The next time you go to a bar and there's live music, see if you can tell if the band is really a band - they might actually be a few guys who met 30 minutes prior and are cranking out hits like they've performed together for 30 years.
Glen Pearson has hosted jam nights since 1992, and has spent the last decade kicking them out at the Sandpiper Pub in White Rock. He runs acoustic jams on Tuesdays and blues jams on Thursdays, and people come out in droves to East Beach for the live music.
"My father actually gave me the Scottsdale Inn (gig) when I was 19 years old," he said. "He did it for two weeks and thought it was too much work for him, so he asked me to do it.
"I showed up by myself with a set of lights, two amps, drums and a piano, and people would just show up - it was packed."
But Pearson doesn't just host the jam nights - he performs in them as well. He got his start in music at age 12 by playing drums, then picked up guitar and now he's onstage twice a week, pumping out the blues and rock 'n' roll.
Similarly, Dan Orlando - nicknamed the Accountant of the Blues - has been performing live music for 48 years, getting his start in bands as a teenager in 1965. He played for 25 years in such groups as The Squires and the Silver Chalice Revue before he got into jam sessions.
"Jams didn't start until the early '90s," he said. "The Yale (in Vancouver) was the biggest jam place in town. I met so many people at the Yale."
Throughout his career, Orlando has performed with the likes of Jack Lavin of the Powder Blues Band and Long John Baldry, and is the current leader of Danny O's Blues Express. To this day, he still performs four or five times per week, often hitting up such local spots as the Sandpiper, Pancho and Lefty's, and the Flamingo Hotel.
He said you never know who might show up to jams, recalling one night at Donegal's Pub back in 1995 when a rather famous blues musician walked
through the front door.
"Glen Pearson was running this jam at Donegal's, and all of a sudden, this black guy walks in there with a big belly and
a hat on," said Orlando. "Next thing you know, it's Buddy Miles."
Miles is best known as the drummer for Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsys.
The calibre of talent at jam nights separates them from open mic nights - you can't just show up with a guitar and start strumming. Participants have to have some musical experience to hold their own onstage.
"These jams are the highest form of musical maturity," said Orlando. "There's no rehearsals, there's nothing. I tell the bass player the key, the tempo - they may or may not know it.
"At jams, I'm playing with strange gear, I only got my guitar, I'm playing with a different amp and pedals - I know some guys who are famous who would find it very difficult to play in jams."
Orlando has an extensive catalogue of classic rock and blues tunes, including "Texas Flood" by Stevie Ray Vaughan, "Proud Mary" by Creedence Clearwater Revival and "La Grange" by ZZ Top, so whoever else is jamming has to know their stuff to keep up. He stressed that musicians need to mix up their set lists if they want to stay fresh - otherwise, regulars at the jam spots may stop showing up if they've heard it all before.
Pearson echoed that jams are a great way for them to keep up their chops, given that there are fewer places than ever for them to perform.
"I find that jams are a great way for guys to network," said Pearson, who also alternates hosting and performing in jams at the West Beach Bar & Grill on Wednesdays with his 75-year-old father. "A lot of bands have formed out of my jam sessions."
Admittedly, both Pearson and Orlando said jam nights aren't profitable, but that's not why they continue to host and perform jams.
"It's not for the money - there is no money," said Orlando. "It's all about the music. It's all about the guitar and the vocals. It's all about me honing my craft."
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