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The Reader's Guide to the 23rd Annual Chicago Blues Festival

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Contrary to popular stereotype, the blues never had a pristine original state--even the earliest recordings document a wide variety of styles. So-called Delta blues paired hoarse imprecations with aggressive acoustic strumming and picking, Piedmont blues combined gentler vocals with the complex textures of ragtime-influenced fingerpicking, and the vaudeville-tinged "classic" blues of singers like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey often used a piano or full jazz orchestra for accompaniment. From the beginning, these styles influenced one another--and younger artists updated them with their own ideas, often borrowing from the pop and jazz of the day.

Variation and change are integral to the blues, not corruptions of it, and the wide-ranging bookings at this year's Blues Festival map out some of that variation and change. On Saturday, three men who knew Delta pioneer Robert Johnson personally--Robert Lockwood Jr., Honeyboy Edwards, and Henry Townsend--play two sets with another elder statesman, Homesick James, just before a solo outing by James "Blood" Ulmer, a fiery, furiously imaginative guitarist who tears down and rebuilds that same Delta tradition. Mississippi jukers Louis "Gearshifter" Youngblood, Terry "Harmonica" Bean, and Ben Wiley Payton play the Juke Joint stage three times during the festival, and Friday on the Crossroads stage that region's single-chord trance-blues style gets a shot of funk and R & B from Duwayne Burnside, who practically grew up in Junior Kimbrough's fabled north Mississippi juke.

The Petrillo lineup is practically a primer on the history of soul music's relationship to other forms of pop, including the blues: Bobby "Blue" Bland, who headlines on Sunday, stands alongside B.B. King as one of the chief architects of the urbane mainstream blues of the 50s and 60s and helped pave the way for the soul-music revolution that followed. Thursday's main attraction, Bettye LaVette, added rock 'n' roll crunch to her melange of pop and soul on I've Got My Own Hell to Raise, the second new album of her remarkable recent comeback, and veteran singer Dorothy Moore, who warms up for Bland on Sunday, has scored her biggest hits with soul remakes of country-western ballads. Artie "Blues Boy" White and Deitra Farr both spike the blues with deep soul, and the four soul-blues vocalists who share Sunday's first slot all mix it into a cocktail of contemporary R & B, gospel, and neosoul.

There are exciting bookings on the smaller stages too, including New Orleans R & B legend Eddie Bo and younger-generation Detroit singer Thornetta Davis, who can pull off anything from a heart-stopping rendition of Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone to Love" to a streetsy cover of Erykah Badu's "Tyrone." All in all, this is the most musically varied and historically broad festival lineup in years.

As usual, the Petrillo Music Shell showcases national acts and top-tier locals. The Juke Joint, which emphasizes relatively intimate presentations, has been moved to Columbus and Van Buren (and renamed the Mississippi Juke Joint), and the new Louisiana Bayou Station & Social Club is on Columbus between Jackson and Monroe. The Crossroads, at Jackson and Lake Shore, concentrates on electric blues, while the Front Porch, on the grass south of Jackson and west of Columbus, focuses on acoustic and traditional styles. The Route 66 Roadhouse, which hosts panels and workshops, is at Jackson and Columbus. All events are free. DW

Thursday 8

Route 66 Roadhouse

11:30 AM

Blues in the Schools Roundup

Billy Branch, one of the pioneers of Chicago's Blues in the Schools program, will join Eric Noden and other program instructors to talk about their methods and philosophies, a discussion that ought to be especially helpful to teachers looking to bring similar initiatives to their own classrooms. DW

2 PM

Centennial Celebrations: Little Brother Montgomery, Roosevelt Sykes, Blind Arvella Gray

This year's festival celebrates what would've been the 100th birthdays of Eurreal "Little Brother" Montgomery and Roosevelt Sykes, two seminal figures in 20th-century blues piano, and Blind Arvella Gray, a street singer who worked the Maxwell Street Market for decades and attracted a cult audience on the strength of his lone LP, The Singing Drifter, originally released on the local Birch label in 1973 and recently reissued by LA's Conjuroo Recordings. Bob Koester, owner of Delmark Records and the Jazz Record Mart, knew all three men personally, and he'll be joined for this discussion by pianists Don Washington and Julien Brunetaud, both of whom play today on the Louisiana Bayou Station & Social Club stage. DW

Mississippi Juke Joint

12:30 PM

Mississippi Round Robin: Louis "Gearshifter" Youngblood, Terry "Harmonica" Bean, and Ben Wiley Payton

R Lately record labels, promoters, and self-appointed preservationists have been scrambling to record those few African-American artists still making viable music in the legendary strongholds of the blues, chief among them the Mississippi Delta--and whatever you think of the motives behind those efforts, you can't deny that they've turned up some real talents. Based in Jackson, Louis Arzo Youngblood, aka "Gearshifter," adapts his acoustic-guitar craftsmanship to both traditional southern blues and contemporary R & B-influenced styles. Terry "Harmonica" Bean works in a furniture factory in Pontotoc, Mississippi, and he's been entertaining at parties and working the regional circuit since the late 80s, playing guitar, blowing harp, and providing a percussive counterpoint by stomping his feet; he's released six CDs, so far without the help of a label. Ben Wiley Payton started out playing Chicago-style electric blues a la Muddy Waters, but quit music when he moved here in the 80s; since his return to Mississippi he's taken up the guitar again and now specializes in a rootsier acoustic sound that nods to Robert Johnson. DW

