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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Gorging on the blues.

I have been absent from the blogosphere for several weeks. There are many reasons for this. Real life is cutting into my time for blabbing about real life.

My two youngest daughters were on a school break in February (their school has a mid-winter vacation, which is a nice idea). My beautiful wife took the girlies to Los Angeles to visit a friend – I stayed back due to work obligations. So I was alone in the house (except for two dogs, one cat, one goldfish and a dozen hamsters). This allowed me to indulge myself and gorge on the blues.

One Saturday night, I caught Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater at Bill’s Blues Bar in Evanston IL. The Chief is 71, but his energy and enthusiasm is still high. He is an excellent singer – relaxed, musical, no fireworks, all substance. And he has a signature guitar sound. It is a tremolo that he achieves with his fingers up on the frets. He also has a very interesting custom amplifier, which I am sure adds to his sound. Eddy’s band is a crack trio – Mark Wydra on guitar, Merle (the Perkolater) Perkins on drums and my good friend Shoji Naito on bass. Eddy did several tunes from his latest CD, Rock and Roll City (he is backed by Los Straitjackets on that record ). He also did some older blues and R&B classics like “Messin’ with the Kid.”

The following Sunday evening Sunday, I got in the car and drove for over an hour to St. Charles IL, the location of Chord On Blues (“COB”). COB is a fairly large supper club. I am amazed that it survives out in the “super boonies,” but it apparently does a robust business, especially on weekends. COB books blues acts, and often will book visiting artists that don’t get much attention within the Chicago city limits. The reason for my long trip to St. Charles was Kim Wilson. This talented harmonicist and vocalist passes through Chicagoland very infrequently. Kim has a money machine called the Fabulous Thunderbirds (he is a founder and still leads this blues-y rock band). He also has “Kim Wilson’s Blues Revue” which is all old-school blues with Kim as front man. He plays a ton of harmonica with the Blues Revue – he writes songs and sings for the Fab T-birds and only plays a bit of harp. Kim’s appearance at COB was a last minute thing – a fill-in gig for his Midwest tour. A significant number of my fellow blues harp cult members attended, including our cult leader, Joe Filisko. The show was solid – Wilson is the top Chicago-style blues harmonica player/vocalist working today.

On the following Monday evening, I went to the Filisko Blues Harp Cult session at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music. Our special guest was – KIM WILSON!!!! He spoke to the harmonica geeks, told some stories and played some outstanding harmonica. He had an interesting take on “white people playing the blues,” which some feel is a form of cultural thievery, another case of the white majority ripping off the African American originators of an art form. He said the white people do not have the cultural claim on the blues that black folks have as their birthright – BUT if the music is approached with the proper respect and the intent is to represent the art form to the world, white people can feel OK about performing the blues. Hey – Wynton Marsallis has played Bach. In the end, music is music.

The next February evening, I hosted a bachelor party for my friend, Shoji Naito who celebrated his marriage to fellow harmonicist “Little Laura” in early March. It was a pretty tame bachelor party. We drank beer, ate pizza and played music until 2 a.m. I also went to a new blues jam on Wednesday, at a club called the Kitty Moon. So I did musical things for five consecutive evenings. I was pooped and very glad to see my womenfolk return to Evanston.

The musical feast continued on into March. Steve Guyger, another fabulous blues harmonica guy, came to town. He played with Billy Flynn (the unsung multi-instrumentalist/vocalist from Green Bay WI) at The Smoke Daddy in Chicago. Steve and Billy also showed up at the Filisko harmonica class at the Old Town School of Folk Music the following Monday. Guyger and Flynn put on an unreal exhibition of late 1940’s through early 1960’s Chicago blues. Guyger cares passionately about the blues and he produced the fattest harmonica tone I have ever heard. He doesn’t have Kim Wilson’s voice (or his financial success), but he is the real deal. He was Jimmy Rogers harmonica player for many years, and he soaked up Jimmy’s vibe. Billy Flynn plays guitar, harmonica, bass, mandolin and he sings – awesome musician. He is known to insiders and has played with the greats – Kim Wilson, Otis Rush, Pinetop Perkins, Sunnyland Slim, Luther Allison and many others.

Also in March, Shoji Naito and Little Laura celebrated their "blues wedding" - lots of fun and lots of music. I also checked out the Thursday night jam at Zachary's on the Northwest Side of Chicago - a very eclectic session covering everything from Johnny Cash to Muddy Waters.

I am cranking up the Mystery Band again. We have two gigs in late April. All this listening has inspired me to try again.

I talk too much about music. It is sort of pointless. I agree with Steve Martin - he said, "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture."

2 comments:

Joe said...

"Wilson is the top Chicago-style blues harmonica player/vocalist working today."

I know a few guys that might dispute that statement. One plays down at Artis's every Monday night. Little Walter's sister, Marguerite Wallace, stated that Billy Branch is the man keeping her brother's spirit alive.

Anonymous said...

I gotta make it down to Artis's. I love Billy. My comments regarding Kim are my simple opinion. He is going old school - no effects pedals, no delay or octive effects - so his sound is closer to Little Walter's. Billy has a more electronic thing going on - its great, but different.

Mr. G