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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Review of Chicago Blues Festival - Walkin' Around, June 7



I was busy this week, so I missed the Thursday and Friday performances at the 25th Chicago Blues Festival. I did make it there on Saturday, and walked about, checking out a few acts. The rain fell at about 4:45, so I left (I had a gig Saturday night and had to leave anyway). It rained again on Sunday, so I wussed out and stayed home. Shame on me. I caught some interesting stuff on Saturday, though.
The Juke Joint Duo - Cedric Burnside and Lightnin' Malcolm: Malcolm and Cedric are pictured at the top of this post. These guys ripped up the fest on the Mississippi Juke Joint Stage. They are, indeed, from Mississippi, and Cedric is the grandson of the great R.L. Burnside. These are young cats, doing that awesome drone-style North Mississippi blues made popular by the Fat Possum Records crew. Their "special sauce" was unison vocals - an eerie, keening sound that really worked well with the beats laid down by Cedric and the riffs pounded out by Malcolm. They had some intense energy, very much a hip-hop vibe. Thumbs up for these two!

Steve Arvey - Mr. Arvey is my friend and he is a fantastic guitarist. He was playing an acoustic set at the Maxwell Street Corner stage. Steve has left Chicago now; he spends most of his time in Florida where he says there is quite a bit of work for blues musicians. His set at Blues Fest was relaxed and quite interesting; I got the feeling that he had not played frequently with this group of back-up musicians. The set had a bit of a jam session feel to it (not that there is anything wrong with that). An interesting participant in the set was a blues harmonica player from Spain, Quique Gómez. Quique is a nice young man who has solid Chicago blues harp chops. The name of his band in Madrid is "Juan Bourbon, Juan Scotch, Juan Beer" HA! I love it.

Bumblebee Bob: Bumblebee Bob Novak is one of the Chicago blues guys that never got the attention he deserved. His music was stripped down, raw Chicago blues in the tradition of Hound Dog Taylor. A fine harmonica player, guitarist and vocalist, he is known for his work with the Chicago Slim Blues Band and his own group, Bumblebee Bob and the Stingers. Bob also played with pianists Sunnyland Slim and Erwin Helfer. He was the son of Russian immigrants and fell in love with the blues on Maxwell Street; he got into it before the "white college kid crowd" (Butterfield, Bloomfield, et al). Bob is also a fabulous painter (grad of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1958) and has had many one-man shows at high-end galleries. - he also designed the Chicago Blues Fest posters for many years. I was really looking forward to seeing Bob, but it was not to be - he fell ill before the fest and was in intensive care, not doing very well. His band carried on, and my friend Tom Albanese played harp and sang a few tunes in Bob's absence. It was very entertaining, but sad. Bumblebee Bob is 75 years old now....looks like he is reaching the end of his road. Tough year for harp players - Little Arthur Duncan is struggling after brain surgery, now Bob is struggling, too. Say a prayer, people.

I saw some other acts, notably part of Otis Taylor's "Recapturing the Banjo" set. But these three acts took up most of my short visit.

It is always great to hit the Chicago Blues Festival - the fans are really into the music and there is great respect for the musicians. Too bad the folks in Chicago don't always give these great blues players the props they deserve during the rest of the year...

11 comments:

Joe said...

I didn't know that Bumblebee Bob played harp. I used to see him at the Chicken Basket in Willowbrook with Chicago Slim. He's really good guitar player, but I had never seen him vlow the harp.

mhd said...

I would like to know if there's any news/update on Bob's condition? Hope he's well, or improving at least.

Mr. G said...

To mhd:

You know, I haven't heard much news about Bumblebee Bob lately. I will do some research in the community and post the results on my blog. Stay tuned.

Mr. G

Anonymous said...

I too used to visit Bob at Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket in the mid late '90's.
Flashback to 1974 - I was a 20 yr old guitar player working in the Chgo. area and I answered an ad for a '63 Gibson Firebird Guitar for sale. Upon arriving at the Oak Park home of the owner, I proceeded to check out this potential addition to my axe arscenal.The owner was a slim old timer, at the time someone 40-45 was an old timer to me, and he was very patient and polite while I tried to do some of my best licks on this guitar. He picked up a '50's Gibson jazz style guitar and noodled around with me as I played Beatles, Hendrix, and Allman Bros. riffs. I bought the guitar, but really didn't spend much time jamming with this man, feeling reserved in the presence of his obvious skill. How I wish I had done more. Only years later did I discover that it was Bumble Bee Bob who had sold me this fine guitar, because according to him at the time, he needed to "pay the rent".
Flash forward to 1990's Chicken basket - I went there to see Bob's show and I brought with a picture of the guitar. Bob sat next to m at the bar and we started talking music, blues, etc. and I said to him - "Bob do you remember this bird from about 25 years ago?" showing him the picture. He answered he was having trouble with his eyes and couldn't see it very well, but he sort of remembered it. We continue to talk during breaks all nite and I also spoke with a delightful woman who was his girlfriend. She was kind enough to send me some photos of Bob's artwork since I wasn't aware of his talent in this area.
Anyway, I hope Bob is doing o.k. - I will always think of him every time I hold the Gibson Firebird that I have in my hands right now.

Love Frankie Baby

Mr. G said...

I heard that Bumble Bee Bob had heart surgery some time back - nearly died, but bounced back. He is laying low, off the scene. To the best of my knowledge, he is surviving but is staying home. I suspect he is still painting if he is still breathing.

Mr. G

Anonymous said...

10/7/09
I still stay in touch w/Bob. He's alive and well and continues to paint. He still has the same phone number.
Marlene

Anonymous said...

10/25/09
Just saw Bob in "the hive." He's cranking out the drawings, paintings and philosophy. Is thankful for what he's got.
Marlene

Mr. G said...

I would love to get in touch with Bumblebee Bob - is he still playing at all?

Mr. G

Anonymous said...

Today is Bob's 78th birthday. He said that he's still got a few ticks left in the old clock! He hasn't performed in a while. If anything comes up, I'll spread the word.

Simon Sen said...

I met him in Copenhagen years ago and had the chance to play with him in a club and on the street. Very nice guy and one hell of a player...
Say hi from me, L.P. Simonsen. Maybe he remembers...

Moses Colone said...

I have an original.painting.by bumble be.bob its for sale