After last year's outpouring of complaints about the lack of big-name talent at the Chicago Blues Festival, the Mayor's Office of Special Events has put together a heavy-hitting main-stage lineup that should help restore some of the respect journalists, musicians, and fans have lost for the free fest in recent years. Little Milton, Johnnie Taylor, the Gulf Coast-bred guitar legends Lonnie Brooks, Long John Hunter, and Phillip Walker, and our own queen of the blues, Koko Taylor, would all be right at home headlining any world-class blues event. And Sunday evening's salute to the late Curtis Mayfield is loaded with enough Windy City soul talent to consume an entire evening (though unfortunately it's been allotted only about an hour).
Six stages spread across Grant Park will operate throughout the afternoon and early evening each day. Besides the Petrillo Music Shell, there's the Front Porch stage, on the southwest corner of Jackson and Columbus; the Crossroads, at Jackson and Lake Shore Drive; and the Juke Joint and Route 66 stages, on the far north and south ends of Columbus respectively. The Best Buy Showcase stage, booked by the sponsor and not the city, occupies prime real estate directly behind the main stage. And even its lineup, still the weakest of the bunch, is an improvement over last year.
THURSDAY, JUNE 8
Best Buy Showcase
Noon STEEPWATER BAND
This young Chicago group claims to combine Delta and Chicago blues with southern rock, country, and "the vibe and attitude" of the Allman Brothers and Johnny Winter. Sounds like a mighty tall order for any band, much less one that's been together a little over two years.
1:30 PM KINGSNAKES
To distinguish them from an east-coast combo of the same name, these guys are sometimes billed as the Chicago Kingsnakes. They've worked and recorded intermittently with uncompromising guitarist Byther Smith--they're on his snapping I'm a Mad Man, released on Bullseye Blues in '93.
3:00 PM LIZ MANDVILLE GREESON
Though her bawdy stage persona conjures Bette Midler more than Bessie Smith, Liz Mandville Greeson has forged an unlikely alliance with the most traditional of all local blues labels, Michael Frank's Earwig Music. Instead of the tried-and-true R & B and soul covers she specialized in when she led her band, the Supernaturals, in the 80s, her recent discs Look at Me and Ready to Cheat spotlight contemporary-sounding originals.
4:30 PM CLEVELAND FATS
Low-key but likable, the easy-swinging Cleveland Fats learned his trade from Robert Jr. Lockwood, who in turn learned from the legendary Robert Johnson. During his 17 years as Lockwood's rhythm guitarist, the Ohioan assimilated a lot of his boss's subtlety and taste as a soloist, and it shows whether he's navigating a jump number or unleashing his slide on an earthy blues. Fats's 1998 disc, The Other Side of Midnight, slipped through the cracks when the Ichiban label folded, but he has an encore, Pretty Poison, on the way.
6:00 PM LITTLE AL THOMAS & THE CRAZY HOUSE BAND
Seventy-year-old Chicago singer Little Al Thomas draws on influences as diverse as B.B. King, Louis Jordan, and especially the honey-voiced harpist Junior Parker. On his belated debut disc, 1999's South Side Story (Cannonball), the Crazy House Band is supple enough to shift with him from traditional themes like "Rollin' & Tumblin'" to Parker's "Stranded" and "Just Like a Fish" (where he enjoys a sumptuous three-saxophone cushion) to Jordan's ribald "Somebody Done Changed the Lock on My Door."
2:00 PM BLUES IN THE SCHOOLS WITH ERWIN HELFER
& KATHERINE DAVIS
Chicago mainstay Erwin Helfer, who's as comfortable pounding out a rippling barrelhouse boogie as he is caressing a lovely downbeat blues with Thelonious Monk-like flourishes, teams up with Katherine Davis, a gospel-bred local singer, and a passel of kids from Stone Academy to show off the fruits of the city's Blues in the Schools program.
4:00 PM TRIBUTE TO TAMPA RED WITH ERIC NODEN
It's actually a little early to celebrate Tampa Red's centennial, but any excuse to honor the pioneering hokum-blues specialist and slide-guitar whiz is a welcome one. Born Hudson Whittaker in Smithville, Georgia, somewhere between 1900 and 1908 (he died here in 1981, largely forgotten), he caused an underground sensation in 1927 with the raunchy "It's Tight Like That," a duet with Georgia Tom--a stage name of Thomas A. Dorsey, who'd later become known as the father of gospel. His trusty kazoo never out of reach, Tampa Red also cut the classics "Black Angel Blues," "It Hurts Me Too," "Love Her With a Feeling," and "Let Me Play With Your Poodle" during his two decades at RCA Victor and its Bluebird subsidiary, an amazing run that ended in 1953. Local guitarist Eric Noden's frequent acoustic sets at Buddy Guy's Legends are peppered with Tampa Red's songs, along with those of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Big Bill Broonzy, and Tommy Johnson. Also a skilled harpist of the Sonny Terry school, Noden has his own album out (55 Highway, on Diving Duck Blues) and teaches blues guitar at the Old Town School of Folk Music.
5:30 PM TRIBUTE TO TAMPA RED WITH DIAMOND JIM GREENE
An acoustic insurgency among a new generation of African-American artists has been one of the few encouraging trends in blues in the last decade. Keb' Mo', Corey Harris, Guy Davis, Eric Bibb, and the chameleonic Alvin Youngblood Hart have unplugged to great acclaim, and Chicago's own Diamond Jim Greene, though somewhat less celebrated, belongs in their good company. His invigorating slide guitar and forceful vocals were spotlighted on his recent domestic debut album for the Cooling Board imprint, Coach House Blues; along with well-executed covers of Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, and of course Tampa Red, he presented some intriguing originals, including "The Blind Man," an account of a portentous childhood encounter with street singer Arvella Gray.
2:30 PM PAT SOUL
In 1967, while attending Harrison High School on the west side, Patrice Scaggs joined a teenage vocal group known as the Young Folk, which enjoyed a local hit with "Joey," recorded for George Leaner's Mar-V-Lus imprint. The group split within the year, but Scaggs resurfaced in the 1980s via a starring role in the musical Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Doing business as Pat Soul, she then gravitated to the local club scene, where she relies mostly on hallowed blues standards.
