Search This Blog

Friday, January 26, 2007

Farewell Susan Greenberg

The sad news of Susan Greenberg's untimely death has rippled through Chicago's blues community. Susan was a terrific photographer and artist - the image above this text is one of Susan's pictures and you can see some of her work on her website - click here. As you will see from her photos, Susan was a lover of the blues. She was also the life partner of one of Chicago's finest blues guitarists, Lurrie Bell - that's Lurrie in the picture I posted above this entry. I mentioned Lurrie in my last entry on January 20. Susan passed away on the same day I posted that entry. Lurrie has struggled with many demons, and the story in Chicago is that Susan pulled him out of the abyss, helped him regain his life. Susan and Lurrie had major trauma, also - Susan gave birth to twins, who both died shortly after birth. They overcame this tragedy, and celebrated the birth of a daughter, Aria, just two years ago. Susan passed at the age of 44, too young, a victim of lymphoma. I met her a few times at Lurrie's gigs; didn't know her well, but had huge respect for her.

If you are religous (or even if you are not), pray for Lurrie Bell and Susan Greenberg's family.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Shows that I Missed

January is only two-thirds over, and I am already feeling bad that I have missed a bunch of great musical performances. Here is my list of January gigs that I was too busy, lazy or tired to attend:

Trouble No More at the Harlem Avenue Lounge in Berwyn - January 19: Trouble No More consists of local blues heroes. My friend, Tom Albanese, is the harmonica player in the band and he kicks serious butt. Trouble No More used to back the late, great vocalist, L.C. Walker; the band lost momentum when L.C. passed away. This gig was the first major appearance by Trouble No More since L.C. died last year.

Lurrie Bell at Bill's Blues Bar in Evanston IL - January 13: Lurrie is approaching 50 years of age - he has been playing with the major blues dudes in Chicago since he was a little kid. The son of blues harp star Carey Bell, Lurrie heard the blues in the cradle and was playing guitar at the age of 6. He has fronted bands and supported an unbelievable list of stars - Willie Dixon, Koko Taylor,and tons of other big names. Lurrie went through the depths of a miserable blues life - 20 years of mental illness, drug abuse, homelessness and hosptialization. Lurrie is on his feet again, trying to make up for lost time. Can't help but wish him well. He is one of the best blues guitarists in the world.

Buddy Guy's January Shows at Legends in Chicago: The live music business sucks in January. That is one of the reasons why Buddy guy takes up residence at his own club in Chicago for about 10 nights during the dreary mid-winter period. These shows sell out every year, and I always call too late to get a ticket.

Frank Catalano Quintet at Andy's In Chicago, January 6: Frank is a wild tenor man - intense tone, great mastery of multiple idioms, energy to burn. He is a young fella - under 30 - and he arose from the suburbs of Chicago(can't remember which one), a product of the lavishly funded music programs that rich school districts still support. Catalano has played with the old guys (Tony Bennett et al) and the youngsters (N'Sync and DJ Logic). He has even played with Mr. G and the Mystery Band!!

Von Freeman Quintet at Andy's In Chicago, January 13: What can you say about Vonski? He is still whippin' that tenor madness on the people at the age of 84. Frank Catalano and other young tenor sax heroes owe Von Freeman a huge debt.

Well, it is impossible to hear all of the great music that is available in the city of Chicago. I hope to hit more hot gigs in the coming weeks.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Swamini Turiyasangitananda (aka Alice Coltrane) and Michael Brecker - RIP

We lost two musical giants - Alice Coltrane and Michael Brecker.

She was born Alice MacLeod in Detroit MI; she died Swamini Turiyasangitananda in Los Angeles. In between these two identities, she was Alice Coltrane. I suppose she remained Alice MacLeod and Alice Coltrane after she became Swamini Turiyasangitananda - it is hard to drop your history, even when spirituality pulls you away from the material world.

