Bootlegger Blues Band at Redondo Beach VFW post
by Garrick Rawlings
A nationwide trend of rock n’ roll shows for seniors has reached Redondo Beach. The Wednesday night “geezer shows” begin at 6 p.m. and end at 9 p.m., or about the time rock shows for younger people begin.
The venue is the Redondo Beach VFW Post 2828, a club long favored by underground punk bands.
Benjie (B$) was a long time member when he volunteered to bartend nine years ago.
“This VFW Post is like a diamond in the rough,” he said. There are a lot of posts that don’t let outsiders [non-members] in. But we thought if we let outsiders in, it would stimulate the post, we can make more money. Anything over what we need for the post, all of it gets donated to charities. We wonder why other posts don’t it?”
The house band is the Bootlegger Blues Band (BBB), led by guitarist/singer Chuck Wilson. “We’re a group of old guys. We love performing here,and any tips we receive we donate to the Post charity. Sometimes we get $25 and sometimes $100. We’re trying to build it up and get more people to come out and enjoy our blues.”
“A good gig for us is no one dies during the set, no one faints, or passes out. There are no attorneys involved. So far so good, although there have been a few close calls,” Wilson said.
The Wednesday night jams began shortly after COVID restrictions were lifted.
“My friend Chuck Mathau was playing for vets here at the post, and I would sit in with him before everything closed up during COVID. That’s when I had the idea to see if we could play here on Wednesday nights once things opened up. We’ve been doing shows now for eight or nine months.
“Guitar teacher Mark Fitchette knows a large stable of musicians, and helped us get the shows together.” BBB is a six-piece band, featuring Wilson (guitar/vocals), Chuck Mathau (guitars), Lew Lazarus (guitar/vocals), Doug Wyant (bass), Pat Wilson( drums), and Bob Aisley (harmonica).
Mathau and Wilson are veterans. Wilson is also the blueswailing mayor of Rolling Hills.
“We’re a band, but more importantly, we’re a group of friends,” Wilson said.
“We have about 40 (cover) songs we can pull from, and Lou and I have written a few, as well. We’re blues and blues-influenced rock. I just saw Buddy Guy at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, it was a religious experience,” Wilson said.
The band plays Bootlegger Guitars, which Wilson designs and manufactures.
“I used to have Studio 637, a recording studio in the Hermosa Beach surfboard district. I was selling boutique guitars like Reverend guitars. I had a captive audience with guitar players coming in and out all the time. So I started designing guitars. Then I met Ken Kim of Muse, a South Korean guitar designer and manufacturer at the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) in Anaheim. With his help on my designs we’ve got it going now too.”
In addition to its Wednesday residency at the Redondo VFW Post, the Bootlegger Blues Band performs every second Tuesday at Project Barley, in Lomita.
Veteran bartender Benjie returned two years ago [after taking a break] and is on duty five nights a week, happy to be back where he loves. “For me, life is about giving back and being part of something bigger. And who doesn’t appreciate the soldiers who protect our country? It’s a no-brainer for me, it’s why I’ve been around so long.”
Benjie describes the Redondo VFW vibe, “We love having the Bootleggers volunteering here, singing their hearts out on our stage. I tell everyone to come on out on Wednesdays if you want to hear some great live blues. We’ve got a totally mixed crowd from young to old, it’s our hump-night, school night, so to speak, busy but not super-busy and the band doesn’t play super loud. No one gets blown out, you can hang and have conversation, which is important to the Vets. They’re there to talk to each other and go through whatever they’re going through, decompress, chill-out, it’s perfect here.” ER