4:30 PM LURRIE BELL
By now the offstage problems of Lurrie Bell--son of harpist Carey--are well-known, if not well understood, by blues watchers in Chicago. I once saw him play a great set, then dart through the crowd blowing his harmonica into people's ears. But there's no denying that when he does get onstage--sometimes forced by circumstances to play a borrowed ax--he usually manages to justify the hopes he raised a couple of decades back, before the hellhounds began snapping at his heels. The amount of imagination and focus distinguishing Bell's popping fingerpicking work on his last three albums for Delmark (1997's 700 Blues, 1998's Kiss of Sweet Blues, and 1999's Blues Had a Baby) renders his troubles all the more tragic--but this is the blues, after all, so he still has time to get it together.
1:00 PM JOHN PRIMER
& STEVE BELL
The versatile Chicago guitarist (see separate entry below) teams with harpist Steve Bell--another of Carey Bell's progeny--for an intimate set.
2:00 PM DIAMOND JIM GREENE
3:00 PM EDDIE CUSIC
Blues and soul superstar Little Milton seldom neglected to credit guitarist Eddie Cusic for taking him as an apprentice in the early 50s in Greenville, Mississippi. After Milton left the Delta, Cusic remained strictly a local attraction, taking until 1998 to release his first recording, I Want to Boogie (HMG), which showcases him as a solo acoustic artist. Hoary covers ("Hoochie Coochie Man," "Big Boss Man," "Reconsider Baby") dominate the album, but Cusic's playing and singing are compelling nonetheless. This is his Chicago debut.
3:30 PM EDDIE CUSIC
& LITTLE MILTON
The master and his pupil reunite.
4:00 PM WARREN HAYNES
As lead guitarist with Gov't Mule, Warren Haynes invests his muscular electric blues with southern-rock crunch--and his band's backing on a remake of "I Can't Quit You Baby" on Little Milton's latest album resembles Led Zeppelin's overbearing treatment more than Milton's vastly superior '68 Checker Records rendition. Influenced by Clapton and Cream as much as more traditional blues sources, he also played behind country outlaw David Allan Coe in the early 80s and with the Allman Brothers from 1989 to 1997.
4:30 PM ARON BURTON & "MAD DOG" LESTER DAVENPORT
These two grizzled Chicago veterans boast decades of bandstand experience. Bassist Aron Burton was a charter member of the Icebreakers, the quintet handpicked by Albert Collins to play on his 1978 breakthrough, Ice Pickin'. The Mississippi native has also played or recorded with George "Wild Child" Butler, Baby Huey & the Babysitters, Johnny Littlejohn, and James Cotton, and has displayed respectable singing and songwriting skills on his own albums for Delmark and Earwig. Lester Davenport's leather-lunged harp blowing reveals his appreciation of Little Walter's amplified attack, but he's honed his own sound since the early 50s behind Bo Diddley (he's on the 1955 classic "Pretty Thing"), Arthur "Big Boy" Spires, and Big Smokey Smothers. More recently he's played with the Kinsey Report.
3:30 PM SAM COCKRELL
Backed by his slick, high-energy band, the Groove, suburban bassist Sam Cockrell took runner-up in the Blues Foundation's annual Best Unsigned Blues Band contest in Memphis in January. But the same oversinging that marred Cockrell's debut disc, I'm in the Business, reared its head over the course of his set there.
5:30 PM DC BELLAMY
Now based in Kansas City, guitarist Gregory "DC" Bellamy cut his teeth in Chicago--where his half brother Curtis Mayfield held rehearsals with the Impressions in the Bellamys' west-side living room. At age 17, DC joined Betty Everett's band, working with the soul songstress for a decade and moonlighting with Gene Chandler, Brook Benton, and Donny Hathaway. But the blues Bellamy heard as a lad on the west side never left him; he played with Jimmy Reed for a time and displays his roots on his upcoming Rooster Blues disc, Water Into Wine.
Petrillo Music Shell
6:00 PM JOHN PRIMER
Chicago electric-blues guitarist John Primer paid his dues many times over as a sideman before embarking on his successful solo career. He spent quality time behind Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon before signing on as rhythm guitarist with Magic Slim & the Teardrops, a gig that lasted 13 years. The Teardrops have long upheld the all-for-one concept of the classic Chicago blues ensemble, and Primer was the glue that held them together. He now has the same effect on his own combos, as typified by Stuff You Got to Watch, his 1992 album for Earwig. His leads shimmer with fluid grace, and his commanding vocals distinctly echo his mentors'.
7:00 PM DEBORAH COLEMAN
& THE THRILLSEEKERS
Deborah Coleman is one of the best young guitarists--male or female--to enter the macho blues-rock arena in the last decade. Her new album, Soft Place to Fall (Blind Pig), is a sparkling showcase for her aggressive lead work, but the Virginian's singing is best on her own material--a couple cuts by outside sources submerge her relatively modest vocal talents in unsuitable rock bombast. Coleman's at her best when she lets the words flow as naturally as the notes she's playing.
:20 PM LITTLE MILTON REVUE WITH WARREN HAYNES
Whether you classify Little Milton as a blues musician who's intimately conversant with soul music or vice versa, his versatility is nothing short of amazing. The guitarist's latest album, Welcome to Little Milton (Malaco), found him cavorting with Lucinda Williams, Susan Tedeschi, and Keb' Mo'--hardly household names to his loyal middle-aged fan base, but just the ticket for crossover acceptance (a Grammy nomination validated the ploy). The Mississippi native began recording in 1953 for Memphis producer Sam Phillips at Sun Records but didn't hit his stride until late in the decade, when he fully developed his stinging, inordinately clean lead style at the Saint Louis Bobbin label. Signing with Chicago's Checker Records in 1961, he took his melismatic gifts to the soul side of the tracks, scoring a number one R & B hit in '65 with the uplifting "We're Gonna Make It." When Chess (the parent company of Checker) started sliding downhill in the 70s, Milton continued his winning streak at Stax, and in 1984 conceived the sing-along shuffle "The Blues Is Alright" for his first Malaco album. Of all the guests on Welcome to Little Milton, slide guitarist Warren Haynes (see above) isn't the one I'd have chosen to share the stage here--his rock-inflected attack is a galaxy away from Milton's chitlin'-circuit-tested revue format.
FRIDAY, JUNE 9
Best Buy Showcase
NOON SCOTT HOLT
As the longtime rhythm guitarist with Buddy Guy's band, Scott Holt sometimes managed to play even louder than his boss--no easy task as Guy pandered to the yuppie hordes with endless imitations of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Now Holt is on his own, with his second solo album, Dark of the Night (Mystic Music), on the shelves and his relentless blues-rock style intact: he covers everyone from Otis Rush and John Lee Hooker to Bob Dylan and Prince.
