Chicago Blues Update
Live Blues reviews by Chicago Blues
Sometimes I get so excited about the live Blues music scene here in Chicago, that I want to just pick you all up in my little Jetta and drag you around with me all weekend. It shouldn’t be a problem because, as you know, wherever you live it is a suburb of Chicago. Allow me to guide you through a typical blues odyssey here in the capital of the blues.
Friday we start out at Moe Joe’s southwest of the city center. We are going to enjoy Barrelhouse Chuck and Gerry Hundt with a side of great New Orleans cuisine. Barrelhouse learned at the side of his close friend Little Brother Montgomery and several other masters who have since gone to blues heaven. He sings and plays and tells stories about his heroes. Check out his website for pictures of his memorabilia from his museum/home. This year Gerry Hundt had the honor of several nominations for Blues Music Awards. One was for his spot as one of Nick Moss’ Fliptops and the other was for his Chicago Blues Mandolin cd. Tonight he would get to his guitar, harp, mandolin, vocals and even slide mandolin. Chuck and Gerry will sit and talk with us during the break, and I might recommend that you pick-up some of their recordings while you’re here so we can have them autographed. Let’s say hi to harpist Joe Filisko at another table then hit the road.
We jump on I-55 North for the short run between Plainfield and Darien, and stop at the 8700 Room. This is the bar area of The Carriage Greens Country Club. The Carl Davis Band is just getting ready to start, but I have just enough time to introduce you to Carl, Anthony Tabion (keyboards), Pete Scach (bass) and Lenny Spatafore (I love that name) on drums. It doesn’t take singer, guitarist and songwriter Carl Davis long to get the place up and dancing. This is too good, so we’ll stay for a few sets. I’m glad you asked, and yes they do have a new and successful cd titled Someday. After hearing some of those tracks live mixed in with some great new material we get Someday and ask when the next one will be out. It is only about 11:30, the night is young and you have already met six of the nicest guys in the biz.
Further on up I-55, which here in Chicago is the Stevenson Expressway, we exit at Harlem Avenue. Next stop (you guessed it) is The Harlem Avenue Lounge in Berwyn. The Pat Smillie Band is an R&B revue band that fills the large stage at HAL. That’s Brother Alton Woodley at the keys and Big John Merideth with his very large left handed six-string bass (think tree). That’s Al Wittek playing a Les Paul now, but before we leave we will hear him on the lap steel. The name on the bass drum says Sambo and is stomped by Arthur “Sambo” Irby. I think Sambo is one of the most talented guys around. He drums, he sings, he plays imaginary harmonica and…wait a minute he’s standing on his drum stool. The requisite girl backup singers are the lovely and talented Ashley Stevenson and Jackie Patton. I wish Tina Howell was with them tonight. You have to meet her sometime. Ashley and Jackie don’t spend the full set on stage. We can be gentlemen of course and let them share our bar stools. By the way, that hug was from Ramblin’ Rose. Wait until you hear her version of “Give Me One Reason”. Here is another signed cd to add to your collection. Well the party is over, for now. You and I just can not be the last ones out of this bar, so we talk to our bartender Dre (yeah I like blue jeans too), and Kenny Z the proprietor for a while. Dre prepares the best scotch on the rock around. I think they want to go home, so on to home. I love the chirping of birds in the morning, when the sun is coming up and I am coming in.
What do you know? It’s Saturday and as sure as night follows day, I will pick you up tonight for round two. In the meantime, I have downloaded a bunch of photos to the computer, but have not had time to check them out.
Starting from the Southwest side again, we get to Vino Tinto in Oak Lawn early enough to get some seats. Melissa and Sara are the young sisters that run this wine bar. Not to worry, you can still have your beer and I can still have my shot. Melissa has hosted Marty Sammon before, but has never had the pleasure of seeing him play with tonight’s partner the Arkansas Razorback, Doug McDonald. Mike Krystol will also join in tonight on congas. There is some magic when Marty and Doug play together. Here is yet another cd for you. It is Live at Oratio's from the nineties. Even back then a very young Sammon and Doug (with Krystol on bass) were amazing. I stopped here so you can hear and see Buddy Guy’s piano man Marty Sammon while he’s in town. To get to hear the legendary McDonald at the same time is a special moment. Sure, I’ll drink to that. I don’t know when you’re coming back to town, so keep your eye out for a cd of Marty Sammon and Tom Holland which is due out soon. I had the pleasure of sitting in on the recording session and there were some goose bump moments for sure. Mike produced it so there is a great chance he digitized the goose bumps. Wow, it’s 11:45 already.
We’re now heading into the city limits, to North Halstead. It’s after midnight but the heavy traffic, bicycles and pedestrians would have you believing it was 6:00 PM. DePaul University is in the neighborhood so it is a cross between Beale Street and a college campus (with coeds of course). This guy will take our car in front of Kingston Mines and we will walk south a few hundred feet to B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted. This is not a nightclub. This is a bar. The long narrow room has a small stage in the back with Nellie “Tiger” Travis and her guys on it. Tiger is inciting a riot with her legion of fans. Fortunately, the bartender lady sees us coming and has my medicine ready. Give some kind of signal for your beer, because I’m not even going to try to yell an order for you. We get to the stage just as the set is over. Nellie and her stash of CDs are immediately circled by her fans. Nellie waves but if you want a CD, you’re on your own. In the room behind the stage there are a host of local musicians either done with their gigs or between sets from another venue. I agree, they are a friendly bunch of guys. I can introduce you to Nellie’s son the drummer and Ron Hicks the music director and keyboard man but the others have bolted for the outside where they can grab a quick smoke. Back up the street we go to The Kingston Mines. If you’re getting hungry they have Doc’s Rib Joint in back. On the smaller North stage we see Joanna Connor and her band. I’m not surprised that you have seen her before on a previous trip to the Holy land, because that girl is always playing somewhere and has a fan base to prove it. You look a little tired but just think! We have four more sets of music, between Joanna and the main stage tenants Big James & The Chicago Playboys. Yes James is big isn’t he. He does missionary work as he brings his band and Chicago blues around the world. This six man ensemble is surely one of the tightest, most professional acts in town. His trademark trombone is down often enough to hear his wonderful singing voice. Speaking of singers, Mike Wheeler that tall guy on guitar, is for my money, one of the best voices you will hear. It’s a good thing I’m not a reviewer, because my overuse of superlatives for this rhythm section would get me fired. Cleo Cole on drums and Larry Williams on a dyslexic bass are a show in themselves. Goldie Blocker runs that hi tech rig on the far left. It looks like keyboards, wires, vocal synth and more wires. He sings as well. The rest of the horn section is Charles Kimball on sax and vocals. They are all wearing big smiles and are moving in unison just like the crowd. By this time all the other musicians around town are done and have drifted in. That’s Magic Slim. There is R.J. Howson and etc. This time you decide to get the cd because the folks back home will not believe this band. Some great writer said “You can never go home”. Some great bartenders have said “Don’t you ever go home?” Well yes I do, because I have to get you home. Our friend has our chariot at the curb waiting. On the way back home we try to list all great people from the blues community you met, and all the CDs you collected from Lil Brother Montgomery to Big James Montgomery. With the sun coming up, I start thinking more about breakfast than sleep. Well actually I never did think about sleep. There will be plenty of time for that after the music stops. I can’t wait to see some of the pictures we took, but alas, it’s day job time until next weekend. You came here a blues fan and you are now a blues fanatic.
