Despite a long winter with the worst weather in about thirty years (including a tree that fell onto my roof during high winds two days before Christmas), the local blues scene has remained active. It’s not all bad that there isn’t a lot of big news.
On the club front, there’s still no apparent activity toward Legends’ relocation a block north. Buddy Guy did his usual January stand there, packing the club as always. Later on in this dispatch I’ll return to Legends to describe perhaps the nicest recent blues club event here. Little Arthur Duncan cooked up a nice spread to celebrate his birthday and CD/DVD release at Rosa’s on February 2. A new blues club called Reggie’s Music Joint is opening at 2105 S. State Street, along with a larger rock club and a record store; they’re planning some activities during the Blues Festival June 5-8. There will also be a symposium at Dominican University in suburban River Forest May 22-24 called “Blues And The Spirit.” More information is available at www.dom.edu/blues/index.html
A couple of personal notes: Deitra Farr is planning to marry and move to Norway, and Lurrie Bell continues to be devastating live (about the only artist who can take the “Set List From Hell” and mesmerize an audience) and get a lot of media coverage including cover stories in Blues Revue and Illinois Entertainer.
News is limited on the recording front, but Billy Flynn is working in Wisconsin on very nice CD project; Elvin Bishop is shopping a very nice autobiographical and guest-intensive project spotlighting how the blues torch is passed from generation to generation called “The Blues Rolls On” with cameos by B.B. King, Derek Trucks, Homemade Jamz, Kim Wilson and many more; and Joe Louis Walker has signed with Stony Plain.
As always I’ll defer most of the obituaries but want to note the January passings of club owner Fred Johnson (I rehearsed many projects at Fred’s Jazz Set/Celebrity Lounge on South Cottage Grove near 48th Street, where Fred’s Saturday night band for many years included Little Smokey Smothers, Pee Wee Madison, Bill Warren on trumpet and Otis Spann protégé Jesse Bouchee on organ); Pee Wee Madison, shortly after visiting Fred in the hospital; and harp player and vocalist Chicago Slim (Noel Schiff) who recorded a couple singles for House Of Lewis and LPs for Capitol and St. George and was one of the first white musicians on the Chicago Blues Scene. Pee Wee wasn’t especially sociable and didn’t seem to enjoy playing for white people when he had the choice; he wanted nothing to do with any of the Muddy band reunions. But he had some really nice originals and could have made a stunning CD; maybe in the next world.....
The Chicago Blues Festival is shaping up nicely in its 25th consecutive year (though sacrifices to the Weather Gods are still advisable). Johnny Winter with a guest spot by James Cotton will headline the opening evening and B.B. King will close things out Sunday night; Koko Taylor, Lil’ Ed, Eddy Clearwater, Buckwheat Zydeco, Little Willie Littlefield, Bobby Parker and Karen Carroll with Charlie Love and her long-ago boyfriend Lurrie Bell are among the other main stage acts.
Back to Legends, which hosted Delmark Records’ gala 55th anniversary bash on March 7. It was a little more poignant than usual since Bob Koester has been undergoing radiation treatments. (He says he feels fine and seems his usual self, except that he says he can’t taste his food.) It was great to see so many friends of Delmark on hand. Steve Wagner and Dave Specter did a good job of having it organized enough to get a lot of good talent on and off stage during 4:30 of music (with a couple breaks). Jimmy Johnson remains greatly under-recognized, and sounds stellar for ANY age, much less pushing 80. (He's one of those irksome people who unfairly looks and acts more youthful than I despite a head start of almost 25 years.) Arthur Duncan and Aaron Moore were both energized enough to bely their almost 80 and almost 90 years respectively, and Eddie Shaw and Tail Dragger (other than his crutch) sure didn't give a lot of clues of their recent hospital stays. After John Kattke on keys, Harlan Terson and Marty Binder started things strong and Nick and Kate Moss got tasty cameos, Kenny Smith, Bob Stroger (beaming and sharp as always) and Roosevelt Purifoy were real stalwarts through a long evening. Scott Cable and Lurrie Bell sounded excellent together; people have run through pretty much all the superlatives for Lurrie lately, with good reason. His always-upbeat attitude is as awesome as his music. Shirley Johnson, The Big Doo Wopper, Billy Branch, Zora Young and Byther Smith also performed.
One of the most notable moments came when Johnny B. Moore made his first major public appearance (he has been backing Tail Dragger occasionally) since his stroke, playing a couple tunes including Magic Sam’s Delmark track “That’s All I Need” backed by Lurrie. Johnny still has some recovering to do, but he sounded good (definitely bandstand-worthy) and Billy Branch turned to me during their segment, nodded toward Johnny and Lurrie and observed “those two cats have some SERIOUS blues!” Jimmy Dawkins was too ill to make it and Michael Coleman also didn’t show. It was funny hearing Buddy Guy express his shock when Bob Koester said onstage (while they were getting a Grammy Hall Of Fame award from NARAS for "Hoodoo Man Blues") that Junior Wells was probably the nicest guy to record for Delmark. It's true that as Buddy said, Junior could make ears burn too, but Bob and Junior did have something really deep and there was a lot of honor and respect on both ends. Chicago Blues Fest Co-Ordinator Barry Dolins read the Mayor's proclamation commemorating the label and day in the city. It was a happy occasion and a reminder of how much there is about Delmark to honor and appreciate. It was great to see so many friends of Delmark on hand. The proceedings were recorded and videotaped, and the results should provide a lot to look forward to and back upon.
On that note, on to spring and hopefully only good news next time; good blues to all in the mean time!
----- DICK SHURMAN