Monday, October 18, 2010

The Governor's Inn

Beginning in January of 1970, although we were still folkie regulars at the Limelight Coffee House, we also patronized another little club which presented completely different but equally remarkable music. This was the Governor’s Inn, located on Sycamore Street on Buffalo’s East Side. The Governor’s Inn was a blues club and charming owner James Peterson was a jack-of-all-trades including used car salesman, blues musician, bartender, and part-time decorator - I will never forget when he redecorated and put glitter on the ceilings (at least in the ladies’ room!). James had connections to Willie Dixon and the Chicago blues scene which resulted in national acts coming to perform including legends like Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. On one memorable evening Buddy Guy plugged in his guitar with a really long chord and made his way down off the stage, meandered through the crowd, out the front door and into the intersection, still playing!

My then-husband Paul and I started going there originally with a couple of Canadian friends who attended Canisius College (a professor had first taken them to the place), and then later mostly by ourselves. We were drawn not only by the well-known acts but also by our favorite house group, The James Peterson Blues Band, which ultimately featured James’ five-year-old son Lucky on keyboards and guitar. Father and son were both dazzling. I recently discovered that little Lucky was playing Bill Doggett’s Hammond B3 organ, and a love for that unmistakable sound has been embedded in my brain ever since.

I don’t know how they managed to squeak past the liquor board with a kid running around in the bar but Lucky was in attendance most of the times we were there - he used to play with his toys behind the bar. I remember one night seeing his little head going down the length of the bar and I could not figure out how he was managing to walk so smoothly - turns out he was riding his tricycle! I also remember another evening when he rode up to our table on his trike and as I was talking to him he suddenly leaned over and sank his teeth into my arm - then he giggled madly and made his escape pedaling furiously. Good thing I was wearing a winter jacket and he still had his baby teeth!

In the same span of time that found Lucky riding around on his tricycle in the Buffalo night club, he was also releasing his first record album (produced by Dixon) and the  accompanying splash of publicity resulted in appearances on The Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show and reviews in well known magazines.

Some evenings we brought friends with us, but Paul and I were usually the only people of pallor in that audience and it was upon the rarest of occasions that anyone would pay any attention to us whatsoever. Despite the racial tensions of the times I always got the impression that it was the love of the blues  that united all souls in the audience. One gentleman (I won’t name him) seemed to take it upon himself to act as our “guardian” - every week he would seat himself at our table and just nonchalantly hang out with us. His companionship was enjoyable and I never really thought anything of this until one evening when a patron who was more than a little inebriated staggered up and loudly insisted on buying me a drink. Our protector said softly, “The lady does not want a drink,” and then he ever so casually readjusted his suit jacket to reveal the hand gun tucked into his belt. The unwanted drunk disappeared as swiftly as he had arrived.

Another character who livened up the place was Mingo. Mingo was a snake charmer, costumed as a sort of a low-rent genii who, in addition, pranced around performing various feats of fire- and glass-eating. His huge boa constrictor was usually draped around his neck and he kept other snakes in a big basket. How he loved to scare the ladies! He snatched empty glasses off of tables, taking big bites out of the rims and he also ate light bulbs. I never did find out if he actually worked for James or if he just showed up sporadically at the club to work for tips. Mingo was also memorable to me for the last time I saw him - he was lurching down the sidewalk in front of 644 William Street (where I worked back then). He looked to be under the influence of something and he presented an exceedingly raggedy figure in the unforgiving light of day. I later read in the paper that his boa constrictor had been lost inside the walls of his rooming house.

The last calendar notation I found of  going to the Governor’s Inn was in August of 1972 - a lot of things were happening in my life in those days and I kind of lost track of how much longer the club even existed. But after all these years, Lucky Peterson, a child-star survivor, and James Peterson are still going strong as acclaimed bluesmen. Lucky lives in Texas, according to his Wikipedia page, and James is in Florida.  I hear that every so often Lucky comes to  Buffalo for a performance (although the last time went to see him was in 1980 when he was only 16 years old). But sometimes I just can’t help but wonder whatever happened to Mingo.