1:30 pm VINCE CONVERSE
Vince Converse, a 25-year-old blues-rock guitarist who recently released his debut, One Step Ahead, on Mystic, is not yet as famous as his producer, Jimi Hendrix collaborator Eddie Kramer.
3:00 PM "PHILADELPHIA"
After briefly going out of business, Rooster Blues Records is now celebrating its 20th anniversary. Though it's under new ownership, cofounder Jim O'Neal remains in charge of the company's artistic output, meaning that traditional blues with a tough contemporary edge should continue to dominate the roster. "Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks is a notable exception to the typical Rooster artist profile, being neither an obscure Delta denizen nor a Chicago hard hitter. The veteran acoustic guitarist came of age in Philly during the early-60s folk-blues boom, learning from Lightnin' Hopkins, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and the Reverend Gary Davis. As the decade progressed Ricks played second guitar at east-coast festivals with hallowed elders Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, and Son House, establishing irrefutable cred in the process. Deep in the Well, Ricks's 1997 Rooster Blues disc, is one of his few domestic releases (an encore is forthcoming); much of his discography was cut for European consumption.
4:30 PM LONNIE SHIELDS
He's got two albums in the Rooster Blues catalog now, so you might assume Arkansas-born guitarist Lonnie Shields specializes in raw, stripped-down southern blues. But though the pulverizing Big Jack Johnson was one of his mentors, Shields is perfectly comfortable in the modern 12-bar milieu, injecting stinging lead licks beneath his assured, melodic vocals. His new Rooster Blues set, Midnight Delight, also contains stellar examples of easy southern soul, featuring input from Al Green's horn section and organist Charles Hodges, whose exploits with Willie Mitchell's house rhythm section at Memphis's Hi Records are legendary.
6:00 PM ROCKIN' JOHNNY BAND
Youngish local guitarist Johnny Burgin does an earnest but shallow imitation of the postwar Chicago sound. That he's merely adequate on guitar and vocals doesn't seem to have given him pause on his recent Delmark CD, Man's Temptation.
7:15 PM NOAH & THE STRATOCATS
Noah Wotherspoon is an 18-year-old guitarist from Dayton. His quartet, which regularly tours Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, must be doing something somebody likes--it won a slot on the same stage last year.
1:00 PM BILLY BRANCH &
SONS OF BLUES WITH
ROY HYTOWER AND
THE GRANT ACADEMY
Billy Branch's relationship with countless Chicago grade school children has been rewarding for both him and his charges. These sets, which bring the kids onstage to jam with the harpist and his band, Sons of Blues, have become a festival tradition. The gravel-voiced Branch--whose resumé includes a stint with Willie Dixon and albums of his own for Red Beans, Verve, and House of Blues--will also be joined by fleet-fingered guitarist Roy Hytower, who waxed some fine soul singles in the 60s and recently issued an exceptionally well-crafted contemporary blues album, Cyber Sex, on his own Root Doctor label.
2:00 PM FERNANDO JONES WITH
Guitarist Fernando Jones has devised an innovative vehicle for presenting classic Chicago blues: his musical I Was There When the Blues Was Red Hot!, staged Friday and Saturday evenings at the historic Gerri's Palm Tavern on East 47th Street, re-creates the atmosphere of the jumping south-side nightspots where the music flourished in the 50s and 60s. Jones, who costars in the play, also squeezes local club gigs into his schedule, alongside his activities as an author, lecturer, and director of the educational organization Blues Kids of America. His students at Spalding School on the west side, ranging in age from 11 to 13, have been studying the blues since late January.
3:30 PM uDAVID "HONEYBOY"
Very few bluesmen have endeavored to sit down and write an autobiography--after all, the blues is an oral tradition. But David "Honeyboy" Edwards has done it--and what an amazing tale The World Don't Owe Me Nothing tells, tracing Edwards's life from the Delta beginnings through life-altering encounters with Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, and Big Joe Williams, among many others. Edwards settled in Chicago in 1953, having already made historic recordings for folklorist Alan Lomax and fledgling Memphis producer Sam Phillips. A fleeting association with Chess didn't work out, but he's made up for lost studio time in recent years, thanks primarily to the Earwig Music label, whose founder, Michael Frank, has often accompanied Edwards on harp. Edwards is best appreciated in a solo or small band context; he varies his timing from standard 12-bar constraints as he sees fit, confounding unsuspecting sidemen.
4:00 PM DEVIL IN A WOODPILE
This good-time acoustic trio is more commonly associated with the alt-country scene, though guitarist Paul K. and vocalist, harpist, and washboardist Rick "Cookin'" Sherry have both distinguished themselves playing behind Honeyboy Edwards. (The third member, upright bassist Tom Ray, has played with the Bottle Rockets and the Waco Brothers.) Devil in a Woodpile's rollicking concept works live--as when they hold court at the Hideout--but their eponymously titled 1998 album for Bloodshot is relatively sterile.
5:30 PM OTIS TAYLOR
Chicago-born bluesman Otis Taylor grew up in Denver and still calls Colorado home. He almost hit the big time in 1969, but a proposed record deal with the British Blue Horizon label didn't pan out, and from 1977 to 1995 he considered himself retired. Nowadays his concerts tend to spotlight his talents on acoustic guitar, harmonica, and banjo, but When Negroes Walked the Earth, his 1998 CD for the Shoelace imprint, placed him in a funky, rock-derived electric band context (minus, oddly, the drums).
2:30 PM WAYNE BAKER BROOKS
Lonnie Brooks's son Wayne has apprenticed with his dad's band since 1991, in the process developing an instinctive grasp of the unique Gulf Coast-via-Chicago feel that distinguishes Lonnie's approach. Now that older brother Ronnie has left the nest to front his own outfit full-time, Wayne is his dad's official rhythm guitarist. Expect him to slip in a little more "power blues" at this gig with his own band than he does when his father's in charge.
4:30 PM RONNIE BAKER BROOKS
Though he too picked up his dad's bayou accent in 13 years as his rhythm guitarist, Ronnie Baker Brooks also takes after his hero Stevie Ray Vaughan.
1:00 PM BAKER BROOKS FAMILY
Lonnie, Ronnie, and Wayne (see above) join forces in a more intimate setting than usual.