The Harry Garner Band at The Pump Room
The Harry Garner Band brought its rollicking barrelhouse blues to the Pump Room Bar to provide the soundtrack for a great night of dancing, drinking and friends. This is a perfect venue for Harry and his band. Sure they pack the famous Harlem Avenue Lounge and I have even seen them light up a country club lounge, entertain restaurant patrons, and put smiles on the riders at biker fests. In my humble opinion, shot and beer bars are home sweet home for the HGB. The band consists of Al Lopeztello behind the kit. He keeps the place tapping and spices up his work with a host of percussion surprises. The bass duties are in the hands of Mark “The Shark” Wydra, who spends most of his musician time as a “go to” six string player. J.R. (not junior) Wydra is the HGB guitar player. J.R. is also guitar man in Linsey “Hoochie Man” Alexander’s band.
Guess what Harry “The Harp” Garner plays. Harry handles most of the vocals, but the two guys named Wydra chip in as well. Harry has a distinctive vocal style that growls yet allows you to hear each word clearly. When he sings Dead Presidents, for example, you get it all. Harry was not raised in Chicago, but he surely has earned his blues stripes. He was originally from South Philly, which is, of course, and Eastern suburb of Chicago. From there to another urban mecca named Cleveland. After a stint in the Marines, Harry wandered a bit and found himself married to a Playboy bunny in Chicago. I will let you finish the story. Then, as he says, “I found the blues”. Harry is a private, intelligent individual with a serious intention to be true to Chicago blues. He means what he plays. Mark the Shark, is a music dictionary and has no problem throwing in riffs from rock or country to see if you’re awake. Not a problem, as I can’t imagine anyone falling asleep to the HGB.
The Bad Idea Band at The Pump Room
Thank you to Mary of the Pump Room Bar in Worth, IL for providing live blues entertainment several times a month. This shot & beer place is clean, biker friendly, and just plain friendly. There is a large raised, well lit stage, ample dancing room and their mixologists have the double scotch on a rock perfected.
Tonight’s band was The Bad Idea Band. As with many bands, the lineup is seldom the same, but with this band, leader Ray Sukash lays back and encourages that night’s members to make a unique chemistry. The bottom line here is to see them often. They didn’t ease into party mode, they jumped in with a very large sounding “Let the Good Times Roll”. Louie Jordan would have approved as bassist C.C. Copeland sang his animated version.
Before they started, I asked another new member of the band if he had played with Copeland before. No. Well just don’t get real close because he takes up far more room than his slight frame predicts. I’m still talking about the first song now. Sax man Jay Moynihan (Buddy Guy, etc.) became the entire horn section on this one. He executed his fills and the effect was a big band sound not commonly heard at this bar.
Regular piano man Marty Sammon was on the road with Buddy Guy, so tonight’s man on the keys was “Wally” Walroth. Wally had played with Ray “The Flame” for years, and was another factor in tonight’s rich sound. Ace drummer Myron Robinson just made everything fit, and added a great Soul and R&B sensibility. Myron was largely responsible for filling the dance floor. “Killer” Ray Allison is another Buddy Guy alumnus. He was Buddy’s drummer, but is now a “killer” guitar player, frequently fronting his own band about town. At the center of this music factory is Ray “The Flame” Sukash. The nickname no doubt comes from his guitar chops, but I think he should be credited for putting together groups of star players who seem to always show up sans ego.
There were microphones in front of Ray, Wally, Myron, C. C. and Killer Ray. True to any great R&B revue, they all used their mics in solo and for several great harmony parts. Don’t wait for the Bad Idea CD to hear this stuff. They mix it up and I have never heard the same show twice. So get out and support The Pump Room Bar and The Bad Idea Band. Did I mention there is no cover? In return you get an unforgettable night of live entertainment.
Joanna Connor at Kingston Mines
Déjà vu happens here, again. When you come to Chicago, of course you make your pilgrimage to one of our fine blues venues. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose, there is a good chance you will get to see Joanna Connor’s show. She holds down pretty regular gigs at venues around town, and is generally recognized by out of towners as a party machine.
Kingston Mines was my last stop on this particular evening, and a great last stop it is. The music goes until 4 am. Some out of town revelers were telling me that “This chick rocks” and that “We seem to see her every time we come to Chicago”. Joanna’s scorching slide work alone qualifies her for the rocking chick label. Joanna taps and slides with her best rock diva scowl, which subtly becomes a smirk as the fans respond with their own guitars.
Next she turns to her guitar player Nick Peraino for some sparring. She turns from the crowd and squares off with Nick like a gunslinger at draw time. She squeezes out a slide riff, and he answers it with his Kort six string. Her rock and roll scowl is now a full-on blues smile. Bassist J.R. Fuller and drummer Lance Lewis provide the groove for this volley. Enough dueling? Well don’t they just move into some sweet harmonizing lead parts ala the Allmans? Everyone is on their feet on this, the last set of the morning. Joanna teases the party with introductory licks from the blues rock party book. Somehow she seems to know what the crowd’s favorites are. It’s almost as if they have been here before.
I know at least the three guys from Akron who were standing near me were professing their love for Joanna. A booming loud voice from the right said “You’re the man Jo!” A quick glance to the woman who shouted that helped me agree to disagree. While Joanna is a girl, she takes some pleasure in showing the boys how it’s done. The emcee and the voice of Blues Alley, Mr. Frank Pellegrino steps up to add his pipes to All Along the Watchtower, and then after his last intro for the band members, he directs us to a safe and sober departure into the winter Chicago morning.
mines at 4 am and it feels as if it has already happened. In a previous life? No
probably last night.
Studebaker John & The Hawks at The Blues Island Pub
Studebaker John & The Hawks made their first appearance at The Blues Island Pub, in (of course) Blue Island. This place is easy to get to off I-57 and is a great venue for live blues music. Studebaker John Grimaldi (I just knew it would be a cool Italian name) is well recorded on Blind Pig records and most recently on the Evidence label. He is a prolific writer and manages to keep songs pertinent and fresh within the blues idiom. I sure would like if you came with me to one of Chicago’s great venues to see the Hawks, but you don’t have to because John travels…a lot. You can find him all over our great country and we also share him with Europe where he has another strong fan base. Additionally if you’re a label reader like I am, you will see his credits for bringing life to the recordings of others.
His guitar work is mostly slide. Not being a player I found it interesting that he fingers the board so much during the slide that I thought he may have had a standard tuning. Actually it was a bare bones Danelectro in an open E tuning through a Musicman amp. I wanted to ask him to teach me how to play guitar over the first break, but it took him that long for him to tell me who Dan Electro was. Bob Halat was on bass and knows John’s catalog cold. Studebaker sometimes steps out of the purist progression and Bob is right there with him. Mr. Paul Ashford seemed to me to be a perfect trio drummer. The word backbeat comes to mind. His rig was set up in a different low-rider look. I know who cares how it looked because it sounded great. Studebaker John & The Hawks held us in place all night with original after original. I have been following John long enough to recognize some of them as his standards and my favorites.
Look through his catalog for songs like Ride, We Were So Happy Together, and If I Had a Nickel. Better yet, check to see when Studebaker John & The Hawks come to your burgh. I don’t remember my favorite song of the night, but I do remember my favorite note. It was a long, slow three step bend that John sucked through his harp. John has made quite a reputation in our genre, and has done it by doing his thing, his way. You have to respect that.
Besides he actually does have a Studebaker Hawk. How cool is that?
Mr G and the Mystery Band at The Harlem Avenue Lounge
I think Mr. G is on to something. He plays harp, writes good blues songs and has a good singing voice. Then he uses The Mystery Band to round out a solid night of live music entertainment.
