photo by Conrad Good
Larry Boehmer was one of Nebraska music's most important members, instrumental in bringing live music to downtown Lincoln through the founding of the Zoo Bar. After years of service to the thousands of musicians he booked, their fans, and his family and friends, Boehmer died Tuesday morning.
We asked a number of friends — musicians, journalists, Zoo Bar employees — to share their thoughts and memories. Please add your own reflections in the comments below.
Larry Boehmer changed lives. He changed my life by the sheer fact of owning and booking the Zoo Bar where I learned what was what about great roots music, setting me on the path of a passionate music fan that directly led to my becoming music journalist.
As a person and ultimately a friend, he led by example in how to treat people with kindness, care and respect, to revere the music and celebrate it and to follow your dreams. His unerring taste in what was fine music stemmed in part from the fact Larry was a musician himself, and in part from the fact he had been steeped in the blues since he heard it as a farm boy coming through a little radio late at night.
The way he booked the Zoo was a first-class roots music education for myself and for so many of my generation. By going to the Zoo week after week and ultimately getting to know Larry enough to talk to him about music, I learned so much.
photo by Conrad Good | from left to right: B.J. Huchtemann, Larry Boehmer and Terry O'Halloran
Larry also changed the lives of musicians. Through the years since his retirement in 2000, more than one musician has told the story of how getting a first gig at the Zoo, or having the Zoo as a stopover on long US tours where you were treated like family and became part of the family, or just the simple personal encouragement of Larry himself kept them going when they were unsure about if they could make this hard life of a traveling roots musician work.
Larry was always there, booking the bar with consistency, hanging out with great stories, his big laugh and encouragement, or taking the stage and holding down the bass line with his unerring sense of the groove for a list of local legendary bands he was part of. Larry followed his dreams even when they took him late in life to Eureka Springs, Ark., where he thought he would finally settle down and paint (he earned an MFA in Art from UNL) but instead he just wound up playing bass with another band.
Larry Boehmer changed lives for the better and to the end he was not afraid to shake things up, to laugh. He set an example of grace and class in good and bad times that will stick with me, and many others. God bless Larry’s family and all his close friends, I know he was ready to be done with the struggles of cancer. I know he sets a high bar by the way he lived his life for embracing life and what you love, being willing to change and embrace new goals and always conducting yourself with grace through it all. Larry Boehmer was one of my heroes and I am proud to call him a friend. We love you, and we already miss you, Larry.
R.I.P. Larry Boehmer, founder of Lincoln's Zoo Bar. Great guy, blues man to the core. Vaya con dios, my friend.
— Kent Wolgamott (@KentWolgamott) September 4, 2012
Even if you walked into the Zoo Bar without knowing anything about it other than music is played here, you would know you were on very hallowed ground. I knew this the first time I walked in the shotgun club with such a small stage. Brave Combo barely fit on it as a quartet, much less with five to six pieces. I've watched my own solo band roster's dumbfounded reactions. Amazing.
The walls were well-worn, loaded with photos of musical royalty. So many play(ed) there: Bernard Allison, Luther Allison, Dave Alvin, Billy Bacon and the Forbidden Pigs, Tab Benoit, Tommy Castro, Albert Collins, Robert Cray, Deke Dickerson, Bo Diddley, Chris Duarte, Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials, Tinsley Ellis, Rick Estrin, Anson Funderburgh, Buddy Guy, the Hacienda Brothers, John Hammond, The Belairs, James Harman, Mark Hummel, Candye Kane, Jay McShann, Matt "Guitar" Murphy, Charlie Musselwhite, Rod Piazza, Ana Popovic, Otis Rush, Doug Sahm, Curtis Salgado, Gina Sicilia, Magic Slim, Watermelon Slim, Son Seals, Koko Taylor, Junior Wells, Kim Wilson, and Link Wray. Eddie Clearwater, Mighty Joe Young, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Carey Bell and even my solo acts, just to name a few. I know many are not mentioned here.
photo by Ken Benton
It was/is one of those venues that when on the road, you'd swear it was Saturday night on a Monday or a Tuesday. I love, love, love this joint but the room, the name are nada without its people, its staff and its audience that give that body a soul. I've seen that time and again in different venues. Even on FB chat, I could hear Larry Boehmer's booming coulda been a DJ voice. I would tell him about that often. He was Zoo Bar's big pounding heart for years and years.
