Jammin’ with the guys at ‘The Cat’

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Jammin’ with the guys at ‘The Cat’

Itaewon’s known for a lot of things, some less noble than others. One thing it’s never really been known for, though, is its live music scene.
But that doesn’t matter to the regulars at one of our few live music bars, the Big Electric Cat ― especially the ones who take the stage on its open mike Tuesdays or blues jam Wednesdays.
The Cat, in the alley back of the Hamilton Hotel and across from Gecko’s Garden, is owned and run by a music buff, Kim Jae-mi, who opened it in the spring of 2002.
A small, basement space, it’s most crowded on the weekends, when local rock bands play multiple sets. But it’s a lot more fun and unpredictable on the open mike and blues jam nights, when anyone can play and anything can happen.
Though Ms. Kim is a decent guitarist, and had her own group going until about a year ago, she doesn’t play often on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. But she was good enough the other night to give this columnist a rundown of who her joint’s walk-on stars are.
Her favorite is a Canadian electric guitar virtuoso named Josh, who plays the loud and driving Wednesday jams.
“I like him because he’s the best guitarist who plays here,” Ms. Kim said. “And because he is so sexy.”
On Tuesdays, which are more mellow and acoustic-oriented, the man to watch for is an American named John. “He can play hundreds of songs, and he is really good,” she said. “If someone makes a request, any request, he can play it.”
A mainstay is Steve Butler, a Canadian who fronts a local band called Faded. “He is very talented and is excellent as an entertainer,” Ms. Kim said.
Mr. Butler had in fact hosted open mike night until a couple of months ago, when a newcomer to Seoul, an accomplished singer-songwriter from Toronto with the stage name Ella Cass, took over as the new emcee.
There were a few honorable mentions: A Canadian who goes by the name Michael Freedom Gold, who specializes in groovy lounge and bossa nova; an American soldier named Nate, who covers Dave Matthews tunes (but well); and an American named Michael, who does stand-up comedy on Tuesdays and sings like Muddy Waters on Wednesdays.
If you want to play on Tuesdays, show up around 9 or 10 p.m. with your own guitar and sign up with Ella Cass.
If you want to play on Wednesdays, it’s a little bit tougher ― you’ll need the permission of the band, Blue Frog, which means you’ll have to convince the frontman Pat that you can hang.
Of course, you can just go there and check it out (and don’t worry, there’s never a cover charge). You may get the distinct feeling that you’re watching a bunch of guys who were meant to become rock stars 10 or 15 years ago but somehow missed their big break.
And wound up in Korea teaching English or wearing army fatigues.

by Mike Ferrin
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