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Banging Out the Blues in Tarzana : British eatery also serves up Bass ale and traditional pub fare

The guitar player is out back in the parking lot, cooling off in his Chevy before he has to go on. The harmonica player is cruising the bar, talking to women. The other guys are visiting with people in the booths or drinking a quick beer.

Pretty soon it’s time to play and the band is on stage--or what amounts to a stage at Bangers pub in Tarzana. Pretty soon they’re ripping through a Willie Dixon tune.

I got a way through the window

Got a way through the hall

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If the going gets tough

I got a hole in the wall

I got 29 ways to get to my baby’s door

And if she needs me real bad

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I can find about two or three more.

Quite suddenly this small English restaurant--sandwiched between trendy Ventura Boulevard and condominium-filled neighborhoods--has been given over to the realm of Memphis Slim and Louis Jordan. It’s blues in the suburbs, across from a Gelson’s market.

“Rock ‘n’ roll has taken over everywhere,” said Rosie Lieberman, sitting at a table right up front. “I wish more places had rhythm and blues.”

There simply isn’t much of that kind of music in the San Fernando Valley.

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Several places that used to offer blues, such as Josephina’s and Ten Pesos, have closed. Nowadays, the Crying Towel in Granada Hills has occasional blues, and the Palomino hosts semi-regular concerts. Bangers serves up blues on a regular basis, along with Bass on tap and traditional pub fare--fish and chips, shepherd’s pie and Scotch eggs.

“This is one of the last places where you can just hang out and hear music,” said Michael Fell, the harmonica man and bandleader of Blues for Breakfast, which plays Bangers every Tuesday night. “We’re trying to keep the blues happening in the Valley, which is no easy task.”

Other bands, such as Ronnie Lee Cunningham and Spit in the Wind, play at Bangers on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, and sometimes on Sunday afternoons. But it was Blues for Breakfast that led them all to Tarzana.

Bangers offers rock ‘n’ roll Friday and Saturday nights, but Fell says he and a few other players noticed that the pub was fairly empty on weeknights. They asked the owner if they could play. Most blues players around Los Angeles know one another (Blues for Breakfast is made up of musicians who regularly play in other bands), so word of this new room spread quickly.

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And with live music, Bangers’ business is starting to pick up.

“It’s been going good,” said Mike Switzer, who identified himself as vice president of the restaurant. “And I think the Valley needs it.”

At this point, the bands are getting a percentage of the bar profits but aren’t making much from their midweek gigs.

“If I’d even break even one week, I’d be a happy camper,” Fell said.

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“We ain’t been camping lately,” said Sharonmarie Fisher, a singer who occasionally sits in with the band.

Still, Fell and his compatriots are happy to have a place to play. Blues for Breakfast starts about 9 p.m. and goes almost to closing. Other players stop by and join in for a few songs.

On a recent Tuesday, a singer named Nathaniel Peterson led a snappy rendition of “Do the Do.”

She’s got a 39 bust

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A 22 waist

And everything else

Is right in place.

Patrons were tapping their toes or drumming on table tops. John Markowski, on the guitar, worked through a spirited lead. During a break, ensconced again in his Chevy, Markowski said he loves the blues and he’ll play anywhere.

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“You’d be surprised at the incredibly off-the-wall places I’ve played this music,” the Baltimore native said. “By the end of the night, the guys have their coats off and the ladies got the barrettes out of their hair. It’s everyman’s music.”

Bangers, 5507 Reseda Blvd., Tarzana, is open 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sundays. There is no cover charge.


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