2:30 PM OTIS TAYLOR
4:00 PM HOMESICK JAMES
Precisely how old is James Williamson? No one, including him, seems to know for certain. But the slide guitarist--who's likely somewhere close to 90--has been around long enough to have crossed paths with the legendary Blind Boy Fuller and Sleepy John Estes down south in the 20s. Settling here in the 30s, he worked with John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, Big Bill Broonzy, Jimmy Walker, and countless others before hooking up with his cousin, slide master Elmore James, in the 50s and playing on many of his essential recordings. He also made some fine sides of his own in 1952 and '53 for Art Sheridan's Chance Records--including "Homesick," which gave him his nickname. His 1964 Prestige set, Blues on the South Side, is still his best album, but he's recorded prolifically for BluesWay, Trix, Appaloosa, Earwig, and plenty of other labels since, and his style remains basically the same.
5:00 PM DAVID "HONEYBOY"
3:30 PM TBA
5:30 PM uSWAMP DOGG, GEORGE
JACKSON, CASH McCALL,
BOB JONES & MARGE
Though the blues has always been primarily a medium of personal expression, professional songwriters have their niche. Of the five tunesmiths featured in this showcase, three are recognized as performers in their own right. Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams Jr., also a successful producer, is something of a provocateur: his sardonic and socially supercharged rants--like "God Bless America for What" or "I've Never Been to Africa (And It's Your Fault)"--often come swaddled in sweaty funk. Prolific southern soul scribe George Jackson is responsible for Z.Z. Hill's instant standard "Down Home Blues" and Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock & Roll"; his own discography includes the '72 Hi single "Aretha, Sing One for Me." Cash McCall, who played guitar with Willie Dixon toward the end of Dixon's life, first made his mark as a soul singer, scoring a national hit in 1966 with "When You Wake Up." Today he lives in LA and can sometimes be found in the company of the Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings. Having gotten a late start on his composing career--he was in his 40s--Chicagoan Bob Jones usually confines his musical pursuits to the page; he's written for Little Milton, Artie White, Lee "Shot" Williams, Cicero Blake, and Willie Clayton in the last 23 years. Local writer Marge Sampson has collaborated with the Kinsey Report, Joanna Connor, and Tinsley Ellis, and cowrote much of Syl Johnson's disappointing 1999 Delmark disc, Talkin' Bout Chicago!
Petrillo Music Shell
6:00 PM DEITRA FARR BLUES BAND
A longtime regular on the local club circuit, Deitra Farr has a controlled, classy style refreshingly devoid of the pandering histrionics that define too many younger female blues belters. She finally began to attract notice outside Chicago in the mid-90s, when she signed on as a singer with the classic Chicago blues outfit Mississippi Heat and was spotlighted on their self-produced CDs Learned the Hard Way and Thunder in My Heart. In 1997, the British JSP logo issued her solo debut, The Search Is Over, on which she leans more toward soul blues.
7:05 PM ARTHUR ADAMS
Full disclosure: about five years ago, when I first saw this LA-based bluesman play, I was so knocked out by his blazing lead guitar and soul-steeped vocals that I sent an unsolicited letter touting his talent to Blind Pig Records; later I wrote the liner notes to his 1999 album for the label, Back on Track. Adams brings the same sort of incandescent intensity to his live performances as the late Albert Collins; charging across the stage like an enraged bull, he combines B.B. King's crisp single-string picking with barrages of chords worthy of surf icon Dick Dale. A product of the late-50s Nashville blues scene, he made a name for himself in Dallas before embarking for LA in 1964. There Adams cut a few singles and a 1972 album for Blue Thumb while working as a session guitarist behind everyone from the Crusaders and Quincy Jones to Henry Mancini and the Jackson 5. Soul, jazz, and disco seduced Adams as the 70s progressed, but he eventually reverted to his roots and is now a frequent attraction at B.B. King's glitzy Universal City nightclub.
:10 PM u"LONE STAR SHOOTOUT"
WITH LONNIE BROOKS, LONG
JOHN HUNTER & PHILLIP
Last year these three Gulf Coast guitar slingers made one of the most satisfying albums Alligator's put out in recent memory. Lone Star Shootout combines the talents of Lonnie Brooks (who recorded the swamp-pop blueprint "Family Rules" and the rocking "The Crawl" for Louisiana's Goldband Records under the name Guitar Junior before he came to Chicago in 1960), Texas legend Long John Hunter (whose stint at the raucous Lobby Bar in Juarez, Mexico, from 1957 to 1970 made him a hero to young rocker Bobby Fuller), and the perpetually underrated Phillip Walker (who backed zydeco king Clifton Chenier in the 50s and has made solid albums of his own for Playboy, Joliet, Rounder, and Black Top). All three are excellent lead guitarists and extroverted showmen, though Brooks probably has the edge in the latter department--as anyone who's seen him play "Hide Away" with his teeth will testify.
SATURDAY, JUNE 10
Best Buy Showcase
NOON DENNIS GRUENLING
& JUMP TIME
The swing revival is mercifully on its last legs (the
pomade-and-martini crowd having predictably moved on to the next fad), but apparently word hasn't reached New Jersey, where this outfit is based. Dennis Gruenling's amplified harp and the jazz-honed sax of Joel Frahm sub for the fat horn sections that traditionally shore up such endeavors. Gruenling actually does have some real blues cred: he's backed such luminaries as Pinetop Perkins, Snooky Pryor, Homesick James, and Honeyboy Edwards.
1:30 PM WILLIE KING
Around his home base of Old Memphis, Alabama, Willie King is a hero. He staged the Freedom Creek Festival down there this spring, and when he's not cooking up his own steamy juke-joint grooves, he teaches local children about the blues--in fact, he's bringing a 13-year-old student, Travis Hodge, with him for this appearance. Born in Mississippi in 1943, the guitarist briefly came to Chicago in '67, then moved to Alabama, where he became involved in the civil rights movement. His songs have a political edge--one standout from the late 60s, "Second Coming," is about Martin Luther King. His debut on Rooster Blues is due in September.
3:00 PM FINS
The 1997 debut of this horn-heavy New Jersey outfit, Bluesprint, is loaded with exact copies of the swinging instrumentals of T-Bone Walker, Gatemouth Brown, and Albert Collins. Lead guitarist Benny Hi-Fi exhibits a firm grasp of 50s blues fretwork, but I'd prefer to hear him apply it to something more original.
