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Art Dwyer

A master of the upright bass, Art Dwyer is one of the founding members of the Soulard Blues Band - one of St. Louis' most enduring bands. In addition, Art divided his spare time between The East St. Louis All-Stars band, and his Friday night drive-time blues segment "Blues in the Night", on KDHX / FM-88, where he's been a fixture since the station began.

The Bluesnet warmly welcomes as our feature artist. As the interview began, and video lights were turned on him, Arty said: "I'll tell you what - I was there that night, and I know a couple of the people, but I didn't know their names. I was just passing through, and if you let me go, I'll come back tomorrow and tell you everything I know. I ain't kiddin!"

Where were you born?

Art Dwyer: I was born and raised here in St. Louis, in 1946. I'm a native.

On the North Side?

Art Dwyer: North Side. Harney Heights, I was born in Harney Heights. Its just north of Hwy. 70 and if you go up to Harney, 1 block So. of West Florissant, there used to be an old hardware store there, and on the wall it said Harney Heights! So, being from that neck of the woods - it was a tough neighborhood - they'd say "Hey man, you're from Walnut Park, huh?" Well, I didn't like the ring of that, you know. I'd say "No, man, I'm from Harney Heights."

STLBlues: You grew up on music like Rufus, T-Bone? Who else did you get into when you were young?

Art Dwyer: Whatever my sisters would bring home. I've got four sisters, three are older sisters, and they had the dance bug real bad. I was teen in the 50's, so whoever my sisters brought home. Rufus, the Dells, everyone that you know. James Brown. We used to like a lot of his stuff, him and the Drifters, and Marvin Gaye. There'd be a dance, and all these good-lookin little gals would be running around, but nobody would dance with them. So me and my buddies, we'd go shopping down on Kingshighway, at Joes. We'd get our hi-fashion, hi-collar, white on white shirts, with a pair of Sanzibelts, banister half moons, man! And we could dance!

So we'd go meet all the girls, man, that's what we did. We'd go to all the dance parties that everybody talks about, that were notorious and popular and everything else here in St. Louis, St. Louis County. Idlewild, Sunset, P.H., Normandy's, wherever we could go. We got mobile. We operated from the North Side, we'd go all around. I was affected by St. Louis stuff as much as anything. Winston Rose, Alvin Williams, they had their little band, they were bad! The Rockin Riondos, they were bad. I heard them in some of the nicest places and some of the regular joints, you know. Every Tuesday night, up at the Club Imperial for fifty cents, you know who - Ike and Tina Turner and the Ikettes. I saw Paul Revere and the Raiders up there. The Smothers Brothers, they were up there. I was in high school and went to see these guys up there. Anyway, those St. Louis Musicians were just tearing me up.

STLBlues: Now you're one of them! Now you're tearing them up! Before you became a musician, you did a lot of different things here in St. Louis.

Art Dwyer: Had a lot of things to do man. Have to get by a lot of obstacles before you get to where you're going.

STLBlues: You were a Police Officer in the 8th district?

Art Dwyer: Good job, great job. City of St. Louis Police Officer, Deer Street, 8th District. On Easton Ave., now Martin Luther King Dr. Back in the mid 60's, Albert King used to play at the Moonlite lounge, which was right on my beat. White and Black dug Albert there, it was cool as long as you behaved. Yeah, Easton Ave. was great! It was a real merchant's street, with all kinds of retail shops mixed in with restaurants & taverns.

STLBlues: In my earlier years I was a City EMS paramedic, ran out of the 8th myself for a time.

Art Dwyer: Yeah, I did that (police officer) for a few years, it was a great job, one of my best. I was also a union organizer for AFL/CIO Local 13, the hospital workers. That was a good job, a hard job, got up early! Hospitals didn't want a union, so I ended up a house guest to a couple different police departments over there in Illinois. Used to call my boss Trotsky. I taught as a sub teacher all over the City, and they would call me cause I'd go anywhere, teach in any school. I taught steady for a year over at Peabody Grade school, by the projects. I worked on the river, I liked that job. That's one of my top 3 jobs. Tugboat deckhand, it was a great job. I worked a while with a carnival, now them boys are fast! Carnivals are a scuffling business. I picked up "carny" language from them. It's a variation on pig Latin. I worked at a couple of boiler maker plants (Combustion Engineering / Nooter Boilerworks), but in my neighborhood you were a success if you got over at the Chevy plant and got a job. But I never got that damn job! I tried for awhile there. Maybe I was lucky, I don't know.

STLBlues: So, when did you first get into the music business?

Art Dwyer: For money? I was gonna say, not yet (laughs). I had moved down into the City. Everyone else was running away into the county. I moved down into Lafayette Square when there was nobody living down here yet. You could just have your pick of places, and have a nice balcony overlooking the park. Got in one of those joints down there, and we used to have a party every night. We used to close down the tavern, and a bunch of players would come on over, and we'd go to daylight. We'd do that 3-4 nights a week, the rest of the time we were always going somewhere to listen to someone. I was going over to the La Casa Club, on Olive St. whenever I could. Seen some things over there that blew my mind.

