Each year the Chicago Blues Festival picks a theme–usually either a slight play on words (the fest’s 19th edition, last year, was dubbed “She’s Nineteen Years Old” after the Muddy Waters song) or commemorations of a deceased artist’s birthday. This year, the fest fetes the centennials of bluesmen Big Joe Williams and Saint Louis Jimmy Oden and the 50th anniversary of Chicago’s Delmark Records. Aside from the title of his best-known song, “Goin’ Down Slow,” being grafted onto one of the events, there’s little visible connection between Oden and anything going on. But the Delmark link is more obvious–a number of artists from that label have been booked, and both Oden and Williams recorded for Delmark.

Big Joe is where things get tricky–and interesting. Virtually none of Williams’s contemporaries, with the notable exceptions of David “Honeyboy” Edwards and Homesick James, are still alive. So festival coordinator Barry Dolins, with the E-mail input of the Blues Festival Advisory Committee, has assembled Barry Goldberg’s Reunion, a crew of younger musicians who either knew Williams personally or earned their blues wings in the 60s, when Williams often camped out for weeks at a time at Chicago’s Jazz Record Mart, owned by Delmark prexy Bob Koester. The sound they’ll make won’t bear much obvious resemblance to Williams’s Delta-honed acoustic blues, but there’s a more subtle connection, reflected in several other bookings as well.

Williams was an iconoclast. He built his own nine-string guitar and on it pushed the boundaries of standard intonation and rhythm; his lyrics, often improvised, were fearlessly personal, even by Delta standards. Likewise, the Delmark label itself, though founded by Koester (as Delmar) in Saint Louis in 1953 as a traditionalist imprint dedicated to boogie-woogie piano and New Orleans-style jazz, later courageously expanded into southern acoustic blues, Chicago blues, and, in the mid-60s, the avant-garde explorations of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.

In that spirit, several offerings–the Pappy Johns and Murray Porter “rez bluez” set; rapper Chuck D’s participation in Thursday night’s tribute to Electric Mud, Muddy Waters’s 1968 purist-defying experiment on Chess Records; even bookings like Bonnie Raitt and Buckwheat Zydeco–challenge the boundaries of the acceptable and the predictable as this festival seldom has before. Even more musically conservative gigs, like the Goldberg reunion and Saturday night’s eclectic parade of contemporary Chicagoans, are risky, as likely to disintegrate into chaos as they are to explode with inspiration.

Tradition-minded aficionados will find much to appreciate at the festival. But just as Joe Williams did with his music–and just as Bob Koester did when he invited Roscoe Mitchell and Anthony Braxton to join the likes of Art Hodes and Sleepy John Estes on his label–they’ll need to challenge their preconceived notions of “authenticity” to meet this year’s lineup on its own terms.

The physical layout of the festival is the same as last year. The Front Porch, south of Jackson and west of Columbus, showcases acoustic acts. The Juke Joint, on Columbus near Monroe, focuses on more intimate acts. The Route 66 Roadhouse is on Columbus, just south of Jackson. The Crossroads stage is at the intersection of Jackson and Lake Shore Drive; it features mostly electric blues. The Fun Zone stage–booked by the sponsor, Best Buy, and not the city–is also on Columbus, about two blocks south of Jackson. The Petrillo Music Shell showcases headliners and top-tier locals. –David Whiteis

Thursday, May 29

Juke Joint

Noon Going Down Slow: Stone Academy Jug Stompers with Eric Noden, Katherine Davis & Erwin Helfer

On the first day of every Blues Fest, schoolkids who’ve been taught the rudiments of blues and blues history under the auspices of the city’s Blues in the Schools program take the stage. Here they’ll perform with some of their teachers, who’re worth seeing in their own right. Davis’s dusky vocals are a perfect fit for Erwin Helfer’s ebullient yet tender piano (the two should really think about doing a full-length CD together), and Eric Noden, who also teaches at the Old Town School of Folk Music, is an ace trad guitarist. DW

2:00 PM Lil’ Ed

Ed Williams learned slide guitar from his uncle, J.B. Hutto, one of Chicago’s best-known Elmore James disciples. Like Hutto, Williams is primarily a raucous juker with a penchant for boogie-all-night barn burners. In this rare solo setting, however, he’ll have the opportunity to fire down the jets and present a more personalized and emotionally nuanced interpretation of the slide tradition. DW

