By Patricia Rogers | Posted Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017
I have worked at Hat City Kitchen for the last four years, and I have enjoyed the live music. Sundays were the blues jam – a jam I have always worked. I noticed the impact the music, and the weekly gathering, had on these individuals. It was very special and endearing to watch. This past weekend, Al Gold’s Blues jam took a bigger stage at SOPAC with a first-ever contest – a collaboration with fellow musician, Mike Griot. It was a success! I wanted to make sure I got the scoop from Al himself.
Patricia Rogers: What was your inspiration for the blues jam?
Al Gold: I have gone to many jams before. When I was student in Chicago in the 1970’s, there was a bar around the corner from my apartment on the north side. There was a musician named Homesick James Williamson who had jams on Sundays that I would attend. He’d have his trio and his friends come out, players, listeners, and friends would show up. Maybe just 25 people, but it was a local bar, but he would play these jams, and it became apparent that it was a special local thing for his friends, family, network. I said to myself, this is a special thing. I thought, if I have a chance to do a jam, I would do it just the same way. Long story short, opportunity came in this small place called Hat City Kitchen in New Jersey. I approached then-manager Larry. I asked if I could do a weekly jam and after meeting with Pat Morrissy, we started. It started out as monthly, and people kept coming. It just grew from there. And soon, we began playing bi-weekly. I wanted people to plan to be there.
How long have you been doing the jam?
For seven years with the same band. My house band consists of guitarist Tom Rice, Jerry Cordasco on drums, Billy B3 Baker on keyboard, Mark Pavlica on bass.
Talk more about the house band.
I chose the house band because they want to make the jam and the songs sound good. This makes sense to me, so it is not a competition. It’s all about getting together and sharing good music. I love how the talent varies. There are the seasoned musicians, and the ones that only play in their bedroom. We make sure to tell all participants, we just want you to sound good. Musicians have a great experience, and they want to come back. They feel they want to contribute.
My band is the SRK All Stars, most of the guys from the HCK Jam plus one more.
Why do you think HCK is special?
I think the building has a special vibe. Before it was Hat City Kitchen, it was an Italian restaurant. It has always been a cool looking space. When I approached going down Valley Street, I always thought how cool it would be to play there. The way it is shaped, and the good stage makes it sound good. In most places, music is an after thought. It is like forced for extra money. But Hat City was put together with the idea that it would be a restaurant, bar and music venue. So it was constructed specifically for that area. People love to play there because they like the way it sounds. You can hear yourself sing and your instruments on stage.
Why do you think blues resonates with so many people?
Blues is really about stories about everyday life and how hard it can be. If you are overwhelmed with pressures, you can really get down on yourself when things are going bad. It’s like talking and venting to a friend about your problems. But if you are able to sing it out, it becomes joyous. It is something that we all share. Blues does not have to be negative, it can be just life affirming. That is what it is about. There are groups of people that come by just to dance. They have things in their lives that are difficult, and they come down and have a turn to get it out and celebrate. People tell me how much it means to them.
Explain some of those really special jams. It’s hard to put into words, but you know which ones I am talking about.
I do. As soon as September ends, people are thrilled to be out – and hang out – and this includes the jam. There is something exciting in the air. I love it. They want to be with people. They want their shot at the music. It is special.
How did the Blues in the Loft Contest come to be?
Mike Griot is a good friend of mine. He is always looking for something interesting. Shows with specific themes get a lot of attention, like the tribute shows to Bob Dylan or Howling Wolf. People like having a whole evening with a featured idea. It is something people respond to. He came up with this idea to kind of draw the audience at Hat City Kitchen, SOPAC, Hat City cuisine. Then put it all together, like a contest, with the jammers, and have a jam session on stage. This can be really interesting. It has never been done before, use a jam session as the show itself. Let’s make it a contest, judges are gonna pick people who are doing something special and something to offer. So it is not just the same as the jam. I was like, let’s go with it.
How did the jam translate into the contest?
I wanted to make sure the delicate fabric of the jam did not get misused, or the worst thing would be if someone performed at SOPAC and felt embarrassed. We tried to come up with a concept so that participants were prepared.
Thanks to SOPAC, and to Mike, for coming up with something different. There are many blues contests, but it’s more like a battle of the bands. But the way we did it as a jam, made it different and special. And with everyone involved, it was a win-win. You are promoting yourself in a great venue.
Who were the judges?
Pat Morrissy, former executive director of HANDS, Inc.; Dennis Greunling, a DJ, musician, and considered one of the greatest harp players; one of the more versatile drummers, Lee Finkelstein, with a music career spanning 25 years; Billy Hector, well-known blues musician who also frequents the Hat City Kitchen stage; Bandleader and guitarist, New Yorker Michael Hill; my favorite, Soundguy Ed, the one that make everyone sound good at Hat City Kitchen.
Talk about the winner, Vin Mott.
He’s a young man in his 20s who is in love with blues. He is inspired, driven and plays quite a bit in a lot of local clubs. Always learning and trying, mentored by a number of local musicians. He’s about to release his first CD. He has a great spirit. He is knowledgeable about the music. He has a great sound. His enthusiasm is contagious. He really deserved to win. He jumped in and controlled dynamics. He deserved to win.
Who is Al Gold, the musician? Talk about your journey.
Both my parents were signers and my dad used to sing on the radio. It has come naturally. Music has always been there and available. My friends used to marvel at my parents, at them harmonizing while washing the dishes.
I started as a young person working with legends in Chicago, The James brothers. I had an old mandolin. My first experience was not great. But it ended up going fine, being able to sit in with old timers. I moved back to New Jersey in the late ‘70s. I found that I did not have the same caliber of person to be inspired by. I am a graphic artist, for music promotion. After starting a family I put music on hold. Fast forward to 1990, I moved to West Orange and Dave Stryker lives on my block. Every year, we do a block party. Dave and I play a live band for 25 years now. People on the block come out. When I first met Dave, they asked if there were musicians on the block. We began talking and he asked me, what are you doing? We began playing in the area as “Dust Bowl Rhythm Kings.” He brought me back into music. He changed his name to start a blues band with me. I have not stopped since. I’ve played with Johnny Sasone.
What keeps me focused is doing the jam here.
About the Writer
Patricia Rogers, #ValleyGirlNJ, lives in New Jersey's Valley Arts District. The native New Yorker works as a writer, blogger and community activist. Starting Masconsumption Media in 2012, she has been passionate about capturing the stories of the vibrant up and coming Valley Arts District neighborhood through her blog, zine, events and more. She blogs for Jersey Indie, Luna Stage, and Hat City Kitchen and offers many creative media services. Visit her blog www.masconsumption.com and keep up with your favorite Valley Girl on social media at @valleygirl_nj (Twitter / Instagram).