I read in today's paper that Alice's Sanskrit name, Swamini Turiyasangitananda, means "the highest song of God." She founded an ashram in 1983, pursuing the Eastern philosophy and religon that she discovered through John Coltrane. She married John in 1965 after knowing him for a few years; he died from liver cancer in 1967. Alice was a fluid and energetic pianist; she also played jazz harp ( the real harp, not the harmonica). She was off the scene for many years, but started making music again in 2004, cutting a record (Translinear Light) that was produced by her son, Ravi Coltrane. Alice was 69, which seems too young to lose a great soul.

The loss of Michael Brecker was even worse, if that is possible. He was only 57, taken out by leukemia. I am a huge fan of Michael Brecker; the "Dreams" LP of 1970 shook me hard as I was opening my ears to jazz and funk; I loved the Brecker Brothers albums that Michael cut with his trumpet-playing brother, Randy. Michael was a Coltrane disciple; I bet he knew Alice well. His mastery of the saxophone was complete. He played with James Brown; he played with Chick Corea. To me, he was the finest saxophonist of the Baby Boom generation - he could cover anything and everything. His own music was also stunning. I will put his stuff in rotation on my iPod today.

Michael Brecker was a family man; wife and kids. Michael's wife, Susan, spearheaded a search for a bone marrow donor - but a match wasn't found in time for Michael.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Chord On Blues Shuts Down

I got a news flash from a member of the Eddy Clearwater Band. The 14,000 square foot blues club/supper club, Chord-On Blues, has shut down as of January 5, 2007. Here is the announcement from the club's web site:

Chord On Blues
Temporarily Closed

We regret to inform you that as of Friday January 5th, Chord On Blues will be closed for an indefinite period of time. For the past ten years it’s been our honor to support the finest blues musicians that the country has to offer. It’s been equally gratifying to serve our customers who are the most passionate blues fans I’ve had the pleasure to know. At this point we will step back, regroup and return better than ever. We will keep our customers informed via our e-mail list so we encourage you to log onto and sign up if you aren’t already. The Grille at Chord On Blues, located to your left, remains opened and unchanged so we hope you’ll continue to visit us next door. We apologize for the inconvenience we’ve caused you and hope that you will return when we reopen. Please feel free to call with any comments, questions or concerns at 630-513-0074.

Steve Chapman vp/gm

Chord On Blues was a great place, and operated for 10 years on the Fox River in the Chicago suburb of St. Charles. It is quite a hike from Chicago - I think about an hour's drive - but it was worth it. A huge club with a large stage and great sight lines, Chord On Blues booked Chicago blues artists and acts that were passing through town - people like CoCo Montoya, Chris Duarte, Poppa Chubby, Tab Benoit, Kim Wilson (with and without the Fabulous Thunderbirds) and lots of other acts that often don't get booked in the Chicago blues clubs. The Blues Foundation selected Chord-On Blues as the 2006 "blues club of the year." Apparently this honor did not improve business very much...

There were many nights when the band played to a very sparse audience at COB. I hope they succeed in re-opening the club. The blues community in Chicago and around the nation will really miss Chord-On Blues - it was world class. It is tough to make money running a blues venue.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Inner Peace through Funk

Have you ever had a series of events knock you down a bit? Nothing hugely tragic, but just an accumulation of small to medium-sized bummmers? And you start to feel tension in your jaw muscles as your face is fixed in a frown of worry and stress? And your sleep gets a little less restful because when you hit the sack, you are turning stuff over and over and over in your mind without finding any solution to the problems you think you have?

This has been my state of mind for the past couple of days and I discovered a Way Out that I am delighted to share with anyone who stumbles across this blog.

One type of music can provide a path to inner peace, at least temporarily - old school Funk!

Since the mighty James Brown passed, I have been digging through music that he made and influenced. I used to own some old vinyl records of early 1970's grooves cut by the James Brown band (the JB's). JB himself was involved in the music as a sideman (not frontman) and also acted as producer. I got my hands on a couple re-issues of James Brown's Funky People (Part 1 and Part 2). Oyez! Lyn (the Female Preacher) Collins fronts the JB's for five of the tunes on the 2 discs, and her work on "Rock Me Again & Again & Again & Again" is one for the ages. Lyn faded from public view after her time with JB (she was in the background even then). She became a session vocalist and did some recordings in Europe during the 1980's. And she left us on March 13, 2005. Lyn apparently suffered some sort of seizure while eating and ended up choking on her food - the oxygen deprivation sent her into a coma, and she died three days later when her heart gave out. She was 56 years old.