3:00 PM Fernando Jones & the Blues Kids of America

Since the early 90s, Chicago-based musician, playwright, and author Fernando Jones has been conducting a blues education program he calls Blues Kids of America. In addition to teaching music and music history, Jones’s approach uses blues cadences and melodies to instruct students in academic subjects. Here he leads students from the near south side’s Washington Irving Elementary School. DW

4:30 PM Tony Rogers Band

On their debut CD, last year’s In The Pocket (T.R. Entertainment), guitarist Tony Rogers and his eight-year-old son, percussion prodigy Jamiah, romp through a set of standards (including the dreaded “Sweet Home Chicago”) and a couple of Rogers originals. Tony’s fretwork is crisp, even aggressive, and Jamiah has torrid chops (he funks all over the place on the Meters’ “Cissy Strut”). But a band with a kid drummer is, inescapably, a novelty act; and daddy’s velvety vocals sound geared more toward bedtime stories than boudoir ecstasy. DW


1:00 PM Tenry Johns

Although vocalist Tenry “King Kong Rocker” Johns has been gigging around Chicagoland for the better part of four decades, he seems virtually unknown in town. His sole disc, 1999’s In Here Tonight (Red Dog), is a rousing set of in-the-pocket shuffles on which Cyrus Hayes’s sweet-toned harp skitters and warbles jubilantly. Johns’s voice is supple and southern-fried, Bob Crane’s guitar leads are crisp if unremarkable, and the overall sound is nowhere near as ponderous as Johns’s stage name would suggest. DW

2:30 PM Sharon Lewis & the Mojo Kings

Born in Fort Worth in 1952, Sharon Lewis settled in Chicago in the mid-70s and began singing professionally in 1993; she’s been showcasing her flexible range with her own group for about six years. Even at her most playful (as on her version of Rosco Gordon’s “Just a Little Bit”), Lewis delivers the goods with an emotional directness that makes it seem as if she’s sharing intimacies. When she gets serious she can be spellbinding: her gospel-infused take on “Mother Blues” has been known to stun rowdy nightclub crowds into silence. DW

4:00 PM Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials

Heads Up! (Alligator), the latest from Lil’ Ed Williams and his Blues Imperials, is loaded with Williams’s usual balls-out, slide-injected flag-wavers, but there’s also evidence that his emotional range is broadening. He grinds through a stark version of Charles Brown’s “Black Night,” and on his own “I Still Love You” his stentorian baritone constricts to a gasp as he sets his slide aside and picks a series of sparse single-string leads. He even takes a stab at stripped-down funk on “Computer Girl,” but his backup crew is too bogged down in boogie to follow him in that direction. DW

Route 66 RoadHouse

2:00 PM Chicago! Blues! Today!

Yours truly joins a panel that includes writer Beverly Zeldin-Palmer and Rosa’s Lounge owner Tony Mangiullo to discuss the state of Chicago blues. If there are any slots still open, I hope at least one musician and/or representative of the south- and west-side blues communities can also be included here. DW

4:00 PM Whose Blues?

It’s hardly news that the blues is no longer strictly the province of African-American artists, but the issue of who “owns” the genre–and who has license to appropriate its history, its language, and its musical tropes–remains controversial. This session will include members of Canada’s Pappy Johns and Murray Porter “rez bluez” aggregation (see Friday’s Crossroads listings) along with Chicago-based blues artists. The moderator is Lawrence Hoffman, who compiled the four-CD blues retrospective Mean Old World, issued by the Smithsonian on MCA in 1996. He’s known for his strong opinions concerning what he sees as the inauthenticity of most blues played by non-African-Americans, so we’ll see how much of a “moderating” influence he’ll be on what promises to be a pretty hot panel. DW

Fun Zone

2:30 PM Steepwater Band

Though underwhelmed by the overdriven boogie of their live show, I liked the Steepwater Band’s DIY CD Brother to the Snake. Jeff Massey and Michael Connelly interweave guitar lines–sometimes in unison, sometimes in head-to-head combat–a la the vintage Allmans, and drummer Joseph Winters alternates the usual roadhouse bone crunch with textured polyrhythms that goad his mates into exploring some attractive jam-band nether regions without dissolving into mushroomheaded self-indulgence. Their macho outlaw shtick is a bit tired, but at least they’re classy–or clever–enough to not wrap themselves in Confederate flags. DW

