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Maloe Melo
Patti Smith Maloe Melo

Patti Smith Maloe Melo (Jur)

Wonderjam Carolyn Wonderland

Wonderjam Guy Forsyth

Lazy Sunday Dream


The big man himself


Entrance musicroom

The musicroom

Wonderjam Patrice Pike

Nothing much had really changed. As you enter, there was the old familiar long bar run by Patrick, the son of the proprietor, Jur Scherpenzeel. When I inquired about his father’s welfare, he nodded toward the heavy double doors of the inner sanctum, where they play the music. As I opened the portal, there was Jur, as usual, on the left manning both the bar and mixing board console. He looked a bit older but his vestigial jelly roll with accompanying D.A. was still perfectly coiffed. He immediately recognized me and my longtime significant other and motioned for us to sit down. In fact, so glad he was to see us, he wouldn’t take any money for the drinks. Since it was already 10:30, he told us that the jam would kick off soon with his other son, Marcel, performing solo. I was already familiar with Marcel’s incredible string bending talents having been given one of his CDs on a prior excursion to Amsterdam. But to hear his brand of Texas blues up close and personal was a rare treat. But his mini-concert was merely the first of many top otch blues players, including woman guitarist, who was very determined to hold her own against the predominantly male rivalries.

Although Bourbon Street can and does have its shining moments, it can’t hold a niche in my heart like Maloe Melo, which unlike the former is never acknowledged in any “places to see” in city guides. In fact, it’s the secret spot where all the locals go to hear the blues. In its long history since 1984, it has undergone many changes, including a slight relocation, a lost lease for about four years, and an extensive interior redecoration. Being slightly off the beaten tourist track (about 6 blocks from the Leidseplein) on the edge of a canal at Lijnbaangracht 163, and smack dab in the middle of a residential (and I must say very tolerant) neighborhood, it always seemed to be on the verge of shutting its doors permanently. But, as I neared, my fears of its premature extinction were unjustified. Indeed, it was comforting to see that the sign was still lit.le7" As I enjoyed the show and regarded the wall opposite to us, I could distinguish the framed portraits of many blues heroes who had either sat in or played engagements here over the years. In fact, it was like a blues shrine - Jimmy Johnson, Son Seals, Ronnie Earl, Mark Hummel, Jimmy Dawkins, Doug Sahm, Gatemouth Brown, T Model Ford, Lefty Dizz, and Candye Kane, just to name a few. But, there was also a new addition to this “wall of fame” directly across from the bar - a hermetically sealed Bluesrag with Jur gracing the cover. It was the article I had written a decade ago.

As usual, there was always a surprise when you came to see perhaps the world’s #1 blues fan. I couldn’t come the next night, Wednesday, as I had to be in nearby Haarlem to have dinner with my dear Dutch friends. But I promised Jur I’d be there for Thursday night’s proceedings. “Yes, come Thursday. It will be a good night,” he said. And again, he fulfilled all my expectations. The aforementioned guitarist Lamar Chase also leads the blues jams several times each month here at Maloe Melo, as does his able bodied bassist from Mama’s Bad Boys, Otis Rahim Hornesby, who hails from New Jersey and who has had experience in the States backing Jimmy Reed and jazz chanteuse, Nancy Wilson. When the two are not fronting jams in Amsterdam, they add a Russian-born drummer, Tolik Smirnoff, and as a threesome have played engagements in Somerset, England and Paris, as well as all the home bases. According to Otis, they have been gigging around the Low Countries since 1989 and have quite a devoted and loyal following. That Thursday night, it was Otis’s turn. And, to say the least, he put on a clinic of R&B, funk, and blues. I could tell that he was a solid, seasoned pro in the manner with which he could take such a motley crew of volunteers and meld them into one cohesive unit on the bandstand, no mean feat during such occasions when everyone individually wants to strut his stuff. As the night progressed, more and more people came through the door. And why not? The music was great and the drinks were cheap. During the intermission, I was able to talk to Jur about the state of the club. Since my last visit, his English had improved dramatically, no doubt due to fact that he with his country rock band, Lazy Sunday Dream (in which he handled keyboards and accordion), had made a mini-tour of the U.S. in 2001, culminating in an engagement in Austin at the prestigious South by Southwest Festival.

In the course of our conversation, he confided to me rather apologetically that he really couldn’t make a living any longer just by booking blues. So, to fill out the schedule, he diversifies by accepting punk, rockabilly, and rock and roll. He also confessed that he has to keep the cover charge at a minimum (mostly 5 Euros) even when foreign groups play so as not to scare away the regulars. It has always been a delicate balancing act. Even when Patti Smith agreed to perform here in November, 2005, Jur pulled off a coup by keeping the ticket price in the 20 Euro range, well below what the market would normally dictate for such an esteemed legend. By the way, the show sold out quickly. Jur is also a master of trying to coordinate with the many area festivals in order to lure blues luminaries to his club. But with his honest reputation and sincere reverence for the blues, he doesn’t have to twist too many agents’ arms. It was sad to finally leave the club. Having retired, I no longer have the financial wherewithal to come “over the pond” as much as I used to. In addition, Jur is now 63 and I wondered how much longer he wanted to continue this daily grind, even if it were a labor of love.

Text by Larry Benicewicz, Photos by Larry Benicewicz and Carol Campbell


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