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The Reader's Guide to the 22nd Annual Chicago Blues Festival

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Lately the Chicago Blues Festival has been taking heat for booking so few big-name artists, and the Mayor's Office of Special Events seems to have noticed: this year celebrities like Buddy Guy, John Mayall, Mavis Staples, and Koko Taylor are playing the Petrillo Music Shell. Also at Petrillo are several less famous but equally important figures--former Howlin' Wolf sideman Hubert Sumlin, neotraditionalists Billy Branch and Erwin Helfer, and still-vital Chicago veteran Jody Williams.

As usual, though, many of the festival's most compelling bookings are on the smaller stages--and aren't high-profile mainstream figures by any stretch. Guitarists Eddie Kirkland and Eddie Burns, both former John Lee Hooker sidemen, will represent the postwar Detroit blues scene. Nonagenarian Robert Lockwood Jr. is finally being showcased in the role he prefers: not as a quaint "folk" blues picker but out in front of a brawny band with solid jazz and jump-blues credentials. And when Lurrie and Carey Bell, recently reunited after years of professional and personal estrangement, take the stage together, the love they display for each other--and for the blues--is almost as moving as their exquisite craftsmanship.

This year's lineup is well stocked with artists who manage to be remarkably versatile and creative while staying faithful to the blues as it was played during its postwar heyday, when it was nurtured in cities along the path of the Great Migration--Memphis, Detroit, and Chicago among them. This fidelity is certainly preferable to a lazy bastardization of blues tradition, but by honoring it to such an extent the festival has created a problem for itself: its bookings don't offer a representative sample of the music that many African-Americans in those parts of the country listen to today--the amalgam of 12-bar blues, 60s deep soul, contemporary R & B, and neosoul that's usually called "soul blues."

Only Latimore, Jesi' Terrell and Stan Mosley, and arguably Mavis Staples seem to have been chosen to please those fans. Centennial tributes and scholarly debates on "authenticity" in the blues are all well and good, but most folks go to juke joints and show lounges for a party, not a history lesson. The blues has remained relevant in the communities that birthed it by constantly evolving, so that it remains a lively part of the present rather than an artifact from the past.

As in past years, the Petrillo Music Shell showcases national acts and top-tier locals. The Juke Joint, on Columbus north of Jackson, emphasizes relatively intimate presentations. The Crossroads, at Jackson and Lake Shore Drive, concentrates on electric blues, while the Front Porch, south of Jackson and west of Columbus, focuses on acoustic and traditional styles. The Best Buy Showcase, on Columbus south of Jackson, as usual features a surplus of ham-handed bar bands (a notable exception is pianist Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne, who plays on Sunday). The Route 66 Roadhouse, which hosts panels and workshops, is on the north side of Jackson, just east of the Petrillo entrance. All events are free. --David Whiteis

Thu 9

JUKE JOINT

Noon

Erwin Helfer

Erwin Helfer's introspective, nuanced approach to the blues is intriguingly informed by jazz, ragtime, and even classical music--but the veteran Chicago pianist is just as familiar with Pine Top Smith as he is with Thelonious Monk, and he can pound out a joyous, insistent boogie or low-down 12-bar grind with the best of them. Helfer is also an educator, and has taught countless aspiring blues musicians how to navigate the 88s. He plays solo here. BD

1 PM

Roosevelt Purifoy

Pianist Roosevelt Purifoy, aka "the Mad Hatter," is one of the most accomplished and versatile session musicians in Chicago blues, with a resume that includes work with artists as varied as Otis Rush, Lurrie and Carey Bell, Jimmy Johnson, Mavis Staples, and Koko Taylor. This solo set is a rare opportunity to see him take center stage. DW

2:30 PM

Fernando Jones

An author, playwright, and educator, Jones is also a competent guitarist and harpist in the postwar Chicago tradition, and this intimate setting should show off his gift for connecting emotionally with an audience. DW

4 PM

Roland Tchakounte

Cameroonian guitarist Roland Tchakounte, making his first visit to the States, has clearly been inspired by Ali Farka Toure's fusion of Malian traditional music and American blues. Tchakounte's usual range covers everything from indigenous Cameroonian styles to contemporary blues rock, but today he'll be accompanied only by French slide guitarist Mick Ravassat, not his band--expect to hear primarily traditional forms, both African and African-American. DW

5 PM

Chicago Blues Poetry Showcase featuring Marvin Tate, Tara Betts, and AvantRetro, with a poem by Kim Berez; hosted by C.J. Laity

RNow that hip-hop is widely seen as a legitimate form of poetry--descended, like the blues, from oral traditions like spirituals and work songs--more and more spoken-word artists are exploring updated takes on what might be called the "blues aesthetic." Marvin Tate's meditations on liberation and apocalypse have a righteous, spiritual soulfulness reminiscent of the Last Poets, and Tara Betts, well-known on the local and national poetry-slam circuits, adds to this hard-edged fervor a postfeminist celebration of sexual freedom. AvantRetro--the duo of reedist Al DeGenova and percussionist Charlie Rossiter--augment their Beat-inspired poetry with live music and flamboyant stagecraft designed to encourage audience participation; art therapist and teacher Kim Berez, who organized Chicago's first high school hip-hop poetry club at Roberto Clemente, often adds visuals to her readings. This afternoon's host, C.J. Laity, was poetry coordinator for the Bucktown Arts Festival until 2002, when he asked poets to boycott the fest after accusing its organizers of trying to stifle black and Latino readers; he's now the driving force behind the Chicago Poetry Festival, held every August. DW