3:45 PM Dave Specter

Guitarist Dave Specter proved his mettle as a high-energy 12-bar fret man when he worked as Son Seals’s second guitarist in the 80s, but since going solo he’s moved in a decidedly uptown direction, favoring sweet-toned jump-blues stylings with a strong west-coast tinge. Here he leads an organ trio featuring Rob Waters on the Hammond–a format that will allow Specter to revisit territory he explored with Jack McDuff on Left Turn on Blue (Delmark) in 1996, where he dabbled in colors borrowed from the palates of fretboard masters ranging from T-Bone Walker to Grant Green. DW

5:00 PM Madman Blues Band

Scott “Madman” Madden and his band lead regular open-mike sessions at the Fantasy Lounge on Elston, and they also gig at various bars and roadhouses in the area. Their repertoire consists mostly of southern-fried blues-rock. DW

6:15 PM Corey Stevens

Guitarist Corey Stevens’s 1995 debut album, Blue Drops of Rain (Eureka), stayed on the Billboard charts for over 30 weeks. Since then he’s had several more hit singles; he’s also toured with the likes of ZZ Top and, more recently, the latest reincarnation of the pioneering blues-rock band Canned Heat. His latest, Bring on the Blues (Fuel 2000), intersperses boogie anthems (“Lonesome Road Blues”) with ballads (“Crazy and Blue”) and surrealistic excursions into what you might call psyche-Delta (“My Love for You Has Died”). Stevens’s melodic imagination and dexterous fret work add new dimensions to the cliches, but his vocals are disappointingly mannered. DW

Front Porch Stage

3:00 PM Katherine Davis & the children of Agassiz and Gladstone Schools

Katherine Davis is one of the most endearing pros to participate in these Blues in the Schools revues: her warm-hearted stage presence both feeds off and buttresses the kids’ enthusiasm, and her vocal range–from burnished alto croon to upward-arching R & B glissandi–allows her to assume the roles of schoolmarm and diva with equal elan. DW

4:30 PM [ Henry Townsend, Homesick James & David “Honeyboy” Edwards

Ninety-three-year-old Saint Louis legend Henry Townsend was inspired to pursue the guitar seriously by Lonnie Johnson, and he learned to navigate the 88s from Gateway City piano great Roosevelt Sykes. Those blues immortals shared a decidedly urban approach to the idiom, and Townsend followed suit when he began recording for Columbia in 1929. Said to be the last surviving blues artist who recorded during the 20s, Townsend’s discography extends to the 2001 APD CD My Story. He’ll be trading licks and lyrics with Chicago’s own David “Honeyboy” Edwards (see Friday’s Juke Joint listings) and slide specialist Homesick James (see Friday’s Front Porch listings), offering a precious opportunity to experience blues history in the flesh. BD

Petrillo Music Shell

6:00 PM Big Time Sarah and the BTS Express

Onetime Sunnyland Slim protege Sarah Streeter, a fixture on the local club circuit since the 70s, has a fairly limited vocal range, and her repertoire relies heavily on tried-and-true standards tailored to the north-side tourist-and-conventioneer crowd. Still, she’s an earthy, commanding presence behind a microphone, almost daring a crowd not to grant her their rapt attention. BD

7:20 PM Otis Taylor

If Leonard Cohen were a bluesman, he’d probably sound like Otis Taylor. Born in Chicago in 1948, Taylor grew up in Denver, where he immersed himself in the local folk scene and led standard-issue blues bands in the 60s. By the mid-90s, though, he’d re-created himself as a singer-songwriter with a penchant for brooding social commentary and caustic irony (as evidenced by such album titles as White African and When Negroes Walked the Earth). Last year’s Respect the Dead (Northern Blues) sounds closer to alt-country than acoustic blues, as Taylor spins tales of soul-stealing sorceresses, restless ancestral spirits, and existential torment over a swirl of electric bass, fuzz guitar, and ghostly clawhammer banjo. DW

