“I play what I love, and I love what I play,” says Little Arthur Duncan right at the beginning of the bonus Commentary-option of the DVD. “I appreciate you listening to my DVD. Thank you, and I hope this [DVD or CD] winds up in your home and not on my dresser!”
This Delmark Records CD/DVD project is all about authentic, old school Chicago Blues. The lead practitioner, fronting a band of relative youngsters, is harmonica playing, blues shouting Little Arthur Duncan, one of the last of the second wave of Mississippi-to-Chicago bluesmen. This DVD is the latest in Delmark’s effort to honor the remaining few Chicago greats while they are still on top of their game.
Born in Indianola, Mississippi 73 years ago (1934), Duncan relocated to the Windy City's West Side during the 1950s, often playing with guitar great Earl Hooker (Duncan: “Earl Hooker was the baddest of’em all. He was as bad as that gasoline my baby brought me when I asked her for water.”)
Being in the second generation behind Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Elmore James, Arthur played using a unique harmonica custom of playing the bass notes on the right. Duncan owned a couple of clubs himself, and for decades Arthur remained little-known outside of the Chicago scene, primarily appearing at his own Back Scratcher Social Club.
After Duncan moved to Chicago and met Little Walter, he took up the harmonica seriously (DVD: “[As a child], I wanted a saxophone, but I didn’t pick enough cotton to get one. I picked up playing harmonica by playing a hair comb with a paper over it.”)
For a while during the 1950's, Arthur shared a house with Little Walter and Jimmy Reed. (DVD: “Little Walter got me to go to the car wash with him. At that time Leonard Chess [Chess Records] had bought him a brand new white Cadillac. So he say he goin’ to the car wash, but I think I got back home two days later. Yes, he was a go-getter [hard partier].”)
Arthur sang and played in blues clubs all over Chicago. Most of the time he had his own band, but often he would work with artists such as Hip Linkchain, John Brim, and Floyd and Moody Jones. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Arthur worked construction jobs during the week, and played blues on the weekends. By the 1980s he was working regularly at some of Chicago's premier blues clubs. In 1989 he recorded an album called Bad Reputation for Blues King Records. In 1999, Delmark Records studio recorded Singin' With The Sun, a solid set of Chicago Blues. It was nominated for a W.C. Handy (Blues Music) Award.
Today, Little Arthur's style follows the greats like Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo, and he sounds on this DVD as if you were in a bar on West Madison Street in 1959. As you will see, Little Arthur Duncan and his band The Backscratchers’ blues are infectious and joyous. Age causes Arthur to be seated on all but three numbers, but as he sings, there’s pure emotion escaping his soul and penetrating his audience. Guitarists are a stoic Illinois Slim and Rick Kreher, bassist is Michael Azzi, Twist Turner flicks the sticks, and Little Al Thomas performs a guest vocal on “I Got To Find My Baby.”
DVD highlights are two bonus songs not included on the CD (“Mean Old Frisco Blues” and “Scratch My Back”) and the Special Featured Little Arthur Commentary in which he tells his story, anecdotes, and recipes in his own words. Song highlights include four originals among the many well done covers like Jimmy Reed’s “Pretty Thing,” Little Walter’s “Blues With A Feeling,” and Howlin’ Wolf’s ”Little Red Rooster.”
Little Arthur Duncan is an artist you will want to see perform live while you can, short of that, this DVD is the next best thing!
James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL