According to the logo, The Cantab Lounge was established in 1938. Don’t ask who by or what for, but do take it as read that this is Boston’s answer to Chicago’s Rosa’s Lounge. A 15 minute taxi ride from downtown Boston took the Good Doctor across the Charles River and into Cambridge, with MIT and Harvard keeping a watchful eye on his progress. Cruising up Mass Ave towards Central Square, he soon saw the Cantab lights and the billboard advertising music 7 nights a week.
Tuesday’s at The Cantab is Bluegrass nite. Judging by the literature, one sniff of harpoonery and you’d be invited to fall on your tin sandwich by the hillbilly praetorian guard. Other nights boast blues, jazz and rock (plus a poetry ‘slam’ in the bar downstairs), BUT… every Wednesday and Sunday night at 9pm is Candy’s Blues, Jazz and Rock Jam. And it’s free. Now that’s more like it.
The Good Doctor arrived on a Wednesday evening, complete with Chicago Toolkit and a pocket full of green beer tokens. He walked right in, autographed the guest list and took a seat at the bar, no messing. He asked round for Candy. Turned out Candy was a he, and was already on stage playing guitar leading the house band. A Heineken was hastily ordered.
The Cantab is another glorious example of a US ‘Shotgun’ bar. Fewer frills than a Pilgrim Father’s shirt collar, but a welcome and an atmosphere, that hug you and shout ‘what took you so long?’
The good doctor was befriended by James, Dan and the guys who make up Harvard’s Swimming Pool lifeguard squad. In the sink or swim of a Jam night, this was good company. Meanwhile Candy and the house band worked their way through some blues standards, veered into a bit of Stevie Wonder, some very good swing and then back on to track with Mojo Working. For this they were joined by a Japanese girl on harp who had only being blowing six months. Our Japanese harpette gave it her very best and was duly applauded. Another six months (and a decent mic) and she’ll be cutting those fills like a Samurai.
The evenings highlight was a Soul set with two blistering saxophonists and a tall local who could easily have passed as Wilson Pickett or Eddie Floyd. His James Brown took it to the bridge and left it burning. The Good Doctor then took the stage for ‘Tore Down’ and… contrary to doctrine… ‘Mustang Sally.’ Closing his mind to hideous images of drunken crowds in bars and karaokes worldwide, howling ‘ride Sally, ride‘, he picked out a C harp and fired off some rapid 3rd position licks. Lenny, the house bassman, duly grinned and nodded his approval. Why is it the bassmen are always the coolest dudes in the house? It was the same at Rosa’s and at Lou’s Pier 47. The Jam rolled on till midnight and the Good Doctor wandered home, smiling at the faces that he met.