Santa Barbara Blues Society History
The oldest blues society in the United States, the Santa Barbara Blues Society was founded in March 1977. However, prior to that time the blues was no stranger to Santa Barbara. A town of less than 100,000 on the central California coast, Santa Barbara played host in the 1960s to blues legend Mance Lipscomb, and in the early 1970s to stellar performers like Eddie Taylor, L.C. Good Rockin’ Robinson, and Johnny Shines at the famed Bluebird Café. A predecessor entity of the same name was started in December 1972, but was disbanded in less than a year.
In early 1977, physician Laszlo Kiraly and disc jockey Greg Drust, devotees of the blues, launched the blues society to satisfy their craving for live blues music. Thus the SBBS was born, and to their pleasant surprise, the shows, initially called Blue Mondays, were a rousing success. A devoted following of blues lovers developed via word of mouth and a mailing list, providing support for monthly shows initially featuring primarily performers from the nearby Los Angeles area, then expanding to the west coast and within a year nationally to present such legends as Louis Myers and Fenton Robinson along with some then up-and-coming standouts like Robert Cray and Hollywood Fats.
From its inception to the present, the blues society has adhered to its mission of featuring only authentic, original, high quality, and artistically significant bluesmen and blueswomen faithful to the African American Blues Tradition. In 1982, after becoming aware of the society during its first five years of operation, the executive director of The Blues Foundation Joe Savarin requested documentation of the activities of the group which lead to the establishment of the category of Blues Organization of The Year with the first such award bestowed on the Santa Barbara Blues Society.
The Oldest Blues Society in America Celebrates 25 Years
by Pete Sardon – Reprinted with permission of Southland Blues Magazine
It lays claim to being the oldest blues society in the U.S. and is “dedicated to the Preservation and Advancement of African-American Blues Tradition.”
Rather than use a direct conversational format, please allow me the liberty to paraphrase my interview with Laszlo Kiraly to present the information to you.
A Physiatrist (a Doctor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation) who began his internship in Santa Barbara in 1967, Laszlo Kiraly got his first taste of music with the genesis of folk-rock in 1967. He listened to KCSB, the College Radio Station of UCSB, and on the quiet Sunday evenings in the Emergency Room discovered C.A. Williams, who introduced him to the Blues.
Finishing his medical training in Michigan from 1968-1971, he was in the heart of Blues country with the Ann Arbor Blues Festivals. He returned to California in 1974 and settled in Santa Barbara. Much to his chagrin, there was very little blues there. Blues was at its nadir at that time and there were very few opportunities for Bluesmen to find gigs. Filling this void, Laszlo and his blind friend Greg Drust, a musicologist from KCSB, started the Santa Barbara Blues Society in March of 1977.
Another man had tried to establish a Santa Barbara Blues Society in 1973 but it fizzled out within the same year. It took a physician like Laszlo to bring the patient back to health. He did that by booking “Blues With a Feeling”, a little known band from L.A., into a funky lower State Street section in Santa Barbara on a Monday Night.
Spending a hundred bucks on advertising and having Greg plug the concert on the radio station, they didn’t know what to expect. The owner of the club scoffed at their attempt to foster a “Blue Monday” series on this off night. When Monday March 21, 1977 finally came, there were over 175 people at the club and people were outside waiting to get in. The rest, they say is history,