Kermit Lynch Sips the Reds, Sings the Blues

The musician-turned-entrepreneur pairs his favorite albums to wine.

Kermit Lynch is one of the reasons Berkeley became known as a foodie mecca. But he opened his San Pablo Avenue store, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, in 1972 as way to fund playing the blues.

“I came to Berkeley to make it as a musician,” Lynch said. “I had a band and played school dances and bars, but it was hard. I couldn’t even afford a new harmonica. I started making handbags out of Oriental rug scraps, and when somebody bought that business from me, I used the money to go to France. When I got back, I borrowed enough to open a little wine shop.”

At first, the shop was only open four days a week, but business exploded, making Lynch an internationally known expert on fine wine. His first book, Adventures on the Wine Route, published in 1988, is still in print. “I got hooked on going to France and Italy and kept doing it. I never stopped writing songs, but I stopped writing them down.”

In a move that surprised many, Lynch put out an album of original songs called Quicksand Blues in 2005. His rebirth as a musician started when he forged a relationship with fellow wine enthusiast and blues guitar legend Boz Scaggs, who mentored him and let him record at his studio. Lynch recently released his third album of roots Americana and blues, Donuts & Coffee.

“I go to Nashville every so often with Ricky Fataar [Scaggs’ drummer] and we make a record,” Lynch said. “We arrive with some good wine, order up some barbecue, play the band the demos, and, after one glass, they play the song and nail it on the first take.”

Below are Lynch’s wine pairings to complement his favorite albums, for the holidays or year-round.

Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Reed at Carnegie Hall.

Reed fanatics get a big kick out of the fact that this double LP doesn’t have a single cut from Carnegie Hall on it. My wife brought the album home in 1963. It was my entrée into the blues. I bought a harmonica and tried to copy Reed’s wailing style. “The Sun Is Shining” is the first blues I ever sang, and “Bright Lights, Big City” is on my album Kitty Fur.

Wine Choice? A red from Bandol — it’s got a whole lotta soul and dark depths.

Irma Thomas, Sings.

Allen Toussaint produced this classic in New Orleans in 1963, but sadly the liner notes on the Bandy reissue in 1979 don’t tell us a thing. When I listen to the album, I don’t think it’s the greatest ever, but I do think there’s none better. It is an original sound, even weird now and then. “It’s Raining,” “I Done Got Over It,” “Two Winters Long” — all bluesy, but bubbles away rhythmically.

I’d uncork a sparkling Vouvray to encourage singing and dancing to this one.

Jerry Lee Lewis, She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye.

She must have been one hell of a considerate woman. I have shelves of Lewis LPs and this is the best; it overachieves non-stop. He sings Jimmie Rodger’s “Waiting for a Train” better than anybody ever will. Listen to his boogie-woogie piano on Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues.” And I can’t resist “Wine Me Up,” with lyrics like “lately drinking warm red wine is all I wanna do.”

What to drink with Lewis’ pounding piano, played with elbow, ass, and knees? Any old rotgut? Nah, uncork a southern Rhone like Gigondas or Chateauneuf-du-Pape, or a Syrah from Berkeley’s own Edmunds St. John winery.

Betty Wright, Explosion.

Sonically, the CD version stinks, so you need the LP, although most of the album isn’t worth the trouble. Stay with the essentials, the first three tracks: “If I Ever Do Wrong” gives me chills and goose bumps, right from the first blast of horns. Betty is being kept by an elderly lover and she wants him to know that she’s got leaving on her mind; then there’s “Bluesville,” a bar where all you’re served is the blues, while all you want is some booze; finally, there’s “Life,” an upper where Betty soars.

Pair these three super songs with a Sauterne, a rich, sweet wine blessed with noble rot.

Garland Jeffreys, Garland Jeffreys.

Back in 1972, around 2 a.m., dropping off to sleep in the bed of a lovely blond waitress, the radio was on softly and something caught my ears. One song, then another, and, thank you Jesus, the DJ played both sides of this Garland Jeffreys album straight through. Some great cuts that blended with my nocturnal bliss and reverie: “Harlem Bound” and “She Didn’t Lie,” aided by brilliant musicians such as David Bromberg, Dr. John, Neville Hinds, Bernard Purdie, and Chuck Rainey. Listen over and over and be swept away by the virtuosity.

This one needs a thinking man’s or woman’s wine that offers attention to details. I’d choose a mature old red or white Burgundy. The album is the cake, the Burgundy is the frosting.


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