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Charlotte's Blues Club The Double Door Inn turns 35

Charlotte's Double Door Inn has seen its fair share of musical legends cross its 14' by 15' stage. Blues greats like Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Pinetop Perkins have all played there over the last 35 years and plenty of Charlotte's homegrown talent too. The place puts on no airs, but it's a Charlotte institution plain and simple and, well, a bit gritty too. Thirty-five may seem young; for a blues club it's downright ancient, but the Double Door Inn sure doesn't sound that way on stage. The club's owner and founder Nick Karres says playing electric blues guitar is the greatest sound there is. He didn't always have this devotion to the blues and his club didn't always play them. In fact, when it opened in 1973 in a former lamp shop neighboring CPCC, there was no stage, no performers only a juke box. But that changed a couple years later as more musicians came looking for a place to play and the Double Door was established as a stop on the blues circuit. Karres began rubbing shoulders with blues greats, even escorting Koko Taylor onto stage. "The band would play some numbers before she came on and she'd be at the steps and she'd have a little rhythm going like she was in a marching band, had a little rhythm. Just getting into the whole thing," recounts Karres. The Double Door still manages to draw a crowd many nights and it's pretty diverse one. On a recent Monday evening, there are bartenders on their nights-off, bankers, students, retirees and two Carolina Panthers Jonathan Stewart and Rhys Lloyd stop by. Jemetta Herzberg surveys the scene as the Monday Night All Stars, a group of local jazz, rock and soul musicians, rests between sets. "It looks like an old biker bar, like you'd be afraid to come into if you weren't, you know, into crystal meth. But it's so deceiving because it's so not like that," laughs Herzberg. Across the room, 22-year-old Tony Peck is sitting a few feet from the stage. He came to the Double Door for the first time five years ago with his parents. "I saw the Monday Night All Stars with Charles. It just blew my mind. It was so awesome cause I never really experienced anything like that. I was more into all that classic rock, but they were playing jazz, soul, swing, funk. And it was really awesome," says Peck. Everyone has their favorite memories of musicians jamming on the Double Door stage be they blues, rock, country or soul performers. Roy Williams, known simply as Mister Roy, has been going to the double door since close to day one. He remembers speeding back from Wilmington one night several years ago to hear Pinetop Perkins. He was the piano player for Muddy Waters. "I wanted to see that show cause that might've been the last time I'd see Pinetop because he's getting up in age, you know," explains Williams. And then there was the time Eric Clapton played at the Double Door. It was 1982 and he had given a concert at the old Charlotte Colisseum a few nights before and was still in town. Karres still marvels at how Clapton ended up at the Double Door to see his old friends in the Legendary Blues Band play. "He was in here like any other customer, sitting in his chair drinking a Coca Cola watching the band. They asked him to get up. He played six songs, didn't sing. He just played blues guitar and they just pressed closer to the stage," remembers Karres. He says people still show up at the Double Door when Clapton's in town, hoping for a repeat performance. The club itself has attracted national attention. In 1994, the Double Door won the Blues Foundation's best blues club of the year The foundation's director Jay Seileman, says it's easy to see why the club can attract so many talented performers. "The life of a Bluesman isn't very romantic," explains Seileman. "It's long drives from gig to gig. And so it's always critical to have a friendly and familiar face when you go to a club. And the Double Door is known as one of those clubs that takes good care of its musicians." That means a lot to owner Nick Karres. He says he's risked a fair amount to get good people on his stage. And what he may have lost in money on some concerts, he says he gained in reputation. A new book called Home of the Blues: 35 Years of the Double Door Inn is due out next month. It documents the club's history in pictures and words.