I want to believe in heaven - I love the idea of JB and the Female Preacher testifying together again in the hereafter.

I started my musical efforts on the trombone and first heard Fred Wesley when I was about 18 years old. His sound on the Funky People discs is still fresh and still kills me dead. Fred wrote many of JB's arrangements - if James Brown gave birth to funk, Fred Wesley was his obstetrician.

Soif you are feeling low, put some JB's on the headphones. You WILL feel better. Funky music is cheaper than therapy.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Sammy Fender

Tonight, the Mystery Band will be playing at Bill's Blues in Evanston. Tomorrow night, Sammy Fender will be holding forth at Bill's Blues. I have played with Sammy on occassion and like him very much, so I am going to promote him today on my blog.

Sammy has been on the blues scene for a few decades now. He is in his early 60's (I think) and he still kicks out white hot energy. He has that leather-lunged blues shout and he plays solid blues guitar (but he can be LOUD). Sammy does a marvelous version of "Stand By Me" that is a crowd favorite - it usually turns into a major sing-along.

Sammy's pedigree is peerless - his aunt is Koko Taylor; Magic Sam was his cousin. He has played with Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Junior Wells, Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy and a host of equally talented but lesser-known bluesmen. Sammy also claims to be one of the original members of the Impressions, but I haven't been able to confirm that.

Mr. Fender is one of those lunch-bucket blues guys in Chicago that hasn't been on many records (I think he has had a self-produced live recording in 2002, and his previous release was in the early 1980's). So hit Bill's Blues on Saturday to hear a blues veteran with a big voice and a big heart.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Barrelhouse Chuck in the Wall Street Journal

It isn't often that my day job and my blues obsession collide. It happened today when I worked my way to the last page of the last section of the Wall Street Journal. The Journal's jazz critic (Nat Hentoff) did a long piece on Barrelhouse Chuck Goering. Nat heaped praise on Chuck (all richly deserved). Here is a link to the article.
Barrelhouse Chuck is up there with Erwin Helfer and Pinetop Perkins as one of the elite blues piano players in Chicago. He has a great new disk out on the Sirens label, "Got My Eyes On You." Chuck plays around town in a variety of settings and a bunch of different groups. He has played with my harmonica pal, Harry Garner, on occassion.
Barrelhouse Chuck is one of the 45-55 year old guys that played with many of the masters (Muddy, Wolf, Big Walter, Junior Wells, Otis Rush, etc. etc.). We have lots of these guys in Chicago - folks like Harland Terson (bass), E.G. McDaniel (bass), Anthony Palmer (guitar), Mark Wydra (guitar), Twist Turner (drums) and many others. Chuck is trying to keep the flame lit. Buy his record; go out and see his shows. You can see Chuck at Mocha Cafe & Wine Cellar on Saturday, January 20 (8:00 pm- 11:30 pm 742). The Mocha Cafe and Wine Bar is located at 742 Sheridan Road, Highwood, IL 847-579-4010.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Hoppin' John/Bootsy Collins

Mr. G crashed early on New Year's Eve. After a lovely (and heavy) meal with the wife and girlies, bed seemed like a better destination than the local blues bar. So I had a great night's sleep, woke up clear-headed and energized, and dug into the day's activities. I have a great pot of Hoppin' John on the stove - black eye peas, crushed red pepper, chicken breast, rice, onions and tomatoes. Black eye peas bring the good luck in the New Year, doncha know.

I went to the YMCA for a little exercise and cranked up Bootsy Collins on the ol' iPod. I have been thinking about Bootsy since I heard the news about James Brown's passing.
Bootsy is another one of my heroes. Just look at this guy:
He is one funky-ass SOB. When he was 18, back in 1970, he joined James Brown's band. JB's success in the 1970's was, in part, due to this crazy bass playa. His music is pure joy. If you can sit still while listening to Bootsy Collins, you must be dead.