As music genres evolve and become more commercialized, it is important to remember and celebrate the roots of today’s popular music. The revitalized nightlife Downtown welcomes acts that pay homage and expose a new generation to the blues and jazz that birthed today’s tunes. Bars such as Seven Grand Whiskey Bar, located above Mexican restaurant Mas Malo at 515 W. Seventh St., feature nights of live music to accompany their tasty spirits and vintage ambiance.
Bass player Rick Taub partnered with musician Justin Kirk to create a night of jazz, blues and soul Sunday through Wednesday from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Seven Grand. His ever-changing band, recently consisting of singer Gina Graham, guitarist Lester Lands, drummer Robbie Thompson, Steve Guillory and Wes Smith, perform sounds ranging from Dixie land to modern samba fusion.
Seven Grand has become home base for Taub who has toured internationally and across the country. He says the highlight of his career was touring with John Lee Hooker, one of the top blues artists of all time.
“Blues is the essential music, everything comes from it,” said Taub. “It really touches people because everybody gets the blues. It’s cathartic.”
Taub became a fan of rock ‘n’ roll at a young age while growing up in Hollywood. He would read the album notes and realized that many of his favorite songs by the British and American bands he listened to were the blues songs. Taub dug deeper and found the original versions.
“’Hound Dog’ by Big Mama [Thornton] made Elvis sound like a cartoon,” said Taub. “I thought ‘oh, this is it!’”
Having no formal training, Taub “fell into the scene” at Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn, a legendary Los Angeles Blues club he would frequent during his twenties. The club was founded in 1964 by widow Laura Mae Gross and housed many greats such as Duke Ellington, Big Mama Thornton, Eric Clapton and Esther Phillips. One fateful night Taub got his chance to join the roster.
“It was kind of a rough era – late 80s, early 90s – and there was a lot of gang violence and crack everywhere,” said Taub. “The bass player was almost beaten to death the night before while stopping for gas, so they needed a bass player. The drummer looked at me drunk and said ‘you look like a bass player, get your ass up here and play!’”
To add to their success, Kirk and Taub have recently collaborated on a new website lamusicbooking.com. The site is a place where the two can be reached to produce music events and programs at venues everywhere.
A second singer named Tasha Taylor takes the stage at Seven Grand with Taub and his band. The daughter of late musician Johnnie Taylor grew up next to the stage where she developed her talent, passion and love for music. A love she professes on her 2011 album “Taylor Made” through songs that echo the legacy of her father, but demonstrate her own prowess as a soul singer.
Taylor has also toured both nationally and internationally; she played a Blues Cruise with Taub earlier this year and currently has a day gig with the Blues Brothers Band. The multi-talented singer and actress has been singing at Seven Grand Whiskey Bar for three years.
“I’m a whiskey girl,” said Taylor. “It goes with the blues.”
Indeed, the extensive menu of whiskey, cocktails and craft beer at Seven Grand does pair well with the blues. Guests enjoy drinks, cigars and billiards with the live band as their backdrop. Locals and commuters alike appreciate the quality service the bar provides.
“In art you challenge the [consumer] and here they’re walking the line just right,” said David Jacot, businessman.
Jacot often stops at Seven Grand for a few glasses of whiskey after a long day at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power before taking the Blue Line home to Long Beach.
One of Seven Grand’s bartenders skillfully stirs whiskey and creates cocktails for eager guests.
“Downtown LA is coming into its own, which is fabulous,” said Jacot, “but it also means newcomers who don’t understand manners. Places like this have been in New York and Chicago for 30 to 40 years. People need to mature into the bar, but the trick is the bar needs to last long enough to mature.”
Apparently, Downtown’s new attitude has not gone unnoticed. Partygoers, whiskey connoisseurs and music lovers alike will keep supporting establishments such as Seven Grand as long as the liquor keeps flowing and music keeps playing.
Photos by Kelly Hawkins