The Mystery Band is no mystery to those familiar with great Chicago blues magicians (musicians). Tony Palmer was on guitar, James Carter on drums, E.G. McDaniel on bass and the great Osee Anderson on the other guitar. I feel some mysterious providence was involved because I was originally headed for a different venue (gasp). As the mystery unfolds I found myself at The Harlem Avenue Lounge for three sets of great live blues.
Mr. G started with Divin’ Duck but eased into some Mystery Band originals seamlessly. My Dog and Me was a good example. A syncopated Man or Mouse was E.G.’s platform for a fun funked up bass solo. Tony Palmer and Osee worked very well off each other. They were fun to watch and listen to as they took turns leading. I guess that’s one of the great things about live music. Tony relates this to being from the same generation. Tony takes rhythm guitar to a higher level and it’s fun to watch him comping. On lead he can live up to his “Fret Burner” nickname or make his six string sound like an organ. Osee is not afraid to get out of the box when he solos either. I think Osee could play a lead solo to Gregorian Chant, or maybe even traffic noise. The interplay within the rhythm section was another show within a show. Carter and McDaniel frequently exchanged big grins as they volleyed with the counts.
Mr. G covered George Harmonica Smith, who he considers King of the Chromatic. Speaking of which Mr. G. has an interesting collection of harps. I think my favorite song was I’m Gonna Go it Alone. It is a Mr. G. original. Of course I asked him which CD might have that song on it. This is a problem. Mr. G. had not been in the recording studio yet. One issue of course is that his band is a mystery from gig to gig.
Another is that the band members have other gigs. For example, three of tonight’s players are also the Jimmy Burns Band. Whether or not Mr. G and his Mystery Band ever get recorded, and I think they should, it will always be better live. I can’t get too exercised about you not being in attendance because I almost wasn’t myself, but it would be a mystery to me why you wouldn’t look out for them to catch there next show.
The Marty Sammon Band at The Harlem Avenue Lounge
I was witness to another Marty-party at Harlem Avenue Lounge. Every once in a while I drag my non-blues siblings to hear a show that I know will wow them, blues fans or not. When Harlem Avenue’s Kenny Zimmerman sent me the February lineup, I pulled big brother rank on my siblings and told them they had to be there for the Marty Sammon Band. After all, he is usually on the road playing piano for Buddy Guy, so they had better catch the act now.
They are still raving about it. Sammon could carry a show by himself, but on this weekend gig he surrounded himself with an elite bunch of music men. Daryl Wright on bass follows Marty’s music from Chicago, to New Orleans and back without missing a step. Percussionist Rick King and Sax man Jay Moynihan frequently share the stage with Marty Sammon, and I think they now breathe in unison.
Special guest, the great Doug McDonald held center stage with a microphone and a seemingly magic six string. I think the Razorback never plays the same solo once. He coaxes Marty, and Marty tries to test Doug. The result is a great live show. Doug McDonald seems to have a deep well of music within him that he can summon and fit to any song you throw at him. Doug doesn’t just fit and fill the song he brings it to life.
Like Marty’s, Doug’s playing is always interesting. I can’t look away to take good notes when Jay or Rick take over either. They are all that good. I had many notes about this night’s performance, none of which are legible. Sure alcohol may have something to do with that, but if you look away too long you miss something worthwhile. For example, you might have wanted to see Marty play with his feet or his goatee. He doesn’t give you a break between songs either, but just calls the next song and keeps the show going. Marty Sammon is an entertainer, it would seem. But enough about Martin J.Sammon and company, let’s talk about me.
I have new found validity with my family. I already know what they are getting for their 2008 birthdays. Sammon and Tom Holland (James Cotton, Shuffle Kings) have completed a CD and when it is released I will grab my copies. It kind of sucks that my family is so big. Finally, now that you know what a great big brother I am, pretend I am yours. In my own brotherly, supportive (obnoxious) way, I am strongly recommending that you see Marty Sammon play with his band, or even with Buddy Guy’s when they come to your town. Don’t even ask, because I already know that I can’t buy all of you the Sammon/Holland CD, so you had better get it yourself.
The Carl Davis Band at The Carriage Greens Country Club
I am so happy to welcome a new venue to the ChicagoBluesBeat.com’s blues family. The Carriage Greens Country Club has been pretty consistent of late in providing the Western suburbs with live blues. The live blues can be heard in a comfortable lounge setting, where the bar is sunken into the center allowing full view of the stage. I ‘m not really a country club kind of guy, but give me a comfortable chair, a bar and The Carl Davis Band, and I might just sign up.
Carl’s success with his most recent 212 Record’s release Someday means his circle of influence and hence his tour route will get bigger, taking him out of town. If you don’t have the CD, get it, but then keep your eyes open for Carl Davis to come through your town.
Carl writes, plays and sings damn good songs. Veteran drummer Lenny Spatafore is Carl’s regular metronome and Anthony Tabion does a great job on keys. Pete “One Shot” Scach took on the bass duties.
There are definite leanings toward Southern soul in the repertoire, but Carl and Anthony set this up with great interplay, that doesn’t’ get muddy. Carl’s vocals are clear and in the higher registers adding to the soulfulness of the sound. The Carriage Greens Country Club also has some banquet facilities that let out during the second set of blues.
Revelers from the other functions followed their ears into the show. I heard comments such as “that’s the blues.” I heard one woman plead to her partner, “Come on Henry!” He just nodded held up a forefinger and paid closer attention to the band. “Man their good” said another older (my age) gentleman. Yes they are sir, and they are real. Yet another gentleman was tapping away with his shoe, and I felt compelled to ask if he played. Yes I do, but they have to slow it down a beat. I didn’t know they had blues here. Well come back sir, because it’s getting to be a regular thing here. My friend here plays also, his dad was Homesick James, but we have to go now.
Nice to meet you gentlemen, please comeback.
The Pat Smillie Band’s Rhythm & Blues Revue at Harlem Avenue Lounge
Pat Smillie has gigs all over the city, but my personal favorite venue to see his act is The Harlem Avenue Lounge. Harlem Avenue has a stage that can handle The Pat Smillie Band’s Rhythm & Blues Revue, which frequently sports seven or eight members. This show is a vocal driven show featuring Pat’s gritty vocals and the sound system and acoustics at Harlem Avenue do it justice. Each high energy set usually starts with the drummer Sambo (Art Irby) taking the first song or two. Sambo is a talented one-man show with a dynamic on stage presence and great vocals to compliment his drumming. He also does a great vocal imitation of a harp, which has people craning their necks to see where the harp player is. This show manages to bring out some of my old favorites that don’t get much play around these parts: J.J. Cale’s
‘They Call Me the Breeze” and Chuck Berry’s “Back to Memphis” are good examples.
Smillie plucks songs from his own CDs such as the bluesy “Finally Over You” and Neil Young’s “Down by the River”.
On keys was Brother Al Woodley who has braved many medical setbacks to find his way back to the stage. He hasn’t lost a lick. Big John Meredith appropriately has a big left-handed six string bass. Uncle Al Wittig is Pat’s regular guitar player. Al switches between his six string Les Paul and his lap steel through out the show. Also on guitar was Mark “The Shark” Wydra. Mark is one of those well-traveled pros that has become a walking dictionary of songs and licks. What R&B Band wouldn’t have a female backup singer? Not this one. Jackie Patton did a respectable call and response as well as nicely placed harmonies. Remember, you get your money’s worth with this band (revue). Ramblin’ Rose Kelly spiced things up with her take on “Dirty Ol’ Woman” and very sweet “Give Me One Reason”.
