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New York Times, Sunday, May 16 2004,
by Don Melvin Cox News Service

Blues music reborn in Czech Republic
It was banned under communist regime


Prague, Czech Republic
Stan the Man straps on his guitar, slaps on his cap, steps to the mike and with a wail and a roar fills the little basement club with some of the greasiest electric blues this side of Chicago.

This is the real stuff, raging originals laced with gut-wrenching renditions of songs by Muddy Waters, Howlin´Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Otis Rush and others who brought the blues north from the Mississippi Delta, plugged in their guitars and changed modern music.
Except that this isn´t Chicago, it´s Prague, a mere 4,534 miles away. And the blues used to be banned here.

Stan „the Man“ Wolarz, 53, born in Edinburgh, is half-Scotish, half-Polish. Anton Duratny, 38, the bass palyer, is Slovakian. The drummer, Kamil N?mec, 32, is Czech. The band forms its own little European Union. But the music is pure American. The trio calls itself Stan the Man´s Bohemian Blues Band. The name has double meaning – it can refer to bohemian, as in art, or to the area, formerly called Bohemia. During the communist era, authorities banned the blues, offering conflicting justifications. On the one hand, it was music of bourgeois Americans. But on the other, it reflected the yearnings of an oppressed minority, and that, too, was unacceptable. Even after communism fell, some of the mentality lingered. People thought that, to be a proper musician, you had to have graduated from a conservatory.

„People ask me, ´OK, what do you do for a living?´“ Wolarz says during a break in the show. „´And where did you study?´ Because in communist times, you had to go to school to get a gig.“

Wolarz came to the blues slowly. Much of the Rolling Stones´ early work derived from the blues. And so did other popular music, like the Grateful Dead´s rendition of the Jimmy Reed classic, „Big Boss Man“ (actually written by Willie Dixon and Al Smith), or the songs of Captain Beefheart.

„It turned out that all the stuff I really liked was blues-influenced,“ Wolarz says.

He kept following the strands back and back until he came to the electric blues of the ´50s. And there he stayed.

„There´s emotion in it,“ he says. „There´s a simplicity in it.“ There must be something in it that transcends language, too. Wolarz is believed to have the longest-running regular gig in Prague. He´s been performing in this little basement blues club called U Maleho Glena – At Little Glen´s – every Monday for almost seven years.

It used to be jam sessions. At first, Duratny and Nemec showed up just to watch and sit in. They learned the music, loved it, and the band was formed. Throughout the evening, Duratny gets into the music in the full-bodied way that bass players often display, enjoying the blues with every fiber of his being.

But it is Wolarz, with his slashing guitar and memorable bass growl, who does most to bring life to the blues in Prague.

Sometimes 70 people crowd into Little Glen´s basement, jamming themselves into a space better suited for 35. Vacationers return year after year. The gig has started appearing in the „don´t miss“ lists in airlines magazines. The band has recorded four CDs.

So, this isn´t America. It still seems fitting that the blues should flourish here.

For the blues is nothing if it´s not about people who´ve been worked too hard, been ground down and oppressed, and who´ve met it all with humor, spirit and an indomitable will to survive. Even if you don´t understand the lyrics, that´s what it says.

„It´s about stuff,“ Wolarz says. „It feels real.“ And it helps, too, if you´re really very good.

A different version of this article appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it was entitled "Czech blues trio gains note" and was illustrated by the above pic by Vladimir Weiss.


Stan The Man´s Bohemian Blues Band
Prague Pill, 15.-31.3. 2002
March 18th and 25th at U malého Glena, March 24th at N11

Stan the Man has a look on his face like he just pulled the milk out of the fridge and it´s several days past good. It is the look of the bluesman in rapture, the famed „it stinks“ look that blues fans know so well. If you are not a familiar with this sort of stink, it´s a good stink. And Stan the Man has that look all the time; like a veteran of war, he carries it with him unitil he finds a place for it on stage. And it doesn´t take Stan very long; he picks up his Fender Telecaster and steps seamlessly into top-quality blues. With Kamil N?mec on drums and Tono ?uratny on bass he´s got a professional and very tight band backing him up. You don´t go to a Stan the Man show for the Man´s voice, a low growl that is a dark counterpoint to each song, but rather for the Man´s playing. He ranges from slippery humbucker twang to Stevie Ray-style overdriven riffs, consistently showing the chops of someone who´se been around the block. And you know that´s a fact when he drops into his own tune, „Sloppy Drunk“, off his Liquor, Love and Lies record, moaning darkly about his love of slivovice. Yes, people, this is Bohemian Blues. – Jeremy Hurewitz.

Prag Eksperten /www
Prags mindste jazz klub (U Maleho Glena), i hvert fald m?lt i kvadratmeter. I stueetagen ligger en traditionel pub/bar/restaurant, hvor man i ?vrigt kan f? Guiness, hvis man foretr?kker irsk ?l. Pr?v hellere den lokale Kelt! Man kan spise p? stedet, b?de ovenp? og nedenunder. Spisekortet er anderledes, end man ellers ser det i Prag, og omfatter bl.a. sandwiches, salater og variationer med bagels.

Men det er i k?lderen, det foreg?r. Her kommer man f?rst ind i baren, og bagved ligger selve spillelokalet, som er p? st?rrelse men en almindelig, ikke s?rligt stor stue. Der er plads til 30 personer, og hvis stedet var mere intimt, havde man musikernes t?j p?! Det er absolut n?dvendigt at bestille bord eller at komme i meget god tid. Is?r om mandagen!

Programmet, der omfatter alle dage, indeholder b?de faste elementer og skiftende kunstnere. Blandt de faste indslag er s?ndagens jam session, der ledes af én af de musikere, som ofte spiller p? stedet. Niveauet er normalt imponerende h?jt, og det er morsomt at f?lge de skiftende musikeres forskellige stil.

Om mandagen spiller den skotsk-polske bluesguitarist Stan Wolarz (f?dt 1951) med sin trio, som foruden ham selv best?r af slovakken Tono Duratny p? bas og Kamil Nemec fra Prag p? trommer. Man kan v?re heldig at st?de ind i en aften, hvor der er g?stesolister, men under alle omst?ndigheder er Stan The Man Bohemian Blues Band en fantastisk oplevelse! Stan Wolarz er en sp?ndende guitarist, som udforsker stort set alle instrumentets muligheder, og hans specielle, dybe stemme kombineret med en meget levende mimik g?r oplevelsen helt uforglemmelig.

Tjek det aktuelle program p? hjemmesiden.