My love and best wishes to all that have been fortunate to experience the Zoo Bar past and present and commiserate in the grief of Larry's passing. I accompany you in sentiment.
To Peter Watters and Jeff Boehmer and the staff who are holding up the ship: You guys are the best. To Bo Rose now drumming full time, who not only ran sound but ran great sound with patience and care, to my beloved hallmark friends that I have met here: It wouldn't have been if not for Larry Boehmer. I am so grateful to have been a part of the Zoo. Thank God or however you wanna call it. He can now breathe.
Yours in that wacked-out combination of joy and grief,
Remembering the Zoo Bar's Larry Boehmer. RIP. wp.me/pdqOd-LY
— John Jordan (@sietecuerdas) September 5, 2012
I walked into the Zoo Bar for the first time in 1976 and found a family I never knew I was missing. Thank you, Larry, for introducing us all to each other and to the blues.
Read her story for the Journal Star here.
Friend of the blues and all-around great guy Larry Boehmer passed away this morning. We're gonna miss you, man. journalstar.com/news/local/for… #LNK
— Todd R. Tystad (@ToddRTystad) September 4, 2012
Here's a good blues story about Larry Boehmer: By the mid 1970s, Larry had established the Zoo Bar and was booking the first blues acts to appear there: Luther Allison, Eddy Clearwater, Magic Slim and the Teardrops had already appeared at the Zoo by 1975.
About that time, which was shortly before the band the Heart Murmurs was formed, Larry, Doug Rosekrans and I went on a pilgrimage to Chicago. We had been invited to come and hear Slim and the Teardrops playing at a South Side club called Florence's on a sunny Sunday afternoon. When we got to the club, we knocked on the door, and a slot in the door opened up, like during Prohibition, and then someone peeked out and then let us in.
photo courtesy of Richard Sullivan
What was in store for me was a truly mind-blowing experience. Doug, Larry and I were all still in out 20s, all about 5-foot-7 and all wearing jean jackets, which was pretty common at the time. Aside from five other people (Peter Guralnick and a friend, two Japanese guys and a lady friend of Slim's guitarist Daddy Rabbit), the club was filled with mostly older black people, many couples, who were dressed in their Sunday best. They had come from church to see Slim after the services. Guralnick actually documented this particular afternoon in his book Lost Highway in a chapter about Magic Slim.
There was a jukebox at Florence's, and all I ever heard being played was Howlin' Wolf, who at that time was recently deceased. Jimmy Reed Jr. walked among the crowd with a glass, actually asking patrons to pour some of their drink into his. Louisiana Red was there, and we bought some of his 45s.
The people there were checking us out, and they were generally very friendly and cordial. Rabbit kept buying us bottles of Crown Royal commenting, "You all's in Chi-town now!" We took our seats, the band took the stage, and the music was dazzling. I realized that this was the real thing, probably the closest I have ever been to the heart of the blues. It was an ecstatic experience for me I looked over to Doug, and he was screaming a punching his fist in the air; obviously, he was really into it.
I looked over to Larry, and I could tell at a glance that that Crown Royal had gotten to him. He had some funky turkey at a diner earlier (Doug and I had burgers), and he looked pretty worried. I'll skip what happened next.
photo courtesy of Josh Hoyer
We decided it was about time to leave as it was getting dark outside, and we were, after all, three short white guys in the South Side. As we were leaving, James Cotton had just showed up to sit in with the band. As an example of his resiliency, the first thing Larry wanted to do was get something to eat. The memory of this afternoon will remain with me 'til my dying day.
Being a blues fan and knowing Larry was one of the best things that ever happened to me. My thoughts and heart go out to Rosalie, Tim, Jeff, Stefanie and Eileen and also everybody else in the huge Zoo Bar community. Thanks for the good times, Lorenzo!
Thank you Larry for all that you have done for the music scene in Lincoln, Neb. Thank you for not kicking me out of the Zoo years ago when I was behaving in an inappropriate manner (which shall remain between us) and thanks for buying me that beer and the initial conversation.
I've enjoyed the experience of playing at the Zoo as have thousands of other musicians. It all is traced back to you, Larry. Thank you for your commitment to the blues and your support for many years of the EUP radio program on KZUM Radio.
God bless you and your family, and your many, many friends.
Sorrow in the night, and joy in the morning. I'll play some blues tonight.
photo courtesy of Richard Sullivan