The neon Bud Light and Pabst signs give off a godly halo. Under them, a man with horn-rimmed glasses and wrecking-ball hands stands illuminated — his back to the audience.
On this rainy Saturday night, it’s hard to tell if anyone came for the music or just for their regular weekend dive into liquid bliss. A man brushes through the crowd and asks to anyone, to no one, “Who’s playin’ tonight?” The dull roar drowns out the answer until the man asks again, “What? Is he trying to make a comeback?” At the front of a dive bar, surrounded by an audience of chin stubble and smeared mascara, Sammy Eubanks growls into the microphone. Mic check ready. This faithful servant to the crowd is comfortable after almost 30 years of playing music in Spokane.
Comfortable making the crowd wait for him — he’s waited for the crowd to come to him after so many years.
In 1982, Eubanks fell into a band by accident — one that did covers of Molly Hatchet and Asia. It wasn’t until 1987 that he learned to play guitar, joined the Cruizers, and became a fixture in the Spokane music scene. Over the years Eubanks has played with more than five bands, hosted numerous jam sessions and a blues show on KKZX. In a single conversation, he’ll mention the names of bars and venues he’s played that have been closed for decades.
“The most we ever did was 59 nights in a row,” Eubanks says. “Covers, originals or one nighters, it doesn’t matter. It’s all a grind.” Now, every Wednesday night and some weekends, Eubanks and his band call Bluz at the Bend home.
Stained glass windows — church windows — line the top of this wraparound bar. Sundays or not, patrons come to this altar for a kneel and splash of Bluz at the Bend’s holy water. It’s dark inside. One couple hides in the corner with wandering hands and pink martinis. To their right, five women talk — beer bottles as much a part of their after-work conversation as they are. At the front table, a man in red suspenders and a Stetson hat knows the lyrics to every song.
In the midst of it all, Eubanks is smiling. He watches the crowd as he plays, but most of his attention goes to the dancers, who he heckles and encourages in the same breath.
He says he’s happy. He feels lucky to play as much as he does. Eubanks can’t think of anyone who plays more than he does in Spokane. His only aspirations are to be on the road more and make a third album “I’ve never had any formal training — I just learn stuff by accident,” he says. “I stumble across licks all the time.” Although he considers himself a singer who plays guitar, both abilities come naturally onstage.
The venue is small enough that the amplifier rattles the bass drum during his cover of “Folsom Prison Blues,” but it doesn’t matter. Eubanks’ voice goes down smooth like warm whiskey. His combination of blues, classic rock and country fills the dance floor with men and women who might be bank tellers or cubicle-bound by day. Eubanks unhinges them on the dance floor.
He still performs cross-country, “but restaurants, hotels and laundromats are all the same,” he says. “From one town to another, you just set up your circus tent and move on.”
He says he feels blessed to perform as much as he does in Spokane. Some weeks he plays four or five nights, sometimes less. Regardless, he says, he’ll play wherever there’s a stage and a pile of money. He doesn’t have another job. In fact he says that he’s never had one — shows like this are his job.
“Getting to play music is the frosting on the cake,” he says. “Each night the audience reminds me that we can do this and people like what we do.”
And they do. He’s their friend when teasing them, by name, in the middle of a song, taking shots of Jagermeister with fans and barmaids during intermission. And when the crowd pipes in “sha-la-la-la-la” during “Brown- Eyed Girl,” and the magenta lights from Bluz at Bend are just right, he even seems to have a halo. His audience, much like himself, is faithful, and they stand behind their creed.
all just looking for a good time,” he says. He and his music have stood
the test of time for three decades, and he’s not quitting anytime soon,
he says. As long as there are beers on tap and crowded dance floors in
Spokane, Sammy Eubanks plans to play to them.
Sammy Eubanks plays at Bluz at the Bend every Wednesday at 8 pm. Free. Call 483-7300.