2 PM

Super Chikan

James Louis "Super Chikan" Johnson, based in Clarksdale, Mississippi, straddles the line between novelty act and serious bluesman. He claims in one of his bios that he was "hatched" in 1951, punctuates his sets with crowing and clucking, and calls his homemade guitars, built from flattened gas cans, "Chik-can-tars"--but though the chicken shtick is even less funny in person than it sounds on paper, his music rescues him from mere silliness. He has a sparse but expressive guitar style and a penchant for stripped-down, propulsive funk-blues grooves, and his well-turned lyrics range from the antic raunch of "Captain Love Juice" to the intense slow-jam heat of "Bleeding From the Heart" (both from his 1997 breakout album on Rooster Blues, Blues Come Home to Roost). DW

3:30 PM

Delta Blues Museum Educational Program

Nine students, ranging in age from 5 to 52, will perform songs they've learned over the past year in a program sponsored by the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Instructors Richard "Daddy Rich" Crisman and Bill "Howl-N-Madd" Perry will join the museum's executive director, Shelley Ritter, to speak about the museum and its mission. DW

5 PM

Jam Station with Dave Specter, Kenny Smith, and Aron Burton

This year the Blues Festival is opening the Juke Joint stage to the public once a day for these free-for-all jam sessions, which are anchored by pros to make sure they don't descend into anarchy or get hijacked by stage hogs (a two-song, ten-minute limit will be enforced). The first slot in each set has already been awarded at jams hosted by Rosa's Lounge and the House of Blues, but other participants can sign up directly before the event. Guitarist Dave Specter most often plays a jazz-tinged style based closely on that of west-coast sophisticates like T-Bone Walker, but he can get plenty gritty too, as he proved during his mid-80s tenure with Son Seals. Bassist Aron Burton has put in stints with Junior Wells, Albert Collins, James Cotton, among many others, and recorded as a bandleader for Earwig and Delmark. Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith learned the intricacies of the classic Chicago blues shuffle from his father, longtime Muddy Waters drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, and has since become a first-call drummer with a no-nonsense approach--he can push hard and still stay out of a soloist's way. This session is open to rhythm-section players. DW

Front Porch

1 PM

Blues in the Schools: Stone Academy, Drummond School, and Reavis School

The traditional Front Porch kickoff features a performance from a group of Chicago schoolkids who've been taught under the auspices of the city's Blues in the Schools program, in this case at the Stone Academy and at Drummond and Reavis elementaries. The program instructors participating are boogie-woogie pianist Erwin Helfer, vocalist Katherine Davis, and multi-instrumentalist Eric Noden. DW

2:30 PM

Fernando Jones & the Chicago Blues Ensemble

A guitarist, harpist, author, and playwright, Fernando Jones has been teaching classes in the blues and its history since the 80s, at first mostly to kids but more recently to university students as well; here he leads a blues ensemble he's assembled from students at Columbia College in a set of originals and Chicago standards. DW

4:30 PM

Saffire: the Uppity Blues Women

These three women, proudly middle-aged and obviously middle-class, have a sassy, casually flamboyant way of hummin' and strummin' the blues that rubs authenticity fiends the wrong way, but their musicianship can't be disputed. Keyboardist Ann Rabson is equally deft at rumba-laced New Orleans boogie and Delta-to-Chicago barrelhouse blues, and Andra Faye, who doubles on bass and mandolin, keeps the music centered with her dead-on rhythmic sense and nimble improvisational imagination. Guitarist and harpist Gaye Adegbalola has a keening, expressive alto, and confronts issues like domestic violence and the struggles of single moms in her lyrics; she's also an outspoken activist for gay and lesbian rights. DW

Louisiana Bayou Station & Social Club

1:30 PM

Julien Brunetaud

Though he clearly idolizes boogie and blues giants like Otis Spann and Roosevelt Sykes, this Parisian pianist also gives a tip of the hat to Ray Charles and his soul-jazz fervor; back home he leads a rootsy, jump-blues oriented band called JB Boogie. DW

3 PM

Larry McCray

A rare solo set from this fiery guitarist, who usually fronts a high-energy band (see below).

