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South Bays Lenny Gee

Interview with Pat Benny


Picture by Ray Synkane

The South Bay area of Los Angeles, California is one of the countrys hippest places for live music.  Many well-known and established artists make this their home.  It is also an often competitive arena for a plethora of fine musicians who work hard to hold on to a regular gig.  The Blues jam has always been a mainstay here, and one of the most legendary jams was held at the old Teahouse and hosted by The Chinese Blues All Stars.  Here is my conversation with the founder and drummer for The Chinese Blues All Stars, Lenny G:


Pat:    Well, Lenny, its always good to see you.  I was hoping you could take us back to the days of the old Teahouse.  Can you tell me about the Teahouse?


Lenny:     Sure; it was 1996.  A good friend of mine, Tony Lopez, is the one who told me to go down and talk to Aaron Song at the Teahouse, which was a very small little place on the Crenshaw side of the Rolling Hills Plaza.  Tony was a trumpet player, and he was the one who really got the ball rolling, but he thought that I would be better at organizing and putting together the sort of thing that Erin wanted.  So, I went down there to meet Aaron and he said, Heres what I want; I want to have music here.  I want a band, and I want to perform.  He was an amateur singer and also played harmonica, and he wanted to sit in.


Pat:     (laughs) Wow, to own a club and sit in with the band; thats my dream!


Lenny:     Well, he says, I also want to name the band.  I said, sure; what do you want to call it, and he says The Chinese Blues All Stars.  So, I figured the best way to start was with my drums, of course, and I needed a keyboard player.  I figured we could go from there.  I found a player, whose name was Larry David.  He played great keyboard, was a good singer and played harmonica.  He would use one of those racks, like Bob Dylan used, to play harp and keyboard at the same time and it was really cool.


We went along that way for, must have been two years, until we had a little falling out.  The music was good, but we just had some personality differences.  I was put in charge of the thing and he had his own ideas, so we both decided to part ways and move on.  During that time, though, some people started coming around and sitting in with us.  It was a casual blues jam.  So, by the time he left, we had a bass player and a sax, and pretty soon we had a half dozen people with us.  So, I knew that we needed a keyboard player.


So, by now, I had quite a list of keyboardists.  But it was very inconsistent; Id use one guy one week and another one, the next, and it was really frustrating.  A friend of mine, a keyboardist that Id been using, Doug Lacy, he goes by the name, Doug Legacy.  He was good, but he just couldnt be there for every show, so he says, I know this guy, hes very good and hes just coming off the road.  I think hes tired of doing the touring thing, so he might be interested.  So I got a hold of him, and his name was Danny Timms.  He liked what we were doing, and the same guys started coming back, and the next thing you know, weve got this huge, jam thing going, and it was really cool.


Pat:     Now, it sounds to me like you put a huge emphasis on having a keyboard


Lenny:     Well, because Erin was in a hurry to get this going, and a keyboard player can sort of fill in places, depending on who showed up.  For example, if theres no bass player, he can also play left handed bass.  But we had all these guys, by now, and they were really good.  So, we had this great blues jam going.

Pat:     So, it was intended to be what is now called a pro jam?


Lenny:     Not really, because Erin wanted to perform, and he did.  Every week, hed get up with us and do a couple of songs.  So, we had five or six regulars, we had a great time.  That lasted about six years at the old Teahouse, and we were having a great time.  The old Teahouse was really this cool little place.


Pat:     Thats true; the Teahouse is a South Bay legend.


Lenny:     I cant tell you the specifics, because I really dont know, but Erin ended up moving the club into the old Reel Inn, which was closed at the time and was a much larger venue.  It was located just a few hundred yards away on the PCH [Pacific Coast Highway] side.  By this time, we had cut the band down, because the same guys were showing up that I could count on, plus all these guys were coming in to jam.


Pat:     Ill bet, as the years went by, you had a lot of great musicians up on that stage.


