From The Oct/Nov 2005 issue of The Blues Audience newsletter
We say goodbye to a New England Treasure- The RYNBORN BLUES CLUB 1987-2005
The Rynborn Restaurant opened in 1987 in Antrim, NH a sleepy little NH town at the crossroads of Rtes. 202 and 31 not too far from Concord and Manchester, NH. It began as a restaurant, with two original owners, Mark Ryan and Doug Aborn, they removed the “a” out of their last names and hence the name Rynborn.
It was a very popular spot for after work drinkers and dinner guests. It wasn’t very long before Skip Philbrick and Peter Kiebala and Wayne Bradley talked their new friends into doing music there. I will never forget the early days when the musicians were either crammed in at the end of the bar or in the corner of the porch. Wayne on “Frankie” the cocktail drum, Skip and Peter on guitars and Richard Dougherty on bass.
It wasn’t hard to talk Doug into getting national acts in there. One day down in Rhode Island, I asked Jimmy Johnson if he would play there and he said “If they got the money, I will” and he was the first Chicago bluesman Doug had in Antrim, in December 1991. That was when it started being Downstairs at the Rynborn Restaurant and Blues Club, slowly growing and expanding to hold more and more blues fans as the club gained national recognition. Jimmy Johnson’s show was closely followed by the great Jimmy Rogers in January 1992 and from then on is history. Luther “Gtr. Jr.” Johnson moved to Antrim. His girlfriend, manager and mother of his daughter Markita, worked for The Blues Audience. Luther helped to spread the word about the club to his friends in the business.
The roster of acts at The Rynborn grew over the years: Pinetop Perkins, Lefty Dizz, Carey Bell, Lurrie Bell, Joan Baby, Phillip Walker, Fenton Robinson, Luther, Jerry Portnoy, William Clarke, John Hammond, Lil Ed, Eddie Shaw & The Wolfgang, Duke Robillard, Debbie Davies, Bobby Radcliff and James Montgomery to name a few. Also Doug’s favorite, Fred Eagelsmith, a number of comedy nights and the occasional alternative and country band.
The staple of the regular weekend nights were all the great local New England bands like Loaded Dice, The Renee/Randall Band, Bobby Watson Band, Chuck Morris & Sidewalk Blues, Rick Russell & The Cadillac Horns, Little Ronnie & The Sloan Sharks, K.D. Bell, The Hornets, Two Bones & A Pick, Lucille & The Steamers, Shirley Lewis, Art Steele, Kat In The Hat, DD & The Road Kings, Little Frankie, Little Anthony, BBQ Bob & The Rhythm Aces, Toni Lynn Washington, Racky Thomas band, TJ Wheeler & The Smokers, Ed Vadas, Ron Levy, The Electric Blue Flames, Vikki Vox, Sugar Ray & The Blue-tones, Jason James & The Baystate Houserockers, Jump City, Mr. Nick, Chris Fitz band, Otis & The Elevators and their award winning blues jam to name a few and Diana Shonk & Blue Country hosted the country jam on Tuesday nights for 2 years.
Rynborn was a mecca for musicians and music lovers. The jams would attract musicians from everywhere, Luther came and played at the jams sometimes and once at my country jam, I’ll never forget that. It was a place that an amateur musician could come to try out live performance, on stage at the jam. Over the years, Otis’ jam brought bands from all over New England who wanted to play at the Rynborn, although it was luck if he heard them. On any given jam night, Doug had worked all day, and then spent all night cooking and when he got finished his usual 12 hour day, he’d stop in to check on things, have a drink and was off, leaving the bar in the capable hands of his long time trusted bartenders, and friends, Lynne Bezio, Chris
Patton and Jimmy.
The club in Antrim had soul. There was never a better crowd anywhere, they listened, they cheered, they danced like crazy in cramped quarters, they went wild at great solos, they were 100% there for the music. Countless musicians told me that it was their favorite place to play. The Rynborn introduced Monster Mike when he was a kid and we can’t forget the big top secret gig with the brand new Magic Dick and Jay Geils Bluestime!
The Paramounts always loved playing The Rynborn because it was a real blues room. “While setting up on stage, Doug would often greet us with ‘welcome home.’ We really were at home there too, as it was one of the only places where audience
requests were for songs by Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson and the other artists who invented this music.