Pat can’t do a show without a bow to one of his major influences, Mitch Ryder. C.C. Ryder was the pick tonight. I just have to tell you that Pat Smillie give’s it up for his audience, many who have turned into a staunch fan base. I am one of them.
J.B. Ritchie Power Blues at Harlem Avenue Lounge
For as often as I am in Harlem Avenue Lounge, and as often as J.B. Ritchie has performed there, we have never crossed paths. I am truly embarrassed to say that I never made a special effort because of a false notion I had. For whatever reason, I thought J.B. Ritchie Power Blues meant bluesy rock and roll, or SRV covers. I like bluesy rock and roll and I love the only original SRV but I always chose another gig. Do I have egg on my face or what? Listen to some of the set list. Help Me, Killing Floor, Give Me Back My Wig, Hi Heel Sneakers, Shake Your Money Maker, Hush Hush, and many more sounded great, and not one SRV cover.
Power Blues is a power trio for sure. J.B. Ritchie is a singer, songwriter, slide and guitar player. The bass was handled by Frank Bandy and the drums by Kenosha Wisconsin’s Bobby Humes. The rigs were sparse but the sound was full and powerful blues. J.B. said he started getting worried about bringing out his ’57 Tele, so he made his own. Both the regular guitar and the open G slide guitar carried the J.B. Ritchie moniker.
J.B. filled the Harlem Avenue Lounge with his own fan base, which now includes me. He played one of his own tunes about seeing a dentist in the morning, and I was one of the few people in the crowd who didn’t know it, but everybody including me enjoyed it. Actually I enjoyed every single song. Did I mention Bob Dylan’s Highway 61, or John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom, Rock Me Baby or Muddy’s She’s Nineteen Years Old?
Don’t make the same mistake I made. When this band comes around, get out and enjoy them. Just do the math. At Harlem Avenue Lounge, the cover is only $6 for three sets of music. That works out to about $2 per set or 20 cents per song! Compare that to a juke box. Not to mention that this is live, in person energy that is never ever captured exactly on a recording.
John Primer & The Real Deal Band at Harlem Avenue Lounge
John Primer & The Real Deal Band start their first set at Harlem Avenue Lounge and don’t come up for air until deep into the set. This band of road warriors consists of John Primer on guitar and vocals backed by journeyman bassist Mike Morrison. The rest of the rhythm section has sometime bassist, Vernon Rodgers on drums.
The young bloods of the Real Deal are harp man Dan Beaver and Dave “Kid” Ross on keys. If given the nod from Primer, each player can step out front with vocals included. The band finally downshifted into a very nice “Let’s Get it On” (Marvin Gaye), to allow the crowd to catch up.
Dan Beaver’s features included a “make-you-smile” version of Tuff Enuff, while the Kid sang and played the Band’s Take A Load Off. Special guest included Vivian Kelly-Levzinger, daughter of Chicago’s own Vance “Guitar” Kelly. Vivian and her husband were in visiting from their home in Switzerland, which is a suburb East of Chicago. You know, the one near Italy. Vivian’s hubby Kaspar Levzinger stepped up for some guest guitar duties as well.
If I remember correctly, that day had not gone as planned for me, so when I took my seat at the bar, I thought “OK guys entertain me”. They did and they do. This is a truly professional ensemble that takes their mission seriously…entertain Lordy. There is nothing quite like live blues in Chicago, and as John Primer frequently says, “you know dats right!”
Barrelhouse Chuck and Gerry Hundt at Moe Joe's in Plainfield, Illinois
My weekends are thankfully saturated with live blues music, for the most part from bars and similar late night venues. I am pretty much anti-social over any dinner time I may have, because my preference is to eat fast and get to the music. What a treat it was to be turned onto a great restaurant, that serves up live blues with its tasty Cajun dominated menu.
This newest addition to ChicagoBluesBeat’s list of preferred venues is Moe Joe’s in the Southwest Chicago suburb of Plainfield. The Bourbon Street atmosphere is a great setting for live blues music, and the dinners are worth the visit, even without the music. The specialty deserts where also dangerously good. Whenever I find a venue with great food, I use it to lure unsuspecting potential blues fans to the live music. I would encourage you to try this strategy. It works every time.
The featured performers where Barrelhouse Chuck on keyboards and vocals with Gerry Hundt on vocals, harp, guitar and mandolin. Barrelhouse Chuck is a Boogie-Woogie magician and he only added to the New Orleans atmosphere. Barrelhouse learned his craft directly from the piano masters and sprinkles his sets with anecdotes about those experiences. This also works well in a dinner show environment.
Barrelhouse Chuck is a very interesting fellow, with a treasury of memories that would make for a wonderful presentation in itself. Gerry Hundt is a talented multi-instrumentalist who is also one of Fliptop with Nick Moss, where he adds bass to the list. Currently, Gerry is nominated for a Blues Music Award for his special talents on the mandolin, and ChicagoBluesBeat certainly wishes this deserving young man the best.
Friday January 11, 2008 - Little Arthur Duncan’s DVD release party at Rosa’s Lounge
I went to Little Arthur Duncan’s DVD release event at Rosa’s Blues Lounge in Chicago. There were a lot of media and music friends present, and the subsequent reviews of this Delmark release have been great. I want to share a few thoughts on this visit with you. First, Rosa’s, while legendary is still one of the warmest and friendliest blues venues in Chicago. As for the DVD, I will simply tell you to get it. Delmark, which is a legendary Chicago label, recorded Little Arthur Duncan right there at Rosa’s. I could take pictures all night and write volumes about Little Arthur’s music and history, and what a great place Rosa’s is. Instead, just buy the damn DVD and get a first-hand look at real live blues in modern Chicago, including Little Arthur’s own commentary. (Editor's note: IllinoisBlues.com will have a review of this new Delmark DVD release soon)
Secondly, while strategically perched upon a bar stool, I was able to eavesdrop on an interview with the man of the hour. When queried about what it was like to play at the great old Southside venues which are long-since gone, Arthur replied that it was no big deal then. Hold that thought (it was no big deal) as I segue way into my next stop for the night.
The Bad Idea Band had a gig at the Pump Room Tap in Southwest suburban Worth, Illinois. The ensemble on this night was particularly interesting, because at least five of them fronted their own accomplished bands. Ray “The Flame” Sukash had C.C.Copeland on keys, bass and vocals and Rodney Brown (Hot Rod) on sax and vocals. Biscuit Miller played bass and sang. Jim Anderson (The Kingsnakes) was on guitar and vocals and Deb Seitz (Seitz & Sounds) joined in the vocals. Myron Robinson sang and drummed, and the band’s friend Harry took a turn at the keyboard. Know that a great time was had by all.
The Pump Room Tap is a shot and a beer place on 111th Street. The players are all true Chicago blues musicians, making tomorrow’s history. Given the awesome talent that night, I would bet there was at least one or two future Little Arthur Duncans playing. I would also bet that when asked, the players that night would say it was no big deal. My point, as usual is that you should have been there. Great venues and great players still exist and they are tomorrow’s legends. Go out and hear some live blues music and be a part of history.
Friday January 4, 2008 - Nigel Mack & The Blues Attack at Harlem Avenue Lounge
My first visit to Harlem Avenue Lounge in 2008 was to see Nigel Mack & The Blues Attack. When I first saw Nigel’s show he was including Chicago as part of his busy touring schedule, but since about 2003 Nigel has been calling Chicago his home. From this point on then, ChicagoBluesBeat will be referring to this bluesman as a Chicago act. With my love for the city, that is a high compliment. Residence aside, Nigel has long had a great sense of Chicago blues.