Lenny:     Oh, yeah!  We had a lot of good players; we had a lot of bad players and a lot of in-between.  The shows were always different, because we never turned anybody away, we didnt discourage anybody.  I had a list, and it was all very structured, and we had a lot of fun.  Erin was having a free barbeque every Sunday, so there was the jam plus a free barbeque.


Pat:     Im aware that Vince Joy, who passed away this year, was a part of the All Stars.


Lenny:    Yeah, he came in to the old Teahouse to jam, and we liked him, because he played so well, and he liked what we were doing, and he ended up in the band.  Besides playing so well, he was very congenial.  He was a pro, but he wasnt on an ego trip.  He was just a nice man.


Pat:     So, the Teahouse closed its doors and the party moved over to the Runaway Bay...


Lenny:     We were fortunate, because a lot of the people, who patronized the Teahouse until it closed, gravitated to the Runaway Bay.  They kept bugging Milton, who was the owner at that time, to get The Chinese Blues All Stars.  They said, We miss them; theyre a great band and wed love to have them over here.  So it was only about a month had passed until we were playing there, every Sunday.


Pat:     We should tell our readers that the Runaway Bay has its own history, as well.  The Runaway Bay, now known as Zinas, has recently been given a new look.  Moving the stage really takes advantage of the red brick wall.  The stage looks better, and the beautiful bricks arent hiding behind the booths. 


Lenny:     Theres been a change with the name of the group, too.  Ive decided, along with my friend and bass player, Eric Williams, to change the name to The Lock Brothers.  Eric and I have been working together for seven or eight years.  Musically and socially, we lock together, hence the name.  We get along well, and we just thought it was time for a change.  We lost a band member, and we decided to put The Chinese Blues All Stars name out to pasture.  That doesnt mean we might not use it again, but we just felt like we were headed in a new direction and we needed a name to go along with it.


Pat:     Now, the show I saw tonight, you still had Joe Daneli on guitar.  Joe is a great guitarist, who is capable of gearing his playing to accompany anyone that gets onstage.  Every time Ive watched your shows, Im always reminded of how well he can sing.


Lenny:     Joes a very talented musician.  Weve been lucky to have him for so long.


Pat:     So, for now, we say a fond adieu to The Chinese Blues All Stars and begin a new era with The Lock Brothers.


Lenny:     Eric Williams and I are the Lock Brothers, and were going to be featuring some of the best musicians in the South Bay.


Pat:     Well, the South Bay has more than its share of exceptional musicians.  Its always nice to go out and hear them, and its nice to know that the legend of The Teahouse remains, and the heart and soul of The Chinese Blues All Stars is still alive and well.


Lenny:     Thanks, Pat.


Pat:     I want to ask about your web site.  I understand that you teach drums, as well?


Lenny:     Teaching is really my first priority.  Ive been the drum instructor at Marshalls Music Store in Torrance for twenty-five years.  Im originally from Hartford, Connecticut, and I came out here with a band with the hopes of making it, like so many do, but things didnt work out and they left.  I wanted to stay; Id always wanted to come to California, and I was tired of depending on bands.  I like instructing, so the next thing you know; well, its been twenty-five years.  I love teaching; its very fulfilling, and I also do gigs whenever I can.


Pat:     I know that youre a great teacher, because Ive heard your two sons play, and theyre just fantastic.


Lenny:     They are great drummers; Im very proud of both of them.


Pat:     Well, they learned from one of the finest drummers Ive ever seen.


Lenny:     Thanks, again; I appreciate that.


Pat:  Well, Lenny G, its been a pleasure talking with you.  Our readers know that all they have to do is click on the link below, and they can check out your site, find show dates and see whats going on with you and The Lock Brothers.  Maybe, theyve got a kid of their own whos driving them crazy, pounding on the coffee table


Lenny:  Well, I can sure get him started in the right direction.


Pat:   Lenny, good talkin to you.





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