Bluesmen have always had a tough road in Orange County. While there's no shortage of appreciation for watered down hipster blues rock, rarely do you see a gathering like the Real Blues Festival of Orange County unapologetically conjure the spirit of Howlin' Wolf or Robert Johnson for an entire day of booze and bar chords. That's where Jeff "Papa J" Hudson comes in. For years this guy has occupied the role of blues ambassador for OC, performing relentlessly, hosting blues music programs in local schools and founding the OC Blues Society, which just reached it's first anniversary this summer. He's also been the mastermind behind the Real OC Blues Festival, which takes place at Malone's in Santa Ana on Sunday, headlined by fellow OC stalwarts Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers. We might still be in the burbs, but at least for a few hours on Sunday, it'll feel a bit like the bayou. We recently cornered Papa J to talk about how his festival still has room to thrive in OC's non-existent blues scene.
OC Weekly (Nate Jackson): Have you witnessed anything close to a real Orange County blues scene lately? Papa J: Well, there's no real blues clubs in Orange County, in fact there's not even any real blues clubs in L.A. any more either. But there are clubs that let us play blues, so it's mainly about finding a spot, bringing our people in and making it work.
So did fact lead you to form the OC Blues Society last year? It was basically because there was nothing in Orange County. They had the L.A. Blues Society, and the Southern California Blues Society, but they rarely do anything in Orange County. But there are a lot of good players out here. So I thought it would be cool if we could all get together and have our own voice. It seems to be working pretty good.
How would you characterize the dynamic of the core OCBS members? There are some people that are more active than others. Some people just want to show up at our jam sessions and have a good time, which is fine. And I have quite a few people helping me do my Blues in Schools program, and really what I'm about is getting young people into the blues.
How does the Real Blues Festival help you recruit for that or at least get young people interested in the blues when there's really no scene around here? When people come to the festival, we also advertise other shows coming up. I try to get people involved in the Blues in the Schools program and just everything I can think of to get people interested.
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Who are some of OC's most underrated blues artists who you've worked with over the years? Walter Trout is a Huntington Beach guy, I can't think of a show he's done in OC recently. He goes on tour to Europe and all over the world though. There are a couple bass players I play with who are, frankly, some of the best blues players in the world, like Dan Malouin. And you have Chris "Big Daddy" Whynaught, a saxophone guy...really great players.
What's the one thing you're hoping people take away from the festival every year? People seem to have a misconception about the blues in this day and age. And I want people to understand that the blues is a fun thing to do. Go out, have a good time, have a few drinks and be with some people who are like minded. We've all had the blues. If you've had a flat tire at four in the morning, then you've had the blues. But when I'm on stage, people can see that I'm having a good time. The blues is the condition and blues music is the cure.
The Real Blues Festival happens Sunday, Sep. 8, at Malone's in Santa Ana. $20, noon-6 p.m. For full info on the lineup, click here.