If a city is the sum of its institutions, Billy Bob's BBQ Jam, the weekly open mic blues night hosted at The Grace Emily, is a part as great as the whole.
The continuing story of Billy Bob and his BBQ Jam
In the 20-year lifespan of The Grace Emily Hotel, since being rechristened from its original moniker, The Launceston Hotel, in 1998, Adelaide’s music scene has flowed and it has ebbed.
Despite these peaks and troughs of local industry, for 17 years, one institutional live music event has stoically remained, week in and week out – Billy Bob’s BBQ Jam.
Billy Bob’s BBQ Jam runs from around 9pm at The Grace Emily Hotel every Monday night, and the barbecue fires up not long after.
Keep your ear to the ground for the weekly password, which will grant you access to Jimmy One Leg’s range of secret sauces.
To check The Grace’s gig guide, head here.
Every Monday night, from around 9pm, the open mic blues jam draws musicians of every persuasion and calibre, as well as a persistent crowd of hospo workers, backpackers, music lovers, and every other individual looking to not waste the opportunity of a Monday night.
While punters might come to share a bar with likeminded people on an otherwise quiet night in the city, for musicians, it’s a chance to hone their live music chops, playing in front of a crowd in a relaxed atmosphere, with or without the aide of the house band.
The gatekeeper of the stage is one William Robert Rankine, the eponymous Billy Bob, who opens and closes the gig as frontman with his BBQ Boys. For the rest of the evening, he can be found, clipboard in hand, organising who will play when and with which backing musicians.
“The thing is trying to get different people playing with different folks,” Billy says.
“Sometimes you get it right. Most times, yeah. It’s usually pretty good music that comes out.
“We try and encourage people to play with other people. There’s a lot of solo acts getting around, which is cool, but why not get someone else to play with you? Sometimes it works and magical things happen, you know?”
Billy is a mainstay on the Adelaide music scene, and has been for decades; his long list of credentials includes playing with Sarah McLeod in Fallen Down Monsters, prior to them becoming Hell’s Kitchen and then The Superjesus; he’s toured with Adelaide rockabilly act, The Satellites; and, when he’s not with The BBQ Boys, his current gig is as a guitarist with The Streamliners.
Throughout this personal history, much of Adelaide’s live music scene has changed.
“When Rundle Street was crankin’, you’d go and see three or four bands a night, you know?” Billy says.
“Madlove Bar, and Synagogue, and The Austral, The Exeter. Yeah, there was heaps going on back in the day.
“Even The Stage, there was gigs on there back in the day. You even had Hindley Street, which had gigs all over the place, The Cartoons, and The Venue. There was a cinema that they turned into a club as well.”
The city is a different landscape now; even of the historical city venues that have survived, most are somewhat compromised, either through the oppressive pressure of surrounding developments and the power of the noise complaint, or just through general apathy.
“Every pub used to have to have a band… There was gigs everywhere,” Billy recalls.
“I guess these days it’s more solo or duo acts that you see sitting in front of the big screen TV somewhere. It’s becoming background music.”
But there have always been sanctuaries, where pub culture and a love of music still prevail, and, among others, The Grace has long held that reputation, even before Billy Bob.
“It’s 20 years ago this year we started hanging out there on Monday nights. They’d do a blues jam with John Hobson, who’s passed away now,” Billy says.
“I suppose we were hanging out there Monday nights hoping to get on and have a jam… Mondays is the night no one’s gigging. There’s nothing, so you may as well come and hang out with your other muso bum mates. We just kept turning up.
“It had a real character to it. There’s posters and weird shit up behind the bar, funny stickers, and just a different angle of going to a bar. There was something else to do. And I suppose the staff was the main thing, starting with Clanger, their sense of humour and music taste.
“It was exciting to be able to hang out with likeminded weirdos that were more arty, musos.
“We used to… hang out ‘til stumps, and then Clanger (Greg Kleynjans, former publican) would clear the lines and leave a few jugs on the bar for us to knock off.”
According to Billy, there was no pomp in the Monday night blues jam being handed down to him, and his naming rights was more a matter of circumstance than anything.
“We didn’t think much about it. We just thought, my name’s William Robert Rankine, so we thought ‘Cool, let’s call it Billy Bob’s,’” he explains.
“There’s a bar in Austin, I think, a pretty famous joint, so it was sort of hamming it up with that, we chucked the barbecue on there, to have a few snags.”
While he might downplay its significance, there is a culture of acceptance and encouragement at Billy Bob’s BBQ Jam that is a distillation of all The Grace Emily Hotel stands for, and as long as there is a stage to be graced and sizzled sausages out back (courtesy of Jimmy One Leg and his son, Declan), the future generations of Adelaide musicians are in safe hands.
“If you get in there at sort of nine o’clock, sign up, you usually get a spot,” Billy says.
“We’ll just keep plodding along. It’s a good fun night for us. The pressure, it’s not a gig, it’s not a Saturday night in a bar somewhere. You can sort of play whatever you want, really.
“If we keep things pretty light, don’t take ourselves too seriously, that rubs off on everyone else.”