4 PM

Lil Ray

Guitarist Raful "Lil Ray" Neal, son of the late Baton Rouge harpist Raful Neal, has worked with blues and soul-blues stalwarts like Bobby "Blue" Bland, Little Milton, and Bobby Rush, and on his own he injects aggressive fatback blues with jazzy virtuosity, a combination of influences and attitudes that recalls vintage B.B. King. DW

5 PM

Don Washington

Raised in upstate New York by a deeply religious father who insisted that all his children learn musical instruments so they could play in church, Washington makes spirited music that still bears the influence of that upbringing. On his self-released CDs he combines blues, gospel, R & B, and funk with playful abandon, often overdubbing all the instruments himself; for this solo set, his second consecutive festival appearance, he'll stick to the piano, where he runs the gamut from slow-rolling blues ballads to frothing boogies. DW

Crossroads

12:30 PM

The Lost Treasures of the Blues: Charlie Love & the Silky Smooth Band with special guests Osee Anderson, John Hill, Liz Mandville Greeson, Delores Scott, and Mr. Mean

"Lost Treasures" may be putting it a bit extravagantly, but most of these local talents are in fact underappreciated, and when they hit the stage a few sparks should fly. Guitarist Charlie Love is an entertaining showman, but his pastiche of postwar blues and medium-boil funk doesn't quite coalesce into a distinct musical identity. The other guitarists on the bill, Osee Anderson and John Hill, likewise command a variety of styles--an especially valuable quality in a sideman--but have yet to develop personalized musical voices. Liz Mandville Greeson, by contrast, has most certainly found her voice, but she seems to be in denial about what it is: though she bills herself as a blues singer, she's more like a streetsier Bette Midler with a touch of Joni Mitchell's high-art flair, and her torchy pop style would do just as well in a cabaret as in a juke. Delores Scott, the artist on this bill most solidly centered in straight-ahead blues, applies her versatile, churchy voice to above-average variations on themes popularized by the likes of Koko Taylor and Denise LaSalle. The singer known as Mr. Mean works south- and west-side shows, doubling as emcee and opening act, and his repertoire consists almost entirely of workmanlike covers of soul-blues hits. DW

2:45 PM

Thornetta Davis

R If she ever decides to try for a national audience instead of just a regional one, this Detroit singer has it in her to be one of the biggest stars in the younger generation of women blues vocalists. The range of Davis's virtuosity is astounding: After getting her start with low-profile Motown and top ten cover bands, she jumped to Sub Pop in 1992 as a guest vocalist with the grunge-funk outfit Big Chief. In '96 she struck out on her own with a solo disc of bone-rattling power pop and R & B-flavored rock, Sunday Morning Music, also on Sub Pop, and in 2001 she dived headfirst into blues and soul with the self-released Covered Live at the Music Menu. Her voice is as full-bodied when she sings upper-register coloratura as it is supple when she descends into a deep-chested alto. She combines the punchy, aggressive rhythms of her rock 'n' roll days with a breezy swing, and can segue effortlessly from a floor-shaking blues-mama bellow to an insinuating bedroom purr. Her onstage persona is likewise an irresistible combination of extremes, both theatrically flamboyant and down-to-earth--this might be the sleeper set of the entire festival. DW

4:30 PM

Barrelhouse Chuck

The art of two-fisted blues piano--thundering left hand firing off an eight-to-the-bar boogie pulse while a rippling right stabs out a melody--is fast becoming a thing of the past. But veteran Chicago pianist Chuck Goering, aka Barrelhouse Chuck, is doing all he can to keep that flickering flame alight. He cites Little Brother Montgomery and Sunnyland Slim as primary influences, and he's a worthy successor to those mighty patriarchs and their legacies of stomping barrelhouse blues. BD

Petrillo Music Shell

6 PM

Artie "Blues Boy" White

Artie "Blues Boy" White has been a Chicago fixture since his tough single "Leanin' Tree" dented the R & B charts in 1977, flying in the face of disco's onslaught. Though his burnished baritone still betrays the influence of Bobby "Blue" Bland, B.B. King, and the late Little Milton, over the years he's become much more his own man, strutting confidently in front of a big, horn-fueled band with one foot on either side of the sometimes imperceptible line between blues and soul. BD

7 PM

Larry McCray

This Saginaw-based guitarist has been playing professionally since the early 90s, earning a place in the national and international blues circuits with meaty, danceable blues-rock and an all-too-rare combination of post-Hendrix virtuosity with imagination and good taste. His albums (for labels like Pointblank, Showiz, and House of Blues) provide just a hint of what he can do--like so many blues musicians, McCray only really catches fire onstage. DW

:20 PM

Bettye LaVette

R A soul diva in the grandest sense of the term, Bettye LaVette does a great deal more than faithfully deliver a few signature songs and take a round of well-deserved bows. Like precious few of her peers, she completely inhabits everything she sings--her riveting performances all but force you to feel pain and joy along with her. The tunes on her current disc, I've Got My Own Hell to Raise (Anti-), are the antithesis of her skintight, horn-leavened 60s soul singles; she covers songs by Fiona Apple, Sinead O'Connor, Lucinda Williams, and Dolly Parton, with jagged keyboard and rock guitar raging behind her bluesy voice. But somehow it all works--thanks to that album she's hotter now than she's ever been. A true soul survivor, LaVette has an outsize stage persona that's more than a match for the cavernous Petrillo band shell--not only will she tear the roof off the place, she'll moisten a few eyes with soul ballads like "Let Me Down Easy," her biggest hit in 1965 and still a guaranteed showstopper. BD

