I’m going to skip the almost incomprehensible attrition that has cost the blues and music worlds so many greats since my last dispatch and filled far too many obituary pages in the trade press, other than to say that we’ve lost a huge slice of greatness and history from the scene. If we needed any reminders to enjoy the performers and other luminaries who are still active while we can, the last few months have provided a shockingly compelling case.
JOHN GODDART, Village Music Photo ctsy John Goddard. (BluesLife-Archive)
It is a very special to have the photos
of Kurt Swanson
for the Chicago Blues News
by Dick Shurman
for BluesArtStudio-Journal. Thank you Kurt !
see more on our BLUES LINK site!
The Chicago club scene is taking some major hits too. Chord On Blues in St. Charles, one of the most hospitable venues and a major way station for touring acts, suddenly announced the suspension of live music the first weekend of January. (More on that later.) Legends got a lot of media coverage when the announcement was made that after many postponements and unsuccessful attempts to work out a land swap, the club will close, probably shortly after the Chicago Blues Festival June 7-10, and hopefully relocate in the south or west Loop areas; landlord Columbia College plans to build a Student Center on the current site. Beyond the blow these two losses are striking to the chances for national acts on the road to find a high level Chicago stopover, they’re also two of the better clubs for food and the convenience that option offers.
On top of this, the venerable Jazz Showcase closed after a New Year’s Eve blowout with Fathead Newman and Henry Johnson’s Organ Express; like Legends, the club is looking (again) for a new venue in the general area of the Loop. Andy’s is booking some of the greasy jazz acts who would have played the Showcase, but we still wish the Segal family luck in securing good quarters to continue the legacy. Meanwhile, Jazz Record Mart (where Showcase owner Joe Segal once worked for Bob Koester) is also not far from needing to make a major decision about its own future. There’s a good chance that most of these situations will work themselves out in a reasonably short period of time, but it’s still scary to contemplate impermanence of the bulwarks of the milieu we love. Outside of Chicago, two of the greatest blues (and other roots music) record stores are also struggling. Owner John Goddard announced that Village Music in Mill Valley, California is closing due to declining and changing business; besides having great music for sale the store is like a museum or shrine with things like an early Howlin’ Wolf session payment check on the walls. In Portland, Oregon, Terry Currier is looking for ways to keep Music Millennium afloat by diversifying its merchandise. Not a good time for “brick and mortar” stores, even venerable and wonderful ones.
On the up side, Buddy Guy had the usual highly successful run at Legends in January and the night I caught was the best I’ve seen him in quite awhile serious about the music, played whole songs (he’d obviously been listening to Bobby Bland’s “Here’s the Man!” album), sympathetic band. And Chord On Blues regrouped to make amends to many of the acts who were suddenly canceled via an excellent three day festival February 23-25. The three bands a night included Big James and the Chicago Playboys (by the way, Buddy Guy did a nice “Champagne And Reefer” with James at his birthday bash at Legends), Eddy Clearwater, Carl Weathersby, Nick Moss & the Flip Tops, Howard & the White Boys, Lonnie Brooks, an acoustic set by Nick Moss, Gerry Hundt and harp player Larry Andersen, Lil’ Ed and Ronnie Baker Brooks (with a cameo by his Producer Jellybean Johnson). Some of the winter’s worst weather didn’t help the turnout but Saturday night was a mob in a partying mood and it was great just to rekindle the setting and vibe for a weekend. COB plans to book one night a month of live music (Hamilton Loomis in March, Heartsfield in April, Chris Cain in May) while they work out a long term strategy.
Another highlight of winter, although I had to miss it due to business travel, was the City of Chicago’s Winter Delights program. This post-holiday civic brightener has really taken root and expanded over the last several years, going way beyond blues but including an Albert King tribute called “Cadillac Assembly Line” with Big Time Sarah, Sir Mack Rice, Lurrie Bell, Carl Weathersby and more.
Speaking of Lurrie, his trials and his fortitude continue. His devoted companion Susan Greenberg died from cancer in January, leaving Lurrie without his rock of support and with their one year old daughter. Susan was also an outstanding blues photographer (I have framed prints from her hanging in three rooms at home) whose work remains on exhibit around the city. The Greenberg family has really stepped up, adopting the child and funding a recording project by Lurrie produced by Matthew Skoller which sounds very promising. Delmark has just issued the live Carey & Lurrie CD and DVD, and Lurrie has good management and is doing some international touring. He and his daughter can use all our prayers and hopes.
Another son of a famed bluesman has emerged recently: a new Muddy Waters Junior from the west side. I haven’t seen him yet, but he’s booked for the Chicago Blues Festival and the annual Muddy tribute in Westmont July 15, and he and a good band made a drive time AM radio appearance on Muddy’s birthday. By all reports, he puts on a rousing show doing Muddy’s material.
This year’s blues Grammies were interesting. I’d been telling Irma Thomas’s Producer Scott Billington that Irma’s latest was Grammy-worthy since I first heard it, so it’s good to see my infallibility validated yet again. A bigger surprise was Ike Turner’s win. It’s not my place to defend or criticize Ike’s character or sexual politics (though I join many in appreciating and honoring his prodigious contribution to blues history through his own music and the many other legendary artists he discovered, accompanied and nurtured in the ‘50s), but I feared the backlash against him after Tina’s case against him was made so publicly would prevent him from ever getting a fair assessment; obviously that is no longer the case. Whatever one’s visceral feelings about Ike, it can’t be denied that his body of work is well worth major awards.
On the recording front, DeltaGroove continues their activities; Jody Williams flew out to Los Angeles to contribute two songs to the next Mannish Boys CD due out in May, and while there he had a reunion with vocalist Bobby Jonz, who once sang in Chicago with him and the Aces among others. Blue Bella is working on a mandolin CD by Gerry Hundt and new ones by Nick Moss and Bill Lupkin. DeltaGroove and Blue Bella are combining for what looks like a terrific showcase event at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis.
Speaking of Memphis (we do have some good segues in this column), Peter Guralnick has informed me that he’s looking at a portrait of Sam Phillips as his next book project, not as lengthy or deep as his Presley and Cooke biographies but still something to anticipate eagerly, if only to get some new quotations from Sam for future annotations.
The Blues Music Foundation has awarded almost $200,000 in grants to a number of organizations to further the causes of blues preservation and education. This pretty much puts the Year Of The Blues to bed, on a nice note. And with that we’ll do the same to this column. Next time: Festival dispatches, hopefully good news about Legends, the Jazz Showcase and Chord On Blues and the answer to the question on everyone’s lips: will Chicago survive blues maven Wes Race’s 60th birthday blowout? Happy bluesing to all!