Written by: Lauren Vukicevich
Until just recently, Craig Louis Dingman was the sole host of the “Blues Masters Jam” at the Shell Cafe in Pismo Beach. He is also a member of the band, Code Blues, which often plays around San Luis Obispo. After a recent celebration of Dingman’s contribution to the Blues Masters Jam, I asked if he would mind sharing some of his experiences with us. Here is what he had to say!
What inspired you to create the Blues Masters Jam?
The idea to have a blues jam was Andrew Adams’, who was the owner of the late, great The Clubhouse on Foothill where the jam started. Steve Key of Songwriters at Play suggested me as the host, and it was my idea to call it “Blues Masters Jam” to imply that we were going to try to achieve some level of quality in the music.
How does playing at the Blues Jam compare to playing with your band, Code Blues?
Code Blues is really the band of our harp player/singer, Rick Munoz, who started it over 20 years ago. So there’s been a lot of changes since then; Rick and I have been playing together now for over 10 years and we’ve only winnowed down to the current four piece line-up in the last three years.
Playing at the jam, especially being the “jam master” is usually more difficult because there are usually amateur players, by which I mean players who don’t know how to play with a band, keep their heads up and eyes and ears in it. They may be good at their instrument, but they play through stops and don’t use dynamics and, generally speaking, play too much.
On the other hand, there are sometimes “magic moments” at the jam where an auspicious lineup forms from those who are there to jam, and plays together with style and musicality.
What are your future plans for Code Blues?
Code Blues would like to continue on playing a few good gigs a month, on average, and hopes to continue to land the special gigs such as opening for the Blues Society, playing the Mid State Fair and D’Anbino. We also enjoy our “bar” gigs such as The Otter Rock and Merrymaker, but we like to have a stage, lights, etc., now and then because we really like to focus on being entertainers as well as musicians. We’d also like to figure out a way to get a recording done since we probably play more original blues tunes than most of the units around here.
When did you start playing music?
I started at age 13 taking guitar lessons from a music shop owner who, as it turns out, was only a few chapters ahead of me in the Mel Bay instructional book. I went away to high school at 14 as I was contemplating joining a religious order. First music I played was folk, then the Beatles arrived. We weren’t allowed to listen to Rock and Roll at the junior novitiate, but we were able to form our own band to play it during recreational times; we did Beach Boys, Beatles, originals and some Broadway tunes.
What do you like about playing the blues?
I like the blues because it is a form that welcomes individual expression, and it is a simple form that allows players to get together without rehearsal. It still takes ears, skill, and heads in the game to make it good music.
What will you miss most about hosting the Blues Masters Jam?
I will miss the “magic moments” when a special line-up has formed and the music is high-end. We’ve had a lot of the really good players in the area drop in to jam and also be a part of the house band, including Steve Hilstein of Music Motive who is always great to have behind the drum kit. And, to be sure, having had so many regularly attending audience members and dancers has been really great. To be playing for a packed and jumping dance floor is a really good feeling!
Although Dingman is stepping back from hosting, the blues jam will continue with special hosts each week. The Blues Masters Jam is held on 6:30pm, Wednesday nights.
To find out more about Code Blues, check out their website here!