This tradition is not likely unique to Indiana University, but it’s where I spent six of those perfect spring days where the girls who had been bundled up for months like the wives of Afgani warlords finally unwrapped and reminded us all why IU is occasionally the greatest college campus on Earth.
#5 – Live Music at the Bluebird
Ahh, Blue Brew Night. Was there anything back in the day better than a $3 cover and dime beers? Five-bucks went a long way at the Bluebird in the 1980s. You could be a big spender for $10 bucks, and the bands were fabulous. As our musical tastes had not yet fully developed, cover bands were the way to go. The more mainstream, the better. And if they had a great time while they played, that kept us coming back for show after show.
Dr. Bop and the Headliners were the mainstays. They still play occasionally as Count Bop and the Headliners following the death of Dr. Newt Bop a few years ago. I always thought there was a book about this band. Dr. Bop was so eloquent and sarcastic that I thought all I would have to do was roll tape, and his musings would write the book for me. He stuck me as a musical version of Hunter Thompson, and the band was Flash Cadillac on acid. His wit was sharp, and if the music was a bit pedestrian, who cared. The band had its own bar on stage, and poured free drinks liberally for those down front. There were different mutations of the supporting cast, but the core three guys were Cleveland St. James, the Count de Monte Cristo (who became Pare’ De Monte Cristo), and Dr. Bop. Senator Floyd was the bartender, and there were a couple of others I don’t quite remember. The centerpiece of the band was the Velendez Sisters. There were dozens of Velendezes over the years. Everyone had their favorite, but ours was Lola.
Lola Velendez had legs up to her neck, and she sang like a bird. At least we assumed that she sang like a bird. One thing we were sure of is that the Velendez Sisters didn’t mess with the band. Cleveland St. James looked like Larry Fine of the Three Stooges, and Pare’ was a pasty-faced man anywhere from 35-to-70 years old. Dr. Bop was a forever smiling fellow who was clearly for interesting in fun than broads. The band had its own issues, one of which was the almost constant on-stage drinking. As band members finished beers, they flung their empty cups in the air which were caught by a large fishing net wielded by their bartender.
The my favorite Br. Bop stories are from the same year – 1990. Dr. Bop played the bar that is now Harry Carey’s on Sheffield, just south of Wrigley Field – it was called High Tops then. We had a friend named Ed Kink who drank himself into oblivion every time we went to see Dr. Bop, and the band had developed a bit of a revulsion to him over the years. The band launched into the Beach Boys “Surfin’ Safari”, and Ed did his bit as a human surf board. People passed him around all over the room, and at the end of the song, Dr. Bop said, “There he is ladies and gentleman, the idiot’s idiot!”. Dr. Bop had this rhythm to his delivery that made everything funny.
We kind of took to seeing Dr. Bop whenever we could, and noticed that the band was playing at the Lake Geneva yacht club on the same weekend a friend planned to take a group of us up to his family’s cottage in Lake Geneva. We got dressed in our idiotic Hawaiian shirts, and rolled over the the Yacht Club. We heard the band behind a set of double doors and burst into the room thinking it would be filled with a bunch of college kids or recent grads. The scene was like the dance of the living dead in “Caddyshack”. There were 80-year olds dancing to whatever odd, and to our ears inappropriately solemn music, Dr. Bop was playing.
“Senator Floyd!” we yelled. The senator and rest of the band looked at us like we were mental patients. The senator left his perch on stage and ran to us. We thought for a moment he was welcoming us to the dull event. “You guys need to get the f**k out of here right now,” he quietly said so only we could hear. We laughed. Dr. Bop and the rest of the guys loved us. “I’m not kidding. This isn’t that kind of show. They’ll run us outta here. I’m not kidding. Get the f**k out, and we’ll see you in Chicago.”
Here’s a little youtube video I found of Dr. Bop from the 1970s that is good for a laugh.
They played a lot of music from the 1960s and 1970s, and almost always filled the Bluebird with college students ready to sweat and drink.
The other great college band in Bloomington was Blue Hugh and the Colourtones/Magictones. This was another nutty cover band with a three-piece brass section that was tighter than half the girls in the bar. They were a party band, but not as overtly smashed as Dr. Bop and his crew. The music was exceptional. The band covered everything from BTO to Memphis Soul to everything else that made 21-year-olds dance. The air at the Bluebird was like a schvitz after the first set, and never cooled down.
The Bluebird was and is one of America’s great bars for live music.