4:30 PM DC BELLAMY
6:00 PM uSUPER CHIKAN &
THE FIGHTING COCKS
On the cover of his Blues Come Home to Roost (Rooster Blues), James "Super Chikan" Johnson poses with a live chicken perched on the neck of his guitar, and every so often he livens up a tune with a cock-a-doodle-doo or two. But the Mississippian isn't some silly novelty act. He's following in the mammoth footsteps of his uncle, Big Jack Johnson, writing imaginative tunes about relatively complex subjects. He describes his ancient house and its ramshackle front porch on the gently insistent "Down in the Delta," then modernizes his lyrical focus for the antidrug "Rockin' (That 'Caine) & Rollin' (Mary Jane)."
NOON HOWLIN' WOLF TRIBUTE
PART 1 FEATURING JUMPIN'
WILLIE COBBS, LITTLE
MACK SIMMONS, EASY
BABY, EDDIE TAYLOR JR.,
DAVE CALDWELL, WILLIE
BLACK & LARRY TAYLOR
The first of three sets paying tribute to the ferocious Chester Arthur Burnett on what would have been his 90th birthday brings together a well-balanced posse of Chicago vets and youngbloods. Harpist Little Mack Simmons is the best known of the bunch, with a discography stretching back to 1959. He's waged a comeback of late, with two new CDs and a reissue on Electro-Fi showcasing his Sonny Boy Williamson-influenced harp and soulful vocals. Memphis-born harpist Alex "Easy Baby" Randle came here in 1956 and developed a meaty technique a la Little Walter, but has recorded sparingly. Animated singer Jumpin' Willie Cobbs can be found most weekends holding forth at the Starlite on the west side and shouldn't be confused with his cousin of the same name, the Arkansas harpist who cut the original "You Don't Love Me" in 1961. Eddie Taylor Jr. has embraced his dad's legacy to a startling extent, adopting the sturdy guitar style his father employed during his lengthy partnership with Jimmy Reed. Eddie's brother Larry plays drums, locking grooves with bassist Willie Black.
2:10 PM SUNNYLAND SLIM
MEMORIAL PIANO SET
FEATURING DETROIT JUNIOR,
HENRY GRAY & HENRY
Honoring the memory of the beloved Chicago blues piano patriarch Sunnyland Slim is a long-standing festival tradition, and this triumvirate should uphold it brilliantly. Emery "Detroit Junior" Williams's engaging lyrical wit and showmanship--typified by his best-known numbers "Call My Job" (first waxed for USA in 1965) and the irresistible "If I Hadn't Been High"--sometimes obscure his rock-solid piano work. Louisiana native Henry Gray brings a taste of swamp blues and boogie to the proceedings, though his reputation rests largely on his contribution to classic Chicago blues--a 13-year stint in Howlin' Wolf's band. Saint Louis legend Henry Townsend's amazing career harks back to the blues' prewar blossoming, and he recently added an autobiography to its bookshelf, A Blues Life.
4:10 PM HOWLIN' WOLF TRIBUTE
PART 2 FEATURING ROBERT
ILLINOIS SLIM, WILLIE
BUCKNER & ASHWARD
More birthday props, this time from an ad hoc west-side aggregation that includes suave singing drummer Robert Plunkett (who kept flawless time on the bandstand for Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Ricky Allen and did time in the early 70s with Wolf) and singer Lee "Little Howlin' Wolf" Solomon. Not quite as blatant a Wolf imitator as some of his acolytes, Solomon apparently opened for the real deal a few times and now gigs with well-regarded veteran guitarist Milton Houston, brother of west-side guitarist Boston Blackie. Guitarist Illinois Slim is a disciple of the elder Eddie Taylor; drummer Ashward Gates Jr. anchored Fenton Robinson's jazzy blues combo in the 70s.
6:00 PM LUCKY LOPEZ
Lopez made his recorded debut in 1968 under the name Leo Evans, cutting a relaxed "Coming Down With the Blues" for Delmark's acclaimed Sweet Home Chicago anthology. But with only a handful of import albums to his credit since--most notably 1990's Southside Saturday Night (JSP)--and precious little product available domestically, he's remained a dimmer star in the Chicago blues constellation. His deep voice has a nice, rough Mississippi burr and he accompanies himself serviceably on guitar.
1:30 PM MICHAEL BURKS BAND
Unveiling an electric guitar style that blended Albert King's vicious string bends with B.B. King's pinpoint precision, Michael Burks turned some heads with his 1997 debut, From the Inside Out (reissued by Vent in 1999). His searing solos are undeniably derivative but refreshingly devoid of rock influence--a rare thing in a young bluesman.
3:30 PM uBIG JACK JOHNSON &
Big Jack Johnson's yet another late bloomer. Though he'd already built a stellar reputation among aficionados as lead guitarist for Frank Frost's trio the Jelly Roll Kings (Hey Boss Man!, their 1962 LP as Frank Frost & the Nighthawks, stands as Memphis producer Sam Phillips's final essential blues offering), the Mississippian started to earn widespread recognition only in the late 80s, when he began working on his own. The former oil-truck driver can reprise the rawest down-home Delta theme one moment, then launch into a zesty instrumental adaptation of "Tom Dooley" the next and somehow make the segue sound completely natural. He's also an imaginative lyricist whose subject matter has ranged from AIDS to spousal abuse to street violence.
1:00 PM DAVE MYERS & RUSTY ZINN
Diabetes cost Dave Myers a leg just a few months ago, but the loss apparently won't stop him from making his fest appearance. In the 50s he and his brother Louis, who died in 1994, split guitar duties behind the most influential amplified harmonica wizard of all time, Little Walter, propelling him into dizzying flights of fancy on many of his seminal sides for Checker. Myers later switched to electric bass, playing with his brother and drummer Fred Below as the Aces for years after splitting from Walter, but on 1998's You Can't Do That (Black Top), he returned to the guitar and solicited the company of relative youngbloods like former Fabulous Thunderbirds harpist Kim Wilson and guitarist Rusty Zinn. Zinn's west-coast swing leanings would initially appear to be at odds with Myers's resolutely traditional style, but the two found common ground on Myers's CD and will likely do so here.
2:00 PM EDDIE C. CAMPBELL
Campbell, one of the leading living proponents of the west-side school of blues guitar, reveals the influence of the late Magic Sam in his slashing lead work. Yet his songwriting is just as distinctive in its own way as Sam's was, full of lyrical quirks and introspective twists that go far beyond boilerplate blues. (It's particularly well showcased on his Blind Pig CD That's When I Know, released in 1994, shortly after a decade-long European exile.) Though his career dates back to the 50s, with sideman stints behind Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Reed, and Willie Dixon, he was slow to get into the studio--his 1977 solo debut, King of the Jungle, for the short-lived Mr. Blues imprint, was the first time most blues fans encountered him. That set contained his clever "Santa's Messin' With the Kid"; Hopes and Dreams, his forthcoming album for Rooster Blues, promises a sequel to that holiday perennial.
