Across The Board
Graphic Design, publishers of
The Blues Audience newsletter.
Blues Audience newsletter
62 Cricket Hill Rd.
Harrisville, NH 03450
Aborn receives The Blues Audience newsletters OUTSTANDING SERVICE
13, 2006- HARRISVILLE, NH
Aborn was honored by The Blues Audience for his dedication and service
New England Blues Community by his hard work at the Rynborn Blues
The Oct/Nov 2005 issue of The Blues Audience newsletter
We say goodbye to a New England Treasure-
RYNBORN BLUES CLUB 1987-2005
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
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
-— 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
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
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.
“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
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
— Diana Shonk
at the Crossroads:
An Insider's Guide
to the Rynborn Blues Club
--by Ben Watson
before Toyota ever thought of using Robert Johnson's classic blues
song, "Crossroads," to hawk their cars, the Rynborn Blues
Club was already well established down at the crossroads of Routes
31 and 202 in Antrim, New Hampshire, and today it's become something
of a shrine to New England's blues fans and musicians. Think of
it as the Fenway Park of the blues. There are smaller clubs, for
sure, but none that is more intimate or quirky.
I know all this because, for the past
few years, I have seen literally hundreds of live blues shows at
the 'Born, first as a patron, and then - in a supreme moment of
weakness - agreeing to work as a doorman for my friend Doug Aborn,
who owns the joint. The Iron Horse in Northampton may have its famous
"Jerries," but the Rynborn has Mike and Mooney, Beck and
Ben, John and Tim and a whole locker room full of dudes - some distinguished,
some forgettable - who have presided over the "front of house,"
checking IDs and generally keeping the peace since 1987.
Like Fenway, the Rynborn is a classic,
yet it always looks a little "lived-in" and frayed around
the cuffs, like a comfortable old hunting lodge that the bears and
raccoons occasionally ransack. On any given night there may be some
temporary drama involving dysfunctional staff or rebellious machinery:
the dishwasher calls in sick and Doug has to roll up his sleeves;
or the ice machine, which dates from the Pleistocene Era, decides
to stage a work stoppage right in the middle of a summer heat wave.
We, the Rynborn faithful, take such minor annoyances in stride.
The club draws folks from all over
New Hampshire, but also from a surprising distance, especially for
big-ticket shows like Luther Johnson, Carey Bell, Bobby Radcliff,
and Eddie Shaw. We get people from as far away as Cape Cod, Connecticut,
New York, and western Massachusetts. Invariably they're surprised
to find good food and great blues "in the middle of nowhere,"
and frankly, after living ten years in the Monadnock Region, I'm
still a bit surprised myself. Some of the best bars I've visited
have been accidental finds in what I thought was "the middle
of nowhere," a crossroads surrounded by corn or cotton fields.
Places that make the crossroads of Routes 202 and 31 in downtown
Antrim look like Times Square by comparison.
But such joints are getting scarcer,
and I have yet to find one - outside of the big cities, of course
- that can match the sheer talent of the local bluesmen who consider
the Rynborn their "home field." There's "The Reverend"
Jerry Paquette, with his sandpaper voice and soaring guitar riffs
that leave even Rynborn regulars slackjawed and shaking their heads.
There's "Mississippi" Skip Philbrick, who may not have
Jerry's flashy runs, but makes his guitar sing, and chimes in himself
in a mournful quaver that can be either poignant or funny, country
or bluesy, depending on his mood. There's Otis "Big Blues"
Doncaster, who runs the Thursday night blues jam. Otis is a student
of the blues; he can mesmerize you with his critical analysis of
famous harp players' styles, before he wails on his own harp and
makes you sit up and take notice.
And then, of course, there's Luther
"Guitar Jr." Johnson, who is the big dog, the guru of
this place whenever he's in town. When Luther's in the mood and
he joins a visiting band up on stage, something magical happens.
People sit up a little straighter in their chairs, stop gabbing,
and listen with both ears. They know that something historic is
about to take place, like Carlton Fisk coming to the plate in the
bottom of the ninth, Game 6, World Series. There's an electricity
in the air. Something's happening here, and you are here to witness
it. Many times I've seen Luther galvanize a baggy-eyed, nonchalant
Friday night crowd, just by yelling, "How about it for the
BLUES?" A few seconds later, the joint is rocking.
Most bands love playing the Rynborn. Again, like Fenway, the fans
here are more knowledgeable than at other places: they recognize
and appreciate a good performance, and have a low tolerance for
phoniness and jive. It's not easy to get a regular gig at the 'Born,
but once you break in you can develop a loyal following.
Sunday is acoustic blues, my favorite
night, mellow and not too crazy or loud. Band leaders like Racky
Thomas, Chris Fitz, and Kip London sometimes drive up from Boston
to pull out their axes and play the Delta blues for dinner and tips.
One night a couple of years ago Peter Shonk came down from Quebec,
and Carl Querfurth brought in his trombone. Four guitars and a trombone
sounds like a terrible combo, but it not only worked, it sounded
great. Maybe half a dozen people, including Diana (Peter's sister)
and me, heard them. The rest of you don't know what you missed.
But the point is, there are spontaneous and surprising musical collaborations
going on all the time at the Rynborn. It's a crossroads of music
One snowy night last year I mushed
in to the club on a Saturday night, none too happy that I had to
risk life and limb getting to work. The scheduled band had cancelled,
but "The Reverend" was going to come in with his Kan-Tu
Blues Band. I expected maybe a dozen people to show up, but by 11
o'clock the snow was starting to let up, and the place was better
than half full. (Around here, if the locals can't make it in by
car, they often fire up the snowmobile.) After the show, Jerry thanked
me for working and said, "I just had to get out and play tonight."
This blues is an addiction, I thought to myself, and a cheap form
of psychotherapy, too. Musician, heal thyself.