CHICAGO: Cool River Thursday Night Jam

Posted on 8/13/2009 by Monica Yasher

The following is a re-post.
Thursday night Jams are still happening.

Thursday Night Jam in the Blues Capitol


Twist & the Groove Machine “House Band”

A new blues club has opened in the southwest suburbs of Chicago called the Cool River Draught House and Eatery. The “Cool Rivers” as it is referred to by the blues artists that frequent its stage is the hippest, coolest blues place ever! Mike Maracich AKA “Wizard” is the proprietor. He has turned an area of suburbia into a Mecca for blues performing artists and fans. Yours truly Included. I first found out about the CR through a listing on Craigslist. I answered an ad for blues bands and within 10 minutes the phone rang. It was the manager. We spoke at length about the club and the various artists I have played with. Two days later I walked in the door and was pleasantly surprised by the friendly ambiance and staff. The walls are covered with photos of the Wizard posing with hundreds of different artists.

The club is large and can hold about 300 people. The stage is very accommodating for most size acts. It may become a little cramped if the act has a full horn section though. CR has full sound and light systems. It even has a bullet microphone for the Mississippi saxophone players. Al Ortega handles the duties of sound engineer and also establishment manager. If you play there and need something ask Al. If he doesn’t have it he’ll get it, including spare batteries for my digital camera. Thanks Al.

The CR has an open jam session every Thursday night. It was intended for all levels of musicianship, but it quickly turned into an almost all pro session. I have been to every jam session except two and I can attest to that. I see semi-pro to professional players there and somehow I don’t think the semi pro player cares about giving their spot to the pros. I do not know of any other venue that has this many pro players hanging out and rubbing elbows with fans and musicians alike.

Last Thursday night, May 14, was no exception. LV banks and I arrive to “Twist and the Groove Machine’s” blues version of “Spooky”. At the risk of them asking the Wizard for a pay raise, I have to give them their kudos. They are an excellent band. We sat at the usual table in front of the sound board. It’s either Trisha or Theresa that brings us cranberry juice. LV has me stuck on that stuff. The band starts pumping out an excellent arrangement of Sweet Home Chicago when through the side door walks Eddie C. Campbell . Twist handles the vocals with ease. Jeff on drums and Doug on bass lay down a strictly down home groove while Al on guitar and Jimmy on keys accent the groove. At the conclusion of Sweet Home Johnny drummer makes his appearance. . Johnny sits down at the table with us.

Around 10:30 Billy Branch comes in through the front door.

LV and I are called up and pound out a couple of songs. We had Bobby Baker on bass a recent transplant from the east coast. Frank held the beat on drums. They both are also excellent players. Bobby Baker is also a very accomplished vocalist.

After our session Twist’s band reassembles to back up Eddie. Eddie rips off a version of summertime that was extraordinary. He utilized his incredible vocals and cutting melodic guitar riffs with great ease. Summertime is one of my all-time favorite songs and his version is now in my top ten.

Billy Branch took the stage next and with one stomp of his foot the place exploded. Billy Branch is one of the top five harp players in the world. He coaxes sound out of a harp that I can only wonder how in the world he does it. I know he was educated by the best, Big Walter Horton, James Cotton, Junior Wells and Carey Bell, but he takes the Mississippi saxophone to an entirely different level. Big Dog Mercer handled some excellent slide guitar work. Al Spears was graciuos enough to give him his spot for a few tunes.

Some of the other artists in attendance were, Tenry Johns, Billy King, Big Dog Mercer, Marc Flanagan, Mike Gorosh, Clem Bashir, Johnny Isit and many more.

If you ever get a chance to go to the “Cool Rivers” GO!

Cool River Is Located at 12622 west 159th Street Homer Glen, Illinois 60491 708-301-8006

Blues Me Or Lose Me,

Terrance "Gatorman" Lape
My Cd "Mark of The Gator" is available for digital download at:

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