Ramin Niami’s loving tribute to local legendary club owner “Mama” (Laura Mae Gross). “BABE’S & RICKY’S INN” has been opened at the Laemmle’s Monica on April 5.
Moving to Los Angles in 1944,Laura Mae Gross worked at a carwash and for Douglas Aircraft Company until 1954 when her husband was robbed and killed.
The single mother decided to go into business for herself. In 1957 she opened “Laura’s Bar-B-Q,” (near the corner of Wilmington and Imperial Boulevard.) Seven years later in 1964, she took over the Atlantic Club at 5259 Central Avenue, famed during the Central Avenue jazz scene that began in the 40’s. She re-named the club after her son and her nephew, and “Babe’s & Ricky’s Inn” was born.
For over fifty years Mama presided over the hospitable club, which brought generations of blues players and blues lovers together. Originally located on South Central’s legendary Central Ave, the club was closed temporarily and forced to reopen.
Now a single mother with young children to support, Laura eventually decided to go into business for herself. In 1957 she opened her first establishment, called “Laura’s Bar-B-Q,” which was located near the corner of Wilmington and Imperial Boulevard. Seven years later in 1964, she took over the Atlantic Club at 5259 Central Avenue, famed during the Central Avenue jazz scene that began in the 40’s. She re-named the club after her son and her nephew, and “Babe’s & Ricky’s Inn” was born.
In 1995 her landlord decided to expand his adjacent liquor store into the space that Laura had rented for thirty-two years, and forced Laura out by tripling her rent
The original club closed on Sunday, April 7th, 1996 after a massive jam session, the fittings were put in storage. Jonathan Hodges, a movies prop master who had been playing at the club on Sunday afternoons became Laura’s partner and saved the club. With help from Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas’ office, they leased a defunct restaurant in the Leimert park area. In August, 1997, sixteen months after leaving Central Ave, Babe’s & Ricky’s Inn opened its doors once again. .
Over the years, Mama faced other challenges. She attracted local and international patrons, who flocked to the down home club despite the increasing crime in her surrounding area.
ASCAP randomly targeted Laura for $9,000 in supposed “live performance” dues. Thankfully, with a little help from her friends, mostly R&B songwriters Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, the club was able to stay alive.
Greats like John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Albert King, Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters jammed with local players who now carry on their tradition.
Feisty Mama Laura, who is celebrated and remembered by grateful musicians on camera, ran things her way. She told musicians what she wanted to hear, and they played to please their muse.
The Mississippi native, who died at 89 in 2009, mentored young player, fed and housed other players and made sure they played the kind of blues she loved. her mantra, “practice, practice, practice and them practice some more”. Her house band became “Mama’s Boys’, headlined by Johnny Mastro which is well known here and abroad.
Her melting-pot environment welcomed anyone who loved the music.
The rambunctious film premiered at the 2013 Pan African Film Festival, where it
won the Festival Programmers Award at the 2013 Pan African Film Festival. A post screening jam session at the festival was one of the more memorable nights in recent Los Angeles Blues history. Guitar Shorty, Deacon Jones, Ray Bailey, Richard Martin-Ross, Suzanne Thomas, Dennis Jones and Peter Tork were some of the artists who performed.
Producer/director/cinematographer Ramin Niami and co-producer Behrooz Arshadi (“The Persian Blues Brothers”) shot hours of footage during the club’s final days. The club closed in April of 2010. A graceful edit gives the film a lived-in intimacy, and well it should because the filmmakers made themselves part of Mama’s scene.
Talking heads and performers include old masters and the next generation:
Gregg Wright, Roosevelt Stringfellow “Chu Chu” (and the Lovely band), monster player Richard Martin-Ross, South Side Slim, Keb’ Mo, legendary Blues belter Mickey Champion, Barbara Morrison, Fereckiea White, Lady G.G., Sherry Pruitt, Peter Tork and Mike Stoller, Alvin Johnson, African-Korean singer-guitarist Suzanne Thomas, Sonny Green (“American Blues Legends 2008” ) Charlie Chan, George Dezz, Bobby Bryan, Shawn Barry, Andrea Balestra, Dennis Jones, Zac Harmon, Ray Bailey, and club partner Jonathan Hodges .
THIS MUSICAL MUST SEE is the next best thing to making the scene.