Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Robert Lockwood Junior

Robert Lockwood Jr.

Robert Jr passed away. Robert Jr was a true innovator. His impact on Blues and popular music may never be truly measured. He was one of
the most amazing and innovative Blues men of modern time. His impact of modern day Blues goes unnoticed. He style was subtle and laid the foundation for the generation that followed.

He was in Arkansas and was an influence on BB King. He was in Chicago during the time that the post war style was being defined. He and Louis Myers set the standard on how to back harmonica players. He was an integral part of Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson's classic Chess recordings.

He had several classic recordings of his own. He was an influence on a multitude of guitar players. He combined great tone and technique. He wasn't an in-your-face flashy kind of guy like many current crop of rock-influenced guitar players. He was simply great!

I consider myself fortunate to have seen him several times. The first time was in Chicago. He was playing his 12 string electric and was being backed by the Aces. Louis Myers, Dave Myers and Fred Below. It was an awesome evening of music. The interplay between Robert Jr and Louis was nothing short of incredible.

Another time that stood out was at the old Yoshi's in Oakland. He was billed on the show with Jimmy Rogers. He ended up playing a solo set of old time Blues. He mixed in some Robert Johnson material with some of his own classic recordings. I thought it was amazing how one guy could captivate an audience and steal the show. It was a fabulous evening of music that touched the sould and could best be described as intimate.

Several years ago, the Chicago Blues Festival featured members of the blues community that were born in 1915. There were still a few people around from that time. Sadly, there aren't many people left from his generation. Honeyboy Edwards, Pinetop Perkins and Homesick James may be the only ones left.

It's likely that he will never receive the credit or recognition that he is due. While I have a great deal of respect of Robert Johnson, I find it sad that his short period of time with the legend eclipsed an amazing, powerful and influential career. Robert Jr was one of the greatest guitar players that I've ever seen.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

The Good Old Days

During the past several months, some fabulous talent has left us. Snooky Pryor, Johnny Dollar, Bonnie Lee, Willie Kent and other fabulous performers that I was fortunate to see during the 1980's. I was reminiscing some friends of mins about some of the old shows.

Here are some brief excerpts:

First Exposure: My first exposure to Blues was around 1980 or 1981. The University of Illinois in Chicago ran a blues series. Each week for ten weeks, they featured a different local band. Up to that point, I thought Blues was 50's music, i.e. oldies. One of the bands that performed was Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues feauturing Lurrie Bell. That band was a bunch of young guys playing some really, really tough music.

The next week was Eddie Clearwater. He walked out on stage with that big Indian headdress and played some vicious West side Chicago Blues. I think Koko Taylor and Son Seals did shows there, too. Later that summer, I hit Chicagofest and saw performances by Eddie Taylor, Luther Allison and Muddy Waters. I don't think that I've listened to much popular music since.

The Bar Scene: I didn't start going to bars until around 1982. I started seeing some amazing performers. Some like Sunnyland Slim, James Cotton and Junior Wells were well known. Other fantastic artists like: Valerie Wellington, Robert Covington, Johnny Dollar and Lefty Dizz didn't achieve the recognition they were due, but they were monster talents.

Hubert Sumlin: Back in the mid 80's, he used to work at the Kingston Mines with Chico Chism almost every week. Looking back on those days, I sort of took those guys for granted. Those were some great shows. Everyone knows about his great work with Howlin' Wolf.

His work with Howlin' Wolf was breathtaking. His recordings with Sunnyland Slim and Little Mac Simmons are incredible. His work under his own name is great, too. Hubert Sumlin is one of those guys whose influence on American music is under appreciated and under recognized.

James Cotton: During the mid 80's, James Cotton played at Biddy Mulligan's and around the city with his big band featuring Michael Coleman and a full horn section. Those performance were legendary and one of them was captured by Alligator Records.

James Cotton also used to pull together a really cool show on Christmas day at Wise Fool's Pub. He teaming up with Pinetop Perkins, Calvin Jones, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and Sammy Lawhorn. That was a seriously bad ass line up and a great Christmas gift to the Blues community.

Mighty Joe Young: It was a weird night. I went with one of my co-workers. He was married with three kids. We were meeting his parents there. I arrived late and met up with them. When I arrived, my friend was there with his parents. He had also brought a date. It was odd considering he was married and hanging out with his parents.

Mighty Joe Young put on a show that was simply blistering. He was hot! In the audience was the legendary piano player, Little Brother Montgomery. He was elderly and very frail. He was assisted to the stage. Little Brother Montgomery played some great stuff. He was joined by a jazz harp player named Howard Levy.

Blue Chicago: Back 20 years ago, the first Blue Chicago club was on State Street. That club was my introduction to the vocal talents of the fabulous Barkin' Bill Smith. I can't remember who was playing guitar with him that night. I think it was either a very young Dave Specter or the infamous multi-talented Dave Clark. Little Richie Yescalis was playing the bass. He was one of the first people that I met on the Blues scene.

My last trip: My last trip to Chicago was a crazy one. My wife and I went to Artis's. Artis's is the home base for Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues. They have been holding down Monday nights there for well over 20 years. It's the longest running regular blues gig in Chicago.

Billy is one of (if not the) baddest harp player around. He's got a killer band. My last trip, he had a bunch of great guests sitting in that would have made a lineup for one helluva Blues festival including: Phil Guy, Tre', Ronnie Brooks, Russ Green and a couple of great local singers in the Tyrone Davis, Bobby Bland styles. The place was packed and they had a great turnout.

The people in the bar were really nice. They made us feel like we were at home. The bartenders were awesome. They made some killer mixed drinks and were very friendly.

The great JW Williams and the Chi-Town Hustlers were holding down Sunday nights for a long time. Now, Tre' & the Blue Nights are there. Tre' is a bad ass guitar player. His CD on Wolf Records is a really good one. He's also the son of the great L.V. Banks, who is an absolutely fabulous guitarist and singer.

That's more than enough for now.