Johnny Laws's weekend sets at the Cuddle Inn on South Ashland have long been among the most popular blues attractions on the south side; after years of local celebrity he's finally begun to extend his reputation to other parts of the city (and the world: he was recently profiled in Living Blues magazine). Laws's voice aches with passion, but he's also one of the most charming entertainers around: he'll stroll out into the audience, repeating phrases and singing directly to various admirers, making his show feel more like an intimate conversation among friends than a performance. He prides himself on his versatility; any given set is likely to veer from hard Chicago blues to smooth soul ballads and all the way to country and western (Marty Robbins is one of Laws's favorite singers). It's with ballads, though, that Laws excels: with his voice modulating from a trembling whisper to a pleading falsetto and his bond grinding out gospellike changes behind him, Laws can take a song like McKinley Mitchell's "End of the Rainbow" and elevate souls at 500 paces. Friday and Saturday, Rosa's, 3420 W. Armitage; 342-0452. Wednesday, Checkerboard Lounge, 423 E. 43rd; 624-3240.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.