naysayers are always talking about how the Blues is dying and we all
need to make an effort to keep it alive. While the keep it alive part is
true, the Blues is certainly in good hands as long as there are young
players who continually step up and take the torch and run with it.
Chicago-based guitar slinger Joel Paterson is one of those players. Not
only is he a bona-fide Blues guy, he plays jazz, rockabilly, country
pedal steel and probably some classical if you can get him to admit it.
Being well-versed in all types of musical genres is his motivation.
That, and a desire to put food on the table. Playing in a variety of
bands enables him to stay sharp and he can make a decent living in and
around his adopted city of Chicago.
Joel is originally from Madison, Wisconsin but he was lured to Chicago
many years ago by the music and has never left for any length of time.
“Thank you, I’m glad you think I’m still young,” Joel says. “I’ve been a
professional musician for about 20 years now, so I feel like I’ve been
at it for a while. I know a lot of people might think of me as more of a
swing, jazz, rockabilly, country, etc guitar player—but I always think
of myself as a Blues guitarist first and foremost, because that was my
first love and it’s what got me started playing guitar.”
Just like many of the young guns today, Joel heard the old masters on
vinyl in his parents record collection as a teenager and caught the bug.
“I started when I was around 13 or so, and I taught myself the rudiments
of guitar from a Lightnin’ Hopkins LP that my mom had,” Joel relates.
“That is when I became obsessed with Blues. There is a great record
store in my hometown of Madison, WI called B-Side—they got in a lot of
the Yazoo label LPs back then. I bought them all and that’s how I got
into acoustic country Blues. I learned guitar mostly by ear. I took some
theory lessons later to learn what the hell I was doing, but I’m pretty
much self-taught. Of course I love all of the Chicago Blues greats, but
most of my early influences go back to ‘20s and ‘30s Delta stuff. But I
get into everything, I love acoustic and electric Blues the same.”
One standard question almost all guitar players are asked is who
are/were their favorite players and Joel has an extensive and diverse
list of great pickers to choose from. He spans the whole scene from
acoustic, to electric Blues, to jazz and country. A definite testimony
to his guitar dexterity.
“That’s always a tough question for me—get ready for a long list,” Joel
says. “Here are a few in no particular order: Blind Blake, Robert
Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red, Muddy
Waters, Robert Nighthawk, Freddie King, B.B. King, Albert Collins, Magic
Sam, Charlie Christian, Tiny Grimes, Bill Jennings, Barney Kessel, Grant
Green, Les Paul, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, I’m sure I am forgetting a
Joel’s bio describes him as an all-around player and never pin points
his first love—Blues but he says he plays in the various groups to
sustain himself without having to hit the road for long spells like so
many of his contemporaries choose to do.
“The Blues, country, rockabilly, jazz guitar wizard has spent the last
10 years touring and recording with acts like Dave 'Honey Boy' Edwards,
Wanda Jackson, Carl 'Sonny' Leyland, Jimmy Sutton's Four Charms, Deke
Dickerson, and his own Joel Paterson's Blues Roundup and the Modern
Sounds (who were voted best Chicago Jazz Band in the 2009 Chicago Reader
Poll). While Paterson can recreate the sound and feel of guitar greats
like Django Reinhardt, Tiny Grimes, Chet Atkins, Wes Montgomery, and
Merle Travis, he can also nail the Chicago and Delta Blues idioms of
guitarists like Blind Blake, Robert Nighthawk, Jimmy Rogers, and Freddie
King. If that wasn't enough, this guy can also tear it up on a pedal
steel. Plain and simple this cat can play.”
a love of playing (is why I play in various bands),” Joel says.
“Definitely love of playing and love of music. But I think it just came
naturally out of living in Chicago and trying to get by playing music.