FRONT PORCH

1 PM

Blues in the Schools

As it has for years, the Front Porch stage kicks things off with performances from schoolchildren in the city's Blues in the Schools program. A group from Stone Academy will be led by pianist Erwin Helfer, vocalist Katherine Davis, and multi-instrumentalist Eric Noden, joined by Roland Tchakounte (see above); harpist and Blues in the Schools cofounder Billy Branch will perform with students from Grant Academy; and kids from Reavis and Agassiz elementary schools will be joined by Davis and guitarist Les Getrex. Guitarist Roy Hytower, aka Doktu Rhute, will perform with children he's been working with in a similar program run by the Blues Heaven Foundation. DW

3 PM

Nick Moss & the Flip Tops

Guitarist and bassist Nick Moss was mentored by Chicago veterans like Jimmy Dawkins, Jimmy Rogers, and Pinetop Perkins, from whom he learned the dying art of soloing with intelligence and taste. Even at his most intense, Moss plays entire ideas, not just notes; his string of releases on the Blue Bella label showcase both this sophisticated musicianship and his evolving gifts as a songwriter (the latest disc, Sadie Mae, is due this week). DW

4:30 PM

From Linda's Lounge: L-Roy & the Bullet Proof Band with Lady D, Lady Kat, and Holly Maxwell

Linda's Lounge, located on 51st Street, is one of the few remaining south-side clubs that books blues acts weekly; the featured singer is often the Fantastic L-Roy, who delivers funky re-creations of R & B standards in a muscular voice that can go from a Brook Benton-like croon to a sanctified shout. Vocalists Lady Kat and Lady D pattern themselves after soul-blues queens like Denise LaSalle, and what they lack in subtlety they make up for in hot-blooded intensity. Holly Maxwell's classically trained soprano is less supple and nuanced now than it was back in the 60s, when she made a handful of notable singles here in Chicago, but a recent live CD recorded at Paris's Maxwell Cafe (no relation) proves she's still flexible enough to cover the ground between "Dr. Feelgood" and a lipstick-on-a-wineglass reading of "Since I Fell for You." DW

CROSSROADS

1:30 PM

Tommy McCracken & the Force of Habit Band

Singer Tommy McCracken, a favorite on the north-side circuit for his flamboyant stage presence and supple voice, mostly sticks to well-worn standards--but as second-tier troupers have done since time immemorial, he pours so much energy into every tune that his audience usually leaves satisfied, or at least bludgeoned into submission. DW

2:45 PM

Grana' Louise

Vocalist Grana' Louise has churchy chops, a soul-influenced style, and an admirable repertoire--including standards both recent and vintage as well as originals like her sassy crowd pleaser "Big Annie's Fanny." Her phrasing leans toward the pedestrian, but her charismatic stage presence and fiery delivery make it hard to complain. DW

4:30 PM

Toronzo Cannon & the Cannonball Express

Among the current crop of young Hendrix-influenced guitarists, Toronzo Cannon is one of the more articulate: no matter how wild he gets, he's always saying something in his solos, not just slinging notes around for the sake of it. His vocals are equally expressive, whether he's testifying on a soul-tinged number or braying a blues anthem--further evidence of his professionalism and focus. DW

BEST BUY SHOWCASE

2 PM

Planetary Blues

Based in Valparaiso, Indiana, this group plays energetic but undistinguished shuffle blues and southern blues rock, occasionally wandering around in jam-band territory. DW

3:30 PM

After Midnight Blues

This San Antonio band delivers the usual blues-bar fare--heavy on the postwar standards, with a dash of post-70s guitar rock--but they do it with remarkable taste and emotional depth, perhaps because guitarist Lamar Spencer and guitarist-harpist Richard Nitschke have each been playing for about 30 years. DW

4:45 PM

Madman Blues Band

This local bar band, with its boilerplate repertoire of Chicago standards and southern-fried blues rock, probably won't wear out its welcome before you decide it's time for another beer run. DW

6:15 PM

Steepwater Band

On the strength of its live shows and two recent CDs, Brother to the Snake (2001) and Dharmakaya (2004), this local group has become one of the most popular bar bands in the city. The Allman Brothers' 70s albums are the most obvious point of reference here, but the group adds new twists--melodic, harmonic, and especially rhythmic--to its time-tested mix of roadhouse-ready thunder boogie and soaring, trippy improvisation. DW

ROUTE 66 ROADHOUSE

Noon

A British Perspective featuring Mike Rowe, Bill Greensmith, and Bob Hall, hosted by Jim O'Neal British authors have written several groundbreaking books on American blues, and Mike Rowe's Chicago Breakdown, an exhaustive 1973 survey of the postwar Windy City recording scene, is an outstanding example. Also on this panel are photographer Bill Greensmith, who now lives in Saint Louis, and former Savoy Brown pianist Bob Hall. Host Jim O'Neal, the only non-Brit participant, cofounded Living Blues magazine. BD

2 PM

Blues in the Schools

roundtable

Educators who've participated in Blues in the Schools over the years discuss their work, the evolving philosophy of the program, and the legacy they hope it will leave. Scheduled participants include Kay Jones (Grant Academy), Barbara Turkin (Stone Academy), and Mary Hurt Wright (Spencer Academy), whose grandfather was Mississippi John Hurt, a major figure among the veteran southern bluesmen "rediscovered" in the 60s. DW