One night while we were on break
between sets, I was talking with Doug, and a woman who was clearly a new visitor to The Rynborn approached me and asked if we’d play Mustang Sally. Before I could say anything, Doug intervened and said “Let me answer that…no.” That moment said it all. Doug was not just a club owner. He was a BLUES club owner, who truly shared our appreciation for the music, and knew what we were about. For a Blues band, it doesn’t get any better than that.
—Robert Martino- The Paramounts
Doug really loves a slow blues “Make it greasy!” he would say from the crowd on the rare occasion when he would actually sit down and enjoy the show. The bands loved to save their best slow blues for when Doug came out of the kitchen.
“My fondest memory of the Rynborn is how every time we’d play that great club, we didn’t always see Doug when we came in because he was so busy in the kitchen, or doing other restaurant/club owner type stuff. We didn’t even know if he was in the place at all half the time. But always and I mean ALWAYS, whenever we went in to a Muddy Waters/Robert Nighthawk type of slow blues with slide guitar, Doug would show up out of nowhere, stageside with a big grin on his face. He’s a true lover of the REAL blues & his presence on the scene was a big boost to all of the bands that played that great room.”
— Nick Adams, guitar, Racky Thomas band.
And after a particularly heart wrenching blues guitar solo Doug could be heard asking “What’s eatin’ him?” But he was a kind of behind the scenes guy. Never one for getting up on stage, himself. I remember the night when they made him get up on stage in Antrim, it was the last night for the Antrim club, and the roar of the standing ovation was deafening, appreciation for all his hard work.
“I loved that club, I was playing there pretty regularly over the years. I remember when Jimmy Rogers came to play. He came over to my house to change clothes. Jimmy and I came from the same town in
Mississippi, we were like family. My band did a CD- LIVE FROM THE RYNBORN which did pretty well. I’m really sorry the Rynborn closed, I was surprised. I talked to Doug the Monday he closed and I felt bad.”— Luther “Gtr. Jr.” Johnson.
Doug and Luther have a wonderful relationship. And Doug has always had a caustic, wise cracking sense of humor about everything. You could hear his laugh from way down the bar. I remember Doug use to chide Luther, when he was all dressed up for a gig in something colorful and jazzy, asking him “Did you get that out of my closet?” (I don’t think I ever saw Doug in anything but blue jeans).
Bobby Radcliff was a crowd favorite at the Rynborn. He also did a live record there, LIVE AT THE RYNBORN and I will never forget that night. He went wild! This is a man who plays like a man possessed but with little physical expression. That night he came down the stairs from the stage and got down on his back on the floor kicking his feet up.
“Proud as we are of the new album, NATURAL BALL, his biggest seller was LIVE AT THE RYNBORN on BlackTop Records. He always enjoyed playing at the old venue, not only because Doug Aborn is a straight-shooter and always took care of the artists (especially the food), but the audiences were consistently the best. We’ll always miss The Rynborn”
-— Bill Bowman for Bobby Radcliff.
Another thing blues is absolutely perfect for, is dancing. It is an extension of the music. Dance space was always on demand at the Rynborn. They had a small dance floor in Antrim but we made it work. I remember nights when we were dancing, trying not to bump into the musicians.
It took a while to get the got dance floor organized in Keene. Finally Doug had one put in, right in front of the band. After that, the dancing really began.
“I used to dance when I was a kid. The Rynborn got me up on the floor again. Thanks for the great times and the great tunes. It’s sorely missed but not forgotten.”
— Steve Bernstein-the swinger
“The Rynborn was one of the first places where the Vykki Vox Band started out and was always one of our favorites. Doug was one of the rare club owners who actually understood what it takes to find a balance between booking well-known acts and nurturing young bands to give them a chance to grow with a venue. He put us into a consistent rotation right away and worked with us to help us build a good reputation there – which in turn created a consistent following that was excellent for us and the club. We ALWAYS had a GREAT time and looked forward to being there. Between Doug, the wonderful staff and all the amazingly enthusiastic music fans that came out every time, we really felt that there was something special going on and we were proud and honored to be part of it. The original Rynborn in Antrim was where it all began. The atmosphere was created by the chemistry of all involved and it left me incredibly charged up every time. Being surrounded by screaming, attentive fans, on all sides made it a powerful experience that has yet to be matched and we will never forget it! Doug’s new place in Keene was a noble attempt at growth, which we are all striving for in one form or another, but unfortunately, as nice a place as it was and as good as some of the nights were, it just couldn’t match the magic of Antrim. It is sad that The Rynborn is gone now, but the club and all it was about will live on in all of our hearts…
Thanks for everything, Doug!” — Love, The Vykki Vox Band
And that’s what it’s all about – the love.
