RIGA - In 2001 the first and only blues club opened in the Baltics - Bites Bluza Klubs. The American style bar was built on what was at the time a quiet backstreet of Riga, and served as a home for a group of young but talented musicians by the name of the Latvian Blues Band.
Over the following six years the group has built an international reputation as a true blues band with no lack in musical talent, and Bites Bluza Klubs has welcomed a plethora of blues legends through its doors. The club boasts a long-standing tradition of guest artists, all who've signed their names - alongside a few words of wisdom - on the wall behind the stage. Among the signatures are over 100 stars from the United States and Europe, Bob Margolin, Carey Bell, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, John Primer, Eddie Kirklad, Louisiana Red, Lazy Lester, Sugar Ray Norcia, Al Copley, Bryan Lee, Joanna Connor, Duke Robillard, Shawn Pittman and Grana' Louise. And the Latvian Blues Band jumped on nearly every chance to play with them.
Their music has echoed well beyond Bites Blues Klub's walls. The band has toured Canada, Spain, Poland, Greece, the Czech Republic, Croatia, and Lithuania, playing in a number of international blues festivals, most notably the Chicago Blues Festival in 2005. These tours allowed the young group to continuously experiment and improve their music.
Yet the Latvian Blues Band has not let their international recognition go to their heads, and they are constantly striving to learn more about their genre of music.
"You must always learn, learn, learn, until the day you die," says bass and guitar player Janis Bukovskis.
He adds that the band constantly struggles to find styles of blues that they are unfamiliar with in order to expand their repertoire. The result is an uncanny ability to play smoothly with guest stars in a wide range of styles, often without the opportunity to rehearse beforehand.
The variety and quality of the group's music has left a strong impression with international blues legends.
"The Latvian Blues Band are some of the funkiest, most soulful players I have ever worked with," says American blues diva Joanna Connor. Guest star Shawn Pittman, a bass guitarist from Texas, was equally impressed.
"They are undoubtedly one of the best bands I have played with [and] I have played with backing bands in many countries and all over the United States."
'Ziggy' and the Show
Dailis Zigis is the manager of both the Latvian Blues Band and Bites Bluza Klubs. But moreover, he's the driving force that makes it all possible.
Zigis is an old bluesman who once spent three days in a KGB prison for playing a rendition of the Rolling Stones song "Satisfaction." But the Latvian doesn't play much anymore. In Zigis' words, he's "too old for rock n' roll but too young to die," so he devotes his time to teaching and managing his band and the club.
"I do this for the bluesâ€¦it's my lifestyle," Zigis says.
The manager has been fighting for the blues in Latvia for more than 35 years. In this time he has built up strong relationships with blues artists around the world, which has allowed Bites Bluza Klubs to host so many stars.
The affability of Zigis and his band was apparent in their pre-show banter with Chicago blues artist Grana' Louise. "You are the second woman in my life," Zigis told the American star, "My wife is the first but you are the second."
Grana' Louise played her fourth show in Riga on Dec. 1, and she hopes it won't be her last. With fans as appreciative of her music as those in Riga, the musician said she welcomes every invitation back.
And she's no stranger to the Latvian Blues Band, having played with them several times.
"They're good guys and they're very, very talented. You don't usually get both," Grana' Louise says.
Blues is quickly growing in popularity in the Baltics, having already claimed niches in Vilnius and Tallinn. But locals and performers agree that Bites Bluza Klubs is still the Baltics' one and only true blue.
Bites Blues Klub
Dzirnavu St. 34
Mon-Thurs:11:00 - 23:00
Fri: 11:00 - 02:00
Sat: 11:00 - 02:00