Pine Bluff is known for being a city of the arts, and live music has been a part of that through the years. One style of music that has been prominent in Pine Bluff is the delta blues. World-renowned artists such as Big Bill Broonzy, Cedell Davis, Larry Davis and Bobby Rush are just a handful with ties to the city.
With the history and heritage surrounding delta blues, the Port City Blues Society is hoping to keep the music alive with a weekly open mic jam at Hot Rods located on the corner of Second and Main streets downtown.
The Port City Blues Society is the brainchild of Brian Austin, president of the PCBS and front-man for the Brian Austin Band. Austin noted the lack of live music within the city and the goal to bring life back to the live music scene in Pine Bluff.
“We did this to try to drum up some live music in Pine Bluff because there is not quite as much going on here as in other places,” Austin said. “We just decided (that instead of going) to other places to join other blues societies, we would just form our own here locally to see what happens.”
The PCBS kicked off nearly three years ago and has continued to grow since its inception. They are now registered as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and have hopes of expanding the live music scene into other venues. Over the past year, the weekly jam at Hot Rods has seen musicians come from places such as Bryant, England, Malvern, Little Rock, Rison, Star City and several other towns across Southeast Arkansas.
“Word of mouth from friends and musical companions has helped us to get the word out, and we are grateful,” Austin said. “We are thankful for all of the people who have shown an interest and made efforts to come. It is turning into a real group effort.”
One of the regular artists who makes the trip from Bryant to Pine Bluff each week is Rockabilly Hall of Fame guitarist George “Butch” Scaife. Scaife has performed with artists such as Levon Helm, Conway Twitty, Travis Tritt and others in his career as a musician.
“What initially drew me here is I like the blues and I like to jam, so here we go,” Scaife said. “I got involved because I think it is a great community project. The Port City Blues Society is going to be a reckoning force in the future and will bring a lot of blues to the area. It is delta blues, in particular, which is what I grew up on being from Helena. I love that our focus is on keeping the blues alive, and the cats that come in here to play are just spectacular. They are all really good.”
Scaife also believes the Port City Blues Society could play a pivotal role in helping to revitalize downtown Pine Bluff.
“Moving forward, if we can grow this and get a few more venues and more bands and artists playing in this area, we can grow it a little bit,” Scaife said. “This area along Main Street could turn into a mini Beale Street, and it could really help revitalize downtown and bring more traffic into the area. With the casino coming in, there are a lot more possibilities for growth in downtown Pine Bluff with shopping, arts and science and music.”
Another local artist who is well known in the Pine Bluff area is guitarist Dave Sadler. Sadler, like Austin and his band, plays events across the city throughout the year. He is another member of the Port City Blues Society who attends the weekly jams.
“I love blues music. I love blues and jazz, but blues is really one of my favorite genres of music,” Sadler said. “I got invited to come and I have enjoyed it. I've made a lot of wonderful friends now, and I really enjoy coming to play and to listen.”
Sadler said he is hoping the Port City Blues Society can get more involved in the community in the coming months and years.
“We can help with music education,” Sadler said. “That is an opportunity for the blues society to help with the youth in our city. I'd like to see more people find out about the blues and live music we are playing in downtown Pine Bluff, and I would like to see all of that grow with more opportunities for more live music to develop.”
Another musician who has recently started attending the weekly jam is Master Guitar Blues Hall of Fame artist Jerry McCoy. McCoy has performed with artists such as the Allman Brothers Band and Ronnie Millsap.
“I started out playing in high school and college, then I ended up in Nashville, Tennessee. I toured on the road with different artists,” McCoy said. “I've toured with Ronnie Millsap and the Allman Brothers Band some. I had my own band called Mighty High and we had an album on MCA records, but it went nowhere. It was still a good experience and I learned a lot about the business.”
McCoy is another artist who is grateful for the weekly jam.
“I having a great time myself,” McCoy said. “I'm hoping we can get this thing going even stronger. It is going great right now, but we would like to get some people here. Right now I am having a ball playing. I've been out of commission for a while after having a surgery, and I'm just now getting back into playing again, so this has been great for me to be able to come up and jam some, and get my chops going again.”
Dave Miller owns Hot Rods where the weekly jam is hosted. He and club manager Jennifer Brooks are grateful to host the jam each week and have hopes that the jam can help bring more interest into downtown Pine Bluff.
“The blues jam has been beneficial to everybody, and not just us here at the bar,” Miller said. “The patrons who come in get to come in and hear good music that is free music. There is the camaraderie and everything that goes with it. We are still building as a business and, hopefully, the blues jam will continue to help us with that.”
“We love the blues night,” Brooks said. “The blues night is one of the only nights we have that brings people together from all walks of life, people from all races and all ages. People feel comfortable here, and we have people and musicians coming from different areas and different backgrounds. We all get along and all of the musicians play together, and it is one of the only nights of the week that really bring the community together.”
Hot Rods is hoping to play a part in the revitalization of downtown Pine Bluff, and they believe the blues jam will play a major role in helping the city's revitalization efforts, dovetailing with Go Forward Pine Bluff, the Streetscape plan and other projects.
“The reason we decided to come downtown was because of what we feel the future of downtown Pine Bluff holds,” Miller said. “We believe in the programs from Go Forward Pine Bluff, and we know it is going to happen. It is important to be the first of anything and have the threshold to the community to help start bringing them down here. People coming here will see the next business open, and it will be beneficial to them, just like if someone goes into another store and they see us they know there is a place to come.”
Brooks believes that Hot Rods is located in a prime location in Pine Bluff.
“We are in one of the best locations with them proposing this to be the arts district,” Brooks said. “We know how much we love music and how important it is to have it here, we are in the perfect location to be the corner post of the nightlife coming down Main Street and the arts district coming down Second (Avenue). We are at an important junction for that. For the older people, coming in the buildings offers nostalgia, and now we have younger people coming in who are optimistic, who maybe never thought of opening a business here see that they can open a business down here. It is fun to see those two sides of things that are going on in Pine Bluff.”
The Port City Blues Society open mic jam takes place from 8-11 p.m. every Wednesday night at Hot Rods at Second and Main in historical downtown Pine Bluff. There is no cover charge to attend. To learn more about the Port City Blues Society you can visit them on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/PCBluesSociety or online at www.PortCityBluesSociety.com.