The Blues Attack presented as a trio that included Vic Jackson on bass and harmony vocals and Andrew “Blaze” Thomas on drums. Nigel Mack alone is a trio if you consider his proficiency on vocals, harp and guitar (which includes a stinging slide). Nigel is also an accomplished tunesmith, and he presented some, as yet unrecorded works. One song in particular included a reference to dead presidents, and is all the reason I need to buy the next CD when it comes out. Pat Smillie stopped by and treated us to some of his trademark gutsy R&B singing. Already I’m thinking that this is going to be another great year in Chicago blues. Guitarist, vocalist and all around showman Toronzo Cannon stood in for the third set. It’s always good when Zo shows, but this time he also freed Nigel from his guitar duties, and allowed him to flex his harp muscles.
Also in the house was photographer Kurt Swanson (Soulful Impressions). I have said many times that I am not a photographer, but rather a fan with a cam. You can tell this in person as well, because I use a flash which is both tacky and obnoxious. Besides, what photographer stays for all three sets and drinks a lot? Kurt has some very nice pictures of Nigel Mack on his site, as well as the cover picture of Lurrie Bell on the current Illinois Entertainer. I really have to thank Kurt and the other real photographers I meet every week for their tolerance and yes, support of my passion.
Along with the
musicians, and the venues, the photographers are yet another reason to love live
blues in Chicago. Bring on 2008!
Friday December 14, 2007 The Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings at B.L.U.E.S.
“You have to be careful so that you don’t make those around you sick.” said the doctor in a somber tone. I was aware I had MTS, but I thought I had it under control. You see Music Trivia Syndrome, while relatively harmless to the carrier can irritate the hell out of others. I had no more record labels to read, or album covers to study, but then came CD inserts, and the internet. Sometimes I will ask a stranger, “Who wrote that?” “Who was the drummer on that session?”
The good news is that in the Blues genre, the history of sessions, and players, labels and real names is part of the charm. Go to your computer and “Google” Gene Barge. I didn’t know all that. I did know him as a key player in the legendary Chicago horn driven Big Twist & the Mellow Fellows. Appearing at B.L.U.E.S. with several BT&TMF alumni, and some talented youth, they are known as The Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings. Now forget the legend that is Daddy G, and know that this is still one monster live horn section.
The youth was Rob Blaine who provided both incendiary guitar and strong bluesy vocals. His guitar work was a good match for this world-class horn section. Mike Ciamcanelli on bass and Lou Palmer on drums provided a solid beat and bottom to a night of great rhythm and blues.
Besides vocals, Mr. Barge (Daddy G) paired his tenor sax with the tenor sax of Terry Ogolini. The brass was provided by trumpeter Dan Tenuto. These three have been playing together so long; they seem to breathe together as a horn section. During their respective solos, it is obvious they are virtuosos, but to me the magic is in the vibrant presence of a live horn section that doesn’t come across on recordings. Chicago has a tradition of music with great horn parts, but it you just have to hear it live.
All right now: Name three Chicago based groups that successfully used horn sections. I’m sorry doc.
Saturday, December 8, 2007 - Barrelhouse Chuck at the Harlem Avenue Lounge
Barrelhouse Chuck brought his pounding boogie woogie to The Harlem Avenue Lounge. The self-proclaimed dinosaur brought his long-time drum friend John Carpender with him. I’m quite a bit older than both of them so I don’t particularly like the dinosaur reference, and I promise to do my part to protect this music from extinction. Barrelhouse Chuck has, however, played with most of the great keyboardist in this genre and others. He is certainly a living connection to some great players that have passed on. To complete the band, Chuck had Nick Moss and one of his Flip Tops, Gerry Hundt on stage. Nick and Gerry rotated through various instruments and helped B-Chuck with the vocals.
It’s always interesting to me to see what rig Barrelhouse Chuck will bring with him. Tonight’s organ was a road hardened Compact, but it could just as well have been one of his vintage Farfisas. As a matter of fact, vintage instruments were in abundance. The bass, played by both Nick Moss and Gerry Hundt, is an old black Silvertone that Nick’s brother Joe had given to him when Nick was ten years old. In their hands it sure sounded good. Chuck’s friend Bruce F. got up and had a try at it as well. When I was a kid doing my garage band stint, Silvertones got laughed at, and of course mine was the reason I was never any good. If I had only had a Fender. The name plate had fallen off the six string Nick and Gerry shared. The high mileage ax was identified by Nick as a Guild S50. In their hands, it sounded great whether by finger or slide. At one point Nick used a metal ashtray for a slide. After the smoking ban goes into effect in three weeks, I think proprietor Kenny Z. may have some Nick Moss Slides available for sale. Did I mention the Harmony mandolin Gerry plays? How about the slide mandolin? There was even a Fender Squire on board. While Moss and Hundt shared time on a variety of instruments, they thankfully brought their own harps (but did share the bullet mic).
With all that being said about the band, I must admit that Barrelhouse Chuck doesn’t need a band. On the piano, his left hand is all the rhythm section you need. It is clear that he began his musical life on the drums. His one man band includes incredibly tasty organ and piano riffs, fills and melodies. On top of all that, Barrelhouse Chuck brings T-Rex (kidding), convincing (not kidding), and heartfelt vocals.
Saturday, November 24, 2007 - SOPRO record label Thanksgiving Blues Review
The SOPRO record label lives in a small Southwest suburb of Chicago. The SOPRO family of artists includes The Chicago Horns, Deb Seitz and The Sho’ Nuff Blues Band in its illustrious evolution.
Twice a year, at Easter and Thanksgiving, SOPRO’s Buddy Monaco brings his army of talent together for a full-on blues revue. The venue has been Tommy’s Place in Blue Island (another South suburb of Chicago). Tommy’s is an excellent live music venue with a great stage, and professional lighting and sound. At the same time, it is still a bar (as in tavern). There are so many blues acts I would love to see there, but the owner insists (all together now) “The blues doesn’t pay the rent.”
Kenny Anderson, trumpeter was the man of the hour on this, the twenty-fifth anniversary revue, as he has been with SOPRO for the whole twenty-five years. Kenny is part of the famous four part horn ensemble The Chicago Horns. Kenny is joined by Bill McFarland, Hank Ford and Tony Ferraro.
Special guest Tallon “T-Man” Latz was worth trip all by himself. This eight year old from Wisconsin (which is also a suburb of Chicago) amazed the crowd with chops belying his youth. On a stage riser SOPRO made especially for him, T-Man matched the big guys lick for lick, and even sang some blues for us. Keep your eyes and ears open for this guitar slinger.
In recent years the backbone of the SOPRO bands have been Patrick Doody (drums), John “EADG” Falstrom (bass), “Hollywood” Johnny Cosgrove (guitar), Joey Drada (guitar) and Tony Caccitolo (percussion). Fronting the band in turn where Joe Jammer, Harpist Doug Lee and Chicago’s First Lady of the Blues, Deb Seitz.
It was fun watching Doug and Joe dueling with T-Man. There are some great pictures in the ChicagoBluesBeat.com gallery of the extra-tall Joe Jammer trying to get eye-to-eye with the boy wonder.