STLBlues: When did the Soulard Blues Band start to become an idea?

Art Dwyer: I hooked up with Big Al (harmonica player/singer), and we were playing up at Sadies, on Union and Wabada on the city's North side. I met Tommy Bankhead, Doc Terry, and Henry Townsend all about that same time. Henry and my dad were born about a week apart, I think. Anyway, these are guys we all learn from, continually. You wonder if you are gonna have the moves - first of all, you wonder if you're gonna live that long, and then have the moves and the brain power to pull them off, and these guys have got it all, man! Anyway, we'd work at Sadies, making seven bucks a night, but I didn't give a shit, because there was some gal up there (whistles), she reminded me of one of the Ikettes, you know. All she had to do to me was smile, you know. I couldn't talk, couldn't even pronounce my last name. Then I started a new band, and we were sitting around one time, thinking "what do we call it?". Bill McKenna, he came up with the name, Soulard Blues Band. I got down here in Soulard, I don't know, in 1972, something like that. They didn't call Soulard "Soulard" back then, they had the market down here, but they didn't call Soulard "Soulard" at the time. Well, Billy said "let's just call it the Soulard Blues Band" and the rest is unchronicled history (until now).

STLBlues: Over the years, the SBB has went through changes and reincarnations?

Art Dwyer: Yeah, we actually got to two singers, an organ and a horn section, but we couldn't support it.. We've gone through a lot of reincarnations.

STLBlues: You and Jim McClaren (harp player for the SBB) go way back.

Art Dwyer: Yeah, Jimmy came on very shortly after the band was formed, and he's still riding. A few years back he was Mr. November in the Hohner Harmonica calendar. He's an artist. Hell, all thoseguys are! Jim can play the styles of the masters all night long, You know - Sonny Boy, Little Walter, Slim Harpo. That's quite an accomplishment in a lifetime. But he's unique, because he's got his own style. You can identify it. Man, he comes up with some unbelievable riffs and stays on the attack. I met Larry Thurston through an ad in the Post. I called him up and said "come on over man." I was living in Soulard then. He came over with Gary Craft. Steve Albers and Bill McKenna were there. We started goin' over some songs, you know, and bingo! Then things started happening. . We were the house band down at Laclede's Landing. Man, Laclede's Landing had one or two places going, and the Oyster Bar was opening up So we were the house band on the Landing, and had Mondays at the Oyster Bar. It was fun because the Landing was 98% abandoned warehouses and the Oyster Bar was in the middle of nowhere. An adventure to go there! Through the Landing, Broadway Oyster Bar, BB's, and Soulard, the Blues has made its way out of the little pockets it had been pushed into and found a home in ten or fifteen more clubs over the last twenty years. We've gone through a lot of changes over the years. We've had guys leave and come back - Tommy Maloney, he was with us in 1982. Some of them have reflected well upon us - Jimmy Byrnes. People go "wasn't he in your band", and I go "yeah, he was in our band, plus he's a St. Louis man!"

STLBlues: Who is in the band currently?

Art Dwyer: Let's see, what's their names? Alvin Lee, Lynyrd Skynyrd, B.B. King. That B.B., he plays too many notes! Actually, Tommy Maloney is back with us on guitar. Tom's another one who gets to me. I never know what he'll play next. He hardly repeats himself. He can play the genre for a solo or his own thing, and either works great. He probably plays things he never heard himself. It's a joy for us all! Bryan Casserly has more energy than all of us. He sings out in front most of the night and plays the trumpet like he was born with it. You can tell he loves people and performing. Mike Kalmar is our drummer. He spent a few years out in L.A. (not Lower Arnold) playing, and came back home to St. Louis. We met at our Monday night jam session at the Oyster Bar. Same with Bryan. We demand a lot from Mike, what with all the various beats and idioms we play in. And he gives us what we need, and then some. What more could you ask for? A stable guy? He's that too! That makes up the Soulard Blues Band. We're on our sixth release.

STLBlues: You just released "In the Soulyard" not too long ago?

Art Dwyer: Right, and we've already half finished the next one.

STLBlues: The SBB can currently be heard where around town?

Art Dwyer: The Great Grizzly Bear every other weekend, Broadway Oyster Bar on Mondays (where their jam session is a St. Louis institution), and Mike and Min's on Thursdays as well. It's good to have a couple of places to call home, especially in Soulard. We're playing five or six festivals this year around Illinois and Missouri.

STLBlues: We look forward to your next release, and want to thank you for the twenty years of great music you've given to St. Louis, and thanks for granting this interview.

Art Dwyer: My pleasure.

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