PETRILLO MUSIC SHELL

6 PM

David "Honeyboy" Edwards 90th Birthday Celebration

David "Honeyboy" Edwards has a hallowed place among blues musicians--he's one of very few still alive who've traded licks with the legendary Robert Johnson (Robert Lockwood Jr., who plays the fest on Friday, is another). In past years he's usually been booked on the Front Porch, but to celebrate his 90th birthday, coming up on June 28, he's taking to the main stage. Edwards's dexterous guitar work and burnished baritone vividly evoke a bygone era of Mississippi Delta blues, and he's usually at his best solo--his whimsical timing sometimes baffles even the most well-meaning accompanists. For this set, though, the band ought to be able to follow his every move: he'll be joined by his longtime harpist Michael Frank, rock-solid bassist Aron Burton, and former Howlin' Wolf drummer Sam Lay. BD

7 PM

Kim Simmonds's Savoy Brown 40th Year Celebration with Bob Hall

Why throw a party for this long-lived but middling British blues-rock outfit when so many artists with more intriguing histories have yet to receive their first fest invitation from the city? But here they are: lead guitarist Kim Simmonds--Savoy Brown's guiding light since 1966, when the band cut its first 45 for producer Mike Vernon--brings his latest lineup along for a reunion with pianist Bob Hall, an integral part-time member during the group's early years. BD

:20 PM

John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers with Mick Taylor

More British blues rock--this time from the godfather of the movement, whose energetic keyboard antics, elastic harmonica riffing, and hearty vocals belie his 71 years. He's mentored many a rock icon in his day--Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, John McVie, and Mick Fleetwood all passed through the Bluesbreakers before going on to fame, and tonight's guest guitarist, Mick Taylor, played in Mayall's band before replacing Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones. BD

Fri 10

JUKE JOINT

Noon

Piano Willie

Milwaukee-based Piano Willie, born William Oshawny, plays an amiable mix of vintage Chicago blues and boogie. He's especially impressive on moody ballads in the style of Otis Spann, one of his idols, but his up-tempo work can also catch fire thanks to his aggressive, chiming upper-register technique. DW

1 PM

Eddie Taylor Jr.

Eddie Taylor Jr. is a versatile bluesman, but his heart's in the Chicago sound his late father helped codify in the 50s and early 60s. On postwar tunes both well-known and obscure, he updates his dad's classic solos, even playing one of the old man's vintage guitars--and his increasingly confident vocals sound more and more like his father's every year. DW

2 PM

Detroit Junior

Chicago pianist Emery "Detroit Junior" Williams has a playful streak a mile wide: his best-known and most-covered tune, "Call My Job," praises the simple joys of sleeping in after a long weekend of devilry, and the title of his rueful rocker "If I Hadn't Been High" pretty much says it all. Junior's skills at the ivories are no joke, though--a natural showman, he's been at it since moving here from Michigan in the mid-50s. BD

3:30 PM

Hubert Sumlin and Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin

Both these guitarists have played in the bands of Muddy Waters, albeit during different decades: Hubert Sumlin quit Howlin' Wolf's combo to join Muddy for a brief stint in the mid-50s, then returned to his mentor and emerged as one of the most dazzling lead guitarists of his era. Bob Margolin signed on with Waters in 1974, sharing fretboard duty with Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson until the band defected en masse in 1980. Margolin's sympathetic accompaniment should temper Sumlin's occasional unpredictability in this set. BD

4:30 PM

Roy Meriwether

Roy Meriwether, a nephew of centennial honoree Big Maceo, was raised in a strongly religious family in Dayton, Ohio--which helps explain the sanctified funk in his keyboard work. His style updates what used to be called "soul jazz"--a hybrid of blues and swinging R & B that's infused with gospel fervor and postbop-influenced harmonic daring. DW

FRONT PORCH

1 PM

Sunnyland Slim Memorial Piano Set featuring Barrelhouse Chuck and Henry Gray

A tribute to piano patriarch Albert "Sunnyland Slim" Luandrew is a fest tradition. This year's elder statesman is Henry Gray, a Louisiana native who spent the 50s and most of the 60s in Chicago, where he was an essential member of Howlin' Wolf's band and provided crashing accompaniment on classic sides by Bo Diddley and Billy Boy Arnold. Local pianist "Barrelhouse Chuck" Goering is an equally muscular player, influenced by Little Brother Montgomery and by Sunnyland Slim himself. BD

2:30 PM

Eddie Taylor

remembrance

Guitarist Eddie Taylor, who died on Christmas Day in 1985, was a pioneer of the postwar Chicago style, but because he spent most of his career as a sideman--notably with Jimmy Reed--he's undeservedly obscure. Two of Taylor's old compatriots, Little Arthur Duncan and vocalist Johnnie Mae Dunson, anchor this tribute set; the band is the New Legends of Blues All Stars, fronted by Billy Flynn and Taylor's son Eddie Jr., both on guitar. Taylor's son Tim will sit in on drums, and stepson Larry and daughters Edna, Demetria, and Brenda will each step up for a few songs. DW

5 PM

Kim Simmonds and Bob Hall

Guitarist Kim Simmonds has been the one constant in British blues-rock band Savoy Brown over the past four decades, and pianist Bob Hall--a fairly ubiquitous presence at this fest--played in the group during its formative years, when its repertoire stuck closest to electric blues. This duo set should be more intimate than Thursday's full-band get-together at Petrillo. BD