After backing up T-Man, Doug Lee stayed on to sing and play harp. My highlight of the evening was the Deb Seitz part of the show. Riverside Rob Draganski, who had appeared at the Easter SOPRO revue, was taken from us suddenly at only 22 year of age. Deb Seitz dedicated her version of “Summertime” to his memory. Between her impassioned voice and Tony Ferraro’s beautiful sax accompaniment, the SRO crowd was a collective goose bump.
Now you know the reason I look forward to Thanksgiving and Easter. Please have look at SOPRO’s catalog so you can take the above musicians home with you.
Saturday, November 10, 2007 Biscuit Miller & The Mix at The Harlem Avenue Lounge
There was no missing Biscuit Miller & The Mix at The Harlem Avenue Lounge on Saturday. As a certified blues fan, I am officially declaring Biscuit a Chicago Blues guy, although we currently share him with Indy.
His career has taken him from Chicago, to Clarksdale to Minneapolis, to Chicago, etc. After a long stint as bassist in The Lonnie Brooks Band, I caught him with his Mix at the Slippery Noodle in Indy. That was five years ago, and I haven’t stopped talking about it since. He was off on the road again for another five years as Anthony Gomes bass man, but now we have him back. So in my mind, this was like a homecoming. Apparently, the Chicago blues community felt the same, as they showed up in large number with love and axes.
Biscuit’s Mix was Stan The Man on drums, Paxton Norris (Indy) on Telecaster, Chicago’s C.C. Copeland on keys and Biscuit on bass. Anyone of these players could have provided the energy, but they all did, which leaves me feeling hyper-caffeinated even now on Tuesday morning. All these guys can sing as well. One of their first tunes was Let’s Go Fishin’ (from the Come Together cd), and I knew right then that three sets would come and go in a flash.
Now it gets surreal. Singer/bassist and all around performer Sam Cockrell shows up to welcome back his friend and co-recording artist Biscuit Miller. Biscuit passes his amp cord to Sam, and then C.C. Copeland leaves his keys and grabs his bass. Biscuit then referees a bass-off between Sam and the hyperkinetic C.C. This is great. No wait, Biscuit picks up his own bass and plugs in. C.C. Copeland, Biscuit Miller and Sam Cockrell in a world class bass jam. You should have been there! Guitar players get to do this all the time, but this was a night for us bass lovers.
When they got done, I had to light up a cigar. No time for afterglow here at Harlem Avenue, as in come Big Ray (drums) and Toronzo Cannon (guitar) to show their respects to Biscuit. How about drummer Lenny Spatafore and even Mojo the washboard player? Big Ray and Toronzo sang and played us through a Sly medley that was awesome. Where were you? All I can do is tell you about it and show you some pictures, but next time I expect to see you there.
Saturday, November 3, 2007 Carl Davis Band CD Release Party at The Harlem Avenue Lounge
This Saturday The Harlem Avenue Lounge played host to Carl Davis’ inaugural recording effort. The ten tune release of all self-penned songs is titled Someday (Tribute to the Kid) and is on the indie 212 Records label.
This was a Chicago-style CD release party, with party being the operative word. No limos at the front door, which is good because the front door is in the back. Rather, musician friends stopping by after their own gigs, with instruments to join the party, and show brother Carl some love.
Carl Davis sings his songs much like he plays his Les Paul, with clean, clear and meaningful lines. Carl has obvious R&B sensibilities and with a good measure of funk keeps his guitar chops subservient to the vocals. I especially liked “Bad Time”, but how can you not enjoy a song titled “Superman (Without the Tights)?
His band on CD release party night, just as on the record, included Rudy Kleiner on bass, Anthony Tabion on keyboards and Mr. Lenny Statafore on drums. One of Davis’ mentors, Joe Moss was one of the first special guests to come up and grab the spare Les Paul. As usual, Joe lit it up.
The wizard of all things musical, Shoji brought his harp instead of his guitar, and of course was amazing. What kind of blues party would this be without Toronzo Cannon? Enter TC in the last set with his left-handed Les Paul, instead of one of his trademark Flying V’s.
In the crowd also were some “real photographers” and other friends of the blues including Herb Sollars and his friends, representing from The Columbus Blues Alliance (www.columbusblues.com), and Paul Parello from the Paul Parello Blues Power Radio Show (www.chicagobluesman.com).
Look for The Carl Davis Band in person or on the web (www.carldavisband.com) and consider adding this effort to your collection. I did.
Friday October 5, 2007 The Daryl Coutts band at The Harlem Avenue Lounge
The Daryl Coutts band I heard at Harlem Avenue Lounge was a trio. Finally off the road after an extended stint as Ronnie Baker Brook’s keyboard man, Daryl has several projects going on, and you would do well to hear this guy play.
You almost have to see him, as well as hear him as he coaxes extra blues from his keys using his facial muscles. Daryl gigs with his two sets of keys and a monster leslie speaker cabinet that is one big fat mama. Daryl is proficient bringing out either the blues piano or the famous big Hammond B3 sound.
Daryl’s drummer is Michael Brown. Mike brought some interesting snare-based riffs that stepped out of the Chicago shuffle mode. He showed some Texas influence, which worked very well in the trio configuration. I especially enjoyed his “train” rhythms.
Bringing up the bottom to the ensemble was Chicago bass ace E.G. McDaniel. I truly enjoyed listening to this rhythm section volley yet maintain the groove. Both Coutts and Brown sing, and they included Sam Cooke’s Bring it on Home to Me, and funked up a set with Bill Whither’s Use Me Up.
Joining Coutts on stage for parts of two sets were Felix Reyes and former Austin Texas guitar slinger Dave Herrero. These friends are excellent guitar players and are singer/songwriters to boot. Reyes penned the title track to Susan Tedeschi’s Wait For Me project on Tone Cool Records. Herrero and Reyes often appear together with Felix and The Cats.
Between these guests and the original trio we had quite a talented bunch of guys. Coutts for example spends time at the controls at Red Cobra Records. E.G. McDaniel also happens to model and has been spotted on billboards about town.
Please enjoy the pictures of this gig, noting especially the White Sox logo on E.G.’s hat.
September 29, 2007 John Primer & the Real Deal blues band at Harlem Avenue Lounge
I had the great pleasure to take in another show by John Primer & the Real Deal blues band. This band truly is the real deal in the Chicago blues genre.
John, who was in Theresa’s house band before becoming Muddy Water’s guitarist, is steeped in our town’s music, in voice and with picks or slide. He is one of our high profile stars and so we frequently have to share him with gigs around the world.
At the end of the month John takes his band on a Turkey and Siberia tour. Just that thought helps me appreciate how fortunate we are to have talent like this in our backyard. Through the ChicagoBluesBeat website, we have the opportunity to correspond with blues fans everywhere. Only days prior to this gig, fans from Holland where asking where they could take in Pryor and Morrison’s blues while in Chicago.
Mike Morrison on bass, and Vernon Fletcher on drums (although he also plays bass), have each accumulated many miles globetrotting the blues. Dan Beaver on harp and Dave Ross on keyboards, although baby-faced have already been initiated as blues road warriors.
John, Mike, Vernon, Dan and Dave can all sing as well as play their respective instruments, and Primer frequently gives them the nod to do so. This night’s show was at Kenny Z’s Harlem Avenue Lounge in Berwyn, Illinois. Harlem boasts a very good sound system, and Kenny, the proprietor can be seen tweaking the boards from time to time, as everyone got their turn to shine.
This band has fun, as you can see from the pictures, and it is contagious. In answer to a request Primer led his guys through a rendition of Rhinestone Cowboy, and even that was good. Special guest vocalist Delores Scott stood in for a while and kept the party going.
