Patrick Rynn and Chris James bring the blues to Mickey Finn’sWritten by Brian Bohnert | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When Toledo native Patrick Rynn first met Chris James inside of Chicago’s B.L.U.E.S. Etc. music club in 1990, he wasn’t impressed by what he heard or saw.
“I was sitting at the bar by the front door and I look on stage, and all of the sudden there’s this guy up there,” Rynn said. “He’s got a tie, a shirt, dress pants and these girls are all falling all over this guy, and I’m like ‘I’m not impressed.’ Well, as I’m walking to the bathroom, wouldn’t you know it, we passed each other at the same time. I told him ‘You didn’t impress me, man,’ and I walked to the bathroom. But, what I didn’t know was he had already seen me play and he wasn’t impressed, either. I wasn’t any good and he knew that. We didn’t think much of each other back then.”
But 22 years later, the inseparable San Diego-based blues duo can claim two albums and multiple award nominations and reminisce about not-so-humble beginnings as they prepare for their first trip back to the Glass City in two years.
At 9:30 p.m. May 26, Rynn and James will perform at Mickey Finn’s Pub at 602 Lagrange St. Tickets are $10.
The last time Rynn and James came to Toledo, they played a show at the Maumee Indoor Theatre on Conant Street.
“I’ve only been back one time two years ago,” Rynn said. “At the time, we couldn’t get clubs to bite on a gig, so I thought we’d try this ourselves. It turned out really well. We had good people, my friends and family, and it went really well.”
This time, Rynn said the choice to play at Mickey Finn’s was a “no brainer.”
“It’s a happening joint for blues,” he said.
Fate and the Guitar Center
The four-time Blues Music Award (BMA) nominees made up for the rough start to their friendship only days after tht late-night encounter at B.L.U.E.S. Etc., when James made a trip to the Chicago-area Guitar Center where Rynn was working. The duo credit fate for their second meeting.
“A few days later, I got the ‘Aw, I gotta deal with this guy again’ moment,” Rynn said. “I was the only guy at Guitar Center that was into blues. All the other guys wanted to be the rock stars and I was the blues guy. So, one day, I’m in there finger-picking blues and I got a call to the phone in my department. I get on the phone and my back is against a wall so I can’t see anyone come in and I hear the most authentic finger-picking blues I have ever heard. I literally had to tell the guy on the phone, ‘Listen man, I gotta’ go.’ So, I turn around and I see that it’s Chris, and he’s sitting there and grinning at me. Without saying a word, he put me in my place and we’ve been friends ever since.”
From that point on, Rynn said James would continue to come to the store and play, and discuss blues whenever he was working. It was then, Rynn said, when James helped him turn from “closet guitar player” to full-time bassist.
“He came in to where I would work and right next to my department was the acoustic room,” he said. “We would play and he looked at me and said, ‘You play guitar like a bass player, man. You’re a bass player.’”
Bass has always been in Rynn’s bloodline. Growing up, Rynn’s older sister played bass in the orchestra at Bowsher High School. Originally a cello player, Rynn said the transition from junior high to high school brought a musical change that would follow him into his career.
“My older sister left before I came into Bowsher,” he said. “She played bass in the orchestra and when I came in there were 13 cello players and one bass player. I remember the teacher told me, ‘Hey, your sister played bass, do you want to?’”
The hard-hitting, emotional rhythms of blues were not the first to swim into Rynn’s ears. As a child growing up in the mid-1960s, he said he found himself fascinated by the popular rock ’n’ roll of that time, inspired by a certain music festival that drew quite a crowd.
“In 1969, I can remember all my sisters and my older brother gathered around a 13-inch Admiral TV and they showed Woodstock live,” he said. “I remember I saw Sha Na Na, Joe Cocker and Mountain. My brother, who is 10 years older than me, belonged to the Columbia Records Club where they would send you records through the mail. Well, I remember my brother had an old Sha Na Na record, so when he wasn’t around, I’d sneak in and play it.”
Rynn said he was well into his teen years when he first fell in love with the blues. While rummaging through various blues records at the University of Toledo bookstore, he picked a blues tape out at random, just because he thought the cover was cool. He did not know at the time that the Elmore James record would change how he listened to music.
“I was driving home from [UT] one day and I remembered I had the tape, so I put it in and right from the first two or three notes, it raised the hair on the back of my neck,” Rynn said. “The whole process was passion. The absolute, uncontrollable takeover of me by the music.”