CROSSROADS

1:30 PM

Robert Lockwood Jr. Band

RNonagenarian Robert Lockwood Jr. was mentored in the 30s by Delta legend Robert Johnson, who was his mother's boyfriend at the time. In the early 40s he recorded a few seminal sides for the Bluebird label in Chicago, and after returning to Arkansas he starred on the legendary King Biscuit Time radio program, which aired on KFFA in Helena; after heading back north in 1950 he participated in some of the most important Chicago sessions at Chess Records. His performances of acoustic Delta classics and 50s-era Chicago-style tunes are still heartfelt and remarkably dexterous, but despite his monumental status in those genres he's long insisted that his real loyalty is to jazz and jump blues. The eight-piece band he'll lead here, which he's been playing with for a few years, consists of versatile jazz veterans from Cleveland, and they serve up jaunty swing, slow-rolling blues balladry, and rough-hewn, jubilant pop funk. Lockwood digs in with gusto, spinning off spidery leads a la T-Bone Walker one minute and laying down chords in a supple, deep-swinging groove the next. His voice is coarse but always ebullient, and his stage presence--imperious and unsmiling, as befits a musician who bends to no will but his own--is one of the most commanding in blues. DW

3:30 PM

Eddie Kirkland with Eddie Burns

RNext to John Lee Hooker, these two guitarists--who've both worked and recorded as sidemen to the Boogie Man--are probably the most significant Detroit bluesmen of their generation, with considerable legacies of their own. At 76, Kirkland is still a pile driver, with enough energy to push a sweaty boogie riff over the line into absolute mania. Though less histrionic, Burns is just as riveting, deeply influenced by tradition and fond of propulsive shuffles. BD

BEST BUY SHOWCASE

2 PM

Pat Smillie Band

The lung-pumping ballads, funky up-tempo burners, and boogie shuffles on 1999's I Got an Angel (Irochet) and 2003's Letter to Hampton (Fat Bank) showcase this Detroit transplant's grainy, constricted soul vocals and refreshingly mature songwriting: his meditations on longing ("Can We Make This Happen") and loss ("Bittersweet") avoid self-pity in favor of sincere vulnerability. DW

3:15 PM

Scott Bradbury

Harpist Scott "Bad Boy Scotty" Bradbury has picked his role models well: he has a squalling tone and high-energy stage presence reminiscent of James Cotton, tempered with lithe warbles that recall Big Walter Horton and an impish sense of humor--off-time trills, dramatic swoops, percussive tongue stops--in the spirit of Junior Wells. DW

4:30 PM

Latvian Blues Band

This Latvian group, making its first stateside appearance, has ably accompanied Chicago artists like Grana' Louise, Deitra Farr, and Sharon Lewis on overseas dates. DW

5:45 PM

Liz Mandville Greeson

Although she bills herself as a blues artist, Liz Mandville Greeson's raucous theatricality, three-octave vocal range, and taste for sultry pop ballads and over-the-top broken-heart numbers suggest there's a torch singer inside her struggling to get out. Her hot-blues-mama act ought to raise the temperature in Grant Park considerably. DW

7 PM

Perpetrators

Though this Winnipeg power trio takes juke-joint primitivists like Hound Dog Taylor and R.L. Burnside as role models, it rarely displays their command of dynamics. But the band's headed in the right direction: on the recent self-released The Gas and the Clutch, drummer and singer Scotty Hills delivers a smoldering reading of Taj Mahal's "Lovin' in My Baby's Eyes" that proves these guys aren't entirely deaf to nuance. DW

ROUTE 66 ROADHOUSE

Noon

Howlin' Wolf's Family Birthday Party

Wolf's daughters Bettye Kelly and Barbra Marks join family and friends to celebrate the life and legacy of the Chicago blues giant, who would've turned 95 today. DW

2:30 PM

Centennial celebrations: Henry Gray, Bob Hall, Roy Meriwether, Pete Crawford, and Jim O'Neal

Pianists Gray, Hall, and Meriwether, guitarist Crawford, and Living Blues magazine cofounder Jim O'Neal discuss the fest's three centennial honorees: pianists Big Maceo, Meade Lux Lewis, and Jimmy Walker, all born in 1905. DW

PETRILLO MUSIC SHELL

6 PM

Jody Williams with the Willie Henderson Horns

RIn the late 40s and early 50s, guitarist Jody Williams developed an unmistakable instrumental voice by combining the elegance of smooth west-coast stylists like Johnny Moore and T-Bone Walker, the advanced harmonic construction of B.B. King's leads--which King had adapted from jazzmen like Django Reinhardt--and his own piercing tone and aggressive attack, both solidly in the mold of the burgeoning Chicago sound. Williams appeared on seminal recordings by the likes of Bo Diddley ("Who Do You Love") and Howlin' Wolf ("Evil," "Forty-Four"), and appropriated versions of his solos and themes turned up in songs by Otis Rush and Mickey & Sylvia, among others. Disenchanted with the music business, he retired in the mid-60s, not to return till 2000; since then he's recorded the acclaimed discs Return of a Legend and You Left Me in the Dark (both on Evidence). Here he's backed by his skintight working band and a horn section led by Chicago baritone saxophonist Willie Henderson, an arranger and producer whose charts have been gracing Windy City blues, R & B, soul, and pop recordings for generations. DW

7:20 PM

Hubert Sumlin, Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin, Pinetop Perkins, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, and Mookie Brill

