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Real Music - New Kid on the Block - January 2016


Real Music - New Kid on the Block

by Robert Feuer

Music sprouts again, as it always does, this time from the ashes of the legendary Last Day Saloon in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square, which closed in 2013 after a twelve-year run. Annie O’s, recently opened, and named as a tribute to the spirit of owner Greg Clark‘s great grandmother, owner of a hotel/venue in Watsonville during the 1920s-‘40s, has three full bars, and is open for dinner, live music, comedy, and karaoke, Wednesdays through Sundays. There’s a painting class on Wednesdays, with karaoke on Thursdays. Annie O’s is also available for private parties.

Clark, who grew up in the Haight during the ‘60s, describes, during a recent interview, a “totally revamped” sound system, and eight TVs for broadcasting the stage shows throughout the three available rooms, with sports events at other times. The dance floor is one of the largest in Northern California. Clark discusses “embracing the community, with all it’s different styles.” 

Sunday nights, 5:00-8:30, are reserved for the “Sunday Dance Party,” with the excellent combo, the Blues Defenders, hosting in the front room, with a special guest every other week. Blues, soul and R&B will be featured. There’ll be no cover, with a different menu every Sunday, including BBQ pork sliders and a fish fry. 

Donny Mederos, the Blues Defenders’ bandleader and bassman, says “I’ve always remained true to the bass. I love maintaining the groove.” He hails from the East Bay, and has been performing professionally since the mid-‘60s. Clive Davis, later inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, personally signed a band Mederos was in, the Staton Brothers, to CBS Records. Mederos describes the band, which continued into the mid-‘70s, as “a three-part harmony Crosby, Stills and Nash kind of band. We toured a lot. It was lots of fun.” 

The Blues Defenders began 12 years ago, at a 5:00 jam session at a cocktail lounge called the “Broken Wheel” in Oakley. Three of the founders, including Mederos, hit it off very well there, with other players being added over the years. For the past eight, they’ve been hosting “Projams,” such as this one and at Cotati’s Tradewinds Bar and Penngrove’s Twin Oaks Tavern. “It changed Monday nights from the worst to the best night of the week at these venues,” says Mederos.

Matt Silva, featured on guitar, is one of the best Northern California has to offer. His history includes several years on the road in the ‘80s, with a band including John Cippolina, Merle Saunders, and Martin Fierro.

Mederos considers the blues “a big part of Americana music. The roots go back so far, back to the Mississippi Delta, a very isolated area. Then, with migration, it spread north. We’re trying to be true to how the early blues was recorded, with its original essence.” At Annie O’s, he’ll be providing some “background story” to the songs and styles played. “It’s an education, but it’s not goin’ to school.” 

More at Annie O’s facebook page and