Friday 9

Route 66 Roadhouse

11:30 AM

Songwriting: Johnnie Mae Dunson

Octogenarian Johnnie Mae Dunson gigged locally as a singer and drummer in the 40s and 50s and wrote a handful of songs for Jimmy Reed over the years, but after she stopped performing in the early 70s she was virtually forgotten. She came out of retirement in the late 90s after the city condemned her west-side home, first performing at the doomed Maxwell Street market and then in 2000 recording the CD Big Boss Lady (Lakada). Just a few years ago she claimed she could write 25 songs a day if left to herself; here she'll be interviewed about her method by blues historian and producer Larry Hoffman, then perform a few of her tunes. DW

1:30 PM

The Spirit of Route 66

Sun-Times critic Dave Hoekstra will talk about travel-themed songs from the blues and related genres; former Warner Brothers exec Bob Merlis, currently a press agent for the likes of Delbert McClinton, John Mellencamp, and ZZ Top, will share some road stories of his own. Historian, writer, and producer Dick Shurman will moderate. DW

Mississippi Juke Joint

12:30 PM

R Mississippi Round Robin Part 2: Louis "Gearshifter" Youngblood, Terry "Harmonica" Bean, and Ben Wiley Payton

See Thursday.

2:30 PM

Smokey Smothers and Elvin Bishop

Once upon a time, Smokey Smothers and Elvin Bishop were teacher and student--back then "Little Smokey" was a promising Chicago blues guitarist with a stinging attack and Bishop was a University of Chicago student with a serious blues jones. Since then Smokey has spent time in Howlin' Wolf's band, like his late older brother (known as "Big Smokey" Smothers) and several other artists at this year's fest, and Bishop has played in the Butterfield Blues Band. Here they reunite to trade hot licks like they did when that kind of fame was still just a dream. BD

4 PM

Jam Station with Dave Specter, Kenny Smith, and Aron Burton

See Thursday. Today's session is open to guitarists of all stripes, and the Jam Station leaders have invited Chicago guitar stalwart James Wheeler aboard for the occasion. DW

Front Porch

1 PM

Louisiana Red

The veteran slide guitarist (see Sunday) is backed by an ad hoc Chicago four-piece. DW

3 PM

Super Chikan

See Thursday.

5 PM

Eddie Bo

R Down in New Orleans, Eddie Bo has been a vital musical force for a full half century. The eternally hip singer and pianist began his amazing career when rock 'n' roll was the thing (his tune "I'm Wise" was a direct precursor to Little Richard's "Slippin' and Slidin'"), and when funk swept the Crescent City in the late 60s he was part of that action too, his snaky keyboard work often exhibiting just a hint of jazz influence. In '61 he introduced the Big Easy to a brand-new dance with his irresistible regional hit "Check Mr. Popeye," and to this day he can marshal a bar full of happy-hour tipplers into a tightly choreographed conga line of Popeye steppers--unfortunately it's not likely that Grant Park security will let him work the crowd like that today. This is one of the fest's most inspired bookings--Bo embodies New Orleans's resolve to hang on to its unique culture despite the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. BD

Louisiana Bayou Station & Social Club

1:30 PM

Henry Butler with Vasti Jackson

RNew Orleans pianist Henry Butler was a classical voice student in his youth, and later learned from jazzmen like Alvin Batiste as well as legendary R & B pianist Professor Longhair. As you might expect given that training, his music is varied and self-assured: notwithstanding his occasional lapses into ostentation (especially vocally), he combines slick funk, heartfelt soul, street-level rootsiness, and elegant technique with a panache few contemporary blues artists can match. Among those few is guitarist Vasti Jackson, who enlisted Butler to play on his self-released 2003 CD, No Border to the Blues. (They've got a bit of personal history together too--Butler mentored Jackson's son Keisean on piano.) Based in Mississippi, Jackson has worked as a producer, sideman, and arranger for artists as diverse as Bobby "Blue" Bland, Bobby Rush, and C.J. Chenier, and as a bandleader he draws on an impressive range of blues, gospel, R & B, and pop influences, deftly assembling musical collages that jump from Delta traditionalism to deep soul to post-Hendrix rock. DW

3 PM

Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne

A devotee of the postwar jump-blues sound dished up by Amos Milburn and Fats Domino--his "Blues Boss" nickname comes from the title of a 1963 Milburn LP--this Spokane-born pianist pounds out thundering boogies that once would've been called rock 'n' roll. Last year's Let It Loose (Electro-Fi) is a fine showcase for his exuberant vocals, and his romps through vintage Milburn numbers leave the freeze-dried versions of blues preservationists in the dust, where they belong. BD

4:30 PM

Zydeco Joe Mouton

Though Zydeco Joe Mouton (aka "the Jack Rabbit") has been playing guitar since he was a teenager, he didn't pick up the accordion till he was in his mid-40s and didn't start his first band till a few years after that, in 1988. He's proficient at old-school waltzes and two-steps, as well as funk and rock updates of vintage themes. A native of Lafayette, Louisiana, he's also a tireless advocate for ethnic pride and racial harmony, improvising many of his lyrics in Creole French and making a point of including both zydeco and Cajun influences in his music. DW

Crossroads

12:30 PM

Lil Ray

See Thursday.

