HENRY TURNER JR: Missing Tabby, Mentoring musicians

Photo provided by HENRY TURNER JR. -- Henry Turner Jr. & Flavor Show caption
Photo provided by HENRY TURNER JR. -- Henry Turner Jr. & Flavor

Singer opens Listening Room to foster artists of all ages

Henry Turner Jr., leader of the touring, Baton Rouge-based reggae, funk and soul band Henry Turner Jr. and Flavor, is also a civic minded music entrepreneur.

Turner is the organizer of Saturday’s Ultimate Louisiana Party-Mardi Gras Celebration in North Boulevard Town Square and the founder of the newly opened Henry Turner Jr.’s Listening Room.

Following the Jan. 1 passing of Tabby Thomas, the swamp blues artist who operated Tabby’s Blues Box and Heritage Hall for about 25 years, Turner and other local musicians wondered where young local performers can develop their talents the way musicians of Turner’s generation did at the Blues Box.

“Everybody was searching for answers,” Turner said this week. “A lot of the musicians, a lot of the producers, people in town all had the same question.”

For years Turner and others had assumed that some culturally minded person or persons would step up following the 2004 closing of Tabby’s Blues Box. It didn’t happen.

“Then we all started thinking and saying to ourselves,” Turner recalled, “ ‘It’s got to be us. It’s got to be the musicians in the community.’ ”

Turner opened Henry Turner Jr.’s Listening Room this month. Located at 2733 North St., the venue features a variety of music Thursdays and Fridays. An intimate space, it accommodates about 75 people.

“By no means am I trying to re-create Tabby’s Blues Box, because that’s impossible,” Turner said.

But the space, Turner added, combines Thomas’ open-door policy for new talent with the Original Music Festival concept Turner tried several years ago. Most existing commercial music venues in Baton Rouge, he said, don’t present original music.

Unlike Tabby’s Blues Box, alcohol is not served at Turner’s Listening Room.

“It’s a listening-room environment without alcohol, open to all ages,” he explained. “It’s a space where the younger talent can mix with the older talent, which I thought would allow for some good mentoring.”

Turner is pleased, too, that the venue doesn’t sell alcohol.

“I won’t have to worry about policing drunks,” he said. “Because I perform in bars all over the country, so I know what serving alcohol takes. I don’t want to be a club owner or a bouncer. I’m interested in the music.”

Henry Turner Jr. and Flavor and singer-songwriters Johnny Midnite and Nicole Garbati are among the performers who’ve appeared at Turner’s Listening Room so far. Garbati, who moved to Louisiana from Virginia a year ago, previously found no venue in Baton Rouge where she could perform her original songs, Turner said.

Nationally touring acts such as the Austin-based Seth Walker have expressed interest in appearing at Turner’s Listening Room. The formerly New Orleans-based John Sinclair, the Detroit musician and poet of whom John Lennon wrote about in his song, “John Sinclair,” is performing there March 20.

On a much larger scale, the Ultimate Louisiana Party-Mardi Gras Celebration runs 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday downtown, the same day as the Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade. Performers include the Wild Mohicans Mardi Gras Indians from New Orleans, Turner and Flavor, reggae singer Ras Wayne Vicks and Smokehouse Porter with the Tabby’s Blues Box All-Star Jammers.

Turner toured the nation with his Ultimate Louisiana Party, but he’s never before staged it in Louisiana.

“I didn’t think it would go over in Louisiana, because it’s like taking sand to the beach,” he said. “But the opportunity came up. There will be 500,000 people downtown for the Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade. My thoughts were, ‘Why don’t we entertain those people?’ ”