There are so many great musicians here from different genres, I usually
get into a new phase out of necessity by joining a new band. I do manage
to I squeak by playing here. I go to my home state of Wisconsin to play
a lot, too. “
“Here are some of the bands around Chicago that I currently play in:
The Modern Sounds. We specialize in Chicago's finest in
classic Blues, swing, rockabilly, and everything in between. The band
features a big sound and tight, three-part harmonies,” Joel says.”
Joel plays guitar, Beau Sample plays slap bass, and Alex Hall is the
drummer. The band strives to bring its audience back to the "Modern"
Paterson formed Ventrella Records in 2001 as an independent label based
in Chicago specializing in all styles of American roots music, including
Blues, jazz, rockabilly, Western swing, and more.
“I founded Ventrella Records in 2001 with the release of the solo
country blues album, "Down at The Depot,” Joel says. “The label is named
after our friend and spiritual advisor James Ventrella, Chicago music
connoisseur and international man of mystery. Ventrella Records is
mismanaged by me with Beau Sample and Alex Hall as production staff. We
founded Ventrella as a way to get rich quick or go broke show.
“Our goal is to showcase the great musicians on the roots scene today,”
Joel says. “We will continue to make records until I run out of money or
licks, whichever comes first. The ideal place to buy Ventrella products
is out of the trunk of a 1997 Honda Civic, but our CDs can be found on
cdbaby.com if you are a savvy internet shopper.”
Shake 'Em On Down features Joel on guitar and vocals;
Rick Sherry, harmonica and vocals; Alex Hall, drums; Beau Sample, bass
(and other various rhythm sections featuring Chicago's finest).
“We play an early style of electric country Blues and jump Blues, with a
heavy dose of Dr. Ross, Joe Hill Louis, Papa Lightfoot, Robert
Nighthawk, Muddy Waters, Big Walter, Johnny Shines, John Lee Hooker, Sun
Records era Howlin' Wolf, and more,” Joel relates.
Then there’s The Joel Paterson Trio, a jazz and Blues
organ trio featuring Chicago legend Chris Foreman on the Hammond B3.
“We have managed to fit a Hammond B3, Leslie, full drum set, and guitar
and amp behind the bar at the famous Green Mill Cocktail Lounge,” Joel
Devil in a Woodpile displays Joel’s love of country
Blues first learned way back when first listening to Lightnin’ Hopkins
on his mom’s vinyl.
band features Chicago country Blues legends Rick Sherry on harmonica,
washboard and vocals; Joel Paterson, National resonator guitar and
vocals; and Tom Ray on upright bass and beard.
“I’ve played a Resonator guitar for many years in a Chicago country
blues band called Devil in a Woodpile,” Joel relates. “Resonator guitar
comes naturally to me because I started out playing country Blues and
ragtime. Now lap steel and pedal steel—that is another matter. I started
playing that later and it has always been a challenge for me. I think
that’s why I like it. I can give you another endless list of steel
players I like, but my main influences are the basics: Jerry Byrd, Jimmy
Day, and Buddy Emmons.”
The Western Elstons band plays Chicago honky tonk,
featuring Scott Ligon on bass and vocals, Casey McDonough, Jimmy Sutton,
and Joel on the guitar and pedal steel.
“We play about once a month to a nice, dedicated little crowd.,” Joel
says. “We play ‘50s and ‘60s era honky tonk music. Old beer joint music.
It gives me a chance to keep up with my pedal steel playing, which is
always a challenge.”
Joel’s latest project is The Cash Box Kings, another
classic Chicago Blues band who record on the Blind Pig label. CBK has
recently been nominated for a Blues Blast Music Award for best
contemporary Blues album.
“I didn’t start the band (CBK),” Joel says. “They started in Madison. I
started playing with them if they needed somebody to play in Chicago.
And I started going up to Wisconsin to play a bit with them because I
always love seeing all the familiar faces around Madison.
“I wouldn’t say we’re touring extensively,” he says. “We just play some
festivals here and there when it makes sense. Festivals are great, by
the way. I’m all for any gig that brings Blues and roots music to a
bigger audience gets us in front of a good crowd. All I will say is that
Blues is dance music, so get out of your lawn chairs and shake
something. But my favorite gigs are still always a great little crowd in
a small club. I think that is the way roots music has always been the
“We are always trying to juggle everyone’s crazy schedule,” Joel says.