2 PM

Chris Beard

It's been decades since it was revolutionary to goose 12-bar blues with rock flamboyance, but this guitarist from Rochester, New York, pours such heart and energy into it that you can almost believe he's rediscovering that trick every time he plugs in. Beard backs up the flash with a well-rounded musical sensibility, and his tender, mellifluous voice often lends sensual grace and emotional depth to his fiery instrumental work. DW

3:30 PM

Duwayne Burnside & the Mississippi Mafia

R Guitarist Duwayne Burnside, son of the late R.L. Burnside, grew up playing at Junior Kimbrough's juke outside Senatobia, Mississippi, accompanying Kimbrough, his father, and many others throughout the 80s and 90s. He carries forward their tradition of primal, single-chord trance blues, spiking it (as well as more standard blues forms) with down-and-dirty funk and R & B. This is the living blues as it's still played in Mississippi--blooze-and-boogie pretenders, school is in session. DW

Petrillo Music Shell

6 PM

Deitra Farr

R More widely acclaimed overseas than she is here in Chicago, this underappreciated local singer has been recording for the British label JSP since 1997, and her most recent album, last year's Let It Go!, is her most fully realized yet, combining provocative lyrics, melodies and arrangements that fuse fatback soul with hard-driving Chicago blues, and hard-hitting, emotional vocals rich with feisty good humor. And she's even better onstage, where she and her brawny, horn-heavy band take strength from each other. DW

7 PM

Henry Butler Band with Vasti Jackson

See above.

:10 PM

Elvin Bishop Group

Elvin Bishop may put on a hayseed persona, but he's a slashing guitarist--before he started recording under his own name, he played alongside Michael Bloomfield in the East-West incarnation of the Butterfield Blues Band. And though the Okie isn't much of a singer--when he had a hit in 1976 with his atypically poppy "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," he turned the mike over to future Jefferson Starship front man Mickey Thomas--he can keep a crowd bopping with his music's infectious, loopy good-time vibe. BD

Saturday 10

Route 66 Roadhouse

11:30 AM

The Blues Congress: The Not-for-Profit Representation in the Preservation of the Blues

This roundtable discussion, which will address some of the ways not-for-profit organizations can network and expand to better support the blues and its practitioners, will be attended by representatives from the Blues Heaven Foundation (founded in 1979 by legendary songwriter, bassist, and producer Willie Dixon), the Chicago Blues Museum, Koko Taylor's Celebrity Aid Foundation, and the Memphis-based Blues Foundation, along with veteran pianist Bob Riedy, whose own group, Chicago Sound Recordings Inc., has worked with the Chicago Blues Foundation on projects to restore blues audiotapes from the 1970s. DW

2 PM

Howlin' Wolf Birthday Party

Bettye Kelly and Barbra Marks, two of Wolf's daughters (or more properly stepdaughters), join family and friends to celebrate the life and legacy of the Chicago blues giant, who would've turned 96 today. DW

Mississippi Juke Joint

12:30 PM

R Mississippi Round Robin Part 3: Louis "Gearshifter" Youngblood, Terry "Harmonica" Bean, and Ben Wiley Payton

See Thursday.

2:30 PM

Master Set: David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Robert Lockwood Jr., Homesick James, and Henry Townsend

Between them, the four men at this guitar summit have a good 300 years of playing experience--both Edwards and Lockwood learned early in their storied careers from the immortal Robert Johnson. Townsend, also an accomplished pianist, is a Saint Louis fixture, and the rest have Chicago connections--Honeyboy still lives here. Each learned the guitar before the advent of amplification, though Lockwood has modernized his approach to incorporate jazzy electric runs; Homesick likewise prefers an electric these days, specializing in careening slide antics that often spill out of rigid 12-bar structures. David "Honeyboy" Edwards also plays an afterfest set tonight at HotHouse; tickets are $20 in advance, $25 the day of the show. BD

3:30 PM

Corky Siegel and Sam Lay

Harpist Corky Siegel and drummer Sam Lay are half of the Siegel-Schwall Blues Band (see below), but for this set Lay will play guitar instead--in that role he's a rootsy acoustic picker with a vocabulary of licks and runs borrowed from legendary innovators like Muddy Waters and Lightnin' Hopkins. Woven into Siegel's sweet-toned harmonica lines, his deftly picked patterns invoke bygone eras with modesty and grace. DW

5 PM

Jam Station with Dave Specter, Kenny Smith, and Aron Burton

See Thursday. Longtime Muddy Waters drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith has returned to his first instrument, the harmonica; he and Harper, a single-named Australian who plays both harp and didgeridoo, will front the usual Jam Station trio for this session, which is set aside for harmonica players. DW

Front Porch

Noon

John Long

This Saint Louis neotraditionalist learned from Homesick James (see above) in Chicago in the 70s and made quite a splash when he hit the blues scene more than 25 years ago (in 1980 Muddy Waters called him "the best young country blues artist playing today"). But it's taken him till this winter to release his first album, Lost & Found (Delta Groove), a mix-and-match of pre- and postwar styles. Fortunately his versatility and commitment haven't been diminished by the intervening years. DW

12:20 PM

Master Set: David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Robert Lockwood Jr., Homesick James, and Henry Townsend

See above.