There were so many events Doug put on for the community. He helped produce many benefits over the years for charities and for musicians in distress, people in need. He must have hired a thousand people, who worked there. It seemed like everyone around him made money. No matter what happened he made sure he paid the musicians. I remember him saying “I once paid a band in $5s and $10s, but they got paid!” he made sure the musicians got paid, even if it had to come out of the register.
Without his club The Blues Audience would probably never have gotten off the ground. I even had some of my friends in the audience help label the first couple of issues at my country jam on Tuesday nights. Doug supported the newsletter and let me have many Blues Audience Parties and Anniversary parties at both clubs. He afforded me a chance to meet and photograph hundreds of musicians. I got to expose old and new, live blues fans to the newsletter, many of whom have been part of the base of the newsletter over these past 14 years.
Every summer Doug would throw an outdoor party at his landlord, Wayno’s home in Antrim. They would roast a pig and have bands play in the gazebo- The Rynborn Blues Bash. The Rynfest Blues and Funk Festival in Keene was nother monumental effort to get the community together and enjoy the live music.
Doug gives a lot of love to his friends and employees. He is always hugging everybody. He is also blessed with the love of three wonderful children, all of whom worked at the club in the last few years, helping with the move and transition.
Sara, his daughter, was waitressing and scheduling the Keene club. She made her singing debut with Murphy’s Blues a couple of weeks before the close. Jason, Doug’s son, was a bartender and Megan, his youngest waitressed. His life partner for the past 10 years or so, Keryl was also with him every step of the way. Eighteen years in business is a very successful run for a restaurant/blues club! He certainly deserves a break.
“This is the end of a great blues institution and era. It was most consistently my favorite place to play in all of New England over the years. But more importantly, Doug Aborn is and always will be one of the nicest, most passionate and dignified persons and club owners there is anywhere. If more club owners were like Doug, and cared about the music and musicians as he has for so long, this would be a much better business to work in. I will really miss working for him, and bringing my music inside the Rynborn’s blues walls! —Chris Fitz
“Doug had me perform in the early days of the Rynborn. I really respect him and think he is, was and always will be the greatest blues club owner and he really knows how to cook! I am going to be one of those people who will miss Doug and his wonderful club. —Shirley Lewis
“I will miss the rynborn very dearly. Doug was very good to us and a fan of Rockabilly too which I thought was very cool.”
— Jason James
“Certainly was great to have a place like that, totally committed to having good Blues music. Sometimes it seems like it’s these off-the-beaten-path little places run by enthusiastic music (and food) fans where the music really takes off. Sad to see it go. That little town rocks no more, but we sure had a good time while it lasted!”— Sax Gordon
The move to Keene was a big leap of faith for Doug. His reputation was solid and the club was doing very well, but the building was probably a bad choice, a money pit. It was a gutted three or four floor brick building with lots of glass. It had the same amount of seating as the old club, no way to separate the diners from the club goers, with three times the overhead (literally) three floors of heat required, one floor of patrons. It slowly took its toll. There were other factors as well. For instance many fans of the old club from Manchester and Concord, Hillsboro areas found the drive to be too long. The attendance was not supporting the entertainment. There was a time, when there were a number of clubs featuring live blues, in Keene.
I can’t believe we have to say goodbye. The last night when Bobby Radcliff played I drove down from an all day blues festival to get there. It felt very important to me. I knew Doug was having a hard time keeping things going. We had talked about throwing in the towel so many times over the years, like you do when you run a business, sometimes it is overwhelming. But when he looked at me with sad eyes and told me, that this really was the last night of music, my heart stopped for a minute. He was serious. I knew it was over.
We all made the most of that last night. Everybody (but Doug) got out on the dance floor and Bobby Radcliff gave us a great performance. Russel the bartender and lead singer and harmonica player for Groove Theory, got up and did a solo harmonica wail that summed up how we all felt. There was a lot of hugging and teary eyes that last night.
The Rynborn made it possible for the people of the New England blues community to see great performers from all over the country. I think I speak for all of us when I thank Doug and his staff for their dedication to providing a wonderful venue for the musicians to play, entertaining the audience with high quality blues acts and providing good food for everybody… loud applauds, cheering and an appreciative whistle…
— Diana Shonk