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Saturday, April 01, 2006

James Wheeler/Piano C. Red - Shot and Paralyzed


These young predators do things that are beyond my comprehension. James Wheeler/ Piano C. Red was attacked last week. Red is one of the real good guys. I wrote to Dawn Trice, a "human interest" columnist at the Chicago Tribune, trying to get her to take up Red's cause. I have received no response from her at all. Fortuately, our local ABC news affiliate took up Red's story. Here is my letter to Dawn Trice:

"Dear Ms. Trice:

I am writing to you because I don't know who else at the Tribune to contact about the terrible crime that was committed against James Wheeler, aka Piano C. Red, on Thursday March 23. Red is one of the top members of the senior generation of blues musicians in Chicago. Red has played for years, never making enough money to support himself through music (he has been a cab driver for a long time to pay the bills). Here is the news I received from my friends in Chicago's blues community:

Maxwell Street Blues musician and singer, Piano C. Red (real name James Wheeler), was shot Thursday evening, March 23, in a robbery on the South Side of Chicago. While he was at a filling station inside the cashier building paying for gas, two men approached him for money and wanted the keys to his car to steal it. One of men shot him in the back. Then they took his money and the keys to the car and hijacked it.

As soon as he was shot, he felt his legs go numb and then he fell to the ground. The bullet lodged in his spine and paralyzed him from the waist down. He is at St. James Hospital, 20201 South Crawford Avenue, Olympia Fields, IL 60461; phone: (708)747-4000.

Piano C. Red said, "I am in my 70s and young bullies took advantage of me. You just never know day to day what is going to happen. I have to be thankful I am still alive." Paramount on his mind is what is going to happen with his band which plays every Sunday at the New Maxwell Street Market in good weather. "I want to keep that
tradition going. Maxwell Street is where the great blues musicians played. There was a feeling there I found no place else and we want to keep that feeling at the new market. I have asked Elmore James Jr. (son of blues legend Elmore James) and our joint band members to keep the band playing at the market. Maybe with some rehab, I can get better and play again there too."

Jim Roxworthy, Red's bass player, said, "He has an indomitable spirit. When I visited him in the hospital he spoke only a little of his tragedy. He wanted to make sure the music and his band continued."

Roosevelt University Professor Steve Balkin says, "Red was one of the few Maxwell Street old timers who still played. He is a great keyboardist, singer, and dancer-strutter. He loves Maxwell Street, the old place and the new, especially to watch people dance in the street to his music. The gig at the new market is a grand jam session and folksy front porch. A lot of people from old Maxwell Street come by either to sit in or just to sit down on homemade benches to socialize and tell stories of musicians andthe characters from the market. I think it would boost Red's spirits if he got cards and letters from Blues fans. The biggest fear the old Blues guys have is that they will be forgotten. One of his dreams is to play at the Chicago Blues Festival in Grant Park."

I am one of Red's many fans. He will obviously have a rough time with medical bills, not to mention rehab. I am hoping that the Tribune might bring Red's situation to the public's attention. He is going to need support to get through this. Of course, this random act of violence by young men against an elderly man is unfathonable to most of us. Here is a link to some more biographical information on Piano C. Red.

Thanks for your help."

I am disappointed that the Tribune isn't covering this story.

Another blogger in the area is following Red's stuation. Check this out:

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