2 PM

Zydeco Joe Mouton

See Friday.

3:30 PM

James "Blood" Ulmer

R In 2001 guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer and producer Vernon Reid of Living Colour went into Sun Studios to record Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions (Label M), an impressionistic album that yoked a deep blues feeling to an almost anarchistic avant-garde sensibility. It came out on September 7, the label folded after the WTC attacks, and the record promptly disappeared. Luckily it's been reissued by Hyena, which also gave Ulmer and Reid the green light for 2003's No Escape From the Blues and last year's Birthright, a stark, mostly acoustic outing no less intense than its predecessors. Ulmer uses nearly free-form improvisation and spiky, jazz-flavored harmonics, often only hinting at the blues, as though orbiting it at a great distance. But his meditations on life and loss, on crises both spritual and social, are simultaneously devastating and inspiring, capturing the same energy that flows through the best work of Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, and other legendary Delta blues pioneers. Ulmer's solo set here, following as it does on the heels of a performance by four men who were Johnson's contemporaries, promises to illustrate one way tradition can operate not as a deadweight but as a vital connection. DW

5:30 PM

Daddy Mack Blues Band

Though this Memphis band consists mostly of former members of the Fieldstones, one of Bluff City's most fabled blues outfits, here they've got more ambitious plans than a straightforward combo of blues and R & B. Daddy Mack's latest release, Slow Ride (Inside Sounds), features covers of everyone from Led Zeppelin to Eric Clapton to the Monkees, but the barbecue-and-whiskey vibe is so strong that it all sounds like homegrown juke-joint stuff. Memphis-based Billy Gibson guests on the album, and will appear with the band here. DW

Louisiana Bayou Station & Social Club

1:30 PM

Ronnie Baker Brooks

Ronnie Baker Brooks's Web site breathlessly informs visitors that he's jammed with George Thorogood and Aerosmith, and therein lies the problem: though he's rooted in the same rich, eclectic Louisiana-to-Chicago blues and R & B tradition as his father, guitarist Lonnie Baker Brooks, he feels compelled to aspire to blues-rock mediocrity. If he'd just tone down the hot licks and make his considerable musical intelligence the center of attention, he could have an important impact on contemporary blues. Brooks also plays a $25 afterfest set Friday night at HotHouse. DW

2:30 PM

Henry Gray & the Cats

Back in the 1950s, pianist Henry Gray recorded sparingly as a leader, but he was one of Chicago's busiest sidemen, his crashing ivories providing rock-solid studio and bandstand backing for Howlin' Wolf, Billy Boy Arnold, and many more. He's long since returned to Baton Rouge, and his Louisiana heritage, which served his music quite well 50 years ago, still colors his laconic vocals and steady-rolling 88s. BD

4:15 PM

Lil Ray

See Thursday.

Crossroads

12:30 PM

Big George Brock

This Mississippi-born harpist has been a mainstay on the Saint Louis circuit for more than five decades, but until recently he was all but unknown outside the city. Though he first recorded in the mid-80s, when he issued a few 45s on his own label, those sides were followed by a silence of nearly 20 years. In 2005 Brock appeared with former Squirrel Nut Zippers front man Jimbo Mathus on a live CD recorded at Morgan Freeman's Ground Zero Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and later that year he returned to Clarskdale to cut an entire album, Club Caravan (Cat Head), with his own band the Houserockers. Brock has a deep-pocket Delta rhythmic sensibility, and his free-ranging harmonica work covers a remarkable sonic and emotional range, even within the stripped-down 12-bar format he sticks to for most of the disc. DW

2 PM

Super Chikan

See Thursday.

3:30 PM

Ronnie Baker Brooks

See above.

Petrillo Music Shell

5 PM

Eddie Shaw & the Wolf Gang with special guests Mary Lane, Henry Gray, and Abb Locke

Howlin' Wolf's ghostly presence looms large over this all-star lineup. Saxist Eddie Shaw was Wolf's last onstage lieutenant, echoing his boss's fierce growl with his jagged horn lines, and he's led the Wolf Gang since the big man's death; pianist Henry Gray and saxist Abb Locke were Wolf sidemen during his heyday and appear on some of his seminal Chess platters from the 50s and 60s. And the perpetually underrated Mary Lane, a seasoned west-side vocalist with a delightfully down-to-earth delivery, occasionally sang with Wolf's band in Arkansas before moving north in 1957. BD

