Ray “Catfish” Copeland and Greg Roberts, backstage at the Torch before the June 12 memorial for Johnny “Guitar” Knox.

Back to the Blues

Johnny “Guitar” Knox memorial finally gets its third encore at Sacramento’s Torch Club

Back Web Only Jul 28, 2022 By Steve Martarano

Ray “Catfish” Copeland remembers being one of the first to meet Johnny “Guitar” Knox after he rolled into Sacramento in the late 1970s.

“We got together and formed a band called The Blue Flames,” Copeland says. “He had been hit by a truck and when he got out of the hospital, he had a place on 19th, and I would hang out and play, and we put a band together. Played all over for about five years, which was a pretty long association.”

Johnny “Guitar” Knox was inducted into the Sacramento Blues Society Hall of Fame in 2010.

With that kind of history, it’s only fitting that Copeland would be instrumental in getting local musicians together each year to keep Knox’s colorful memory alive. Knox, one of Sacramento’s most beloved blues performers, died at age 66 in 2016 after facing long-standing health issues. He was a local fixture for more than three decades, playing at virtually every venue in the Capital Region, represented in this 1986 timepiece at the long-gone Sam’s Hof Brau at 17th and J streets.

L-R, Knox family members at the June 12 memorial show, brother Cal Knox, of Eugene, Oregon; nephew Brandon Knox, Richmond; and niece, Brooke Knox, Alamo.

Copeland has organized an annual memorial jam at the Torch Club as a fundraiser for the Sacramento Blues Society Hall of Fame since 2019. After a 2 1/2-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the jam was able to resume on June 12 at the club where Knox reportedly played hundreds of times. Copeland stayed close to Knox over the years and as a longtime employee of Tower Records on Broadway, recruited Knox to play during the day in front of the store in the 1990s.

The memorial jam drew a solid Sunday afternoon crowd on June 12, despite being a busy day in Sacramento, which included the Sacramento Pride Festival occurring just a few blocks away.

The Torch has taken a cautious approach since first closing in March 2020, says third-generation owner Marina Texeira, waiting until July 2021 to reopen, and then being one of the first clubs requiring vaccination cards for entrance. The Torch has been scheduling a regular slate of shows again, but attendance is still suffering, Texeira says.

Marina Texeira, a third-generation owner of the Torch Club, serves drinks during its “reopening” party after being closed since March 2020 due to COVID-19.

“We always did this when it was his actual birthday, but obviously we had to pivot and make a few changes,” Texeira says before the June 12 show; Knox’s birthday was Jan. 19. “It’s definitely not the same as it was. Business is way down; COVID hasn’t completely gone away and people are still affected. It’s been a struggle, honestly.”

Musician Luke Espositio, who often impersonates the Johnny Depp movie character Captain Jack Sparrow, during the memorial jam on June 12.

The June 12 jam, however, drew a solid Sunday afternoon crowd, which included some of Knox’s family members and a sampling of the Capital Region’s top blues musicians, including Aaron “King” Moreno, Patrick Balcom (aka Ratatat Pat), Stan Powell, Greg Roberts, Marty Deradoorian, Lew Fratis, Jimmy Pailer, Jeff Felsher, Dave Croall, Marilyn Woods and Marcel Smith.

Aaron Moreno, who plays as Aaron King, credits Johnny Knox with giving him his first lesson on blues guitar, tunes up before the June 12 memorial show. Moreno’s day job is serving as chief of staff for State Assemblyman Tim Grayson.

“Getting so many Hall of Fame musicians to participate gratis to honor Johnny and donate their talent and time to this fundraiser for the SBS Hall of Fame says a lot about how loved and respected Johnny was and still is,” SBS president Sally Katen wrote in the July/August issue of Blue Notes. 

From left: Marty Deradoorian, Greg Roberts, Ray Copeland, Stan Powell and Aaron King, on stage at the Johnny “Guitar” Knox memorial jam at the Torch Club on June 12.

Knox’s brother Cal Knox, a resident of Eugene, Oregon, has attended all three memorials, and this year was accompanied by Knox’s nephew, Brandon Knox of Richmond, and niece Brooke Knox of Alamo.

Guitarist Jeff Felsher, who serves as the moderator for the Torch Club’s weekly Sunday jams sessions, plays during the Johnny “Guitar” Knox memorial jam on June 12.

“I come down for this every year,” Knox said, noting that he’s now 66, the same age his brother was when he died. “It just means a lot to me all the support from all of his students, friends and fans. And Marina, she’s great. It’s been such an honor to have everybody come and see them every year.”

The Torch Club sign at 904 15th Street, across from the Memorial Auditorium, is the third location in Sacramento for the club, which first opened at 6th and J streets in 1934.

Copeland says the plan is to have the memorial show in 2023 back on track for January.

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Jan Kelley (not verified)July 31, 2022 - 11:20am

Johnny was all that has been said about him. He was extremely proud to be recognized and placed in the Hall Of Fame. A very humble, modest man who would give his all in keeping the Blues alive! RIP Johnny "Guitar" Knox.

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