Erwin Helfer, Barrelhouse Chuck | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Erwin Helfer, Barrelhouse Chuck


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Both pianists on this bill play a rollicking mix of blues, boogie-woogie, and jazz-tinged standards, but there are big differences between their musical personalities. ERWIN HELFER was heavily influenced by 30s and 40s Chicago boogie masters like Cripple Clarence Lofton and Big Maceo. He also spent time in New Orleans, where he learned from Preservation Hall traditionalists and early R & B firebrands like Archibald (whose recording of "Stack-a-Lee" in 1950 set the stage for Lloyd Price's famous 1959 version). His style balances the gleeful rowdiness of a Bronzeville rent party or Storyville whorehouse with an introspective, almost autumnal melodic elegance, all propelled by driving boogie rhythms touched with echoes of Crescent City second-line strut.

BARRELHOUSE CHUCK, aka Charles Goering, sticks closer to the basics: schooled by the likes of Sunnyland Slim and Little Brother Montgomery, he structures most of his outings around straightforward 12-bar changes and shuffle rhythms, only occasionally adding impish right-hand fillips or stride-influenced modifications. Yet he also works in a variety of styles. On Slowdown Sundown, which he released last year on his own Viola label, he takes "Ain't Nobody's Business if I Do" to church, adorning the tune with incongruously sanctified organ washes; on several other tracks he fires off chiming, splay-fingered chords behind a tough juke-joint band that includes bassist Willie Kent and guitarist Johnny B. Moore. And, as if to take a swipe at the "humorless blues purist" stereotype, he teams up with guitarist Billy Flynn and drummer Kenny Smith for a deliciously cheesy remake of the Ventures' 1959 surf classic "Walk, Don't Run."

The two perform here at a tribute to Little Brother Montgomery. Helfer and Barrelhouse Chuck also play separate shows at Rosa's Lounge; see Friday and Saturday respectively. Helfer also performs with Katherine Davis at the Old Town School of Folk Music on January 29. Sun 1/22, 3 PM, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, 100 N. Michigan, 312-742-1168. Free. All ages.

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

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