3:00 PM EDDIE & VAAN SHAW
He's best known as Howlin' Wolf's faithful tenor sax foil (see below), but Eddie Shaw has blown up a storm behind a whole pack of Chicago blues greats. In the 50s, after gigging with Ike Turner and Little Milton, he left Mississippi to work with Muddy Waters, but only stayed with him for a couple of years before hiring on with Howlin' Wolf. The 60s brought gigs with west-side guitar titans Freddy King and Magic Sam and a local instrumental hit of his own, the lights-out "Blues for the West Side." Since the late 70s, Shaw and his band, called the Wolf Gang in honor of his old boss, have been in the studio for Alligator, Rooster Blues, Delmark, and the Austrian Wolf imprint. Though personnel has shifted over the years, a constant since the early 80s has been guitarist Eddie "Vaan" Shaw Jr., whose thick, distorted tone and rapid-fire fretting contrast with his dad's succinct, raspy sax and brawny vocal bellow.
4:00 PM JOHNNIE MAE
Since her well-publicized 1998 eviction from her condemned west-side home, wheelchair-bound Johnnie Mae Dunson Smith has waged a heartwarming musical comeback. The Alabama native settled on the west side in 1943, learning how to play drums from Maxwell Street regular Eddie "Porkchop" Hines. Her vocal talent was showcased on an ultrarare 1965 single for Checker ("You're Going Out That Door") and a couple of subsequent duets for the tiny Magic label with her good friend Jimmy Reed, whom she also managed at one point and wrote for occasionally. Her son, guitarist Jimi "Prime Time" Smith, has made a career of his own as a bluesman, cutting an album for the Atomic Theory label. "Big Boss Lady," Johnnie Mae's feisty answer to Reed's classic "Big Boss Man," is usually the highlight of her appearances.
2:00 PM BLUES IN THE
Hosted by the Blues Heaven Foundation.
6:00 PM JOHNNY B. MOORE & THE
LADIES OF BLUE CHICAGO
Located a couple of blocks apart on Clark Street in River North, the Blue Chicago clubs, which sponsor this set, specialize in the presentation of lusty female blues belters--a strategy that's proven extremely lucrative thanks to the nearby tourist and conventioneer trade. Not so long ago considered one of the "new generation" of local blues artists, versatile west-sider Johnny B. Moore will lead the brawny backing band for a parade of the clubs' favorite divas.
Petrillo Music Shell
5:00 PM EDDIE C. CAMPBELL
6:10 PM uLITTLE SMOKEY
There's nothing even remotely little about Little Smokey Smothers's tough lead guitar or striking vocals--the diminutive was in deference to his older brother, who played under the name Big Smokey Smothers. Little Smokey (whose real name is Albert) adopted a more modern sound than his sibling, gigging and recording with Howlin' Wolf in the late 50s but also absorbing the cool, bluesy jazz of Kenny Burrell and the muscular electric blues of Albert King. Slide guitarist Elvin Bishop became one of Smokey's most dedicated pupils in the early 60s, inaugurating a musical bond that endures to this day--the two recently cut an album together that'll come out later this year.
7:05 PM uHOWLIN' WOLF TRIBUTE
PART 3 FEATURING EDDIE
SHAW & THE WOLF GANG
WITH HUBERT SUMLIN,
HENRY GRAY, ABB LOCKE,
DETROIT JUNIOR, LITTLE
SMOKEY SMOTHERS &
The only guy in this lineup who never played with Howlin' Wolf is the harpist, Corky Siegel, whose mild-mannered meanderings are the absolute antithesis of Wolf's feral bluster. Saxist Eddie Shaw (see above) has kept his former boss's legacy alive by fronting the Wolf Gang ever since its namesake's death in 1976; he was Wolf's bandleader toward the end. Abb Locke handled sax duties in Wolf's combo before him, playing on a memorable '59 session that produced Wolf's seminal "Howlin' for My Baby." Guitarist Hubert Sumlin (see below) was with Wolf the longest and had the greatest impact on his work. Louisiana-born Henry Gray added rollicking piano to many of the big man's 50s and 60s platters for Chess; Detroit Junior took the stool later on.
:30 PM KOKO TAYLOR &
THE BLUES MACHINE
Koko Taylor's reign as Chicago's Queen of the Blues is still undisputed. Ever since she scored the last national Chicago blues hit single of major consequence, with her growling 1966 revival of Willie Dixon's earthy party anthem "Wang Dang Doodle," Taylor has ruled the local circuit in benevolent fashion--and her kingdom recently expanded to include her own South Loop nightclub. Born in Memphis, Taylor idolized Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton; her throaty rasp reflects their influence as well as that of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. But only after she'd spent a decade developing her chops in Chicago clubs did she get a chance to record: in 1963, Dixon took an interest in her and got her signed to USA Records. The next year she was added to the mighty Chess roster, with Dixon producing and writing most of her output, and the rest is history. Since the demise of Chess, she's put out a series of consistently solid albums on Alligator; the eighth, Royal Blue, comes out this week.
SUNDAY, JUNE 11
Best Buy Showcase
NOON STEVE ARVEY &
Guitarist Steve Arvey formed his own combo, West Side Heat, in 1981, then spent the next decade struggling to live up to the name. In 1990 he switched gears, forming an acoustic country-blues duet with slide guitarist Kraig Kenning.
1:30 PM ROB STONE & THE C-NOTES
Singer and harpist Rob Stone, a Boston native now based here, learned the finer points of his instrument from ex-Muddy Waters sideman Jerry Portnoy, and spent four years playing shuffles in powerhouse drummer Sam Lay's combo.
3:00 PM HOWARD &
THE WHITE BOYS
This generic blues-rock band, led by bassist and unremarkable vocalist Howard McCullum, has inexplicably been championed by Buddy Guy for about five years.
4:30 PM LARRY McCRAY
If you're searching for a reason to harbor hope that the blues will survive (as opposed to growing indistinguishable from rock), you'll want to check out Larry McCray. The burly 40-year-old guitarist can send the blues-rock crowd into throes of delirium, but his pyrotechnics are grounded in tradition; he also has a commanding, soul-streaked voice. His Arkansas upbringing (his sister Clara led her own band there) and subsequent time in Detroit (where he moonlighted in clubs when he wasn't toiling on a General Motors assembly line) gave him an intuitive grasp of blues, rock, and soul, which he seamlessly blended on his 1990 set, Ambition (Pointblank). His next few CDs weren't quite as good, but his 1998 disc, Born to Play the Blues (House of Blues), came close.