Remember, that if you’re at Harlem Avenue Lounge on a weekend evening, you will see a great show. If you happen to spend your weekends in Siberia, you’re still in luck.
September 28, 2007 The Chicago Blues Experience at The Blues Island Pub
Blue Island, Illinois is a suburb just South of Chicago. On the corner of Vermont & Hoyne, is a neighborhood tavern that features live Chicago blues several nights a week. Aptly named The Blues Island Pub, it is at least a weekly destination for me. How Pat Taylor the owner can run out of my favorite scotch whiskey is beyond me, but he has yet to run out of great authentic live blues. On a recent visit to the bar, I crossed paths with The Chicago Blues Experience.
Front men Vince Agwada and Russ Green came together with one thing in mind; to bring to their audiences Chicago Blues in its purest and most unadulterated form. They formed The Chicago Blues Experience with this philosophy. Russ Green is a harpist and a vocalist. He grew up on Chicago’s West side but didn’t take to the blues until he was an adult. With inspirations like Sugar Blue, he has done well. Guitar player and vocalist Vince Agwada, on the other hand has been a part of the Chicago blues scene for twenty-five years. Brian Jones the drummer is a thirty-plus year veteran. BJ has toured and recorded with a long list of Chicago blues greats and brings a traditional Chicago style backbeat to this group. Pete Andre on bass completes the rhythm section and rounds out the band.
The band fulfilled its mission, as it stayed true to the genre through three sets. They also included one of my favorites, the seldom covered "44 Blues", complete with the great riff and choppy cadence. Vince, Russ and BJ all sing, and all four players are solid musicians. I wish you could have been there. Come to think of it, why weren’t you there?
September 21, 2007 - Tommy McCracken & Force of Habit at The Blues Island Pub
Singer Tommy McCracken brought his Force of Habit Band to the Blues Island Pub Friday night. Band leaders and singers in this genre frequently bring an instrument to the stage. Usually, it is a guitar, but many times it is a harp, keyboard, or drums. If Tommy McCracken plays an instrument other than his voice he didn’t bring it on stage.
McCracken is a very good singer who happens to be in the blues genre. With only a microphone as his prop, McCracken’s voice is sometimes sweet (Bobby Bland) and sometimes a bit edgier (James Brown), but always good. Tommy’s voice is a very capable medium for all the expression blues music needs, whether is clean vibrato or pops and growls.
The audio part of the night was backed by his bandleader/singer/guitarist Bob Johnson, guitarist Jethro Sills and drummer Bob Pasenko. The night had a visual component as well. McCracken keeps his tall frame in motion cutting Elvis-like silhouettes and doing James Brown spins.
He may just stand tall with long arms and fingers heaven-ward, pause in a deep bow, or test his band’s dynamics with a conductor’s arm movements as if he were playing with their collective volume knob. The band must be alert because there are no regular endings to his songs. I found myself appreciating not only his singing voice, but his obvious desire to entertain. He can shout like the others when the song calls for it, but he can sing better than most, and delivers top-notch professional entertainment.
September 2, 2007 - Vance "Guitar" Kelly at the Genesis Restaurant & Nightclub
I was saved last Sunday. I was reading Genesis. Actually I was reading the sign outside of Genesis Nightclub that said Vance “Guitar” Kelly Sunday Nights. I was saved from a boring Sunday night.
When you want to add Sunday night to your heavenly weekend, this venue is a sure thing. Vance “Guitar” Kelly leads the Backstreet Blues Band through a night of professional grade R&B. John Wall on keys and Charles Hancock on drums have been mainstays in this outfit and bring sweet soul harmonies to the mix, as well as being excellent instrumentalists.
Guitar Kelly plays a signature lush sound through his Epiphone, and provides great lead vocals as well. Vance frequently uses two keyboardists and joining John Wall was Jerry J. Hall. Michael Turner wailed on the sax and the bass man who identified himself as Tiny, locked on with Charles for the groove.
Guitar Kelly kept the show moving with a host of guest singers. Like Tiny, I may not have the identities complete, but when I get this information I will correctly label their pictures on my site. A guest singer introduced as the man from Arkansas gave us Fever and Money which set the tone for the night. This was not going to be straight blues, and that’s alright with me.
Randy Johnson sang for a few, as did Lawuanda who did some Sam Cook (my personal favorite). I love it when a blues venue is crowded as Genesis was on Sunday. This was a happy crowd and the very able staff works hard to keep you happy.
This clean, friendly gem of a venue is my “go to” place when I need to extend my weekend with more live blues on Sunday night.
August 18, 2007 - The Chicago Kingsnakes w/ Deb Seitz at Harlem Avenue Lounge
I have probably seen the Chicago Kingsnakes more than any other Chicago area blues band.
That is by design, not assignment. After all, this is not a job for me. I am not a critic, nor am I a photographer. I am a blues fan with a camera.
The king snake here is Jim “Ang” Anderson. He hails from Blue Island (Chicago South) and has named one of their CDs Blues Island. For all the times I have seen Ang play, he has only played a Telecaster. Unlike Albert Collins, he doesn’t use a capo, and has a rounder tone, and a nice vibrato, but is capable of stinging the strings as well. I don’t think I ever see him with stomp boxes either. On my circuit, Ang is the Telemaster.
It has been fun to see this band develop over the years. The addition of harp man Nelson Keaton several years back brought a new dimension to the Kingsnakes. Another talent the band has developed is evident on the song My Babe. Ang plays this one sans plectrum, and you can hear call and response in four part harmony. The three voices helping Ang out are Gus Gotsis on drums, Ron Berry on bass and Nelson. The first lady of Chicago Blues,
Deb Seitz frequently joins the Kingsnakes as she did on this night (my lucky night). The first time I ever saw (I mean heard) Deb was sitting in with Ang and crew, and I have been a groupie ever since. Deb is from a place just Northwest of Chicago known as Montana. She is a songwriter and bandleader in her own right, and delivers a Joplinesque vocal…except with better range.
Within the next few weeks of this gig, The Kingsnakes would back Deb Seitz up for a festival gig in Indiana, and Deb would return the favor by beautifying the Kingsnakes gig at The Slippery Noodle in Indy.
August 17, 2007 - Barrelhouse Chuck at the Harlem Ave Lounge
Being a blues fan in Chicago means you’ve heard of Barrelhouse Chuck. Considering my relative immersion in the genre for the last few years, it is ironic that this was my first Barrelhouse Chuck gig in years.
Barrelhouse Chuck and the Chicago Blues Cats are purveyors of ragtime, boogie woogie and blues. Here’s where it gets sappy. My earliest memory of music was boogie woogie. Eight-to-the-bar pounded out from my Mom’s piano on a daily basis. I blame this music and my Mother of course, for my love of boogie’s I-IV-V cousin, the blues.
Barrelhouse Chuck has been mentored by some of blues piano’s greats. He sprinkles his sets with anecdotes about these men and often relates the “stories behind the songs”. The keyboard he uses for his organ is a vintage Farfisa, that looks…well…vintage. I saw this as a museum piece and took several pictures of it. BChuck even played Pinetop Smith’s original Boogie-Woogie, which I hadn’t heard since my Mom left for boogie heaven.
Guitar duties were handled nicely by Jim St. Marie and the bass job went to Frank Bandy. Steve Bass on the drums and Frank handled the pocket well, but Chuck’s left hand was probably all the drive they needed. I never had much appreciation for Question Mark and the Mysterians, but hearing Chuck’s take on Ninety-Six Tears made it new again.
