CBGB Film Fest Recap: ‘Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn’

Posted on: October 18th, 2013 at 11:12 am by

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Photo: CBGB.com

Switching it up after a series of rock-focused films, we went to see Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn, a documentary directed by Ramin Niami, about the legendary blues club in Los Angeles.

Chronicling the 50+ year history of the club (which closed in 2010), the film introduces the blues musicians whose lives were transformed by “Mama” Laura Mae Gross, owner of Babe’s and Ricky’s. Located in a few different locations in very rough sections of LA, the club attracted visitors from all over the world and featured blues musicians of every age and ethnicity.

The various artists interviewed on camera told loving tales about how “Mama” would take each one under her wing, giving everyone the chance to play at her club. She would sit front and center during the shows, giving musicians the thumbs up when they played well, and turning her back on them when they played something she didn’t like.

At times, Mama would stop the music if she wasn’t happy with the way things were going musically. She would then advise certain players to either go home and practice more (with enough encouragement to make sure they came back), or to stay put, but “really listen to the band.” All agreed that she made them better musicians.

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Musician Bobby Bryan and Director Ramin Niami. Photo: Lori Greenberg.

She once saw someone who was playing at the club for the first time, and noted that he was shy. Her tough love response: she made him play guitar while standing on a chair in the center of the room. The players thrived in this critical but loving atmosphere, and they remained devoted to Mama Laura (who was not a musician, but who, according to many interviewed in the film, was more intuitive than even the greatest blues artists). Inspired by playing at Babe’s and Ricky’s some players quit their day jobs to devote their lives to the blues.

Unknowns would share the stage with people such as B.B. King, Albert Collins, Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker and Albert King. This type of talent showcased at Babe’s and Ricky’s created new generations of blues fans. The club also helped launch the careers of Guitar Shorty, Southside Slim and Keb’ Mo’.

Mama would sleep on a mattress on the pool table every night, with a gun under her pillow. (Stories were told about how the house musicians would drag out the mattress each night, make the bed, give Mama the remote and lock the doors, after they left the club.)

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Bobby Bryan in motion, after the screening. photo: Lori Greenberg.

The screening was followed by a killer performance by guitarist and singer Bobby Bryan, who also regaled the audience with stories. His set included a beautiful jazz-influenced number, which prompted him to later say, “Mama wouldn’t have liked that one, it’s not the blues.”

You can find more on the film’s website and facebook page. Also, Bobby Bryan has been playing in New York City these days. You can check him out on his website.

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