6:00 PM HUBERT SUMLIN
The immortal Howlin' Wolf employed a host of killer guitarists over the years--including Willie Johnson and both Big and Little Smokey Smothers--but Hubert Sumlin was his undisputed number one, the man responsible for the darting, elastic leads on "Built for Comfort," "Do the Do," "Three Hundred Pounds of Joy," "Killing Floor," "Shake for Me," and most of Wolf's other early-60s classics. Except for one year, when he bolted to play with Muddy Waters, Sumlin was integral to Wolf's band and sound from 1954 till the end, in 1976. Though the shy guitarist seldom opened his mouth onstage in those days, he's steadily emerged as a laid-back front man over the last couple decades. Legends (Telarc), a somewhat lethargic album he cut with pianist Pinetop Perkins, was nominated for a Grammy this year.
Noon TRIBUTE TO PINK
ANDERSON WITH LITTLE
PINK ANDERSON, PAUL
GEREMIA, ROY BOOK
BINDER & ANDY COHEN
If the name Pink Anderson rings a bell, it's probably because Syd Barrett borrowed half of it when he named Pink Floyd. The recorded output of the acoustic bluesman--who was born in South Carolina in 1900 and died there in 1974--is pretty sparse: two 78s in the late 20s for Columbia, with partner Simmie Dooley, three 1961 solo LPs for Bluesville, and not much else. But guitarists Paul Geremia (see below), Roy Book Binder (see below), Andy Cohen (whose catalog includes a Reverend Gary Davis tribute CD for Riverlark Records), and Anderson's son Alvin "Little Pink" Anderson are all intimately familiar with his melodic fingerpicking, a combination of the Piedmont ragtime, and pre-blues songster styles.
4:00 PM EDDIE TIGNER
Atlanta singer Eddie Tigner is one of several artists on the fest schedule sponsored by Timothy Duffy's Music Maker Relief Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping older traditional blues artists by supplying whatever sort of help they need, from instruments to food and health care. A lofty purpose, but the North Carolina-based foundation doesn't always do its homework. It's promoting Tigner as having sung with the "original" Ink Spots from the 1950s through the 1980s--but that groundbreaking vocal group had disintegrated by the end of the 40s, supplanted in decades to come by a small army of imposters. (Some of these franchise operations exist to this day.) Nowadays Tigner sings straight-up swingers such as Nat King Cole's "Route 66" and Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll."
4:30 PM BEVERLY "GUITAR"
Atlanta native Beverly Watkins kicked off her career in 1959 when, still a teenager, she played guitar with Piano Red's outfit Doctor Feelgood & the Interns, hitting the stage every night decked out in a nurse's uniform. There are no costumes in her current presentation, but she's still a crowd pleaser, belting her guts out and playing behind her head. Her 1999 album, Back in Business, finds her paying homage to her ex-boss with "Miz Dr. Feelgood" and a rollicking cover of his "Right String but the Wrong Yo-Yo," conjuring up the piano man's good-natured rowdiness while displaying a raucous lead guitar style all her own.
6:00 PM ODETTA
The uncommonly textured and dignified voice of Odetta should be declared a national treasure. Though she's only recently focused on the blues--her 1999 album, Blues Everywhere I Go (M.C.), takes a fairly slick, urban approach to the idiom--it's always been part of her arsenal and the heart of her deep, resonant delivery. Born in Alabama, Odetta was classically trained, but in the 50s she traveled the west-coast folk circuit with her acoustic guitar. She soon attracted the interest of Harry Belafonte, who introduced her to a national TV audience in 1959. In the 60s, when she recorded prolifically for Vanguard, Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin cited her as an influence, and Joplin covered her "Down on Me." Now Jewel and Cassandra Wilson sing her praises.
12:30 PM BOBBY "SLIM" JAMES &
Chicagoan Bobby "Slim" James played guitar in the smoldering revue led by magnificent southern soul singer O.V. Wright, and though his own discography is thin, northern soul fanatics in England swear by his obscure single "I Really Love You," made for the local Karol label in 1968 under the name Robert Newsome. The south-sider got his start as a USO singer in the early 60s; he now fronts his own outfit, the Variety Blues Band. Jessie is a local singer who's shopping her first CD around.
3:30 PM GRANÁ LOUISE BLUES BAND
It's pronounced Gra-nay, and if you frequent either of the Blue Chicago clubs you probably knew that. Before settling in the Windy City a couple years ago, the personable singer fronted the Minneapolis-based Blue Diamonds, and has performed a one-woman show that incorporated the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, and Sarah Vaughan. Koko Taylor is a big influence, but Graná is wont to toss in a silky Al Green number or Miles Davis's challenging jazz theme "All Blues" alongside the grittier fare.
1:00 PM GEORGE HIGGS &
Two devotees of the bouncy Piedmont acoustic blues style, one of them considerably older than the other. George Higgs hails from Tarboro, North Carolina, where he drew inspiration from radio broadcasts by harpist DeFord Bailey (the first black performer on the Grand Ole Opry) and medicine-show bluesman Peg Leg Sam. In the early 50s, Higgs participated in informal outdoor guitar contests in Tarboro, complementing his lively picking with harmonica. Mike "Lightnin'" Wells, whose ax of choice is a National steel guitar, is also from North Carolina.
2:30 PM FRANK EDWARDS
Ninety-one-year-old guitarist and harpist Frank Edwards made his first recordings 60 years ago in Chicago, with producer Lester Melrose and a band that included percussionist Washboard Sam. But those two 78s, released by Okeh, and an early-70s LP for Trix represent most of Edwards' all-too-slim oeuvre. Now based in Atlanta, he's another benificiary of the Music Maker Relief Foundation.
4:00 PM ROY BOOK BINDER
New York-born folk-blues guitarist Roy Book Binder has cited Pink Anderson (see above) as a prime influence ever since the early 60s, and he took lessons from the Reverend Gary Davis while serving as the blind guitarist's chauffeur. He made his first album, Travelin' Man, for Adelphi in 1970, subsequently cutting sets for Blue Goose and Flying Fish and recording prolifically for Rounder after 1988. Often employing a National steel guitar, he stitches together Delta and Piedmont blues, ragtime, bluegrass, and country into an exuberant hybrid that won't stay still long enough to get musty.
