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In memoriam: Teo Leyasmeyer

Teo Leyasmeyer died today. [Update: memorial plans below]

For all of us who knew him, Teo was one of the great unsung heroes of Boston: he was perhaps best known as the booking agent behind the old House of Blues in Harvard Square -- not coincidentally, the only House of Blues in the country that ever really lived up to its name. He was an extraordinarily sweet, friendly, humble creature. A great champion of the music, he was also a musician and a student of the music, and a musician's sensibility invigorated his stewardship of the club. During a journeyman's career touring the country and throughout Europe, he backed Big Mama Thornton, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry, Big Joe Turner, Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, Linda Hopkins, and Junior Wells, and was a mainstay of Johnny Copeland's band. When he was summarily let go from the HOB in February, 2003, it signalled the end of an era. The club closed soon after. The Phoenix's Ted Drozdowski, who knew Teo professionally, personally, and musically, wrote at the time that the move came as a shock: "Leyasmeyer," he wrote, was "a highly regarded figure in the nation’s blues community and is credited with making the Cambridge House of Blues one of the premier touring stops for top blues artists. Other clubs in the chain, while featuring blues, tend to favor rock and other pop-music formats.

For 10 years, Leyasmeyer was responsible for bringing the House of Blues a number of historic performers — including Otis Rush, Dr. John, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Ike Turner, and Solomon Burke — who would typically not play a small (225-capacity) club. He also introduced the raw Mississippi-blues sound of the Fat Possum label to the Boston market, booking the first area performances of both Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside. After all, Leyasmeyer was a touring pianist with such well-known bluesmen as Buddy Guy and Freddie King before he entered the talent-buying business.

In 1997, the Blues Foundation, a nonprofit organization made up primarily of professionals from all aspects of the genre, acknowledged Leyasmeyer’s accomplishments with one of its Keeping the Blues Alive awards: Promoter of the Year. In 2000, the Blues Foundation drafted Leyasmeyer for its advisory board, where he sits alongside such blues-world dignitaries as the record producer Jerry Wexler and the performer Bonnie Raitt.

Teo's death came as a surprise even to those close to him. Just yesterday, Leyasmeyer's friend, the pianist David Maxwell, forwarded a note to friends that Teo's condition had worsened. An illness that was thought to have been the flu had proved to be something far worse: Teo's kidneys were failing and he was not expected to make it through the week. This afternoon Teo's friend, the promoter Sue Auclair, broke the bad news: "It is with great sorrow that I send you this e-mail. Our friend Teo Leyasmeyer, has just passed away. Evidently he had cancer and was unaware of it until about two weeks ago." Plans for a fundraiser for his family are in the works, and details for a memorial are forthcoming.

UPDATE (May 18): Memorial Plans were announced today for a memorial service for Teo Leyasmeyer.

TEO LEYASMEYER MEMORIAL SERVICE:

SAT. MAY 27, 2006   2PM
HANCOCK UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
1912 MASS. AVE  (NEAR PAUL REVERE STATUE AND LEXINGTON GREEN)
LEXINGTON, MA 02421

FLOWERS ONLY TO CHURCH

DONATIONS AND CARDS  - SEND TO

TEO LEYASMEYER FAMILY FUND
% HEGE LEYASMEYER
11 HAMBLEN ST.
LEXINGTON, MA 02421

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