Teo Leyasmeyer, who died last Tuesday at the age of 59 from liver cancer, was a special kind of local hero. Although he spent his early career as a working musician, members of the Boston scene got to know him as a talent buyer and concert promoter, especially in his 10 years at the House of Blues.
Teo Leyasmeyer with musicians Chicago Bob Nelson and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.
At the Harvard Square “original” House of Blues, Teo broke form with the chain’s larger venues in places like LA and New Orleans. He saw the small (225 capacity) room as an opportunity for the club to live up to its name. And so he brought in one legendary blues and R&B act after another. It was at the House of Blues that Boston audiences got their first taste of the electric Mississippi hill country-blues of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough in the years just before their late-career fame. Teo brought in the great Solomon Burke for his first local show in eons, as well as Ike Turner, Otis Rush, Howard Tate, Dr. John, and the Blind Boys of Alabama. In many cases, these were rare opportunities to see festival attractions in an intimate setting. At a show like Burke’s, the frat-happy crowd the club tended to attract didn’t know what hit them, and it was a tonic to watch a master conquer an unwitting audience.
It was Teo’s triumph, too. He could have easily filled the club night after night with cost-efficient cover bands and DJs, or covered his bets with better-known pop and rock acts, but instead he sweated the financial risks (and his job) out of a sense of artistic mission. He’d spent his formative musical years as a keyboardist, touring with the likes of Buddy Guy and Freddie King. And he continued to play, even though he had given up the rigors of the road in favor of raising a family. He leaves his wife, Hege, and daughters, Lena and Lily.
In 1997, the nonprofit Blues Foundation gave Teo its Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Promoter of the Year, and in 2000 he was asked to sit on the foundation’s advisory board alongside members like producer Jerry Wexler and performer Bonnie Raitt. The House of Blues replaced Teo in 2003, and closed its doors not long after. But Teo continued to play and book shows (for a while at the Regattabar, and often in conjunction with long-time Boston promoter Fred Taylor). For the many musicians, journalists, and fans who got to know him, Teo’s smile and laugh will remain indelible. Even though he spent his life in the entertainment business, he wasn’t a boisterous type. After a particularly sublime show by, say, Dr. John (whom he presented at Arlington’s Regent Theatre back in February), he’d bump into you in the aisle, read the look on your face, smile back at you, and say simply, “It was nice, wasn’t it?”
A memorial service for Teo Leyasmeyer will be held at Hancock United Church of Christ, 1912 Mass Ave, Lexington, on May 27 at 2 pm.