4:30 PM PAUL GEREMIA
Like Roy Book Binder, Paul Geremia brings a wealth of experience and his own thoughtful spin to the blues. A proficient fingerpicker (on both the 6- and 12-string guitar), pianist, and harpist, he's sung for his supper since 1966, mixing early jazz and old-time country blues with a sheaf of appealing originals. His ninth solo album, The Devil's Music (released last year by Red House), revived postwar R & B classics like Ray Charles's mournful "Drown in My Own Tears" and Percy Mayfield's "Lost Mind" alongside Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues" and Robert Johnson's "Terraplane Blues". The Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Boy Fuller, and Pink Anderson all figure substantially into his basic approach, but Geremia's natural, full-bodied vocals are distinctive in their own right.
1:30 PM ORIGINAL
GUITARSLINGERS & SESSION
MEN OF RECORD ROW
Chicago's Record Row was the chunk of South Michigan Avenue where Chess, Checker, Vee-Jay, Brunswick, Dakar, One-derful!, Mar-V-Lus, M-Pac!, Constellation, and other legendary R & B and soul imprints established themselves in the 60s and 70s. These labels employed an army of outstanding session guitarists whose sinuous licks figured into countless hits, and several of them are slated for this shoot-out: Phil Upchurch (see below), Byron Gregory, Larry Hakeem, and Chess mainstays Gerald Sims and Pete Cosey. Guitarist Gregg Parker leads the Chicago Blues Museum All Stars behind them.
3:30 PM BIG JAMES &
THE CHICAGO PLAYBOYS
Trombone-blowing bandleaders are rare as hen's teeth in the blues, and Big James Montgomery is the only one in town. Not surprisingly, he made his name as a sideman: At 19 he joined Little Milton's outfit, then moved over to Albert King's band a couple years later. He also played, of course, with Little Johnny Christian, the original leader of the Playboys, and after Christian's passing in 1993 he backed Otis Rush and James Cotton. In 1996 he signed on for a spell with Buddy Guy, but now he and the Playboys are a fixture at Famous Dave's touristy barbecue restaurant.
5:30 PM MUSIC MAKER'S SALUTE
TO PINK ANDERSON
Beverly Watkins, George Higgs, Frank Edwards, Eddie Tigner, and Little Pink Anderson--all of whom are beneficiaries of the Music Maker organization--convene for another centennial tribute to Big Pink. Also in the troupe is South Carolina guitarist John Ferguson, who at 46 is considerably younger than most Music Maker artists and comes from a significantly different musical background: he played gospel as a child and R & B in high school, then branched out into psychedelic pop and "dinner jazz."
Petrillo Music Shell
5:00 PM uARTIE "BLUES
The era of the stand-up blues singer is passing all too quickly as the blues audience steadily grows more and more fixated on guitar wizardry, but Artie "Blues Boy" White does what he can to keep the tradition alive. White enjoyed a surprise national hit in 1977, at the height of the disco explosion, with his smoldering single "Leanin' Tree" for the tiny Altee label (it was the breakthrough composition for tunesmith Bob Jones; see above), and he's been a south-side favorite ever since. In his preference for churning, R & B rhythms and tight horn sections White blurs the line between blues and soul much like his primary vocal influence, Little Milton.
6:00 PM RECORD ROW SALUTE TO
FEATURING GENE CHANDLER,
RUBY ANDREWS, OTIS
LEAVILL, WILLIE ROGERS,
PHIL UPCHURCH, GENE
BARGE & more
An array of luminaries from Chicago's R & B heyday will pay tribute to soul pioneer Curtis Mayfield, who died in December. Gene Chandler's 1962 doo-wop-derived smash "Duke of Earl" preceded a series of more sophisticated hits penned for him by Mayfield ("Think Nothing About It," "Just Be True," "What Now?," "Nothing Can Stop Me"). Otis Leavill was inspired by Mayfield's songwriting, and his soaring falsetto on his 1969 hit "I Love You" distinctly echoed Mayfield's sound. The connections between Mayfield and singer Ruby Andrews and former Soul Stirrers front man Willie Rogers are less direct, but the Record Row Orchestra, which will back the singers, features Master Henry Gibson, Mayfield's longtime percussionist. The band also includes saxist Gene "Daddy G" Barge, responsible for sizzling solos on hits by Chuck Willis and Gary U.S. Bonds before he became an important Chess producer and session man; saxist Willie Henderson, who produced Tyrone Davis's hits "Can I Change My Mind" and "Turn Back the Hands of Time"; guitarist Phil Upchurch, who played on many a Chicago R & B date; and Louis Satterfield, the mid-60s Chess house bassist who later played trombone in Earth, Wind & Fire.
7:20 PM ZORA YOUNG
Like Deitra Farr, Zora Young has fronted Mississippi Heat on disc (she sings "Stay With Me" on their most recent recording, Handyman), but otherwise studio opportunities have been inexplicably elusive for her. The Mississippi-born chanteuse has been popular on the local circuit since the 70s, and her sassy delivery bears traces of gospel and soul. A self-produced 1988 album, Stumbling Blocks and Stepping Stones, and Blues With the Girls, a French compilation of chestnuts sung by her, Bonnie Lee, and Big Time Sarah, make up the bulk of her discography.
:30 PM JOHNNIE TAYLOR
Like any respectable soul hero, Johnnie Taylor started out in gospel: he had the unenviable task of replacing the immortal Sam Cooke as lead tenor with the Soul Stirrers. Cooke subsequently produced some of Taylor's early-60s secular platters and issued them on his SAR label, but it was at Stax Records in Memphis that Taylor blossomed into a star, with the sweaty late-60s smashes "Who's Making Love," "Take Care of Your Homework," and "Love Bones." Taylor also developed a softer, more intimate ballad style that earned him the tag of "the Soul Philosopher," though there was nothing particularly philosophical about "Disco Lady," his midtempo 1976 single for Columbia--the first-ever certified platinum single. Like Little Milton, Taylor is a longtime linchpin of the Malaco Records roster; the Mississippi label markets its product primarily to middle-aged African-Americans who still embrace old-school southern soul. Yet Taylor is no relic: his massively successful 1996 album Good Love! was steadfastly contemporary, and the serpentine, bass-heavy groove of the title track introduced him to the urban contemporary demographic.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Dana Lixenberg/Pat Johnson/Bob Cooper/James Fraher/Wyatt McSpadden/Christopher Jacobs.