Though guitarist Hubert Sumlin is revered for his snaky, darting leads on Howlin' Wolf's Chess recordings, for this set he's surrounded by Muddy Waters alumni--a nod to Sumlin's latest album, About Them Shoes (Artemis/Tone-Cool), where the capricious axeman plays a dozen Waters classics behind guest vocalists of varying competency. Perkins's boogie-fired piano anchored Muddy's band throughout the 70s, and guitarist Margolin and drummer Smith put in time during the same era (Perkins and Smith later helped found the Legendary Blues Band). Tom "Mookie" Brill is the odd man out; he's Margolin's regular bassist but never played with Waters. BD

:40 PM

Koko Taylor & Her Blues Machine

RA series of ailments laid her low a few years back, but Koko Taylor has happily resumed active duty as Chicago's queen of the blues. Born in Memphis, Taylor came to Chicago in 1953, and though she sat in wherever she could, it took her a decade to get noticed by producer-songwriter extraordinaire Willie Dixon, who handed her "Wang Dang Doodle"--a ribald party song that Howlin' Wolf had recorded in 1960. Taylor's 1966 version, issued by Checker, was one of the last Chicago blues platters to become a national R & B hit, and it's her signature song to this day--there's still nobody who can pitch a wang dang doodle the way she does. Since 1975 she's been recording for Chicago's Alligator Records, and her albums for the label have earned her a trophy case of W.C. Handy awards. She's just as impressive onstage: left to its own devices, her young band would play everything balls-out, leaving Koko little choice but to belt as hard as she could, but her gruff, intimidating growl is usually enough to keep the boys in line. BD

Sat 11

JUKE JOINT

Noon

Don Washington

A multi-instrumentalist and vocalist from Kent, New York, Washington was raised in a religious family where all the children were expected to learn musical instruments and play them in church. These days he embellishes the sanctified sounds of his upbringing with touches of high-energy rock and funk; he's released a self-titled disc where he plays all the parts himself, but here he'll stick to piano. DW

1:30 PM

Waymon Meeks

Born in Fort Worth in 1965, Meeks holds a degree in geography and environmental science from the University of North Texas, but he's dedicated his life to exploring the vanishing terrain of traditional southern blues--he's not only adept in a variety of acoustic guitar styles but also performs a cappella when tackling older genres like spirituals and work songs. DW

3 PM

Jon McDonald

This local guitarist has worked with Magic Slim, Dave Myers, Honeyboy Edwards, and Casey Jones, among other, absorbing a dazzling pastiche of traditional and neotraditional blues styles along the way. But "pastiche" is still the operative word: when he plays solo, with his less-than-commanding vocals front and center, McDonald tends to meander through his influences with more fealty than fire. DW

4:30 PM

Bob Seeley

At a Detroit party in the mid-40s, a teenage Bob Seeley astounded boogie-woogie piano legend Meade Lux Lewis by playing a note-perfect rendition of "Chicago Flyer," one of Lewis's most challenging pieces. Fortunately Seeley went on to become a master improviser, not a slavish imitator: he adds fresh twists to classics from the boogie-woogie canon and never plays his own tunes the same way twice. He's an institution in his hometown, but rarely appears in Chicago. DW

FRONT PORCH

1 PM

Aron Burton's salute to Jimmy Walker featuring Homesick James, Steve Freund, Tino Cortez, Jake Crosby, Glenn Davis, and Aaron Moore

This tribute to Jimmy Walker marks what would've been the Chicago pianist's 100th year on the planet. Bassist Aron Burton, best known for his stint in Albert Collins's Icebreakers, heads a crew that includes ageless slide-guitar master Homesick James, once a Windy City fixture; the ebullient Aaron Moore, whose rippling piano attack owes a debt to Roosevelt Sykes; and former Chicagoan Steve Freund, an alumnus of Sunnyland Slim's band whose crisp fretwork meshed seamlessly with Walker's keys on their gigs together. BD

3 PM

Carey Bell with Lurrie Bell's Blues Band

RTaught by Little Walter himself, harpist Carey Bell was a member of Willie Dixon's globe-trotting group in the 70s, and since then he's led his own bands and recorded prolifically. His son Lurrie was hailed as a teenage guitar prodigy, and by the early 80s, when he was still in his mid-20s, he'd put in time with both the Sons of Blues and Koko Taylor. But his apparently inevitable ascent to international blues stardom was interrupted by mental illness, and he wouldn't begin a full-fledged comeback till the late 90s, when he recaptured and refined the daunting blend of rootsy traditionalism and post-70s pyrotechnics that had distinguished him in his early years. In 2004 Alligator released Second Nature, a collection of acoustic tracks Carey and Lurrie recorded in Finland in 1991, and since then they've started performing together again--with an almost unearthly intensity of musical empathy that makes it sound like they never stopped. DW

5 PM

Chicago Blues Harmonica Project 2005:

Dusty Brown, Larry Cox, Russ Green, Little Addison, and Omar Coleman featuring the Chicago Bluesmasters

The Severn label has just released Chicago Blues Harmonica Project 2005, a disc with almost exactly the same lineup as this set--only Harmonica Khan, who's died since it was recorded, is absent today. The Bluesmasters, anchored by drummer Twist Turner, include longtime Chicago session men Mark Brumbach, Rick Kreher, and Pat McKeever on keyboards, guitar, and bass; everyone else, appropriately enough, is a harp player. Septuagenarians Dusty Brown and Little Addison are known to collectors and historians for their 50s and 60s work with Henry Gray, Elmore James, and Freddie King, among others; though their voices have grown a bit corrugated, their harmonica chops are intact. Larry Cox, born in Tennessee in 1937, spent much of his life as a professional pool player and only began focusing on music in the 70s, working the south-side circuit and recording with Phil Guy. Green and Coleman, both in their 30s, have evolved styles that are rooted in tradition but spiked with tonal and rhythmic aggression, illustrating the influence of R & B, rock, and even rap and hip-hop on modern blues. DW