6:15 PM

Zora Young

The Windy City is full of women who can belt the blues, but few of them have Zora Young's versatility. Born in Mississippi and mostly raised right here, she cut her teeth singing gospel and soul before detouring into the Chicago blues scene. These days she's making her best records for the local Delmark label, and the new Tore Up From the Floor Up is an agreeable mix of soul and blues--she ought to wow the Petrillo crowd with her powerhouse pipes and dignified stage presence. BD

7:20 PM

Siegel-Schwall Blues Band with Marcy Levy

Though they were in the top tier of young white blues outfits in Chicago during the mid-60s, the Siegel-Schwall Blues Band seldom matched the swagger of the groups led by scenemates like Paul Butterfield and Charlie Musselwhite--neither guitarist Jim Schwall nor harpist and pianist Corky Siegel was a particularly compelling singer, and their grooves often merely meandered. But this reincarnated lineup is anchored by former Howlin' Wolf drummer Sam Lay, also an early member of the Butterfield band; his propulsive double-shuffle rhythms ought to tighten up the music, and along with guest vocalist Marcy Levy (once a member of Shakespear's Sister and a collaborator of Eric Clapton's) he'll provide some variety on the mike. BD

:30 PM

Walter "Wolfman" Washington & the Roadmasters

Guitarist Walter "Wolfman" Washington has been a mainstay on the New Orleans soul and blues scene since the 1970s, but he doesn't always wear his Crescent City roots on his sleeve. He paid some serious dues as vocalist Johnny Adams's sideman, absorbing some of his boss's eclecticism, and though the Big Easy's second-line tradition figures into his approach, his light-fingered guitar work and gritty vocals are colored by jazz and funk and click just as persuasively in other contexts. BD

Sunday 11

Route 66 Roadhouse

11:30 AM

The Role of the Biography in the Perpetuation of the Legacy of the Blues, or How Blues Literature Spreads the Word

Three writers and publishers discuss the craft and role of blues biography: Living Blues magazine cofounder Jim O'Neal, Nadine Cohodas, author of Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington and Spinning Blues Into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records, and Chicago writer Robert Reisman, who's working on a biography of Big Bill Broonzy. DW

2 PM

Chicago Blues Today with David Whiteis

In his new book Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories (University of Illinois Press), Reader contributor David Whiteis insightfully chronicles the recent evolution of the tenacious local blues scene, focusing on south- and west-side clubs rather than tourist-and-conventioneer-dominated north-side venues. This panel will expand on his focus to discuss the blues as a living cultural presence in Chicago's African-American community. Guests include vocalist Cicero Blake, one of many musicians Whiteis profiles; Wallace Davis, who books blues bands at his west-side restaurant, Wallace's Catfish Corner; and Delores Scott, a blues vocalist (see Thursday) who also works in promotions and artist management. BD

Mississippi Juke Joint

12:30 PM

Dancin' Perkins with Smilin' Bobby and their sons

Veteran Chicago journeymen both, bassist Robert "Dancin'" Perkins and guitarist Smilin' Bobby Smith specialize in alley-rough versions of postwar blues standards. Perkins's son Chris used to play drums behind his dad at the old Maxwell Street market and still occasionally appears with him in clubs; Smith's son Carlos Showers played guitar with the late Willie Kent and currently accompanies vocalist Big Time Sarah. DW

2 PM

Super Chikan

See Thursday.

3:30 PM

Jam Station with Dave Specter, Kenny Smith, and Aron Burton

See Thursday. The guest bandleader for this jam session, open to aspiring vocalists, has yet to be determined. DW

Front Porch

1 PM

Lee Boys

R Born decades ago in black Pentacostal churches, "sacred steel" music is now evolving at a breathtaking pace, and this family band from Florida exemplifies the genre's increasingly audacious appropriation of secular sounds. Vocalists Keith and Derrick Lee apply the smooth tones and baroque, hyperdramatic ornamentation of contemporary neosoul to their praise songs, bassist Alvin Cordy Jr. and drummer Kenneth Earl Walker II interlock to create sinuous, hard-popping funk-soul grooves, and pedal steel player Emanuel Roosevelt Collier fires off lines that wouldn't sound out of place in a backwoods roadhouse. DW

2:30 PM

Lil Ray

See Thursday.

4 PM

Catherine Russell

Catherine Russell has sung for everyone from David Bowie to Cyndi Lauper to Al Green, and her debut album, this year's Cat (World Village), covers a similarly kaleidoscopic range--she delivers a pastiche of jazz, pop, blues, deep soul, and torchy cabaret with daunting technical precision and heart-stopping intensity. DW

6 PM

R Lee Boys

See above.

