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Friday, September 28, 2007

Billy Paul and Barack Obama

This classic soul/funk tune should become Barack Obama's campaign theme song. It is called "Am I Black Enough for You?"

Billy Paul is still delivering awesome soul vocals at the age of 73. He caught the world's attention in 1972 with the tune, "Me and Mrs. Jones," but his musical legacy extends far beyond one hit record. He has those wonderful Philly soul pipes and he writes terrific songs. The cat is killer!! Check him out and buy his records.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Gary Primich Gone

What just happened? Gary Primich wasn't even 50 years old; he was a top-shelf harmonica player. The news is skimpy thus far - an announcement on Gary's website that he died yesterday. Here is the text of the statement.

Gary Primich, considered by many to be one of the
greatest harmonica players in the world, passed away
suddenly on September 23rd. Not only is this the loss
of a world-class talent, but also of a true
world-class person. Offstage, Gary was a caring and
gentle soul — a real Regular Joe of the best kind.
Onstage he played with a ferocity and indescribable
sound that was often mind-blowing. He’d say Thank You
to his fans then quickly change the subject because he
didn’t want it to be all about him. He loved animals,
he loved people, he loved music and he loved life.
Gary’s career sent him around the world, traveling
thousands and thousands of miles for his love of
music, but he’ll always be right here, in our hearts.

Details regarding a memorial service for Gary will be
posted as soon as more information is available.

Gary was a Chicago guy, a baby boomer born in 1958, weaned on Muddy and Walter and Sonny Boy and Wolf. He played in the 1970's with Johnny Littlejohn, Big Walter Horton and Sunnyland Slim. He left Chicago in the early 1980's to settle in Austin, Texas. From that base, he traveled the world playing 200-300 gigs a year. His harmonica work was stellar; he was a sincere and convincing vocalist, too.

I didn't know Gary personally - we were "one degree of separation" people; that connective layer was Joe Filisko, who made custom harmonicas for Gary and introduced him to many of the Old Town School of Folk Music harmonica students. Gary had a very positive rep, no one had a bad thing to say about the guy. I don't know many people that can hit that standard. I certainly can't.

I have been writing about the passing of blues and jazz people regularly. My first entry on this blog was about the death of an elderly amateur harmonica player. I guess I am focused on mortality due to my own advancing age. Maybe I am just a morbid old coot.

Gary Primich's passing is one of the saddest events ever for the harmonica community; right up there with the death of Paul deLay. God, this guy will be missed.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Good bye, Eddie Berner

Eddie was the type of guy that usually falls through the cracks in today's world. He was afflicted with a high fever as a small child, his brain was damaged, he was institutionalized, he was released into a halfway house and his cognitive skills were child-like. Not the type of person that one would expect to have an impact on a large city like Chicago. But he did.

Eddie was the Chicago blues "superfan." And to the credit of the Chicago blues community, he was embraced and shown loving respect by the musicians and the club owners. Yes, he was not a regular guy, but he had a deep devotion to the music and the musicians; he was in the clubs almost every night until his health gave out, he drank his soda pop and danced and sang. So he became a beloved person, and an inspiration.

Eddie died last week; I missed the news because I was on a business trip. I hung with him a few times at B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted and at Bill's Blues Bar in Evanston. Eddie made people happy. That places him in a pretty small group.

There is a memorial service this evening at B.L.U.E.S. Eddie would be very pleased by this.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Jazz/Blues and Literature - James Baldwin

I re-read one of my favorite short stories last night. It was buried in an anthology on the top shelf of my library - James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues." I last read this story when I was in college, I think. It is a terrific story that evokes the pain and difficulty of being a black American in the late 1950's. Baldwin was living in France by the time he wrote "Sonny's Blues;" he found the atmosphere in the United States too poisonous. Baldwin was also gay, so he had an additional set of biases to battle against.

In "Sonny's Blues," there are the best passages I have ever read about jazz and blues. Here they are:

All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours………….

………..Then Creole stepped forward to remind them that what they were playing was the blues. He hit something in all of them, he hit something in me, myself, and the music tightened and deepened, apprehension began to beat the air. Creole began to tell us what the blues were all about. They were not about anything very new. He and his boys up there were keeping it new, at the risk of ruin, destruction, madness and death, in order to find new ways to make us listen. For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it must always be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness.

Sonny's Blues, 1957

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Hanging with Barrelhouse Chuck and Betsy

In late August, I received an e-mail from Mr. H. Charles Goering (aka Barrelhouse Chuck) which contained a gracious invitation to a Labor Day barbecue at the Goering estate in Libertyville IL. Any fan of blues piano will know that Barrelhouse Chuck is the "keeper of the flame," the true believer and the immensely talented practioner of the Sunnyland Slim/Otis Spann/Little Brother Montgomery school of Chicago blues piano thumpin'. I have been a fan of BH Chuck for a long time, and I wrote a little about his exploits back in January (here is the link.) I have seen him play live a couple of times also - always a treat - and I have tried to convince him to be a guest star with the Mystery Band (his schedule and mine haven't quite jived yet). I was honored to get that invite to the barbecue.

I pulled up to the Goering residence and met Chuck's wife, Betsy - a kind, generous woman of great good humor (and a formidable bass player, according to my blues buddies). I also met the four Goering canines - a quartet of Boston terriers full of friendly energy. The rest of the guests were all new acquaintances - a combination of musicians, blues fans and Goering friends and family. Since I am now in my fifties, my ability to recall names has eroded somewhat (ah, Hell - I have always been forgetful about names, even when I was a kid). But I remember the musicians, because I jammed with them after we were done eating - Justin on bass and Gerry Hundt on mandolin. Justin is a guy who played with BH Chuck back in the day; he has been off the scene for a while now but plays with Little Arthur on occassion. Gerry Hundt is a scary multi-instrumentalist/vocalist who is a major reason why Nick Moss and the Flip Tops is such a terrific band. Gerry plays guitar, bass, mandolin and harmonica and he kicks ass on every instrument. He also has a very strong and tuneful voice, and he knows how to use it. During our jam, Chuck rocked on his old Steinway upright. Ol' Mr. G had fun blowing harp and trying to hang with these talented professionals.

Now here is the word on Barrelhouse Chuck. Yes, he can play that awesome blues piano, he has a super-strong left hand that most keyboard players can't come close to matching and he is a soulful blues singer. But he is also a huge blues fan, and he backs this with a museum's-worth of out-of print blues LP's (all stored in a loving archival fashion, with heavy plastic sleeves and careful labeling), an astonishing collection of posters, photographs and autographs and an extremely intense collection of personal effects from deceased Chicago blues heroes (well-known and unknown). Chuck has put in tons of effort, love and money to assemble this collection. He also has a few non-blues heroes, such as Stevie Winwood and Question Mark and the Mysterians. I was speechless after he gave me a tour. BH Chuck is a man passionately committed to good music; he has a huge heart and strong opinions. Whatta guy!

Thank God for the true believers! May their efforts succeed.