CROSSROADS

1:30 PM

Linsey Alexander with Joanne Graham

Vocalist Joanne Graham made uncredited appearances on several recordings by the Steelers, an underrated Chicago vocal group of the 60s and 70s with roots in street-corner doo-wop. She's well-known on the south and west sides for her multioctave range, flexible timbre, and look-but-don't-touch onstage sassiness; she's accompanied here by local journeyman guitarist Linsey Alexander. DW

3:30 PM

Latimore

RBenny Latimore is sometimes billed as "the Miami Sex Machine," but that epithet only gets you halfway there: with his impeccable coiffure, sculpted physique, and repertoire of caring-guy ballads, the veteran crooner and keyboardist has built a career showing off the sensitive side of sexy. Born in Charleston, Tennessee, in 1939, he went solo in the mid-60s after years supporting regional blues and R & B acts; after cutting a few sides for the Miami-based Dade label, he broke out in 1973 with a swinging "Stormy Monday" on Glades and a year later scored the hit that would define his persona, "Let's Straighten It Out." Subsequent favorites have underlined the importance of a man's responsibility in a relationship ("Keep the Home Fire Burnin'," "Dig a Little Deeper") or advocated for a gentler kind of seduction ("Sunshine Lady," "Tonight's the Night"), and his softhearted image has remained intact despite occasional raunchy numbers like 2000's "I'm an Old Dog." Latimore hasn't charted for some time, but his supple, insinuating voice and charismatic stage presence--smoldering sensuality and good-humored grace combined with a peacock's strut--are both undiminished. Given the shortage of soul-blues artists at this year's fest, why isn't he at Petrillo? DW

BEST BUY SHOWCASE

1 PM

Diamond Jim Greene

Acoustic guitarist Diamond Jim Greene was inspired to take up the blues in the 70s by Blind Arvella Gray, a Maxwell Street singer who died in 1980. He's since learned vintage styles ranging from Piedmont picking to the percussive flailing and keening slide work associated with the Mississippi Delta; his playing is deft and heartfelt if not particularly original. DW

2:30 PM

Michael Powers

Singer and guitarist Michael Powers, born in New Jersey in 1952, was still in high school when he toured with the Ad Libs, a group remembered mostly for the 1965 R & B hit "The Boy From New York City." He later fronted a poppy New York roots-blues band called Moonbeam, and he's been playing under his own name since the early 80s. He professes a love for the postwar blues tradition, but his rococo fire-on-the-fretboard style is more Hendrix than old-school Chicago. DW

3:45 PM

Howard & the White Boys

More boogie blooze from the long-slogging Chicago bar band and inexplicable fest perennial, whose music crossed the line into self-parody long ago. DW

5:15 PM

Noah Wotherspoon Band

Young guitarist Noah Wotherspoon has grown from a gifted wannabe in the frenzied style of Hendrix or Page into a skilled and even artful student of styles ranging from modal "trance boogie" to roadhouse crunch and pop-jazz fusion. He and his band recently released a solid disc, Reel to Real, but they're at their best onstage. DW

7 PM

Vera Lee

Veteran nightclub singer Vera Lee Holley, mother of songwriter and producer Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams, demonstrates a sassy swing on her current collection of show tunes and torch songs, 83 and Still Playing With the Boys (SDEG). DW

ROUTE 66 ROADHOUSE

11 AM

Soul Cooking with Marie Dixon, Koko Taylor, and Katherine Davis

Marie Dixon (widow of Willie) and two blues divas share their favorite soul-food recipes as part of the city's summerlong "Stirring Things Up" series, billed as "a delicious, exotic, eclectic mixture of the culinary, visual, performing and literary arts." Cooking demonstrations continue till 9 PM. DW

2:30 PM

Cultural Tourism: The Authenticity of the Blues

This writer will join David Grazian, author of the 2003 book Blue Chicago: The Search for Authenticity in Urban Blues Clubs, and representatives from the Mayor's Office of Special Events and the Mississippi Office of Tourism to discuss a growing trend: the marketing of local and regional blues history, music, and culture as a tourist attraction. DW

PETRILLO MUSIC SHELL

5 PM

Erwin Helfer & the Chicago Boogie Ensemble

For this set the pianist is joined by jazz-tinged saxist John Brumbach, a swinging rhythm section, and the effervescent Katherine Davis, an underappreciated singer with lusty pipes and a natural flair for getting the crowd involved. Helfer will likely supplement the requisite boogie-woogie action with a smattering of rags, blues, and even a stray pop standard. BD

6:25 PM

Billy Branch & the Sons of Blues with Pete Crawford, Lurrie Bell, and Steve Freund

RThe Sons of Blues evolved from a group assembled in 1977 by Jim O'Neal, then coeditor of Living Blues magazine, at the behest of Swiss jazz pianist and composer George Gruntz, who wanted a roster of young Chicagoans to appear under the rubric "New Generation of Chicago Blues" at the Berlin Jazz Festival that year. Billy Branch was the featured harpist, and when he returned to Chicago he continued playing with guitarist Lurrie Bell, bassist Freddie Dixon (Willie's son), and some of the group's other members under the name the Sons of Blues. They soon developed into one of the era's premier blues bands, rootsy in philosophy but heedless of genre distinctions in practice. This set reunites Branch with guitarist Pete Crawford, a member of the combo he played his first professional gigs with back in the early 70s, and reconnects Bell with his first full-time working group. Rounding out the lineup is guitarist Steve Freund, another early comrade and a longtime coleader of Sunnyland Slim's band the Big Four. DW

