“Do you know what they’ve gone and done downstairs?” Joe Lee of Joe’s Record Paradise in Rockville asks. “They went and opened a nightclub. I’m thinking of bringing in some rock ‘n’ roll.”
This is chilling news indeed. There is no cultural fringe in Lee’s world. His impresarial history is peppered with brain-damaged singers, an obsessed African-American Elvis impersonator, and a movie about dead porn actor John “Wadd” Holmes; at present he’s producing a record by “outsider music” singer/songwriter Ray Wallace, called When the Partridge Family Meets the Manson Family.
Meanwhile “they” have gone and opened a nightclub within walking distance of Lee’s revered record emporium. Which is like leaving the biohazardous sharps out for the inmates at the asylum to play with.
The name of this new establishment, which has sprung up in rockless Rockville like some sort of honky-tonk Brigadoon, is El Boqueron II, named for the El Salvadoran volcano known as “the Big Mouth.” It’s the offshoot of its namesake in the District. Earlier this fall, Milton Contreras, whose father owns both joints, began booking nationally known Latin musical acts in the space on Fridays and Saturdays; AndyAndy, Monchy y Alexandra, and Alvaro Torres are on this month’s schedule.
But Contreras is savvy enough to know he needs to draw non-Latin music fans to the venue—and apparently he’s been convinced that Lee’s the man who can help him do it.
“The one-dimensional [booking] approach just doesn’t work here,” says Lee, 55, over a lunch of enchiladas at El B II. He’s seen narrowcasting fail twice in the same space. “Country Junction had country line dancing seven nights a week,” he says, referring to the club that lived downstairs from Joe’s Record Paradise in the ’90s. “How can you make a buck doing line dancing seven nights a week?”
After Country Junction closed, the room was remodeled—at a cost of $1 million-plus—to become Baby’s, an upscale dinner theater. But apparently there weren’t enough patrons of Broadway musicals in Rockville to keep that venue afloat either: The theater folded after two productions. “This place was just screaming out for great entertainment,” says Lee, who witnessed one Baby’s performance.
The beneficiaries of the benevolence of Baby’s investors—the place is gorgeously outfitted—are Contreras, who’s got himself a classy restaurant and 550-capacity nightclub, and Lee, the upstairs neighbor with a Rolodex of musical connections and a nerve of wrought iron.
As yet, there are no Ray Wallace gigs lined up. In fact, Lee’s first production is pretty straight-ahead: Rockabilly heroes Robert Gordon and the Rockats, along with Billy Hancock and the Original Tennessee Rockets, take the stage Nov. 24 for a dance party on the spacious raised oak dance floor. And to celebrate the return of live rock to the area, Lee will co-host a Psychedelly reunion dinner before the show; open to the public, it will feature artists who played the venerated ’70s Bethesda venue, plus DJs from the “old” WHFS-FM, whose offices were located nearby on Cordell Avenue.
After that initial Sunday, Lee will gradually begin booking midweek performances, as well. He can’t wait to bring in his dream acts—soul legend Jerry Butler, Los Straitjackets, the Iguanas, Booker T and the MGs. “All those alt-country guys, three of them at a time, they could really have a do in here,” he says.
And—he can dream, can’t he?—Ray Charles and his big band, for $200 a pop and a night you’ll never forget. Maybe handing Lee the keys to a club isn’t so dangerous after all. —Buzz McClain
Robert Gordon and the Rockats perform with Billy Hancock and the Original Tennessee Rockets at 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24, at El Boqueron II, 1330 E. Gude Drive, Rockville. For more information, call (301) 424-0745.