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Club left singing the blues // Slow business closes bar and restaurant

Published Oct. 16, 2005

North Pinellas' only blues club has closed after operating for only ayear.

Muddy's, named after blues great Muddy Waters, wasn't drawing the crowds necessary to support the business, said Wes Short, former co-owner of the Palm Harbor club.

Short, 30, a harmonica player and blues fan, said he entered the business despite warnings that the area would not support an alternative music club and restaurant.

"I believed in the blues," said Short, who lives in Indian Shores. "In my arrogance, I thought I could educate other people to believe in it and love it."

When Muddy's opened in January 1989, it drew capacity crowds, Short said. Artists that played there included Matt "Guitar" Murphy, James Cotton, Guitar Slim Jr. and Jerry Portnoy.

Business tapered off last summer and never picked up again, as it

traditionally does in the fall and winter, Short said.

"One of the biggest problems that Muddy's had was the public perception that it was a blues bar, not a blues bar and restaurant," co-owner Bryan Cook said. "But we needed revenue from both to survive."

On Jan. 29, the blues club and restaurant was sold to two business partners from Spring Hill who plan to operate a restaurant and feature bands that play music from the '50s and '60s and top-40 songs.

Short, a blues fan since high school, said the failure of Muddy's saddens him.

"It's definitely a personal loss," he said. "I was on stage with the bands three or four nights a week. It became so depressing I couldn't stand it anymore, so I sold out."

Short was bought out by his partner, Cook, who then sold the business to Bruce Hammond and Connie Richards for an undisclosed price, Short said. The new owners plan to open Jason's Restaurant & Nite Club on Monday at the former Muddy's location, 2900 Alt. 19 N. It will feature classic bands such as the Coasters, the Drifters and the Platters, Richards said. Richards and Hammond, who operated a New Port Richey establishment with a similar theme, said they believe they can get enough support from local residents to make the business profitable.

"We've changed the atmosphere," Richards said. "We changed it for not necessarily an older clientele, but a more distinguished clientele."

Owners of two other clubs in the Tampa Bay area that feature blues said they were sorry to hear that Muddy's had closed.

"We were hoping really that Muddy's would help to educate people about the blues," said Tom White, a co-owner of Skipper's Smokehouse in Tampa. "(But) I think, more than anything, it diluted the market and made it difficult for us and (other alternative music clubs) to exist."

White said he thought Muddy's was perhaps a bit too refined for the crowds that are drawn to the blues.

"That was like a yuppie bar trying to do the blues," White said. "And that's what I heard from my customers. They weren't real comfortable in there."

Chuck Ross, co-owner of the Ringside Cafe in St. Petersburg, said he was saddened to see Muddy's close but that it didn't mean the blues was losing popularity in the area.

"I really did wish them the best, and I'm sorry they didn't do better," Ross said. "But it's not going to be devastating from an artistic point of view. These acts are still coming through the area.

The blues is alive and well in Tampa Bay."