PM

Buddy Guy

At least in the studio, Buddy Guy is still a virtuosic craftsman capable of emotionally honest performances: his 2001 album Sweet Tea was impressively executed, if a little overwrought, and his 2003 acoustic set Blues Singer (both on Jive) was downright spellbinding. But onstage he's long been a parody of himself, delivering hammy, self-indulgent renditions of warhorses like "Mustang Sally" that make him seem almost contemptuous of his audience--a far cry from the flamboyant, crowd-pleasing showmanship he learned from Guitar Slim back in Louisiana, regardless of what he might claim. Guy may be a living legend, but it's hard to keep respecting him when he sullies his legacy pandering to the lowest common denominator. DW

Sun 12

JUKE JOINT

Noon

Frank "Little Sonny" Scott Jr. and Dancin' Perkins

Under the name Mr. Pitiful, bassist Robert Perkins led the original Teardrops before guitarist Magic Slim took over in the 60s; harpist Frank Scott Jr. has a tone like a hawk's screech and accompanies himself jangling a homemade contraption he calls the "blues percussive house keys." Both are best known for their Sunday-morning performances at the now-defunct Maxwell Street market. DW

1:30 PM

Eddie C. Campbell

RNot only is Campbell an imaginative lyricist (take "Santa's Messin' With the Kid," for example), the Mississippi native is also a leading practitioner of the stinging guitar style that west-side legend Magic Sam pioneered in the late 50s. His repertoire includes several of Sam's classics, and his understated vocals complement his concise guitar leads, which sizzle and pop with urgency but never sound cluttered. BD

3 PM

Lucky Peterson

See below. Peterson will play a solo set here.

4 PM

Carlos Johnson

Chicago native Carlos Johnson got his start on the circuit with Billy Branch's Sons of Blues in the 70s, before Carl Weathersby's reign as the band's guitarist, and he's been a local standout ever since. His melismatic vocals blend blues, soul, and gospel, and he belongs to that minority of blues guitarists who forgo picks and play solely with the meat of their fingers; he's fashioned a fleet, cutting style that's clearly influenced by B.B. King's yet identifiable as his own. BD

FRONT PORCH

1 PM

Victory Travelers

This Chicago gospel group hasn't recorded very often over the years, but its output is well respected: highlights include 60s sides on Glory and HOB, a 1983 album on Rapture called He's a God, and a 2002 disc on Cumberland Valley, also called He's a God, that reprises the title tune of the earlier release. With the combination of Deacon Reuben Burton's choked scream and the group's chocolate-rich harmonies, the Travelers can scare you off the road to perdition and welcome you into God's glory in the course of a single song. DW

2:30 PM

Geraldine & Donald Gay

RIn the 50s and 60s the Gay Sisters--Mildred, Evelyn, and Geraldine--toured the country playing gospel radio programs, national TV shows, auditoriums and churches small and large, even the Astrodome and Carnegie Hall. Often they used their spirited singing and piano playing to set the tone for the sermons of their younger brother Donald, then known as the "Boy Preacher." Geraldine, dubbed "the Erroll Garner of gospel" by writer Anthony Heilbut, helped transform gospel piano in much the same way Sister Rosetta Tharpe updated gospel guitar, infusing elements borrowed from jazz and R & B. The Gays' recording career essentially ended in the late 60s, but Geraldine never retired from music, and last year the Chicago label the Sirens released In the Right Hands, which featured Geraldine alongside gospel pianists Nash Shaffer Jr. and Jessy Dixon, with Donald and the Gays' nephew Gregory Gay Jr. appearing as guest vocalists. Geraldine and Donald--who hadn't recorded together since 1967--have been performing more frequently of late, encouraged by the disc's success, and the undiminished flexibility and passion in their performances make this historical comeback at least as inspiring as Jody Williams's return to the blues a few years ago. DW

4 PM

Calvin Cooke

Calvin Cooke is an elder statesman of the gospel genre popularly known as "sacred steel." Proficient on both lap and pedal steel guitar, he prefers material based on traditional hymns and praise song, but he's remained current, embellishing his playing with modern effects like wah-wah and reverb and often choosing backing that owes as much to funk, R & B, and pop as it does to old-school gospel. DW

6 PM

George Stancell

This veteran Milwaukee vocalist and guitarist made his debut album, 1999's Gorgeous George (JSP), after more than 45 years in the business. He's a soul man, loyal to the pre-synth 60s sound, with a charismatic pleading delivery on ballads and enough ballsiness and conviction to sell his up-tempo testimonials. DW

CROSSROADS

1:30 PM

Sharrie Williams & the Wiseguys

Sharrie Williams, who calls her music "rockin' gospel blues," often uses her nightclub act to tell the story of how her faith helped her win a battle with drugs and alcohol. She's never self-righteous, but even her rawest material is infused with spiritual uplift, melding the sacred and the sensual in a way that recalls vintage Mavis Staples. The recent Hard Drivin' Woman (Crosscut) suffers from instrumental and vocal overkill, but Williams is capable of nuance in the right setting. DW

