Since shedding the cumbersome bonds of WB-network affiliate status, KOFY TV 20 in San Francisco has truly gone apeshit or at least a bit touched. They’ve brought back the Yule Log marathons on Christmas Eve. They’ve started showing reruns of their 50’s Dance Party which were taped in the 1980s and featured working Janes and Joes of the day shaking it to Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley. The station’s horror host, the alternative rock DJ called No Name, spent several minutes of a recent Saturday night broadcast of Creepy KOFY Movie Time (their monster movie show) screaming in agony while a dominatrix shocked him through a pair of electrically charged nipple clamps. The torture being dished out in that night’s feature film, the proto-Giallo clunker Bloody Pit of Horror, seemed to pale in comparison to what KOFY’s host was enduring. I didn’t think that KOFY could shock me with any more local TV zaniness, but that was before the WTF moment brought on by EC’s Jook Joint.
The show is hosted by East Bay blues woman E. C. Scott from a shotgun shack set that (appropriately) looks like it was slapped together with some old pieces of scrap wood. A sign just behind E. C.’s left shoulder proclaims that a plate of red beans and rice goes for the low, low price of 5¢ at the Jook Joint. Scott, who also produces the show, takes on the long-lost role of media gatekeeper as she introduces us to music videos that look as if they were financed by passing around a tip jar and shot on old camcorders bought at rummage sales (AKA local TV gold).
EC’s Jook Joint quickly confronts you with the knowledge that the blues is still out there -- that it’s still being produced in makeshift recording studios across the country. This show also made me realize that the blues is the most underground music in today’s America. Let’s face it: if guys like Christopher R. Weingarten or Chuck Klosterman call something underground, then it’s probably already mainstream, or at least a lot closer to it than most of the clips on the Jook Joint. The 21st Century blues player has to hustle just to get even the most barebones video out there. It’s doubtful that Animal Collective faces the same obstacles as Southern soul singer Carl Sims, who kicked off E. C.’s year-end top-ten list with his smooth anthem “It Ain’t a Juke Joint Without the Blues” on the NYE show.
Sims, garbed in the raddest champagne-colored suit ever belts out lines like “You’ve got a 40-ouncer on the table/You’ve got a trash talkin’ woman named Mable” all while a voluptuous babe gyrates on the stage behind him. Like many of the videos shown on the Jook Joint, this clip was filmed in a nightclub in a forgotten strip mall. Budweiser signs and flat-panel TVs are clearly shown in the background, but that crowd sure was moving. Similarly, a video from Texas blues rockers Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King for the song “I Saw it Comin’” was shot at the J & J Blues Bar where a large Coors emblem takes up a good chuck of stage space right next to the drummer. But again, the crowd was moving.
The blues can’t be picky. The blues can’t sit on its high horse and wait for a so-called “cool” venue to spring up to host it. The blues happens wherever there’s a sound system and a liquor license. The performers in E. C.’s collection of videos are young, old, black, white, or Latino. Concert clips of B. B. King and Etta James showed the blues legends sitting down throughout their performances; their bodies hobbled by old age or in King’s case, diabetes. Lincoln, Neb. blues man Magic Slim also performed all of his smokin’ guitar solos while seated but rose to his feet when it came time to sing, “I Need Lovin’.” While country radio has jettisoned its legends in favor of better looking young stars, the blues allows its aging players a place even when they can no longer stand. Sitting on his stool is the way that John Lee Hooker went out after all.
Possibly the earthiest video on a show unafraid to dig through hard clay was “It’s the Weekend” by Sir Lawrence, an R&B man out of Houston. The song’s infectious chorus of “It’s the weekend, gotta’ get my party on” quickly gives away to verses that instruct you about managing a budget while living in grinding poverty. Sir Lawrence cashes his check at the liquor store, buys a money order for the rent and saves “a little for the water, for the gas, for the lights.” He also puts 30 dollars in the gas tank because that’s all he needs to get to work next week and he buys a Church’s Chicken 15-piece special so he’ll have some leftovers. After he’s done socking away cash for all of that plus adding minutes on his cellphone and giving a check to his baby mama (his words), he has a little left over to get his party on. The partying depicted consists of playing dominoes on a fold out table in a suburban front yard while drinking 40-ouncers or hanging out at Double D’s, a bring your own bottle joint “for the grown and sexy.”
At number two in her countdown was “Love Again” by Chicago’s Ronnie Baker Brooks, which Scott describes as the “first steamy, hot blues video.” Set to a tune that resembles Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” infused with an extra two tons of soul, the video resembles one of the episodes of “Cheaters” that shares KOFY’s late night hours with the Jook Joint. After some childhood flashbacks where we learn that Brooks’ heart was irreparably broken, a grown-up Brooks is shown getting in and out of bed with several different barflies. As the inevitable catfights ensue, I half expected Cheaters host Joey Greco to show up with a camera crew. Coming in at number one was a little piece of innovation from John Lee Hooker, Jr. called “The Blues Ain’t Nothing But a Pimp.” Comprised entirely of black and white, computer generated imagery set to a brassy and defiant tune, this video resembles a chiaroscuro “Grand Theft Auto.” Cars are crashed, guns are fired, Hooker punches thugs and gets the girl.
E. C. Scott put her own video at number eight, but I hardly think that any of the other artists on the Jook Joint would mind. The Jook Joint is one of the few broadcast outlets in the US for this material and Scott’s efforts come at a time when the Bay Area blues scene has taken some big hits. The Fifth Amendment club in Oakland has been replaced by a yuppie bar for years now and last year’s San Francisco Blues Festival was cancelled due to “lack of sponsorship support.” (Several alternative rock festivals had no trouble getting sponsors, again showing that blues is the most underground music in America.) While many of these videos are available on the web, and EC’s Jook Joint itself can be watched online, I would have never known about any of this stuff without that initial channel surfing revelation, showing that there’s still the need for that old-fashioned TV host, especially where underrepresented media forms are concerned. With E. C. Scott we have a gatekeeper we can trust.
"EC’s Jook Joint" doesn’t appear to be on KOFY’s current schedule, which is a damned shame, but Scott is playing at Biscuits & Blues (401 Mason St. @ Geary, San Francisco, CA 94102) on Friday, January 22nd. Click here for details.
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