Mike McManus of "Gabe's Dirty Blues"
Thu Mar 18 21:54:08 EST 1999
Another man done gone, friends. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer this morning
reported the Sunday passing of Mike McManus, age 65, "after a brief battle
with cancer." Unfortunately, not a word of the P-I story dealt with the
Mike and his dad Gabe put together the "Gabe's Dirty Blues" LP project back
in 1980. I did a story about them for the Bellevue Journal-American at the
time, and spent some wonderful hours over at Mike's mom's house on Capitol
Hill. She could do wonders with a can of MJB.
For years, the irascible, cantankerous Gabe McManus ran a rowdy bar called
The Shamrock in Seattle's Pioneer Square. The club attracted a clientele of
seafarers, wayfarers, hookers, pimps and the occasional straggler who came
in just for the music. The music was The Blues, all the "dirty" blues that
Gabe could find. He'd comb the record shops for upbeat obscure R&B singles
--race records-- and use them to fill up the slots in his juke box. Songs
like Rocket 69, Keep On Churning (Til the Butter Comes), Work With Me Annie
and Use What You Got. Artists like Bullmoose Jackson, Little Esther,
Wynonie Harris, Etta James and Freddie King. Names that were household
words only in the black communities of America's urban centers routinely
turned up on the box in Gabe's Shamrock.
Legend has it there was only one light in Gabe's bar, and it was the red
light from the juke box. The story also goes that there were never any
fights in Gabe's when the music was playing, because everyone was too busy
straining to hear the suggestive lyrics.
>From my article, April 25, 1980:
"Gabe collected some 70,000 sides of blues and jazz. At one time he had
them all stored in an attic cubby hole, until his son Mike one day
suggested the discs really belonged in a vault. ...Mike also had some other
ideas. He pleaded with his father not to keep the music under lock and key.
The world deserved to hear this music again, the younger McManus
maintained. Gabe agreed.
"Two years ago (1978), Gabe, Mike and several friends set about searching
the ownership titles to some of the master tapes. By the fall of 1978 they
had come up with several dozen tunes which they were able to license from
the original owners. They picked 40 of the hottest tunes in Gabe's
collection and had them mastered into a two-album set called Gabe's Dirty
Blues. The package came off the production line just in time for Gabe to
hold a test pressing and the artwork in his hands. Before the album could
hit the stores, Gabe McManus died of cancer."
Mike saw the project through to completion. Gabe's Dirty Blues sold at
least 15,000 copies, primarily in the Seattle area. (And I hear people
whine about the lack of support for the blues here.) Several years ago I
called Mike to see about re-issuing the double-LP as a CD, and he made me
the point man in dealing with the licensing record company. Unfortunately,
they didn't want to play ball. Thus, apparently, ends the effort to
re-release the original LP, plus at least eight more collections Gabe and
Mike put together.
It is also worth noting that Mike McManus remained ever an erstwhile
booster of blues and jazz. It was at a McManus-sponsored event nearly 20
years ago where I heard an unknown but extremely talented blind, young
female jazz singer for the first time. The girl's name was Diane Schuur.
About two years ago I walked into Seattle's Bop Street Records and found
strangely familiar boxes of old 45s sitting on the floor. Owner Dave
Voorhees allowed as to how it was the Gabe McManus collection, which Mike
had reluctantly decided to sell off. An ignominious end to at least two
lifetimes of work.
I saw those 70,000 sides in that attic 19 years ago. I beheld the
enthusiasm Mike McManus had for the music, and the praise he lavished on
his late father for having such wonderfully eclectic musical taste. For all
the many positive contributions Mike made to the people he knew and worked
with, I will always remember him for his dedication to, and unabashed love
of, The Blues.
Life is short enough as it is. C'mon, somebody -- count off a shuffle, and
let's play some dirty blues.
Photographing the Blues for Decades
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