3:30 PM

Fernest Arceneaux & the Thunders

Zydeco accordionist Fernest Arceneaux was born in 1940 in Carencro, Louisiana, and by his teens he was playing at house parties and dances. In the 60s he fronted R & B bands as a guitarist, but in the late 70s he picked up the squeezebox again; he's been playing zydeco ever since, infused with elements of blues and R & B. DW

BEST BUY SHOWCASE

1 PM

Steve Arvey & Kraig Kenning

These festival regulars play workmanlike acoustic blues, distinguished principally by the handful of original songs in each set, most penned by Kenning--he has an art-folk sensibility reminiscent of Bruce Cockburn's. DW

2:30 PM

Big G & the Real Deal

Former Pearl Handle Band front man George Millspaugh, aka Big G, plays the usual bar-band mix of blues-rock shuffles and southern-fried boogies with his current group. DW

3:45 PM

Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne

A native of Spokane, Washington, Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne is keeping the flame of boogie piano burning. He attacks the ivories with crashing abandon, pounding out thundering bass lines with his left hand, and he has a predilection for the repertoires of postwar jump-blues greats Amos Milburn and Memphis Slim--his new disc, Let It Loose (Electro-Fi), pays tribute to both, and his nickname comes from Milburn's '63 album Return of the Blues Boss. BD

5 PM

Matt Besey

This Saginaw-based singer and guitarist mixes modern rock-influenced blues and sparser postwar styles, with a bit of tasteful Delta fingerpicking thrown in. DW

6:15 PM

Molly Nova & the Hawk

Electric violinist Molly Nova and drummer Turk E Krause (aka Wildturkeyhawk) play music with significantly more rhythmic and textural variety than most bluesy jam bands can manage, but the lyrics rarely rise above the pedestrian. DW

ROUTE 66 ROADHOUSE

Noon

Songwriters: George Jackson, Bruce Bromberg, and Bob Jones, hosted by Larry Hoffman

Three composers discuss the bushels of blues standards they've written. In addition to striking gold in the pop world with Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock & Roll" and the Osmonds' "One Bad Apple," Muscle Shoals songwriter George Jackson is responsible for Z.Z. Hill's bandstand perennial "Down Home Blues" and loads of southern soul gems. Bruce Bromberg helped mastermind Robert Cray's rise to fame in the 80s, and Chicagoan Bob Jones has been cranking out well-loved contemporary blues tunes since 1977, when he wrote Artie "Blues Boy" White's "Leaning Tree." BD

2:30 PM

An hour with Al Bell

Former gospel DJ Al Bell arrived at Stax/Volt Records in 1965 as its new promo man, and three years later he was co-owner of the Memphis label. At the time its roster included Sam & Dave, Albert King, and Rufus Thomas, and Bell produced hits for both Isaac Hayes and the Staple Singers. He was at Stax's helm through its golden years in the late 60s and early 70s and was still in charge when the label tanked in the mid-70s after a slew of bad business decisions--he should have some juicy stories to tell. BD

PETRILLO MUSIC SHELL

5 PM

Howard Scott & His Southside Review featuring Jesi' Terrell and Stan Mosley

RThe rubric for this program has been provided by the city--the "Southside Review" is in fact Howard Scott & the World Band joined by two extra vocalists. Scott's ensemble is one of the tightest and most versatile in Chicago blues, proficient in everything from gutbucket 12-bar raunch to breezy neosoul; his punchy vocals are grittier than a gravel road but surprisingly melodic, and on guitar his brother Walter can handle greasy funk and slow-burning blues with equal aplomb. Guest singer Jesi' Terrell has undergone a remarkable transformation since her 2000 debut, Come Get This Love (Annie G): her tentative, kittenish mewl has grown into a full-bodied soul-blues wail, and her confidence and sensuality onstage reflect the change. Stan Mosley hit the soul-blues circuit hard in 2000 with the Malaco single "Anybody Seen My Boo?," but he's struggled to find a follow-up. I've heard tracks from an in-progress CD that he plans to release himself, and his grainy, Womack-influenced vocals are as rich and nuanced as ever, a match for his warm and inviting stage presence. DW

6:40 PM

Lucky Peterson Band

Second-generation bluesman Lucky Peterson, son of guitarist James, recorded his first hit single at the tender age of six, chirping the tune "1-2-3-4" at a session produced by Willie Dixon. Since then the mercurial Peterson, who's fluent on both guitar and keyboards, has ranged all over the map, from blues and gospel to soul and funk--but though his extreme versatility sometimes makes it hard to tell where his real strengths lie, it never obscures his stratospheric energy level. BD

:20 PM

Mavis Staples

RLast year Mavis Staples released Have a Little Faith (Alligator), her first album since a Mahalia Jackson tribute with Lucky Peterson in 1996 and her first solo effort since 1993's The Voice. She's still in full command of the vocal instrument she developed on the gospel highway in the 50s and 60s with the Staple Singers, with its fierce enunciations, dramatic segues between singing and speech, and thrilling ascents from somber meditation into choked ecstasy--and if anything the coarsening of her voice over the years has lent it even more depth and power. Onstage she sometimes inserts old secular favorites like the steamy 1975 number "Let's Do It Again" between newer tunes and versions of Staples standards like "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There," but her focus is overwhelmingly on the power of the sacred. On songs like "God Is Not Sleeping" (from Have a Little Faith) and "Blood Is Thicker Than Time" (from The Voice) she gives herself over so fully to the spirit that she seems completely helpless and completely transformed--a riveting, inspiring, and sometimes terrifying demonstration of faith. DW

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/James Fraher, Michael Jackson.

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