Mike Welch

Mike Welch
Johnny D's Sunday Blues Jam

By A.J. Wachtel
June 2010

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Every single local blues jam is equally important to our scene—artists looking for a way to meet like-minded musicians and express themselves onstage before an audience. Yet some jams are more illustrious than others. For more then twenty years, Carla DeLellis and her club Johnny D's in Somerville's Davis Square have hosted their own blues party. That's twenty years folks, and just one weekend visit to the venue clearly illustrates both the high level of musicianship in the area and the incredibly large pool of local talent searching for such an outlet to express themselves. “Can you play Freddie King?” or “Do you know any Hound Dog Taylor?” is the dialogue du jour as guitar players introduce themselves to harpists and saxophonists huddle with other horn players. Everywhere, individuals and groups mix to share their dreams.

“Our first group was The Rick Russell Band,” Carla remembers, and the event now hosted by Monster Mike Welch still attracts Boston's finest to perform. Week after week the place is packed with people of all ages and abilities who have come to eat, drink and be bluesy. Just back from touring in Europe, Monster Mike is front and center and ready for action as he smiles and answers my question “Why on earth do you do this?” with “It gives me a chance to keep a guitar in my hands.” You don't have to play an instrument to understand and respect his focus and determination, but anyone who is part of our blues universe should especially appreciate Mike's mindset—it's a perfect example of what makes our music scene so special. He continues:

AJ Wachtel: Do you still keep in touch with Dan Ackroyd who gave you your nickname “Monster”?

Mike Welch: No. My connection with Ackroyd was through the House of Blues chain, when I played the openings of the Cambridge, New Orleans and Los Angeles clubs in the early '90's. I've seen him only once since then, at a festival in Ontario.

AJ: Carla told me you've been coming to the blues jam here since you were 13. What brought you here at such an early age and why is this blues jam important to the scene?

MW: I first came to the blues jam when I was 11 on the recommendation of some of the people who worked at Cambridge Music Center. For me at least, practicing guitar alone in my basement was a dead end—there's so much that can only be learned by playing with other people on stage. I see it now in the blues jam's regulars, too—the constant real-world stage experience has turned them into stronger players.

AJ: Name some of the hosts of the jam throughout the years. Name some of the top musicians who've come by and played too.

MW: When I first came to the jam, it was run by a great band called the Renegades with Matt Woodburn and Tim Gearan who immediately became two of my biggest influences. Over the years, I got to know that Sam Gentile and Phil Pemberton have been involved, and my partner in the early part of my running the jam was Mr. Nick. There was a great period in the early '90's when people like Toni Lynn Washington, Mike Dinallo from the Radio Kings, Sue Tedeschi and Bobby Bell would regularly drop by—it really felt like a vital scene. I should mention Brad Hallen as well. He's really my partner in running this thing, and he's put a huge amount of effort into making it work.

AJ: Johnny D's is a unique jam because it offers whole Sundays with a couple of different correlating showcases. For example, in June Carla is bringing back blues dancing “classes” to be held before your jam. How cool is that?

MW: The dancers are great. The jammers have more fun playing and play better when there's an audience involved with the music, and the dancers get to practice their blues chops. It's a vey cool symbiotic relationship.

AJ: What's your take on the current national blues scene in America? In Europe? Locally?

MW: It's hard out there. Touring the States is almost prohibitively expensive with the increase in gas prices, fewer clubs, and ridiculously long drives. Europe is a little easier—they're in a slump too, but they have a different relationship to live music in general. American blues fans are great, but it's hard to get a few hundred of them in a room these days.

AJ: What's up with your career these days?

MW: I've been playing regionally with Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, and a few other acts, and touring Europe a few times a year either as a frontman, as part of Ray's band, or as a sideman with other people. My highest profile gigs are overseas these days. As far as recording, my last CD was released in 2008, and there's a new Sugar Ray and the Bluetones CD scheduled for release next year.

AJ: If a blues performer wants to show up for your blues jam and play, how simple is it? Walk me through the procedure.

MW: We make the process as simple as possible. We play about an hour or so, and then we open it up to the jammers. Musicians sign up with their name and instrument and/or voice, and we assemble groups from the list in the order they signed up. Each group gets a three-song set, and if there are open slots, which there usually are, we recycle players in the order they signed up. Amps and a drum kit are provided; people just need to bring their instruments and drumsticks. Unfortunately, the club doesn't have a piano, but we welcome keyboardists who bring their own instrument.

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