When blues guitarist John Primer put out The Real Deal on Atlantic's Code Blue subsidiary in 1995, it looked like his solo career might finally take off. For decades he'd been mentored by fretboard genius Sammy Lawhorn, who taught him to play slide; then he'd worked alongside luminaries like Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and Magic Slim. On the disc he sounded hungry and unstoppable: he fired off subtle but incendiary leads in a piercing tone that recalled Slim's most house-wrecking turns, stitched up with tight, in-the-pocket rhythms that had roots in the Chicago shuffle Dixon helped pioneer at Chess. Primer also showcased a few originals: the deep blues "Tomorrow Might Not Be the Same" brought to mind Waters's rich lyric imagery and deep-chested vocals, and "How Long Will You Be Mine" featured some throat-ripping singing and a blistering reprise of Elmore James's guitar theme from "Dust My Broom." But Code Blue folded shortly after The Real Deal came out, and Primer's recent output has been limited to a couple compilations of earlier material on the Austrian label Wolf. Onstage, though, he's as aggressive and irrepressible as ever: he'll quote a classic Muddy Waters slide lick or ascend through a shimmering, Lawhorn-style arabesque, then plunge into a series of metallic outbursts to drag the entire solo kicking and screaming into the present. On Friday at 9:30 PM Primer plays a benefit for Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation at Rosa's, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452. He'll share the stage with Shirli Dixon, Willie's daughter, whose rich vocal timbre and elegant onstage presence bring a stylish urbanity to the most gutbucket Chicago shuffles. John Primer & the Real Deal Band have a regular gig Sundays and Mondays at 9:30 PM at Checkerboard Lounge, 423 E. 43rd; 773-624-3240. And if you're reading this on Thursday, August 19, you can catch Primer at 9 PM at B.L.U.E.S., 2519 N. Halsted; 773-528-1012. DAVID WHITEIS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.