Friends with kids and others married to pressing 9-to-5 responsibilities have long lamented the late hours kept by most clubs; going out to hear live music generally isn’t an option for them now because they have to leave right when most bands count off their downbeat. An old roommate even jokes she’s going to open an early-hours club of her own and call it the Mamas & the Papas, just so she and her child-rearing pals will have a haven where they can revel in music for a bit before rushing home in time for the babysitter’s curfew.
All of that is happening against the backdrop of a music scene in which artists are scrambling to find hospitable clubs and other, alternative places to play where they might actually get paid decently for their creative labors. So it came as a pleasant surprise to learn that a local venue was not only adding live music to its offerings, but doing so during unexpected daytime hours: This month guitarist Barry “Big B” Brenner started toting his guitars to Sunday brunch at Firefly Bistro in South Pasadena — now dubbed “blues brunch” in honor of his easy-rolling mix of Delta-, Piedmont- and more spirited Texas- and Chicago-style blues.
Raised on Chicago’s storied South Side, Brenner is a working musician’s musician: self-taught, proficient and resourceful. Perched amongst greenery to one side of the tent-roofed bistro, Brenner stakes out his stage space with stands and four acoustic guitars from an impressive steel-string stable that includes a Dell-Arte custom 12-string, a 1960 Martin D-18, a 1933 wooden-body National and — his flashiest axe by far — a metal-body National resophonic tricone guitar that’s particularly enjoyable when he dusts off some down ‘n’ dirty country blues. Although Brenner cites Albert King as a mentor, in this setting he’s more obviously influenced by pre-WWII blues and the likes of Leadbelly, Son House, Snooks Eaglin and even Doc Watson.
When he plays Firefly, Brenner — who also holds down a weekly Saturday night gig at Tin Horn Flats saloon in Burbank — leaves home the “stomps & hollers” that are usually integral to his act (and self-promotion). Instead, he lowers the intensity and intersperses sprightly fingerstyle and ragtime picking with a little bottleneck slide work and pleasant covers of rootsy rock standards such as The Band’s “The Weight.” Presumably Saturday night whooping and hollering don’t mix well with Sunday morning shrimp ‘n’ grits.