“I live in Chicago so I don’t have to tour too much to get by. I’m lucky
that I get to go to Europe every now and then with my band The Modern
Sounds, and The Cash Box Kings. That’s always a hoot.
“They are definitely appreciative in Europe,” Joel says. “They make you
feel good. I think Americans are more into their iPhones and take music
and musicians for granted. That’s all I’ll say. But every time I go to
Europe I’m ready to come home and find a good cheeseburger.”
As mentioned, this is merely a partial list of groups Joel is associated
with. He’s obviously in demand as a player and front man.
Most artists get asked about career highlights and Joel referred this
writer to his agent for any comments.
let my agent get back to you about that,” he says, with a laugh. “Oh
wait, that’s me. (It’s) hard to say. The Modern Sounds opening up for
Jeff Beck a few years ago for two nights in Chicago was a great show. I
still get a lot of people coming up to me that learned about us through
that. The trips to Europe I’ve taken are always a blast. Playing Deke
Dickerson’s Guitar Geek festival in California was always a thrill. But
I think my career highlights are always just good local shows where we
can get a nice little crowd of people listening and dancing.
“As for low points, I played in Bo Diddley’s backing band for a night in
Madison way back when,” Joel recalls. “I think it was a career highlight
but maybe it was a lowlight because I couldn’t hear one note that I
played. No, I’m kidding, it was a thrill. Hard to say about lowlights,
maybe I’m good at blocking them out of my mind.”
Joel pays respects to the Vaughan brothers and the Austin players as
having an early influence on his playing.
“Oh definitely, those early T-Birds records were a big influence on me
when I was starting out,” he says. “I still love them. I have a lot of
friends in Austin. That’s where all the pickers live that make you
depressed and want to go home to practice. My favorite is Dave Biller.”
Paterson’s versatility and wide ranging musical interests obviously
allow him to stick close to home and work on pet projects of which he
“Right now my main projects in Chicago are The Modern Sounds, with the
versatile musicians Beau Sample and Alex Hall,” he says. “That’s the
band where I can just be myself and play whatever I want. I’ve also been
playing a lot with the great harmonica player, Rick Sherry. We do
everything from acoustic country Blues to ‘50s Sun records-era Blues. I
play every Sunday night at the jazz club, The Green Mill with the
legendary Chicago organ player, Chris Foreman. We play all the old Jimmy
McGriff B3 stuff and it is a blast.”
On the state of the Blues, Joel says he’s too locked into his own Blues
world to pay much attention to what’s happening outside his sphere.
“Ouch, that's a tough one,” he says. “I'm not sure. I'm bad at keeping
up with what is going on these days. I'm kind of stuck in my own world
of listening to the old records. I do wish there were some more folks
around here to play that with. But, there a lot of great players around.
It’s just frustrating when they all live in different cities.”
All some of us can do is listen and write about it. But, there has to be
an audience, right?
Visit Joel's website at
Here are a few videos to check out this great guitar talent!
Joel with the Cash Box Kings
Joel with Modern Sounds
Joel with Devil In a Woodpile and Honeyboy Edwards
Joel with the Joel Patterson Trio
Joel Patterson and Rami Gabreil doing some amazing swing guitar
Photos by Bob Kieser © 2013 Blues Blast Magazine
Interviewer Jim Crawford is a transplanted Texan and the current
president of the Phoenix Blues Society. He’s a fan of lots of different
types of music but keeps his head mostly planted in the Blues today. He
received his first 45 rpm record, Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man,” at about
age 8 and it stuck. He hosted the “Blues Cruise” on KACV-FM 90 in
Amarillo for many years and can be found on many nights catching a good
show at the Rhythm Room, Phoenix’s Blues Mecca.
For other reviews and interviews on our website