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Orange County Blues Society works to preserve an art form

Orange County Blues Society works to preserve an art form
Orange County Blues Society founder Jeff “Papa J” Hudson at Gallagher’s Pub in Huntington Beach. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb)

Jeff "Papa J" Hudson believes blues music is the most American form of art.

Born out of the Deep South from the strained vocal chords of the oppressed, the distinctly African American genre has acted as the canvas to a century of woe.

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Yet, while there's at least a few more centuries worth of blues songs, the form is fading.

Hoping to do his part to preserve the dwindling style, Hudson founded the Orange County Blues Society about a decade ago.

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The group organizes concerts and open jam sessions around the county and is developing an educational program for schools.

"Blues is hard here — everybody wants to hear pop music in Orange County," Hudson said. "The only way we can counteract the loss of blues is getting in people's faces and saying this is what America's music is."

The organization emerged out of a fit of anger.

While attending the Doheny Blues Festival about 10 years ago, Hudson, 67, of Orange was irritated by a lineup of musicians that included Todd Rundgren and Crosby, Stills and Nash.

"Real good artists, but it wasn't blues," Hudson said. "I said, 'Enough of this,' and I started the society."

The group has grown substantially over the years, with 1,900 people receiving a monthly newsletter and 1,000 members.

Orange County Blues Society founder Jeff “Papa J” Hudson fronts Crosscut Delux at Gallagher’s Pub in Huntington Beach.
Orange County Blues Society founder Jeff “Papa J” Hudson fronts Crosscut Delux at Gallagher’s Pub in Huntington Beach. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb)

The blues society regularly holds jam sessions where anybody can show up with an instrument and play — there's usually about 30 musicians. Somebody calls out a song in a given key, counts off and players improvise over the rhythm.

The group also organizes a few larger concerts annually where many of the members are featured.

Hudson performs at these concerts as a singer and blues harpist with his band, Crosscut Delux.

The society usually works with Main Street Restaurant in Yorba Linda, Boscoe's Sports Grill in Lake Forest, Gallagher's Pub and Grill in Huntington Beach and, most recently, Campus Jax in Newport Beach.

When Hudson started the group he created an educational program that has since waned due to limited funds, although he's working to resurrect the Blues in the Schools program this year.

In its original form, Hudson brought bands to schools to perform a few songs while providing a general history of the blues.

He said the "cash is flowing" a little better now, allowing him to hire a full band.

The Orange County Blues Society hosts an afternoon jam with, from left, Matt Piccirell, Richard Hassebrock and Mike Mathews at Gallagher’s Pub in Huntington Beach.
The Orange County Blues Society hosts an afternoon jam with, from left, Matt Piccirell, Richard Hassebrock and Mike Mathews at Gallagher’s Pub in Huntington Beach. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb)

Richard Hassebrock, a member of the blues society and guitarist for Crosscut Delux, said the state of blues in Orange County is slightly better today than it was when the group formed.

In the past, blues jams were an endangered species, but can now be regularly found throughout the week. Although there isn't a definitive blues club in the county, blues bands are having a somewhat easier time landing gigs, Hassebrock said.

While Southern California is not considered blues central, Long Beach and Los Angeles have the reputation of having more matured scenes than any Orange County city.

Neither Hassebrock nor Hudson has a definitive answer to the decline of their favorite art form.

Hassebrock, 59, of Fullerton said the general perception of blues as a "depressed" music may cripple its traction within a community that seems to just want something to sing along to while drinking, not engage with in a thoughtful manner.

But, both contend that blues is actually a more accessible form of music than people know — one that anybody can relate to.

"The blues tells a story better than any other music," Hudson said. "It's more about real people and real life. You can write blues about anything and everybody can relate. Everybody has the blues. If you've had a flat tire at two in the morning, you've had the blues."

For more information about the Orange County Blues Society, visit www.orangecountybluessociety.com.

Twitter:@benbrazilpilot

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