Musicians Tom Stamper and David Pinsky have performed, jammed and recorded with some of the top blues artists in the nation. - Bob Pennell

Ashland's legacy of great blues lives on

One night sometime in 1983 at a renowned night spot in Ashland, a blues guitarist named Clarence Brown asked a local musician — who also happened to be the club's owner — to sit in on a performance. David Pinsky left his post as bartender and stepped up to the stage to accompany "Gatemouth" Brown on harmonica. After the song was over, Brown turned to Pinsky and said, "Hey, you pretty good."

"Those are the things you live for," Pinsky says.

Pinsky co-owned the Brooklyn from 1980 to 1985, a venue noted for great players such as Brown, Robert Cray, Albert Collins, Canned Heat, John Hammond Jr. and Floyd Dixon.

Those heady days when a litany of fine blues musicians stopped in to jam at the Brooklyn and other clubs in Ashland may be gone, but theirlegacy lives on.

Today, the Royal Blues Band, featuring Pinsky on rhythm guitar and harmonica, Tom Stamper on drums, Bob Di Chiro on bass and Michael Vannice on piano, presents original and classic blues every Monday night at Alex's Restaurant on the Plaza.

"The bands that came through here were great," Stamper recalls. "Ashland has always attracted fine musicians because of the quality of performers that live here."

Blues, jazz and rock musicians made regular stops in Ashland to perform at clubs like the Brooklyn, Jazmin's and the Vintage Inn on their way to gigs up and down the West Coast.

"We got a quick reputation as a good place to play," Pinsky says. "We'd feed them, put them up for the night and pay them decently."

Stamper arrived in Ashland from San Francisco in 1987. He's performed in concert halls across the country with artists such as The Klezmorim, Elvin Bishop and Luther Tucker. He performed with Nancy King when she opened for Ray Charles at the Britt Festivals, and he has been featured on many recording projects, including a 2003 CD recorded by the BluesDusters, a local band featuring John Hauschild and Leonard Griffie.

Stamper and longtime friend Pinsky have worked together many times over the years. Pinsky's band, The Rhythm Kings, featured Stamper on drums occasionally and opened shows for headliners such as Elvin Bishop, Maria Muldaur, Leon Russell, Tower of Power and B.B. King at local and regional music festivals during the 1990s.

The Rhythm Kings have four albums to their credit. Check out the music at therhythmkingsonline.com.

Pinsky grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and he began studying music at Juilliard when he was 7. First he played trumpet, then he learned piano and guitar. He moved to Ashland via Los Angeles in 1973.

"The music scene was already set when I moved here," Pinsky says. "It was an arts community full of talented people."

Setting the standards for blues, Pinsky and his partners booked new artists such as Cray, Curtis Salgado, Paul deLay, Los Lobos and Little Charlie and the Nightcats. Pinsky's own house band opened shows for many of the bands and jammed with the best of them.

Who were the favorites?

"Anyone with the last name King," Pinsky laughs.

The Royal Blues Band's members share similar professional experiences of performing with some of the greatest blues artists in the country.

"It's more like an invitational jam session," Stamper says. "We get Gene Galien from Grants Pass who plays guitar and has worked with Buddy Epson, Barbara Mandrell, Ida Lupino and Tex Williams.

Other players include guitarist Mark Adams who played with Nick Gravenites, a Chicago-born composer who wrote "Born In Chicago" and "Buried Alive In The Blues," Stamper says. Stamper played drums on Adams' 2001 CD "Country Boy," and he played in a band with him during high school in San Francisco. The CD is available at the Music Coop in Ashland.

"You never know who is going to stop in," Stamper says. "Everyone's been playing professionally for about 25 years."

Other players include lead and rhythm guitarist Joe Diehl of AnnieMac and Soul Food, Gary Halliburton on piano and, of course, Vannice is of the Robert Cray Band's fame.

Venues for live music have been scarce in Ashland since clubs like the Brooklyn closed.

"We're keeping it alive," Stamper says. "And no small thanks goes to Charles and Quinn Tobey of Alex's. They've hung in there to provide live music in Ashland at no cover charge."

The Tobeys hired Stamper's band, the BluesDusters, about a year ago as a house band to perform on Monday nights at the restaurant. That group evolved into the Royal Blues Band.

"We're seasoned blues veterans," Stamper says. "What's happening now is part of the whole scene and the lifestyle we have here."

To see a video of the band, go to mailtribune.com/tempo and look for the story link.

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