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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Musical Winter Weekend in the Chicago 'Burbs

It was wicked cold last Friday night, January 25. Mr. G and the Mystery Band was booked at Bill's Blues in Evanston. We didn't think anyone would show up due to the bone-cracking chill and the blowing snow, but a reasonable number of hardy souls came out, God bless 'em. The Mystery Band did its best to throw some heat to the crowd. We covered as many bases as we could - shuffle blues, slow blues, funk, rhumbas -- even reggae. With the great OSee Anderson and Anthony Palmer on guitars, E.G. McDaniel on bass, and Cool James Carter on drums, I was fronting one of the best bands in Chicago. We had some transcendent moments. I am very lucky to have an opportunity to play with these guys.

On Saturday night, I drove the old Subaru out to Carol Stream, an hour away from my house, to hear the Harry Garner Band. Harry is an old friend and fellow harmonica geek/vocalist. He is an impressive sight on the bandstand, with his fedora and biker tattoos. Harry has charisma and an effective, gruff voice that nails every song. Harry's band included one of Chicago's top father/son blues teams, Mark and JR Wydra. Mark (the dad) is a veteran player who supported Eddy "the Chief" Clearwater for many years. His son, JR, is a young guitar slinger who brings energy and indie-rock sensibility to the blues. Mark was playing bass on this gig; the second guitarist was one of Mark's students. (I missed his name, but the guy could play!). Harry's band was playing a joint called "Manhattan's," a suburban bar & grill that was full of mostly middle-aged, middle-class Midwesterners. As Harry said to me, "Ya gotta read the crowd." He had them pegged, and added some covers of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Elvis to the blues mix. It was effective, and the dance floor was crowded with inebriated baby boomers. Some of these folks could dance. Most of them had no clue and no sense of rhythm. But, what the hell, they were having fun.

One last comment - Harry has lived the life of a bluesman, even though he is from Philadelphia, not Helena, Arkansas. He has overcome some challenges, and he is an admirable person.

On Sunday, E.G. McDaniel took me over to Reeves Audio to meet Jim Reeves. Jim is one of those unsung heroes of the music industry - a top-knotch recording engineer. He is also a fine musician ( a multi-instrumentalist) and singer. Jim has been recording, mixing and producing records for well over 40 years. He was the bullmoose engineer on hit records by Edgar Winter, Johnny Winter, ZZ Top, Gregg Allman, The Manhattan Transfer and many, many others. He set up his recording studio in Evanston IL about fifteen years ago and it is a thing of beauty. Large, incredibly well-organized and tricked out with enormous amounts of equipment, this place had me salivating. I have decided that the Mystery Band will record its first CD in this studio. Jim Reeves is a grizzled New Yorker with a big heart for musicians. I think it has been a tough slog to sell the services of a fancy recording studio in this digital age - seems like everybody has a mini-studio in their basement now.

The temperatures became a little less brutal Sunday night, so I hung out at the Stained Glass in Evanston. No music there, but my eldest daughter manages the bar. The Stained Glass is a fine dining establishment with a deep wine list. I had a nice glass of bordeaux. It was a perfect way to finish a great winter weekend in Chicago.


Anonymous said...

Mark Wydra is bad ass guitar player! One of the last times I saw him was when his wife was about 7 or 8 months pregnant with JR at a 50's bar in Westmont.

Most of the guys that tour nationally or regionally have worked with him at one time or another. He's been around for a while and is one of those guys that deserves far greater recognition.

Mr. G said...

Mark is killer. He plays with my band occassionally, and he is yet another unshng local hero of the blues in Chicago.

Mr. G

Mr. G said...

I meant to type "unsung local hero." Oops.