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The Four Notes at Bob & Barbara’s: The Citywide Specials.

February 20, 2014

BandBsmall02Text by Beth Ann Downey. Images by Michael Bucher.

It’s early on a Saturday night at Bob & Barbara’s Lounge, before the crowd comes in, but there’s already money in the tip jar.

The Four Notes open their marathon 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. set with a sweet, jazzy jam. Kelvin Nathaniel faces the amp to tune his guitar. Billy Holloman sways at his organ, feeling the music. Wayne Morgan jams on the drum kit he rolled into the South Street bar about an hour prior. His lips keep time with the beat of the music he’s creating. Fill-in saxophonist Sam Reed wipes sweat off his brow, even though the set has just begun.

Jamming out this long groove seems to be something The Four Notes do for themselves to get ready for the night. By 11 p.m., the bar will be packed with dancing 20-somethings who slug PBRs and Jim Beam shots in this, the home of the Citywide Special. There will also be an older crowd of regulars to hear the band play their set of jazz, rock and R&B staples – perhaps the most popular being their rousing rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”

You can see from their faces that these musicians have seen, heard and done it all. They provide the music that anyone can dance to, anyone can drink to, the music that can break down the barriers of the young and the old in search of a fun night out.

“It’s really all about the people,” says Nathaniel. “We want the people to enjoy themselves. When they leave here and come back, I know they had a good time. That’s really what it’s all about. When I see the same crowd, and the more they bring friends with them, I’m like, ‘Wow, OK. We must be doing something right.’”

Though Nathaniel, Morgan and Holloman took up their Saturday residency at Bob & Barbara’s just about a year ago, they’ve been playing and coming here for as long as they can remember. They knew the original owners, Bob Porter and Barbara Carter. Nathaniel carries fond memories of sitting with Porter early on Mondays, when the bar used to hold open mic nights.

“He liked music,” Nathaniel says. “He enjoyed jazz music, so that’s why he kept the bands here.”

The current owner, Jack Prince, also a “musical connoisseur” according to the band, is a former partner of JJ’s Grotto. That venue boasted live jazz entertainment, as well. Prince acquired Bob & Barbara’s in 1994, and then the building next to it, expanding the bar to its current two addresses. Technically, each half of the bar has its own address.

“Before, when it was just a single address, it was really small,” Nathaniel says. “Every time somebody went to the bathroom, you had to move left, right, to the side. I used to come in on Monday nights and play and I’d be in the corner between the two bathrooms. Every time someone would come, I’d have to lift the guitar up and wait until they opened the door and then put the guitar back down. It was pretty tight, so I think he made a big improvement by making the place bigger.”

Despite the changes to the venue, one thing has always helped it stand out – the Hammond B3 organ. It fills out melodies and bass notes during The Four Notes’ sets, and it saw several other talented players before Holloman.

“Bob & Barbara’s has been here for a long time, maybe 30 or 40 years, and they always had an organ,” says Nathaniel. “I think this is the only place left with an organ – a real Hammond B3 organ.”

But what they haven’t had until recently is a younger audience coming in week after week to appreciate music that was written before they were born.

“A lot of people are not really in tune – mentally, physically and educationally – to what good music is,” Morgan says. “A lot of people only know what they hear. I’m not against rap or anything because there is a place for everything but the young people come in here and actually come up to us and ask us, ‘Well what was this song? Who was this by?’ We really love that.”

He goes on to point out that many of the samples used in rap are taken from the music he and his peers actually created.

“Our audience can come in here and actually see guitars,” says Morgan. “They can see an organist, they can see a drummer, they can see a horn player – actually creating this music. And they love it. And I love that so very, very much.”

“I think it’s all the universal aspect of it because they see it actually being done right before their eyes,” adds Nathaniel. “It’s not sampled or anything. It’s not on vinyl or the laptop. It’s four guys actually producing it with their own hands. I think they’re amazed and they enjoy it and it sounds great to them. They recognize some of the things we do and they appreciate it. And I appreciate them appreciating us.”

When The Four Notes finish that opening jam, the growing crowd claps. It’s not a polite, bar-band-that-everyone-is-trying-to-talk-over kind of clap. It’s real. Because for the young or the old, the rich or the poor, the greatest of live music lovers or those who come out mostly for those $3.50 Citywides, The Four Notes are still the main attraction.

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