Wilebski's Blues Saloon


Wilebski's Blues Saloon- the legend continues

February 27, 10:21 AMSt. Paul Live Music ExaminerMonica Millsap Rasmussen

Wilebski's stage, copyright 2010, MDMR

"I'm on a mission," says Ted Wilebski of Wilebski's Blues Saloon.  Wilebski purchased the neighborhood saloon, located at Thomas and Western Ave in St Paul, in 1979 where, long before his time, his parents had held their wedding reception.  He started with a game room, later the Polish Polka and Pizza Place.  After a few years, Ted Wilebski made some blues connections with Chicago musicians through Curtis Obeda.  Soon, Wilebski was booking national recording musicians every week at the Blues Saloon. 

"Pioneers catch a lot of arrows."  Wilebski was at the cutting edge of a resurgence of the blues in the Twin Cities and began to market his club as the Chicago Blues Headquarters.  "It took a lot of money.  I had bands in here that I owed a lot of money to and there were 12 people in here.  I have to thank my mother because she helped subsidize a lot of this."

Wilebski's Blues Saloon grew through Ted Wilebski's connections.  "I started getting bigger talent in here.  I started bringing in acts from not just Chicago, but New Orleans and California, such as Pee Wee Crayton.  I just kept building; I built quite a reputation through the years."

Other legends that had graced the stage during the early Wilebski's Blues Saloon years include Etta James, Willie Dixon, Albert King, and Buddy Guy.


Moses Oakland, Tuesday Blues Jam, Wilebski's, copyright 2010 MDMR
 
 


"In the 80s, these musicians were barely making anything.  When I started bringing them up, paying them good money, they started making a name for themselves and it helped their careers."

Wilebski used his vast network to help out the blues musicians.  If they would play at his saloon, he would also help them get some other gigs along the way and around the country to make it worth the time to leave Chicago.  He would also line up bands for the touring musicians for lighter travel.  The Butanes, which played the grand re-opening of the club earlier this year, were often used as a backing band for legends like Etta James.

One night, he gave Sam Moore, of Sam and Dave fame, a dream gig.  When Sam Moore was to play at the saloon, he told Wilebski he also wanted to see a Twins game.  Ted Wilebski called up the Twins and said, "I've got a national treasure who wants to sing the national anthem.  When Sam went out there to sing, he made them cry." 

After Wilebski sold the club, he tried other ventures and venues in various parts of the city and state.  However, nothing really inspired him as much as his days with the blues saloon.

"It's not about money, it's about friendships."  Ted Wilebski has made quite a few friends in the legendary blues community.  He is able to use those connections today to bring in acts like Delmark recording artist Jimmy "Fast Fingers" Dawkins, Bobby Rush, and Syl Johnson.

"I'm trying to bring up all of these legends to show these people that are here, especially the younger crowd, to really get a chance to see a living legend before they're gone.  They are so inspirational to all of the rock and roll artists, Jimmy Page, The Rolling Stones- Eric Clapton says if it weren't for Buddy Guy he wouldn't have learned guitar, even Jimi Hendrix attributed his talent to Buddy Guy."

The blues are due for a resurgence.  Several of these legends have been sampled by rappers during recent years.  "Syl Johnson has an organization that is fighting for recognition and settlements from these artists who have stolen his music." 


Tuesday Blues Jam, Wilebski's, copyright 2010, MDMR

To be true to his mission of educating the younger audiences about the legends of the blues, Wilebski is keeping his ticket prices low.  Most shows are between $8 to $10.  "That's the price of a movie ticket," Wilebski says.

The difference between a movie and the blues saloon?  Wilebski's Blues Saloon is much more interactive.  For one thing, there is a dance floor that is actually used nightly by the audience.  But, another aspect unique to the Blues Saloon is the ability to connect with the artists.  "This is just a funky blues club like you'd see in Chicago.  You can actually sit down and talk with the musicians after the show."

 

It is the ability to interact with real fans in a happening club that wins over the legends after they play Wilebski's and keeps them coming back. 

"It's what Albert King loved about this place," Wilebski recalls of the late great blues guitarist.  "When I first booked him, he called me and said Albert King is a big man and Albert King don't fly coach," Wilebski recounts the story of booking Albert King and getting him to the club.  Wilebski ended up getting some money together to upgrade King's ticket.

"Albert played that night, seeing this club for the first time.  Albert just loved this place, just loved the interaction.  At the end of the night when I went to pay Albert, he asked how much the extra plane ticket was and then he pulled out a wad of money to pay me back."  King told Wilebski, "Man I loved this place, you and me are friends, I'm gonna come back here."

The legends who played here said great things about the club, as have music critics.  Ted Wilebski has scrapbooks full of positive reviews, photos, and autographs.  In fact, national bands who were inspired by these legends even felt a kinship with the club.  One scrapbook photo shows Mick Jagger hanging out at the club one night.

"Most people working here are family, I've got my nephews and my neices, my daughter and son.  I've got all these young people here to help market and bring in the younger crowd.  My son is really the man here, he's got the lease and I'm trying to teach him."

Wilebski wants to continue his legacy and hopes to bring his brand to even bigger markets in the future, such as festivals and larger venues.  He is working to help his son nurture those vital connections that Ted Wilebski has always had.  "I don't ever want to lose this," Wilebski says, referring to Wilebski's Blues Saloon.  "This has been my life for many years and has kept pulling me even when I wasn't doing it."

Ted Wilebski has many diverse treats for audiences in the coming weeks.  Tonight, Jimmy "Fast Fingers" Dawkins performs 8pm.  Then, March brings us rockin' blues man Porkchop, local blues great Big Walter Smith, soul music with Johnny Rawls, and funk music with Soul Tight Committee.  Of course there will be the Original Blue Monday blues jam with Willie Murphy on Mondays at 7 pm.  Wilebski's Blues Saloon is located at 601 North Western in St Paul.

"To quote the Blues Brothers, I'm on a mission from God to bring these great musicians to the Twin Cities and to educate the young people about these legends before their gone."

 

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601 Western Ave North
Saint Paul, MN, 55103
Phone: 651.331.0929
email: wilebskis.blues.saloon@gmail.com

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