In the neighborhood joints where blues guitarist Sammy Fender has been a mainstay since the 50s, emotional honesty and the ability to generate excitement are at least as important as originality. Fender borrows heavily from B.B. King's string-bending style, but he also plays declamatory chords and crisp single-note clusters adapted from late-50s west-side stylists like Magic Sam. When he takes on a classic like Slim Harpo's "I'm a King Bee" (retooled as "King Bee's Tale" on his 2002 disc Live in Chicago!), he'll toss in verses and licks lifted from half a dozen well-known standards. On original offerings like "Dreamer," his barbed tone and sharp phrasing bring a streetwise intensity to ideas borrowed from King--in fact, he mines the depths of each individual note so fiercely that he sometimes barely sounds as if he's thinking in terms of phrases at all. Fender's solo on the Impressions' "It's All Right" consists mostly of a single extended note ripped out ferociously. Fender's high-pitched voice is shot through with yearning, but there's a smoldering undercurrent of aggression as well: on "Chill'n," a medium-tempo funk/blues that appears on his self-produced disc Transformating Love, he alternately croons and screams his desire to be left alone after a hard day's work. Thursday, January 23, 9:30 PM, Reservation Blues, 1566 N. Milwaukee; 773-645-5200. He hosts a blues jam at the same location every Sunday at 10 PM.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.