Teaneck's Shomer Shabbos Blues Band

The Bergen Record writes really nice things about the Katzes in today's edition.

Blues brothers...and one Dad

Jeremy Katz angled his way into the walk-in closet, brushed his dad's clothes out of the way with a sweep of his arm and gestured to the left-hand wall.

"It was right here," he said.

He pointed to the spot where an acoustic guitar once hid behind his dad's shirts and his mom's dresses. Jeremy wandered into the closet one afternoon after school, looking for some soft drinks his dad kept tucked away in a small refrigerator. Instead, he found a Yamaha FG-180.

"I would always look at it," Jeremy said, "and then eventually I asked [my dad] if I could see his guitar."

You could pencil that moment in as the tipping point, the catalyst that ignited an untapped pile of tinder that had been begging for a spark. If Jeremy doesn't stumble upon that guitar case, maybe Avi Katz never scrapes the cobwebs off a second long-forgotten guitar to jam with his son.

If Jeremy doesn't pick up the guitar, maybe his little brother Jonathan doesn't ask to play drums.

If Jonathan doesn't ask to play the drums, maybe the eldest son, Jordan, never starts messing around with a set of drumsticks.

If Jordan never touches those drumsticks, maybe Jonathan doesn't decide to switch to bass.

If, if, if ...

Instead, one event bled into another. Soon, Avi Katz glanced around his supper table and realized he had inadvertently turned his family into a four-piece blues band.

The 13-year-old plays bass. The 14-year-old handles lead guitar. The 20-year-old plays drums.

And the 50-year-old estate planner – yes, the 50-year-old estate planner – is the one belting lyrics into a microphone.

"Now that I've created this monster," Avi Katz said, "I can't bow out and watch it fall until someone's ready to do the singing."

They call themselves III Blue J's – a play on the names of all three blues-fascinated sons beginning with the letter J. The group released "Rock Your Blues Away," a collection of blues covers, late last year and watched it briefly become one of the top sellers on the CD Baby Web site.

Their first jam session took place in a tiny upstairs room in the family's Teaneck home, before they moved everything down to the dining room. Would your mom and dad let you drum next to their fine china?

"[Jordan] drops his stick sometimes when we're practicing," Jeremy said. "He never hit anything, though."

Now they have a studio set up in the basement, stacks of black, tan and brown equipment cases piled high next to a treadmill. It didn't take long before the novice musicians were catching up to their father.

"In three months," Avi said, "we were performing on stage at Mexicali Blues [a Teaneck nightspot]."

They played their first gig at the Cupping Room Cafe in Manhattan, a spot that invites patrons in for jazz music and no cover charge on Friday nights. It took weeks to get the material down cold.

"We all knew it pretty well," said Jordan, 20, the drummer. "But the first time playing in front of an audience, it wasn't nerve-racking. It was just more of a new experience. ... It's cool because it's instant feedback from the people."

Audiences began taking an interest in the family that played better than anyone could have expected.

"I was just blown away," said Rafe Gomez, a New Jersey-based DJ who hosts the nationally syndicated radio program "The Groove Boutique." "I liked it because it wasn't trying to be kids' music. They were trying to be as legitimate and powerful as possible, and they were trying to emulate their heroes."

Gomez, whose show airs Saturday nights on WQCD-FM, discovered the band when his wife brought the group's four-track sampler CD back to the house. She is a personal trainer who happened to be working with Avi's wife, Nadine. One listen and Gomez knew III Blue J's was something more than a novelty act.

He suspects something similar happened at Mexicali Blues, a place he calls "the serious outpost for blues in New York and New Jersey."

"I've been there," Gomez said. "I've seen their hard-core blues and rock acts waiting for their turn to get on, and I see their eyebrows raised. They're impressed."

Avi Katz tries to limit how many gigs the band plays each month, a show of respect for his kids' studies. They never play Friday nights or Saturdays until after sundown, a show of respect for the Sabbath.

And music never comes before homework.

No, they're not angels. Asked if he fights with his brothers, bass player Jonathan replied, "What brothers don't?"

Equipment gets thrown. Heated words are exchanged.

"The next practice you're like, 'Why am I down here? I shouldn't be here. Someone threw something at me,' " Jonathan said. Still, "you know that you should do the right thing, and you should practice."

They are still just kids – kids playing the blues, but certainly not singing them.

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