Doo-wop and blues
While a teenage Rynn formed his love for the blues on his own, San Diego-native James learned to appreciate the blues early in his childhood with the help of his stepfather.
“It was my stepdad,” James said. “He would listen to R&B, Doo-wop and blues and I was maybe 10 years old.”
Not only was James fond of blues early on, he was classically trained at blues piano by the time he was 4 years old.
“The music just hit me,” James said. “I was playing professionally by the time I was 13 years old. The music chooses you, you don’t choose the music.”
James said he traveled to Chicago in 1990 on a sort of vacation, deciding not to bring his prized guitar. Though, after a chance encounter turned into a steady gig with blues legend Detroit Junior, he had his family ship his six-string to him immediately.
“I was walking down to a store to get some cranberry juice and I hear this blues piano coming out of a speaker in an underground club,” James said. “I go in and I see Detroit Junior onstage. So, I said to him ‘Would you mind if I sat in and played guitar with you?’ He looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know you. I don’t let just anyone play with me.’ I told him I completely understand and I walked away.”
When the opportunity arose to get on stage with Junior later that night, James said he played with one of his idols for the entire night.
“I played a two-song set and as I shook his hand and got ready to leave, he grabbed my arm and said ‘You wanna finish the set?’ So, I finished the set with him and when I went to leave, he grabbed my arm again and said, ‘Do you have any plans? Do you want to finish the night?’ By that time, it was like 4 a.m. and I’m trying to get out of this place.
“But, I said ‘OK’ and I finished the night. After the night was over, he came up to me and he said ‘What are you doing tomorrow? You’re hired.’ I had just gone out for cranberry juice.”
Throughout Rynn and James’ career as a musical duo, they have had the opportunity to play alongside many key players in the blues world, having the pleasure of calling artists like Junior Wells, Sam Lay, David Myers of the Aces and Tomcat Courtney friends.
“Patrick and I have been fortunate to be around legends and we were very fortunate to be able to call them friends,” James said. “It’s not very often you get to be around your idols and can call them your friends.”
While the two currently reside in San Diego, they said it was very important to keep their music deeply rooted in Chicago soil. So, in 2008, Rynn and James signed with Chicago’s Earwig Records, the label responsible for releasing both of their albums.
The duo released its first studio album, “Stop and Think About It,” in 2008. Recording alongside them on the album were bluesmen Lay and David Maxwell, men they had previously played with many times.
The duo released a follow-up album in 2010, “Gonna Boogie Anyway.” The 12-track release came in at No. 18 on the Living Blues Top 50 Blues Albums for 2010. The release featured Chicago drummers Willie Hayes and Lay, as well as Maxwell, Henry Gray and fellow blues musician Rob Stone on harmonica. Stone will join Rynn and James for the May 26 show.
Continuing their tradition of working with some of the most notable names in blues, Rynn and James said they just finished recording their third album through Earwig, a 12-track set complete with the same overall style their fans are used to, but with a little different flavor.
“The new CD will be more geared toward piano players,” James said. “The previous records had a lot of harmonica parts and acoustic guitars, but this record will be more focused on piano.”
Rynn and James said while they have a distinct sound, they try to focus on making every album tell a unique story that grabs the emotions of the audience.
“What I dig the most, musically, is that blues music just pulls at you and gets inside of your heart, and it doesn’t let go,” Rynn said.
The duo is working on another passion, creating a blues hall of fame in Memphis, Tenn. Under the slogan “Raise the roof,” Rynn and James said they are working hard to pay homage to all of the greats that came before them. Currently accepting donations through the Blues Foundation, the duo said things are looking up for the cause as there has already been $900,000 raised out of the proposed $3.5 million needed.
“Rock has one, country has one and all of the other genres have one; but the music that gave birth to all the other music in this country doesn’t have one,” James said. “Blues has a lot of sidemen that get lost in the shuffle and it’s important for us that we don’t want anyone forgotten.”
The May 26 show will begin with a pair of acoustic sets from local musicians. The first will feature local artists Kenneth Knab and Steve Miller. The second acoustic set will feature Mark Karamol and Rick Caswell.
Tickets for the May 26 show can be purchased at Culture Clash Records, 4020 Secor Road.
Tags: Chris James, David Myers of the Aces, Detroit Junior, Joe Cocker, Junior Wells, Maumee Indoor Theatre, Mickey Finn’s Pub, Mountain, Patrick Rynn, Sam Lay, Sha Na Na, Tomcat Courtney, University of Toledo