Jimmie Stagger's Sunday night HopCat blues jams drawing hot Grand Rapids players, devoted fans E-mail
by John Sinkevics

JimmieStaggersmall@HopCatbyJohnSinkevics (2) (640x480) With stellar players and singers sitting in every Sunday night, it’s quickly become the “who’s who” destination of West Michigan’s elite and up-and-coming blues musicians.

The HopCat Sunday Night Blues Jam with Jimmie Stagger started in late February at the downtown tavern with modest hopes and great potential -- and indications are, it’s already grown into one of the city’s most popular attractions for blues fans and performers.

“I love it. I’m really happy with it. Every week we’ve had more and more participation,” raved Stagger, the iconic Grand Rapids blues guitarist who was approached by HopCat owner Mark Sellers to give the Sunday night jam a try for at least six months.

“I want the out-of-towners on the blues scene to show up, too, from Lansing, Muskegon and elsewhere.”

So far, Stagger certainly hasn’t had difficulty attracting interest from Grand Rapids-area musicians.

On one recent Sunday in front of a nearly full house, members of the Thirsty Perch Blues Band showed up to sit in with Stagger and the Usual Suspex – featuring guitarist Andrew Ogrodzinski, drummer Tim Cowart and bassist Jim Shaneberger (who alternates with Don Simmons). So did guitarist-bassist Charley “River City Slim” Schantz, guitarist Steve Hilger, harmonica player Randy Marsh and rising young singer Hannah Rose Graves.

hopcatblues-1editcrowd-WEB Other jams inside the bar at 25 Ionia Ave. SW have attracted guitarist-singer Weezil Malone, sax whiz John Gist, singers Karen Beard and Serita Crowley, even a 15-year-old guitar wunderkind, Ray Hernandez.

“Each week is just getting better,” Ogrodzinski said before one recent jam session. “People keep coming out of the woodwork.”

Giving young musicians a chance to rub elbows with veteran players and hone their craft is part of Stagger’s mission. “I’m trying to teach ’em,” said Stagger, who contributes eye-popping guitar work in the first set with his band before turning the evening over to a roster of musicians and singers sitting in for two or three songs at a time. “I want to educate and inform and not be offensive.” The jams, which run 7-10 p.m. every Sunday, sometimes even have fans lining up at the door early in the evening.

“I’m an old-time fan of Jimmie’s and I wanted to check out the scene,” said Dave Kuzma, 58, of Grand Rapids’ West Side, who attended a recent session with his brother, Ron. “There’s a lot of talent around here. Anything (new) for music in this town is a plus.”

Of course, Sunday jams aren’t new at HopCat. Marsh, best known as a top-notch jazz drummer, hosted jazz jams on Sunday nights at HopCat for more than a year before that run ended last September. He moved those Sunday jazz shows to SpeakEZ Lounge at 600 Monroe Ave. NW.

hannahgravesatHopCatbySpinsonMusic Sellers said jazz simply “ran its course” at HopCat and he’s confident the blues nights will build a solid, enduring audience led by a well-known, award-winning local guitarist. “I love blues,” he said, noting the genre of music “fits in with the vibe, the beer, the burgers and the artwork.”

Admission to the blues nights is free, with members of the West Michigan Blues Society who present their membership cards getting a 20 percent discount on their food bill.

Music critic and entertainment writer John Sinkevics comments on the local and national music scene at localspins.com, and spotlights artists at 10 a.m. Wednesdays on Local Spins Live at News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW). Email him at This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

Published April 1, 2013

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