‘The thrill is gone, baby’
Lizard Creek Blues Society is dissolving; Remaining funds will be donated to Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association
The twang of a guitar or the humming of a harmonica — sounds typically heard at the annual Blues Under The Trees festival — will not be heard this summer.
The Lizard Creek Blues Society, the organization responsible for planning the event, is dissolving.
Bob Wood, a founding member and past president of the Blues Society, announced the end of the 501(c)(3) organization on Tuesday.
“We are getting older and it’s harder to find the time and energy,” Wood said. “It’s tough to find people who want to do it anymore. It’s a great project and we love doing it, it’s just tough to do. We thought the better idea was to let it go.”
The Lizard Creek Blues Society formed 20 years ago. Its founding members included Wood, his wife Karen, PJ Rodenborn and Tim O’Leary. O’Leary passed away in January of 2020.
Nate Gibson served as the last president of the organization. Tom Dorsey is another past president.
“He (Gibson) carried us through the last few years,” Wood said.
Wood said the Blues Society is planning to donate the remainder of its funds, about $10,000, to the Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association.
“We decided we would donate the funds we do have to the Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association and specifically the Phillips Middle School auditorium,” Wood said.
That auditorium is being remodeled. It will give the community a much needed space for rehearsals and shows. The auditorium is considered a mid-sized venue. There are 612 seats on the main floor. The project is estimated to cost about $150,000.
Wood said the Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association is the most logical choice for the donation.
“They supported us over the years with their calendar and promotion material,” Wood said. “The Fine Arts is an organization that supports the art and we believe the blues is an American original in the arts. Who better to support the blues? Anything done in the future regarding the blues will get the support of the Fine Arts Association.”
Wood and others who were part of the Blues Society started going to blues festivals in 1989. One of those festivals was the Bayfront Blues Festival in Duluth, Minnesota.
“We learned a lot and I did a lot of interviews with the blues artists and was able to start friendships and was able to get in contact with them,” Wood said. “And we got a lot of them to come here for our winter shows or our blues festival.
“We also learned a lot from Central Iowa Blues Society out of Des Moines. It was another opportunity to stretch out and find someone we liked and then try to get them here.”
Wood also used to host a blues show on KTPR, a radio station recorded in Fort Dodge.
“When I did that show, I interviewed a lot of artists and talked to them on the air,” Wood said.
Ultimately, it was the Bayfront Blues Festival that sparked the idea for a Blues Society in Fort Dodge.
“After going there for about 13 years, we decided let’s do something like that here,” Wood said. “Smaller scale, but have our own festival. That was a big part of it was going up to Duluth every year.”
Artists like Tab Benoit, Tommy Castro and Delbert McClinton came to play in Fort Dodge.
“Our biggest show was probably Delbert McClinton,” Wood recalled. “He cost the most, but he also brought in the most. But he wasn’t necessarily the most famous. We had a lot of legends.”
One of those legends was “Steady Rollin” Bob Margolin.
“He was lead guitarist for Muddy Waters for 10 years,” Wood said.
Magic Slim was another popular blues player who made an appearance in Fort Dodge.
“We had Magic Slim here,” Wood said. “He died four months after he was here. But he was big time. We tried for a long time to be able to afford him and finally could.”
At its peak, the Blues Society had between 400 and 600 members. Typically, three shows a year would be hosted in Fort Dodge.
“It was a loyal bunch that came to the shows,” Wood said. “People enjoyed it. Some years when we had bad weather, we had a bigger group. It was a good show and we had the best blues musicians in the country out there. We had the best in the country every year and it was fantastic to be able to do that.
“It’s something that — it’s a genre we are trying to keep alive. It’s not big like it used to be. It never was huge. It was bigger in large metropolitan areas like Chicago or Detroit. It spawned a lot of great music and musicians like Eric Clapton and artists of that nature. It spawned rock and roll music and created more blues listeners later on. You didn’t have many blues radio programs. It’s a great music genre. Blues probably did more for other types of music than it did for itself. It’s still played, listened to and followed. It won’t go away, but it’s in the background a little bit. If people would educate themselves on blues music, there would be much more appreciation for blues music and its impact on music we listen to nowadays.”
Wood said the blues inspired some of the most famous musicians in the world.
“I’ve been listening to the blues all my life and a lot of us who are in the Blues Society have been,” Wood said. “Sometimes we didn’t know it. The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, that came from the blues. They were listening to the blues in the 1950s and that’s what drove them to write the music they wrote. The blues have been part of the American music scene for a long time.”
Over time, different styles of the blues developed.
“Going clear back to Robert Johnson back in the ’20s and ’30s and even further back than that who played the guitar and the different riffs they play,” Wood said. “The lead instrument was piano and when Chicago blues came out it was the guitar. People had their favorite instruments and favorite style of music. There was jump blues, west coast blues, east coast, country blues. So many different types, you could always find something that would spur your interest.”
Wood said it was an absolute joy to bring blues artists to Fort Dodge.
“Everyone was so accessible,” he said. “Nobody was too good. They got along with each other. You didn’t have problems. 99.9 percent you didn’t have problems with people in the blues industry. Good people. I think that’s one of the things that keeps the blues going. The people who are part of it like each other and remain friends and don’t forget each other.”
And while the book is closing for the Lizard Creek Blues Society, Wood said there’s always a chance someone could come along to revive the blues scene in Fort Dodge.
“If anyone wants to pick up the banner as far as the Lizard Creek Blues Society, we’d love to see them do it,” Wood said. “They’ll have to start from scratch. It takes work and organization. It takes people who are committed to it and love the music and raise the funding. You need money to hire the band and a place for the band to play. You just need people interested in seeing them.
“We have resources available at our finger tips if anyone needs to get ahold of someone. We’d love to continue to see the blues played in Fort Dodge. We who are currently members and a part of it are just closing it down for our health and well being. We just can’t continue anymore.”