes takes a self- Head to these local venues to
Denver and Mozart to Bollywood hits. He studied defeating attitude by policing the borders catch a live blues show.
classical North Indian vocals for several years as an stylistically, but Kumar has found a great deal
adolescent and played around with an inexpensive of support as hes honed a highly personal genre- Aptos Street BBQ
Chinese-made tremolo harmonica as a teen. But expanding repertoire. He gained international 8059 Aptos St., Aptos,
Kumar never had a chance to hear the blues until attention with his 2016 album, Aki Goes to 831.662.1721,
he moved to the United States in 1998 at the age of Bollywood, a deliriously inventive mashup of blues
Club Fox
18 to attend college in Oklahoma City. Before the grooves and Hindi film themes by composers
2209 Broadway St., Redwood City,
year was out, he transferred to San Jose State and such as R.D. Burman (Janu Meri Jaan) as well
found work as a software engineer after graduation. as Anand and Milind (Eena Meena Deeka).
Listening to oldies radio, he gradually Recorded at Greaseland, naturally, the project has Don Quixotes
discovered the blues when he sought out the found fans among Bollywood aficionados, blues 6275 Highway 9, Felton,
roots of doowop and early rock n roll hits that lovers and people with ears attuned to unusual sonic 831.603.2294,
caught his ear. Coming to the music without hybrids. Encouraged by the overwhelming
preconceptions, he was struck by its emotional response, Kumar is busy working on a follow- JJs Blues
intensity and rhythmic drive. I didnt have any up, which will have a lot more originals, he 3439 Stevens Creek Blvd., San Jose,
sense of, this is cool, or this is not cool, Kumar says. Ive got songs Ive written in Hindi in 408.386.1500,
says. I was in my 20s, not looking to be part the same spirit of fusion insanity. Little Lous BBQ
of a clique. I heard the music and it was great. While Andersen and Kumar are breathing Campbell Plaza, 2455 Winchester Blvd.,
He spent several years taking classes at new life into the South Bay scene, this isnt the Campbell, 408.356.5768,
David Barretts School of the Blues in San first time the blues have boomed here. Guitarist,
Jose, and the veteran harmonica player turned vocalist and stalwart bandleader J.C. Smith came Mission St. BBQ
Kumar on to Chicago harp masters like Little up during the 1980s, when the nightclub JJs 1618 Mission St., Santa Cruz,
Walter, James Cotton and George Smith. Blues kick-started a vital scene presenting local 831.458.2222,
Barrett nurtured Kumars budding talent by players and guitar legends like Albert King and
Poor House Bistro
emphasizing the importance of getting together Albert Collins. Smith had grown up in San Jose
91 S. Autumn St., San Jose, 408.292.5837,
with fellow students to perform, and before long, hearing his Arkansas-born father play stinging
he started sitting in at local jam sessions. blues licks on his guitar, lines hed honed since
Making a name for himself as a rapidly the 1920s entertaining customers of his bustling Smoking Pig BBQ
developing player with a communitarian ethos, moonshine business. Though only a few South 3340 Mowry Ave., Fremont, 510.713.1854,
Kumar has played an essential role in building the Bay venues focused on the blues in the 80s, the
South Bay scene. Hes helped turn the Thursday music was a regular part of the rotation at an
night session at Little Lous into the liveliest jam array of night spots. When the news started
in the region and recently launched a Tuesday getting around, guys would start coming up from
night jam at the Poor House Bistro, where the L.A. and doing gigs all around the South Bay, summer Redwood CityPAL Blues, Music, Arts
international reach of the blues is often on full Smith recalls. Big Bob Coronas Keystone was & BBQ Festival is one of the regions best, along
display, with visiting musicians from Russia, Brazil my second home for a long time. You could see with San Joses Fountain Blues Festival, which Ted
and Chile dropping by to sit in. guys like Albert King, Gregg Allman and Johnny Gehrke has somehow managed to keep afloat at
In April Ill be playing with guys from Winter, who halfway lived in the place. Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park after skipping several
Finland, Ku ma r says. T his mu sic is One reason the South Bay scene has taken years (its next scheduled for June 24).
supercompelling. It has an instant appeal, and off again is that the blues abhor a vacuum. The The surest sign of the scenes health is that
people from outside the U.S. come in without advent of the Great Recession in 2008 forced Tom established players have been drawn to the area.
biases and filters. Its pretty common across Mazzolini to close the world-famous San Francisco Guitarist Big Jon Atkinson, a rising star in his mid-
the world that people dont appreciate what Blues Festival, which had run for nearly four 20s who plays with Kim Wilson, recently moved up
they have at home, and the truth is, the blues decades. The demise of the Monterey Blues Festival from Southern California. And Chicago guitarist
isnt represented in the media here. You have in 2012 was another body blow. These days, the Rockin Johnny Burgin, one of the Windy Citys
most celebrated bandleaders of the 90s, put his
career back on track after eight years off the scene
2017 Blues Music Award with his 2014 album, Greetings From Greaseland.
nominee Lara Price onstage
(center) at Club Fox He was so taken with the South Bay action that he
moved here last year after several trips to perform
around the region with Kumar.
It only takes a few people who are really good

at what they do to build a scene, Burgin says. Like

in a restaurant, Aki is the outside man. Hes a great
front man whos good at making things happen.
And Kids in the back of the house, a great engineer
and musician. They started their own thing doing
really quality work, and it became something that
people jumped on.

M O D E R N L U X U R Y S I L I C O N VA L L E Y M A R C H /A P R I L 2 0 1 7 | M O D E R N L U X U R Y. C O M