THE blues don't make appointments. The blues don't call ahead and ask
politely for a ride in from the airport. And they don't give a damn if
Fridays are your night to work. They just show up unbidden and before you
know it you're veering across four lanes of traffic toward the big sign
that says "Entering Dismal State. Trouble, Next Exit."
Yeah, last Friday was one of those. One of those strange nights where I
don't feel like making talk with anyone. All I want is to be left alone in
the benign, unquestioning embrace of strangers who are drinking, hollering
and dancing the blues. I want to see people who still think
"rave" is a verb. People who wouldn't know Elvis Costello from
Abbott. Men who wear gimme hats from hydraulic pump companies. And
middle-aged women with interesting tattoos. Just give me a bar band kicking
out a big ol' honking roar and let me sit there soaking it all in until the
blues go away.
Of course I end up out at the original JJ's Lounge. For the blues-
afflicted, that place is like Lourdes with cheap beer instead of cave
In a business where two years is considered a good run, JJ's Lounge has
survived five times that long because it's never deviated from the original
formula: hearty, unvarnished blues on the cheap. While the other JJs clubs
cater to different crowds, the little bar on Stevens Creek remains
resolutely and unapologetically a damn good neighborhood dive.
At 11, Tom Castro, a bandleader who got his start at JJs way back in the
old days, is leaning off the 2-foot-high platform stage at the front of the
club, leering at five acquaintances who have just wandered in. He
interrupts his rendition of an Otis Redding ballad and bellows into the
mike, "Heeey, it's 11 o'clock for chrissake. Where you guys
been??" That's one risk to patronizing JJ's. The club is so small the
singer can jump in your face before you're two steps in the front door.
Front to back, the club is about as wide as a two-car garage, just a slot
with a wide space in front for the band and a wide spot in back for the
Such intimacy demands a certain decorum. Pretense and personal space are
two concepts that just don't cut it when people are often packed two-to-a-
barstool. Everyone from Mr. Five-Car-Garage-In-Saratoga up front with his
blue blazer to Mr. I-Can-Change-A-Harley-Tire-With-My-Teeth by the pool
table seems to understand this implicitly.
The only crowd not represented among the 70-odd patrons are the
twentysomething club-urchins. This is serious drinking music for grown-ups.
The kids would find it hopelessly earnest and lacking the proper degree of
ironic self-awareness. Pity them.
The blues is a unifying experience, yet each devotee is free to worship
whatever way he or she sees fit. Stick around JJ's long enough and you will
probably see some uncommonly large persons dancing uncommonly well in an
uncommonly small space. It's quite common. And you may see gentlemen
involved in a form of deep-blues meditation known as the
long-neck-Bud-trance. Do not disturb them. There are nodders. And clappers.
Stompers and shouters. There is no place for self-censure in such a small
room. No place, brothers and sisters, to hide one's appreciation of the
blues! Say amen and full disclosure!
Castro's band proves to be a veritable cafeteria of the blues -- basic,
yet versatile, with a funky edge that lends itself to Memphis soul. 'Round
midnight, as the band rolls into the Rufus Thomas classic "Walking the
Dog," the drummer pauses to tell a dog joke. He bombs, and Castro says
to him: "Stop. You too hip for the room, man. Too hip for the
The moon is full and the sky is clear as I make my way home up Stevens
Creek. I nail every green light between JJs and 280. I'm no longer in the
dismal state. Full recovery, next exit.
JJ's Blues Lounge
3439 Stevens Creek Blvd.
Admission: No cover to $5
Details: Music Mondays-Thursdays at 9:30 p.m.; Fridays-Sundays at 5 p.m.