Touch Of The Past In Bellwood Looks To The Future

Friday, April 6, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: Touch of the Past night club in Bellwood, which closed last Sunday. | Submitted photo 

The owner of a legendary Bellwood night club has put the establishment up for sale and closed its doors until he finds a suitable buyer.

Last Sunday, patrons gathered at Touch of the Past, 947 Mannheim Rd. in Bellwood, for the final time — at least under the ownership of Jacques Hurst, who started the club 21 years ago.

Hurst, who lives in Maywood, said that it’s time for him to retire so that he can spend more time with his wife of two decades, Barbie Hurst, and other close family members.

The news shocked lovers of live music across the Chicago area. The Bellwood club offered everything from bluesy performances to poetic spoken word nights.

“This was a place [where] all could come and have a great time,” wrote Juliette Hunter in an April 2 Facebook post. “If you came once, you wanted to come back again.”

Video of a live performance at Touch of the Past in Bellwood. | Facebook 

Hunter was among the hundreds of patrons who wrote emotional online messages about the club on the day it closed. A post uploaded by Jacques Hurst’s nephew, Stoney Gillespie Jr., was shared over 800 times and garnered over 1,000 likes in a few days.

Longtime patron Joe Walker Jr. described the club as a “family” in a heartfelt reminiscence posted to Facebook on April 2. Walker recalled the club’s many theme nights — fish fry night, reggae night, stepper night and comedy night.

“Everybody knew everybody,” said Barbie. “It was a family. We were faithful to our regulars and they were faithful to us.”

Jacques said that he started Touch of the Past with two friends. They were looking for someplace to go for quality entertainment in the area that featured live soul, blues and R&B music.

After a career as a sound man, in addition to nearly 40 years in Corporate America (28 of them as a credit manager for Dearborn Wholesale), Jacques eventually turned his full attention to Touch of the Past.

Barbie and Jacques Hurst, left, and the band Midnight Sun. | Courtesy Barbie and Jacques Hurst 

The club would grow a loyal following for its homey, intimate atmosphere and the warmth its employees created for regular patrons — who came before anything else.

“I turned down the Rolling Stones one night,” Jacques recalled. “That night, Tyrone Davis was performing there and some people called me at the last minute, saying they wanted to bring in the Stones and their entourage. I wasn’t going to put out my regular customers. I just told them, ‘Don’t even bother to come,’ because the show was sold out.”

Jacques said that he was such a close friend of Davis’s (the famous singer is known for R&B hits like “Can I Change My Mind,”  “Turn Back The Hands Of Time,” and “Turning Point”) that when the singer died in 2005, his repast was held at the Bellwood club.

Jacques said that Otis Clay “was my best friend.”

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Iris Clay and Otis Clay at Touch of the Past | Courtesy Jacques and Barbie Hurst

“I was always called him my pastor, because he gave me advice,” Jacques said of Clay, who was just one among the many celebrity entertainers who would consider the club a destination.

“We’ve had an unbelievable number of artists come through,” Barbie said. “Maze, Mary Mary, Salt-N-Pepa, Keith Washington.”

The Hursts said that they hope the music continues. They’ve been meeting with potential buyers over the last several days. Jacques said he hopes to close on a sale by next week, so that the club could reopen within a month from the transaction.

The state of live music in the Chicago area could depend on it.

“The state of music today is in danger because there’s no live musicians anymore,” Jacques said. “Everything is done off of tracks and machines.”

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Money talks

Jacques said that Touch of the Past had its own nine-piece house band, Midnight Sun, that had been with the club for nearly 22 years. Hopefully, he said, the sound that they and other live musicians like them cultivated at the club will have a home for years to come.

“They had percussions, the sax, the horns, drums — you name it we had it,” said Barbie. “It sounded like a concert.” VFP 

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