When a few regulars at Naperville open-mic saloon died, their friends made a song for them
The deaths in recent years of a few regulars who frequented Miss Kitty's Saloon in Naperville spurred some reflections by musicians who think of the bar as their second home.
Some performers put their tributes to music, playing favorite tunes by those who had passed and remembering their friends in song. That gave one musician, violist and music instructor Diana Mayne, an idea.
"We really have to make sure we do a project together while we're all still here and we all still know each other," she said.
Her reflections led to a yearlong process that culminated in the digital release this week of a song called "I'll Always Sit Beside You." An acoustic, slightly country-styled piece, the song features six musicians going by "The Saloon Cats," all of whom Mayne used to see and hear when she worked next door at Naperville Music and was a regular at Miss Kitty's.
The feeling of loss comes out in a stanza near the middle of the song.
"We've lost a few of our brothers far too soon/Let's raise a glass and toast their memory/We're missing their souls that'd light up a room/ Remembering their times with you and me."
Outside of "I'll Always Sit Beside You," the singers and instrumentalists perform in different styles -- some sing the blues, others are more metal. But they came together in camaraderie to lay down the track Mayne wrote as an ode to their favorite hangout.
"Some people see it as kind of a beacon, where they are kind of lonely if they stay home," Mayne said about the communal atmosphere at Miss Kitty's. "It's a family to come and make them feel welcome and give them somewhere to go."
A family who will "always sit beside you when you're going through a fight," as the song's chorus says, is what bassist Mike Bibby said he found at Miss Kitty's.
The bar brands itself as "Naperville's best-kept secret for live music," featuring an acoustic open mic on Monday nights, an electric rock open mic on Wednesdays, karaoke called "Kitty-oke" on Thursdays and live bands on Saturdays.
Bibby described the bar -- in a strip mall along Ogden Avenue but facing its parking lot instead of the road -- as "a fun social circle" with "a bit of a 'Cheers' vibe to it" and said it was a frequent destination of his before he moved to Chicago. He even remembers introducing Mayne to the place, despite wondering if she'd find it uncomfortable because she doesn't drink.
"And here she is writing a song reminiscing about it," Bibby said.
During the past dozen years Bibby said he and Mayne have performed together in a metal band and an acoustic group, but never in a folk or country style until she wrote the words and chords for "I'll Always Sit Beside You."
"Going from metal to cocktail hours to playing upright bass felt like a very fun way to round out a musical collaboration," he said.
Singer Charlie Brown, leader of the Downtown Charlie Brown Blues Band, joined "The Saloon Cats" recording ensemble on vocals and piano. It was an enjoyable experience, he said, to collaborate with friends. And that's what music is all about.
"I do music because I love to do music," Brown said.
"I'll Always Sit Beside You" is available to buy or stream on iTunes, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon and YouTube, Mayne said.
She paid upfront for the song's production at Populist Recording in Wheaton and hopes to recoup her investment before splitting any further proceeds with the singers and performers.
Mayne said she timed the song's release on Monday to coincide with Thanksgiving week to reinforce its message.
"It'd be nice to have a happy song about togetherness and supporting the person next to you no matter what," Mayne said. "It's just a nice reminder of community and neighborly feeling at a time when we're all kind of unsure about that."