Louisiana Bayou Station & Social Club

1:30 PM

Louisiana Red

This well-traveled guitarist, real name Iverson Minter, doesn't actually hail from Louisiana--Mississippi seems most likely, though he's also claimed to be from Alabama. Red sometimes plays funky R & B backed by an electric band, which isn't terribly interesting, but with an acoustic guitar in his hands and a bottleneck slide on his finger, he's devastating--he sounds hauntingly like Muddy Waters during his formative years in the Mississippi Delta. He'll be playing here with harpist Bob Corritore, and the set will be straight blues (though it's always hard to say whether Red will play electric or acoustic). BD

3 PM

Blues: Chicago's Global Muse

Even in the context of this year's relatively eclectic festival bookings, this bill is a strange one: it combines blues, jazz, and traditional Japanese music. John Primer, a shuffle-oriented postwar blues guitarist who's played with Magic Slim and Muddy Waters, is joined by Jazz Me Blues pianist Yoko Noge, bassist Tatsu Aoki, and the taiko drummers from Aoki's Miyumi Project, an experimental ensemble that combines conventional jazz instrumentation with traditional drums, horns, and strings from around Asia and the Pacific. DW

4:30 PM

Zydeco Joe Mouton

See Friday.

Crossroads

12:30 PM

Shirley Johnson

Growing up in Norfolk, Virginia, Shirley Johnson sang gospel but also nurtured a love for soul music and sophisticated blues singers like Bobby "Blue" Bland. She's been in Chicago since 1983, and despite a slim discography--her only stateside release, Killer Diller (Delmark), came out in 2002--she's become a perennial crowd favorite at home and abroad thanks to her burnished, churchy voice and her knack for ballasting even her most flamboyant flights with emotional nuance. DW

2 PM

Earl Thomas

It would be doing this Tennessee singer a disservice to call him an old-school soul throwback. Though he clearly has a handle on soul music as it used to be played, his influences also include rock and blues--on last year's Intersection (Memphis International) he resurrects the Stones' "Brown Sugar," which is no easy task. Of course the disc also contains some memorable material with old-school overtones, especially the slow-burning ballads "The Lucky One" and "No Two Wrongs," where his crisp, edgy vocals benefit from the support of flesh-and-blood musicians with equally reliable soul instincts. BD

3:30 PM

Nolan Struck and King Edward with Jackie Bell

Louisiana native Nolan Struck made some fine recordings for Chicago labels like Shama and ICT in the late 60s and early 70s, showcasing his feathery tenor croon and unearthly falsetto, and though his output since then has been sparse, he's still got it. Formerly a dancer, he bounds athletically around the stage on legs that seem made of rubber, and his upper register remains breathtaking. King Edward, his guitar-slinging brother, also sings, and though his style is more gutbucket it's no less entertaining. For this performance they've brought vocalist Jackie Bell with them from Jackson, Mississippi, where they're now based. All three play an afterfest set tonight at HotHouse, joined by singer Roscoe Robinson; tickets are $12 in advance, $15 the day of the show. DW

Petrillo Music Shell

5 PM

Next Generation Soul Blues with Vick Allen, the PG Man with Lady Audrey, and Omar Cunningham featuring the Platinum Band

It's taken too long, but the Blues Festival is finally making a serious effort to showcase artists specializing in the R & B-flavored contemporary blues style, sometimes called "soul-blues," that's popular not only on the southern circuit of African-American clubs and show lounges but also on Chicago's south and west sides. This revue features four up-and-coming vocalists backed by Platinum, the late Tyrone Davis's longtime band. Both Vick Allen and Patrick "the PG Man" Green (I haven't heard Lady Audrey, Green's partner here) have released CDs on Malaco/Waldoxy, where the wide emotional range of their singing prevails over unimaginative studio production. Omar Cunningham released his debut, Hell at the House (On Top), in 2003 and followed it up with a self-titled disc on US Endzone last year; though he worked with electro-funk band Cameo in the mid-90s, there's a rootsy gospel flavor in his solo material that gives his singing a satisfying punch. DW

7 PM

Dorothy Moore

R Born in Jackson, Mississippi, soul chanteuse Dorothy Moore sang with a vocal group called the Poppies in the mid-60s, then went solo, where she made her biggest splash by lavishing her beguiling voice on two classic country tunes. Her revival of the heartrending Eddy Arnold hit "Misty Blue" brought her R & B stardom in 1976, and she encored with a stirring remake of Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away." No matter what the material, though, she never forsakes the strong current of gospel that runs through her stately singing like a sparkling stream. BD

:20 PM

Bobby "Blue" Bland

R Blues has lost nearly all its superstars--only B.B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland remain. Bland has made his indelible mark on R & B solely on the strength of his warm, reassuring voice, which is the heart and soul of all his exquisitely crafted hits. After a tonsillectomy in the late 50s, it got lower and rougher, with a churchier sound, and with each passing decade the phlegmy gargle at its edges has grown more pronounced. Both Bland and King were products of the fertile postwar Memphis scene, and though it took Bland longer to blossom into a consistent hit maker, by the early 60s he was established as a slightly unlikely R & B sex symbol. Rather than strut around onstage a la Jackie Wilson or Wilson Pickett, he stood almost completely still, aiming his songs straight at the ladies. He gently caresses intimate ballads like "I'll Take Care of You" and "That's the Way Love Is" and pulls out all the stops on sanctified-sounding stormers like "Turn On Your Love Light" and "Yield Not to Temptation," urged on by huge, roaring brass sections. Not to be missed. BD

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

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