(Update 04/10/13: Babe’s & Ricky’s Inn been showing at Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex in Santa Monica since April 5 and tomorrow April 11 is the last night! There have been live blues shows following most evening’s screenings, so don’t miss out on both an amazing documentary and talented blues musicians performing afterwards in tribute to Mama! Richard Martin-Ross will be performing tonight Wed. and Suzanne Thomas will be performing tomorrow. More info here.)
It was very appropriate that Babe’s & Ricky’s Inn had its world premiere as the Centerpiece of the Pan African Film Festival on Valentine’s Day. What a wonderful film and a loving celebration of an almost forgotten and to many of the music-loving community, myself included, an unknown part of Los Angeles history! The film is an homage to the late Laura Mae Gross, founder of Babe’s & Ricky’s Inn, the legendary blues club in South Central LA. Affectionately known and revered as “Mama” by so many talented musicians she took under her wing and mentored at the club, Mama had a singular devotion and love for the blues, providing a thriving place for live blues in Los Angeles for almost 50 years.
Through poignant and humorous interviews with Mama and blues musicians, many of whom got their start playing at Babe’s & Ricky’s Inn, the film preserves this hidden treasure that was the last standing Blues club on Central Avenue, the historic heart of the African American community that was an epicenter of many blues and jazz clubs in its heyday. One artist in the film said the blues is about bringing people together and the club certainly did — attracting black, white, latino and asian musicians and just as diverse an audience from not only Los Angeles, but from around the world. Even as the surrounding neighborhood suffered from crime and drug violence in the 80s and 90s, people came to see the likes of B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton and many other legendary performers stopping by to grace its humble stage and always greeted by Mama at the door. The club closed shortly after she passed away in 2009.
The premiere was attended by many of the musicians interviewed in the documentary and the Q&A was more like a heartfelt reunion for them and their fans, as they remembered Mama and others who’d passed on, and shared their memories and the latest news of others who were unable to attend. The Pan African Film Festival spared no expense as the guests were treated afterward to a gala after-party with festive Mardi Gras beads, open bar, soul food, the best peach cobbler I’ve had in my life and the best part: blues performances by Guitar Shorty, Deacon Jones, Ray Bailey, Suzanne Thomas and so many others!
(Update 04/10/13: Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn has been showing at the Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex in Santa Monica since April 5 and tomorrow April 11 is the last night! There’s been live blues shows after most of the evening screenings so don’t miss out!)
As one musician noted in the documentary, before there was jazz, there was the blues and before there was rock and roll, there was the blues. He actually started playing rock and worked his way backwards to playing its beloved blues roots now. I was only familiar with the current generation of blues-influenced players like Gary Clark, Jr, Gaby Moreno and Alabama Shakes so the documentary was a revelation to me about a rich blues legacy that was alive right in my own backyard! Now as blues clubs have shut their doors and many legendary performers have passed on, it’s important to keep this great musical legacy alive and Ramin Niami and Behrooz Arshadi, affectionately called “The Persian Blues Brothers”, have put together a labor of love that every music lover must see. It’s showing again at the Pan African Film Festival on Sunday, February 17, at 9:20pm and I highly recommend it! If you’d like to support getting their documentary shown on more screens to wider audiences, go to their Indiegogo fundraiser page. The documentary will also be shown at Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex in Santa Monica starting April 5.