When Mike Jordan took over Murray’s Tavern in mid-2011, live music there was limited to weekend solo acts, a situation he looked to change.
“I wanted more bands, more variety and a little more dance music,” he said recently. “We needed to mix it up a bit.”
Soon, the Salem restaurant had Still Breathing, Coupe de Ville, Fixed Income and other area favorites rocking Friday and Saturday nights. But Jordan, an inveterate blues fan, had another idea he wanted to try: a weekly jam session.
He immediately thought of his friend and neighbor Steve Devine, who played guitar with the Tom Ballerini Blues Band and in a duo with Dave Thompson.
“He’s local, been a traveling musician for years,” Jordan says. “He’s a real virtuoso with a unique style, just a great player to watch.”
Devine’s career of 40-plus years includes stints with Cub Koda (“Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room”), Sam & Dave and the Chambers Brothers, along with performance and production credits on numerous blues albums. Both a guitar instructor and repair technician, he’s well connected in the area music scene.
Jordan knew Devine ran a regular jam session across the border in Haverhill for a couple of years, so he called to ask him about doing something similar at Murray’s.
“He took the bull by the horns,” says Jordan, and Thursday night jams began in October. “We pack the place every week. It’s amazing the number of musicians in the local area that are just dying for a place to play. They love the venue; it’s cozy and friendly, with a good customer base. It’s just blossomed from there.”
A Wednesday night open mike got going a few months ago, featuring mostly singers and songwriters. Jordan is an aspiring guitar player. Though he’s not especially diligent (“I’m taking lessons, but I never have time to practice,” he says), he tries to watch and learn from the many talented axe players that stop by on Thursdays.
Was the potential for inspiration behind expanding live music to four nights a week?
“It was part of it,” says the 57-year-old Jordan. “I enjoy watching people play. Not that I can imitate many of them yet, it’s will take another year before I play in front of people.”
He will occasionally join in as a singer, however.
“I can pull off a couple of songs,” Jordan says. “‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ ‘Secret Agent Man’ and a few other weird ones.” But he’s content to let seasoned veterans like Devine take care of things.
It’s often said that any musician down on his luck only needs friends to throw a jam and things will get better. So when word circulated that Devine had health issues that would sideline for at least a month, the Thursday night regulars sprang into action, with Devine’s partner Thompson leading the charge.
“Steve’s considered not only one of the best blues guitarists around but also one of the most liked guys anywhere,” says Tom Ballerini.
The Benefit Bash & Blues Jam for Steve Devine happens Sunday, April 1, at 2 in the afternoon. The event was originally set for March 25, but Devine is recovering from surgery and asked that it be moved so he could play. “He’s just starting to get his strength back,” Jordan said.
Ballerini and his band will provide the backline — amps, drums and PA — and all interested musicians are invited. A few, like Strange Brew regular Howard Randall, have already RSVP’d. A few area businesses donated raffle prizes, and Murray’s is offering a free spread of food and discounted drinks. A donation will be collected at the door in lieu of cover charge.
All the money raised will be handed over to Devine to help with his medical bills. Jordan’s guitar instructor, Paul Andrews — “a velocity player, addicted to the guitar, believe me,” gushes Jordan — composed a song in Devine’s honor for the bash.
Jordan welcomes the chance to lend a hand.
“Steve is well respected by musicians in the area — his talent and general demeanor, and he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He fell on hard times, so we’re going to help him out,” he said. Local singer/drummer Skip Troisi has been especially helpful, taking over running the jam on Thursdays while Devine was out, and working tirelessly to solicit donations and raffle prizes.
The benefit jam is the final event before Murray’s Tavern changes names — on April 2 it becomes Mikey J’s. He thought about calling it Mike Jordan’s but quickly scrapped the idea, figuring a certain ex-basketball player might take umbrage. “I can’t afford that lawsuit,” says Jordan with a laugh.