I know my siblings don’t read this, so I can tell you that I bought several CD’s as gifts. I’m sure that Cow Cow Boogie will transport them back in time. If you wanted one, Chuck also has an eight-track available (really). Another example of Barrelhouse Chuck’s reverence for this great music is his website (www.barrelhousechuck.com).
Barrelhouse Chuck is a great entertainer and an interesting individual, so put him on your list of acts to take in while in the Chicago area. - Lordy
August 8, 2007 - Billy Branch & the Sons of Blues at Genesis Restaurant & Nightclub
I have been in a blue funk since The Peppercorn closed months ago. Therapy has been expensive and time consuming. However, I am happy to report on another venue in my own back yard that features live blues. The morning after my visit there, I called my shrinkologist to free up his Thursday mornings. The Genesis Restaurant & Night Club is in the Southwest suburb of Country Club Hills and features live blues twice a week. On Sundays you can hear Vance “Guitar” Kelly & The Backstreet Blues Band. I took in the Wednesday regular, Billy Branch & the Sons of Blues. This place has free parking and no cover, but a two drink minimum. Hell, I have a four drink minimum so this was not an obstacle. It is clean and comfortable and features a well-lit stage area with a pro sound system. When the band breaks, DJ Rock a.k.a. The Baby Boy plays, of all things, blues and R&B. The bottom line is that you get world-class acts for just about nothing. There is not a bad seat in the house, but there were a few empty ones with your name on them.
Billy Branch is The Harmonica Man. Yes, those words are capitalized. His long-time rhythm section is Nick Charles on bass and Moses Rutues on vocals and drums. Giles Corey on vocals and guitar can take center stage comfortably anytime Billy Branch gives him the nod. Musical genius Ariyo rounds out the band on the 88’s. Blues diva Nellie “Tiger” Travis frequently guests and my visit also included some songs by Marilyn B and Randy Johnson. Billy Branch is a true showman. He can walk into the crowd with his wireless mic and make the ladies blush, he can make his harp growl or even chirp, and the man serves up some serious blues. Moses’ vocals are grabbing while Giles and Ariyo provide virtuoso level solos. In other words those S.O.B.s can really play the blues. - Lordy
August 4, 2007 - Harry Garner at the Harlem Avenue Lounge
Harpist and singer, Harry Garner feels strongly about the blues and live Chicago blues in particular. Harry is a disciple and an outspoken advocate of the genre. The Harry Garner Band ran that philosophy through the amplifiers at The Harlem Avenue Lounge on Saturday night to the delight of the blues faithful in the house.
Harry’s band mate, guitarist Mark Wydra also contributes to the vocals and banter. Mark the Shark occasionally shows some nice rockabilly influence and is willing to buy a drink for the patron that can answer his blues trivia questions. The rhythm section consisted of veteran Al Lopeztello on drums and Mr. Harlan Terson on the four string Fender bass. Harlan and his metronomic bass playing are in constant demand in the Chicago blues scene. The word “solid” came to mind, upon hearing Harlan and Al in the pocket for three sets.
On of my favorites from The Harry Garner Band set list is Hoyt Axton’s The Pusher. Don’t even ask what this (rock) Steppenwolf song and (country) Hoyt have to do with the blues, until you hear this band’s version.
Harry’s special guest on this night was singer Ramblin’ Rose. Before Rose went on stage, she engaged me in very pleasant and polite conversation. With a microphone in her hand, however, Rose rip it up, rip you up, or make you blush at will. Later in the month, Ramblin’ Rose and The Harry Garner Band will be playing at The Record Row Festival in Willie Dixon’s Blues Garden.
For the second night in a row, 3:30 AM found me lugging my camera bag back to my free parking spot. Sure I was irritated that the music had to stop, but then if it didn’t I wonder if I would ever go home. - Lordy
August 3, 2007 - Toronzo Cannon at the Harlem Avenue Lounge
Toronzo Cannon & the Cannonball Express lit up The Harlem Avenue Lounge on this Friday evening. Free parking and a six dollar cover get you into the best blues venue in the Chicago suburbs. This won’t be your dining destination, unless you want chips or popcorn, but there is a White Castle right next door, and they get my scotch on the rocks just right.
The acoustics are great and the elevated stage is visible from just about any seat in the bar. Barkeeper Kenny Z features top-notch artists in the very talented Chicago blues circuit, every weekend and most weekdays. If you’re in the area, this place is about as close to a sure thing as you can get.
Left hander Toronzo brings several axes, but my favorite is the Gibson Flying V. The V on a lefty reminds me of one of my favorites, legend Albert King. The difference is Zo has his guitars strung correctly. Toronzo was accompanied by guitarist Matthew James, drummer Greg Haar and his usual bassist Goji Tanabe. Toronzo mixes and matches blues idioms to come up with some fresh arrangements that are still true blues. Toronzo shows some influence from that other lefty, Jimi. To demonstrate his on-the-fly versatility, he took one song from Alabama (Sweet Home Alabama) to the Islands (reggae beat) and back, all within the blues context. While he did play under his leg and with his tongue, he did not ignite his instrument. Between songs is never a dead space with Cannon, as he is either setting up the next song, or engaging the crowd with a comment, story, or “now we’re going to do something like this here….”
I got to the bar early to meet NBC about the state of the blues in our fair city. The subject always gets me going, but I still had enough in me to take in three blazing sets of Toronzo Cannon. Before I knew it, it was closing time. Damn. - Lordy
August 2, 2007 - Pat Smille Band at the Voodoo Lounge
The Pat Smillie Band has a regular Thursday night gig at the Voodoo Lounge, so I made the trek to downtown Chicago, to hear his great, seven piece R&B revue. The Voodoo Lounge is located in a Cajun restaurant known as Redfish on the Northwest corner of Kinzie and State Street. I am old and fat, so I opted for the valet parking option which is curbside at the front door. The tasty Cajun fare has downtown prices, but hey, they give you Mardi Gras style bead necklaces, they’re friendly and they feature live blues. The bar area was not really designed for live music and so the acoustics aren’t great, but that doesn’t seem to effect the energy in the room.
Smillie, a Detroit native has a voice that may remind you of Joe Cocker or Mitch Ryder, and mixes some well accepted original tunes into his set. He has two compact discs under his belt, which are available at his gigs.
Tonight’s ensemble included Tina Howell on vocals, and the tall guy, Duke Harris on keyboards. On the synth keys, Duke provided some great R&B horn lines which go well with Smillie’s gritty vocals. Pat’s regular guitar player Al Wittek brings both his lap steel and his trusty Les Paul. The six string bass was played by John Merideth and the rhythm section was completed with Sambo the drummer and vocalist. The hyperkinetic Sambo is just an all-around showman. He is an excellent vocalist, and as an added bonus, he can simulate a great Chicago harp sound without a harmonica. I want to laugh at the people in the bar looking for the harpist, but I can’t laugh because a while back he had me fooled as well.
Joining the band for the entire evening was Chicago singer, guitarist and bluesman, Toronzo Cannon. Toronzo plays his right-handed strat upside down, but still strung with low E on top. Lefty Toronzo is also a fine vocalist and bandleader in his own right. Between Toronzo playing his strat with his mouth, and Sambo behind the kit, standing on his drum stool, there was always something to see and hear.
Two guest vocalists came up to the mic as well. Ramblin’ Rose, the Chicago blues singer and Cat Braaten formerly of Chicago each contributed a few songs. This was a very mixed crowd with after work suits, tourists and Lollapalooza visitors. I knew the music was kickin’ when I saw several white boys with air guitars. As usual for me, I was ready for a fourth set.