Lester Butler and 13 were supposed to play their first gig at the Dixie Belle Restaurant in Downey on June 27, 1998.
Butler never made it, but a tribute show was held for him that night. (An article that day noted Smokey Hormel, Steven Hodges and John Bazz all playing.)
“The cops and the Fire Dept. came the night of the tribute show, figuring it was going to be over the capacity limit. When they saw that there were about 50 or 60 people, there, they were bummed out. They asked why everyone was so somber, as if they were all on sedatives or something. I explained that it was a memorial show, and they weren’t junkies, just sad friends of the great Lester Butler.”
Here is the rest of the story, by Theo Douglas from the June 26, 1998, Long Beach Press-Telegram:
Harmonica player memorialized in concert
The late Lester Butler may be gone, but a group of his friends and peers in the Los Angeles music world intend to make sure the harmonica player’s intense music lives on for at least one more night.
That would be Saturday night, which is when Butler and his band, 13, were scheduled to perform at the Dixie Belle Restaurant in Downey.
Faced with the harmonica player’s untimely death May 9 from a heroin overdose, Butler’s friends decided to fill in for him Saturday at the Dixie Belle with a set list of his own original songs.
“I felt there was some kind of irony that he didn’t play there. He didn’t make it, but his friends can make it for him,” said Dixie Belle promoter Ed Boswell who booked Butler’s Saturday night show several months ago.
“Maybe he could be there in spirit,” he said.
One thing is certain: Butler, who was 38 when he died, won’t be sitting in on a harp. Recognizing that no one can fill the silence he leaves, the evening won’t be an all-harmonica spectacular.
Otherwise, Boswell said, listeners could face “harmonica fatigue,” something Lester wasn’t known for.
“Lester was intelligent. He didn’t play the same lick over and over.”
“I’ll miss him because I’ll know he’s not hot on my tail,” said his longtime acquaintance Phil Alvin, leader of roots rock pioneers The Blasters and a harmonica player himself.
Alvin will perform Saturday at the Dixie Belle. Other players will include guitarist Smokey Hormel, who backs up alternative rocker Beck.
Butler’s fiery sound sparked Alvin’s harmonica playing — and earned him a niche in the scrappy L.A. roots scene, flanked by punk rock and traditional country sounds.
Butler got his big break in the late ’80s when Def American Records mogul Rick Rubin signed his band The Red Devils after seeing them live at the King King club.
Actor Bruce Willis asked the band to perform with him at the opening of his Planet Hollywood restaurant-club chain, and in the studio, the Red Devils sat in with the likes of Johnny Cash. Their gutsy Chicago-blues style also made them favorites of Rolling Stone leader Mick Jagger. From there, Butler forged his style.
“The Red Devils were like this garage blues band, but they had that special … higher energy,” said Long Beach drummer and 13 member Stephen Hodges.
“Me and Lester had the same attitude about music a lot of the time … taking something beyond where it’s been before,” said Los Angeles musician James Intveld who played with Butler and will play Saturday night.
“We had the same birthday and that was something that we always carried as a common bond. I would do any gig with Lester, and it wouldn’t matter if it was the House of Blues or some party he wanted to do.”
The tribute starts at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Dixie Belle Restaurant, 9559 Imperial Highway, Downey. Cover is $5.
For information call (562) 804-4943.
Note: A version of this post was first published on May 20, 2015.
Top photo: James Intveld, left, Alex Schultz, Lester Butler, Andy Kaulkin and Stephen Hodges.
The legend of Snake Snake
“My idea was … a raw, hard-edge blues unit,” Kid Ramos tells NoFightin.com about 1997’s mythical supergroup Snake Snake, fronted by Lester Butler.