Memories of the King Eddy …

For nearly 100 years (possibly a bit longer) The King Edward Hotel has served the east end of Downtown Calgary. Built in the early 1900's when 9th Ave was "Hotel Row" it, along with the Palliser way west on 1st St W are the last remaining structures from that time. Ironically, the show opposite ends of Hotel Row in the physical and social sense, from their beginnings till today.

In Sept 2004, the King Eddy, long the "Home of the the Blues" in Calgary, closed its doors for good, condemned, and not just for spite. Over a century of hard use, the Eddy has become a beat up old building, beaten by weather and time and the flood of humanity through the doors. I was digging through my old documents the other day, and I came across a piece I wrote about a night at the Eddy some 15 years ago, when it was still a thriving Blues club, and I felt that given the demise of the place, it was worth having a record of the vibrancy and life its decrepit old walls once pulsed with. I picked the picture above, because it shows the Eddy in better times perhaps, and because it was one of the best I could find. The Eddy was a huge part if Calgary's history. How many buildings are left that represent that original frontier? And how many of them are the buildings that represented the common man of the fontier?

One of the reasons remembering the Eddy is so important its that it has NEVER been a luxury hotel … its always been a place where common people got food, shelter, and libations. We have plenty of Palliser Hotels around to remind us of that side of the frontier life that started the city of Calgary … we have precious few remaining examples of the Eddy. This is a letter from the Eddy … from happier times 🙂

A Night at the Eddy
by Lyle Bateman

Walk east from Calgary City Hall, and you come to Calgary's forgotten neighbourhood – the East End. Walking around this area, the feeling of neglect and decay drips from nearly every pore of the city … all around are the dislocated, the dispossessed, the drunk. The buildings are in poor repair, boarded windows cracked with flaking paint. Lawns of weeds and crabgrass spread out through the yards. Stuffed in amongst the rundown businesses and ill-kept homes is a rather unassuming building that’s hard to distinguish from the others from the outside – the only sign of a difference are the signs adorning its walls advertising Mad Jack’s Saloon, Calgary’s Home of the Blues.


From the outside, its little different than other Calgary hotels of the same era and ‘kind’ – The Cecil, the St, Louis, the Shamrock – but as you come in off the street, file through the too-small lobby, and round the corner to Mad Jack’s, you realize this is no ordinary hotel on the seedy side of town. This is a Blues club.


The inside is dark and smoky, the stereotype of a blues bar. Pictures line the gray panel walls, pictures of past performer’s at the Eddy. Many are blues’ legends, others washed up artists. When talking about the blues, it’s sometimes even hard to tell the difference.


The place is virtually empty on this Monday evening, quite a difference from the Saturday afternoon “Jam” sessions I regularly attend. For those performances, jam refers as much to the crowd as the music.


The bar is near the back, on the left side of the club. Conveniently located between the bathroom and the main seating area, beer just expelled can be easily replenished. Farther back, behind the bar, behind the washrooms, behind the video games is the pool room, deserted on this Monday night. The tattered green felt and scuffed table edges tell they story of a used and abused table well. Like the club it sits in, it has seen better days.


Mad Jack’s is a paradox; there is a myth associated with it that’s both true and false. It sits in a rundown district, housed in a rundown hotel. The light is bad, and the chairs are cheap and uncomfortable. Yet the atmosphere is charged with electricity and anticipation. Like the music it features, Mad Jack’s may be rough around the edges at times, but there is a raw power and energy that can’t be denied.


The full atmosphere of Mad Jack’s is not, can not, will not be appreciated until the music starts. The musicians are up on stage, setting up their equipment, tuning their instruments, hinting at the pleasure to comes. My watch says 20 minutes till show time.


I look around to check out the gathering crowd. The beauty of the Eddy is that there is no ‘type’ that goes there. The only requirement is an appreciation for the blues. In one corner sits a man who looks the stereotypical biker, with faded jeans, black t-shirt, and ball cap, all Harley-eagle original. Across the bar, on the other wall, sit two businessmen, their black leather dress shoes tapping absently to the beat of the piped in music. Still wearing suits and ties, its obvious they’ve come from offices blocks to the west, in the more visible part of downtown. At that back are two young women, professional looking make-up and shiny, sharp blouses. We are all different people, here for a common purpose. We will all watch the same show, but we will all see a different performance.


The band is almost ready; they laugh and joke with each other on stage as if this were just another day in another office. To them it probably is, even though the audience sees it as musical magic. We all have our abilities and skills, but we often only see and appreciate those of others. Like a good writer, painter, or photographer, a good musician doesn’t just play the music, they make it burn and dance.


As the band begins, the music bends and wraps around the crowd. We all hear the same sounds, but get different feelings. The blues is always about a down, tragic theme, but it buzzes and sparks with positive energy.


The simple, familiar bass line and drums drive the music from below, while the solo work of the others plays with structure above. At the bandleader’s cue, each player launches into organized cacophony, magical hands sliding from note to note so fluidly, so effortlessly.


All of the instruments blend and merge together to form a single thing, going beyond the notes, the sounds, the chords, the pitches. Each song is a mixture of structure and chaos, simplicity and complexity, cognition and feeling. The paradox of the music is a metaphor for the paradox of the people who listen.


But the atmosphere of Mad Jack's seems to ignore all this. The dislocated, the dispossessed, the drunk are as afr as people usually get in the East End, all people see. But once inside Mad Jack's, You are transported to a different world, a world of the simply complex, the structurally chaotic, of cognitive feeling. The merging of feeling, ideas, and people id beautiful to behold … its a world where, once the music starts, colour, sex, background, appearance all make no difference. It is the blues.


2 Responses

  1. I just returned from my third trp to Calgary. I was super disapointed to here about the demise of such a fine place as the King Eddy. On each of my two previous trips I had the occasion to visit the “Eddy” as I liked to call it and just wished I could have done it again. Above, you mention a picture, which I was unable to locate. Are there any photos available of this relic. How about tshirts or hats. Please let me know.

  2. Any chance you have a picture of the sign from the King Eddy? My husband and I went there often to enjoy the music, atmosphere and the people. Be nice to have a keepsake.
    Answer from Elron: Unfortunately, one the regrets I have is no pics of the King Eddy. Sorry … wish I could help … the historic pics were the best I could find 🙂

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