by Art Dwyer – founder of the Soulard Blues band

When I arrived there around 1973-74, it hadn’t started yet, and no one called the neighborhood Soulard; Hell, hardly anyone even lived there. Many many buildings were vacant and there was one fire per week until the VVAW (Vietnam Vets Against the War) started night patrols from their building at Menard and Allen and caught the rascals. Some people burned up in those fires. Moving into the neighborhood was cheap, and the end of the line. Thus began life as it was back then in Soulard.

The music in Soulard started in the late 70’s. Ten or so clubs opened up at the same approximate time in Soulard and in a short time were attracting enthusiastic blues lovers from all over the world to a once dying neighborhood. The uniqueness and diversity of the bands, what with all black bands, white bands and integrated bands, playing Jazz and Blues in a south St. Louis white neighborhood was something to shout about. Many musicians and artists began to move into Soulard in the early to middle 70’s for the cheap rent and got credit for saving the neighborhood from the wrecking ball for Missouri Dept. of Transportation (MODOT) had big plans and had to scrap them when the Missouri Historical Society stepped in and saved the day. Many thanks in those early days to Bob Branhorst and Joyce Saum. They also organized YEHS…Youth Education Health in Soulard.

The Browner Brothers bought Mike and Min’s (10th & Geyer), and started having music Wednesday through Saturday. Leroy Pierson with Russ Horneyer on bass and the Rev. on the Drums began playing, as well as the Geyer Street Sheiks, Tommy Bankhead and the Blues Eldorados, Marty Abdullah and the Expressions, the trio of Case, Edwards, and Doder, the Soulard Blues Band, SilverCloud and the St. Louis Blues Band, Broadway Rhythm with Stacy Johnson, Michael Jackson and John Mondin, the B.O.B., and Frank’s Creation Blues Band (Bassist Frank Dunbar). It was always great to see Frank Dunbar pull up in his great big greyhound bus and take up four parking spaces in front and then watch the band step off the bus and into the club. The JB Jumpers (Jeff Briehan) played also. Keith Doder’s Blue City band played at the club semi-regularly also. There was music Wednesday through Saturday, with good food served.

The Great Grizzly Bear (Menard & Geyer), was opened up by Neil and Scott Thompson and had music four nights a week. The Billy Peek band and Soulard Blues Band alternated weekends for 22 yrs. Thursdays were reserved for alternative bands and The Morells, Joe Camel and the Caucasians and many many more played the Thursday gig.

In addition, Chuck Aulger and Tom Maloney played The Preservation Hall, on 9th St. between Allen and Geyer, which was owned and run by Bob Brandhorst, and Chuck Aulger booked Chicago Blues and music from Lafayette La. and Baton Rouge and N.O. as well as St. Louis musicians. Fernest Arceneaux and the Thunders, The Creole Zydeco Farmers, the James Cotton Blues Band, Big Time Sarah Blues Band, The Either Orchestra Jazz Band from the East Coast. Jim Byrnes, Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Cha’s, Michael Coleman Blues Band from Chicago, Hudson and the Hoo Doo Cats from Austin, Texas and many more. The Carrot Club was also the in-residence theatre group that put on plays at the Preservation Hall.

Cody’s, on 9th by Soulard Ave., always had a nice thing going on Sunday nights. Coconut Willie (Larry Griffin) and Earthquake played, Coconut Willie and Monduel played, and the Chuck Aulger Band, The Six Shooters and more. 1860’s, on the corner of 9th and Geyer still has the Saturday afternoon jam session with the Soul Reunion Band. Jimmy Lee Kennett Band and the Tony Campanella Band, the Steve Pecaro Band and Michael Thomas and the Travelin’ Band, the Sounds of the City with Larry Thurston and Johnnie Johnson, the Billy Barnett Band, and Marsha Evans Coalition Band have been in a regular rotation for the evening gig slots for decades at the 1860s. Also playing there were the Blues Stompers with Bobby Nickerson and the JB Jumpers. You could also find the Twilight Jump band on stage occasionally, as well as the Blue City band led by Keith Doder with Skeet Rogers as main vocalist. Molly’s, across the street from 1860’s had Henry Townsend, Tom Hall and the Illusions, Doc Terry and the Pirates W/ vocalist Patti Thomas. The Be Bops. Hot Club Canary. Dave Black, The Red Blues Band, Marcel Strong and the Apostle’s, Blues piano player James Crutchfield, and more. In the summer months the patio was filled and live music was performed in the afternoon to patrons, often a lot of out of towners.

Down Street Cafe, next door to Mollys, was a great bar for sudden musical happenings late afternoon in the summer, indoors and outdoors. One might find five musicians performing together, but all from different bands. Tom Hall played, Henry Townsend played solo or with a small group. Dave Black, Spatz, Hot Club Canary, Mississippi Mudcats and more were in the mix.

Allen Ave. Cafe, owned by Gary Hibdon, was built for smaller groups. Holding forth were Tom Hall, either solo or with the Illusions, Guitar Frank with James Crutchfield, or earlier Guitar Frank with Nosmo King and Monduel and Chuck Aulger. You might find Swing Set on the bill.

The 9th and Russell Bar (now Hammerstone’s) has been serving up live music for many decades. There was always jazz or blues coming out of the club seven days a weeks. Stacy Johnson and his band played there. Lew Winer III always played in jazz or blues ensembles along with many more groups. Darrell Mixon, a premier St. Louis Jazz Bassist has often shared the stage with like minded musicians. It is still going strong today, and these days is more Blues oriented, with world class groups such as the Jeremiah Johnson Band, the John McVey Blues Band, Rich McDonough Blues Band, Kingdom Brothers, Big George Brock Jr. and the NGK Blues Band, Marty Abdullah and the Expressions and much more.

Hillary’s Nightclub (half block west of 9th st on Russell) kinda looked like someone’s living room, and Hillary might put you in mind of Thurston Howell of Gilligan’s Island. His club had top notch entertainment for the few who could squeeze in. The Quincy Jones of the St. Louis music scene – Oliver Sain – played with his band on Sunday nights. On Tuesday night Buzzy Martin and Jimmy Hinds, known as the Hinds and Martin Coalition, were always swinging and shufflin’ or funkin’ the place up. The Marsha Evans Coalition played there on a semi-regular basis along with many other jazz groups.

Hillary, being somewhat eccentric, had a large hot tub outside in the back of his club and easy access to the 3rd floor roof with a few chairs for after hour get togethers, and his small group of friends are responsible for originating their idea of Mardi Gras in St. Louis. Estimates of two hundred thousand plus now come into the neighborhood for the Mardi Gras weekend these days, whether ya like it or not.

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