Deep Blues Sea : John Marx and his band are playing jazz- and rock-tinged tunes right next to Ventura Harbor.


Just because a couple of developers took it upon themselves to name Ventura County "The Gold Coast" doesn't necessarily make it so. We could just as easily be called "The Blue Coast."

The ocean--along with the sky--used to be blue, and there are blues bands all over the place: the Pontiax, the Bluescasters, the Crawdads, the Signifiers, Randy Rich & the Ravens, Little Johnny & the Giants and plenty of others. And there is John Marx and the Blues Patrol.

Marx and his team attract quite a horde to Hi Cees, the local hang out in the Ventura Harbor.

The band has been doing this weekend gig for more than two years now, and the new tape, "These Roads," just came out. They'd even be happy to sell you a T-shirt.

"We've got three steady gigs per week," said Marx (actually Markowski) in a recent interview between sets at his Hi Cees gig.

"We have about 50 to 100 hard-core fans that come to see us at the Hi Cees, plus whoever happens to float by. In Ventura and Oxnard, considering how small the population is up there, there's really a lot of blues."

Marx has been practicing his craft for more than 20 years and has played about every type of music there is except for the dreaded disco and the even more dreaded polka.

"I grew up on the East Coast playing the blues. I remember the early '60s and the first folk revival when Bob Dylan just sort of popped out of the woodwork. I was a folk singer, but I was also into Leadbelly, Mississippi John Hurt, B.B. King and Nat (King) Cole."

Marx said his first instrument was a drum. By 14, he said, he was playing the guitar with his uncle's band.

"I had always been a singer, since I was 6 years old in the church choir. I was in a folk trio as a teen-ager, " he said. "I joined the Navy when I was 17, and when I got out at 21 I was in San Diego, which I decided was a better place to hang out. I was in a band called the Daddy-os.

"We recorded an album for Decca in the late '60s, but it's probably still on the shelf somewhere."

In the early 70s, he formed a Latin band with three drummers, a saxophone player, a trumpet player; the whole thing.

"I'd still do blues too. When I did, all the drummers sat down."

He moved to the Valley in 1978, and has been stuck there ever since.

"This friend of mine got me hooked up with the Captain & Tennille, who needed a singing guitar player. It was a natural for me. I stayed with them for five years until 1983 or 1984, then worked with an oldies group, but now I'm back to the blues."

When the quartet kicks off one of the weekend gigs, the music wafting over the water attracts passersby like moths to the flame. Since Marx has been doing this forever, it's not surprising that he can almost play that long too. Even the sea gulls start to dance.

"We play All-American music," Marx said. "It's blues, of course, but we also incorporate jazz, rhythm and blues, and traditional rock 'n' roll.

"Most other bands lean away from jazz influences--we lean toward them. We work with a list of around 200 songs. I'm not real big on repeating myself. Our new tape has a dozen songs; 10 of them are original."

Every weekend for 22 months--sounds like your basic musical sure thing. Well, almost. All good things come to an end.

"We're going on the road with William Clarke, real soon--maybe early October," Marx said. "We're going to play in B.B. King's club in Memphis, Buddy Guy's place in Chicago, the Holland Blues Festival and the biggie--the King Biscuit Blues Festival, which is actually held on the banks of the Mississippi River in Helena, Ark.

"This tour could last a couple of years. The blues is finally starting to play."

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