For a guy who loved to sing the blues, there was no shortage of positivity from Mike Bean, family and friends are remembering about the Ellijay singer-guitarist who passed away Feb. 5 at age 70.
Bean grew up in Chicago and resided in Atlanta before living part time in the mountains starting around 2000. He later moved to Ellijay after retiring from a career in electrical contract management, noted his wife, Allison.
“He’d played music a lot before as a younger man, then kind of let it go as he got busy with his career and raising a family. But he started playing again in the early 90s,” she added. “He wasn’t a songwriter. He wanted to put his energy into being the best performer he could, and practicing his fingerpicking style. He was all acoustic in later years.”
Bean was a regular participant in a Friday night music showcase at the Blue Door Cafe on River Street. The cafe’s proprietor, Jim Stover, said Bean gladly organized those fun, informal music nights that gave entertainment to customers and a stage to several local musicians, many of whom didn’t perform elsewhere.
“He was the organizer, emcee, peacemaker and lead guitarist, but he didn’t come in and take over. He was such a giving soul and never asked for anything in return. I can’t remember him ever missing any Fridays,” said Stover. “He brought everybody together and was somebody we relied on.”
Stover said several groups that still perform around town got started at those music nights.
“They would all get together there once a week, the musicians and their spouses. They would all sit together and were very close knit. Eventually, they had to start breaking into littler groups because you didn’t need seven or eight guitar players at one time. That’s how (groups) like Downtown Roy and Barefoot Boone got started,” he said. “All these people have since sharpened and honed their skills. They’ve come a long way and lifted each other up. A lot of that is because of Mike.”
For almost 15 years, Bean deejayed for Atlanta public radio station WRFG 89.3 FM, hosting a Friday edition of the program “Good Morning Blues,” Allison said.
“Mike was a blues historian,” said friend and musical colleague Don Roberts, of Ellijay group Downtown Roy. “I grew up in Macon and he was from Chicago. It was like we went to different schools, but had the same kind of friends and teachers. He was one of the good ones. I’ll always remember the tunes he shared and the hours of fun we had together.”
Allison said acoustic blues, old rock ‘n’ roll and Americana were favorite musical genres of Bean, who also enjoyed researching and sharing stories behind the songs.
“He had the early (DJ) shift on Fridays, from 6-8 a.m. He wasn’t as knowledgeable about blues when he took that gig, but he grew a lot in his appreciation of it. He studied it a lot. He loved (artists like) The Allman Brothers and Bob Dylan, (as well as) the classic blues guys like Howlin’ Wolf, Luther Allison and Muddy Waters. He used to get to see Howlin’ Wolf play live in Chicago,” she added.
In front of an audience, the wiry, curly-haired Bean wore “funky” attire like brightly-colored sunglasses, hats and sports jackets. It was all part of giving folks a good show, Allison said.
“He thought whatever style you choose, put your best foot forward and give them (something to look at), whether it’s a tuxedo or something really funky, which was his choice,” she added.
A longtime member of The Radio Ramblers, an Atlanta roots rock and blues band, Bean also performed with local guitarist Jack Bellinato in a duo called Jack and the Bean. The need for live music at local wineries, pubs and restaurants allowed the two to find recurring gigs at such venues as Chateau Meichtry, Ott Farm and Vineyard and Cantaberry Restaurant.
“When we decided to get something going, he came up with the idea of (calling us) Jack and the Bean. We had a logo that’s a guitar going up like a beanstalk,” said Bellinato. “We basically did songs by other (artists). I’m 80 and Mike was 10 years younger than me. We did ‘Cover of the Rolling Stone,’ but with the premise of what if we wrote that song and it was 50 years later. We’d have to change the lyrics to ‘I can’t get my picture on the cover of the AARP Magazine.’”
Bellinato said he and Bean were opposites in how they played and practiced music, but the dynamic worked for them.
“I’m spontaneous and play what I feel at the time, but Mike liked to go over and rehearse everything,” Bellinato said. “He would say, ‘Jack I’ve been working on this song for 10 years.’ I’d kid him about it because if I can’t get it in 10 minutes, I’ll just go on to something else.”
Bellinato said he’s never met someone who enjoyed playing and listening to music as much as Bean.
“He was influenced by the old acoustic (music) and the New Orleans jazz-blues style, too. He had his own little style. He was a blues artist, but very versatile,” he added. “After we’d set up to play a gig and have some time before we started, he’d be playing his guitar up until that time. If he could’ve found a way, I think Mike would have played the guitar while driving his car.”
Kept on smiling, playing
Allison said her husband had been battling cancer for several years, but preferred to keep that struggle private.
“He didn’t want people fussing over him. He wanted to go around with a positive viewpoint,” she added. “He lasted a long time with cancer and did well. I think that’s because his positivity really helped him. He would say, ‘I feel great,’ and he did.”
The ongoing pandemic limited live music options for Bean and his friends, but several of them got to team up one last time for a Blue Door Cafe reunion concert at Cartecay River Brewing Company last October. As he did when the now bygone Blue Door was still open, Bean planned and organized the reunion concert.
“He’d put together several programs like (that one),” Allison said. “A few years ago, he had a festival celebrating Georgia songwriters with people from around Ellijay and Atlanta. It was a smashing success, and he set up the whole thing. He was good at that.”
Allison saidThere’s some stuff going on downtown (in Nashville), and neighboring towns are just starting to get music opened back up again. Bean had also been trying to get a gospel music brunch concept with early performances going locally, but that was also sidelined by the pandemic.
“It wasn’t easy for Mike these last couple of years. He had physical setbacks that would make a lot of people give up, but he kept a positive attitude and didn’t let people know how serious his condition was,” Bellinato said. “He kept on smiling and kept on playing.”