:40 pm Electric Mudcats featuring Chuck D, Daddy G & more

Muddy Waters’s 1968 descent into psychedelia, Electric Mud, was roundly drubbed by blues critics in its day, but in Marc Levin’s Godfathers and Sons–his documentary about Chicago blues for Martin Scorsese’s upcoming PBS film series “The Blues”–he posits it as a misunderstood classic. Among those who testify on its behalf are Public Enemy’s Chuck D, who’ll preside over this reunion of the band that backed Waters on the album. That marvelous Chess house combo included guitarists Pete Cosey (later a musical cohort of Miles Davis), Phil “You Can’t Sit Down” Upchurch, bassist Louis Satterfield (who switched to trombone for Earth, Wind & Fire), impeccable drummer Morris Jennings, and tenor saxist Gene “Daddy G” Barge, who’s soloed on hits by Chuck Willis, Gary U.S. Bonds, Little Milton, and Koko Taylor. BD

Friday, May 30

Juke Joint

Noon David “Honeyboy” Edwards & Charlie Musselwhite

The life of 87-year-old guitarist David “Honeyboy” Edwards reads like a history of the blues itself. The Mississippi native learned his craft in the Delta, hoboed with Big Joe Williams, experienced Charlie Patton’s devilry, rambled with Robert Johnson, and recorded for historian Alan Lomax in 1942. (He also left a few unissued gems in the vaults of Chess Records and Sun Records during the early 50s before settling in Chicago.) He’s best appreciated in a solo context, where 12-bar boundaries don’t intrude, but harpist Charlie Musselwhite is an unusually sympathetic accompanist. Musselwhite grew up in Memphis and was well versed in the blues by the time he arrived here in 1962. He was one of the first young white bluesmen who dared to investigate live blues on the south and west sides, and he’s undertaken more than his fair share of harmonica innovation in the decades since. BD

1:00 PM Corky Siegel & Sam Lay

Though known for his drumming, Sam Lay is also an acoustic blues troubadour; here he’s accompanied by his longtime compatriot from the Siegel-Schwall Band (see today’s Front Porch listings). Lay’s Delta-style guitar technique is rough around the edges, but Siegel’s deep-toned harp blowing will sweeten the mix. DW

2:00 PM Otis Taylor

Taylor’s harrowing lyrics and propulsive, folk-style picking (on both banjo and guitar) should be especially riveting in this relatively intimate setting. (See Thursday’s Petrillo Music Shell listings for more on Taylor). DW

3:30 PM Harmonica Hinds

Veteran Chicago journeyman Mervyn “Harmonica” Hinds cut his teeth in the 70s and 80s at Theresa’s Lounge on South Indiana, under the watchful eye of Junior Wells. He’s fashioned a neat synthesis of the Delta-to-Chicago tradition, with a somewhat less intense tone than most of his influences. Hinds has contributed to recordings by John Primer and Koko Taylor but, possibly because of his inflexible vocal timbre, has yet to record under his own name. In his solo act he plays banjo as well as harp. DW

5:00 PM Eric Noden

The picker and teacher returns for a solo set that will cover a wide range of blues, folk, and ragtime stylistic traditions. DW

Front Porch

2:00 PM Spencer Academy Guitar Stars with Eric Noden and Mary Hurt Wright

Mary Hurt Wright, who teaches reading at Spencer Academy, is the granddaughter of Mississippi John Hurt. She and Noden have been teaching blues and blues history to the students at Spencer under the auspices of the Old Town School of Folk Music’s Folk and Blues Cultural Studies Program. The students will perform music by Hurt, Big Joe Williams, and others and give some spoken presentations on what they’ve learned. DW

3:30 PM Homesick James

The 1950s Chicago blues circuit’s wealth of stellar slide guitarists included “Homesick” James Williamson, whose crashing attack was heavily influenced by that of his cousin, bottleneck great Elmore James. The Tennessee-born Homesick spent the late 50s and early 60s as a member of Elmore’s band, the Broomdusters, and cut some hot sides of his own for Chance (his 1953 single “Homesick Blues” is the source of his enduring stage handle), Prestige/ Bluesville, and USA. His timing eccentricities can drive unsuspecting sidemen to distraction, but when he’s got nobody to please but himself everything fits together nicely. Nobody’s quite sure of the cagey Homesick’s age–he may well be in his 90s by now–but his playing remains eternally spry. BD

4:30 PM [ Barry Goldberg Reunion featuring Barry Goldberg, Harvey Mandel, Nick Gravenites, Tracy Nelson, Charlie Musselwhite, Corky Siegel, Sam Lay & Bob Stroger

For this program, musicians associated with the Chicago blues “revival” of the 60s reunite to honor Big Joe Williams. But there’s plenty of history behind this all-star outfit even without the tribute angle.

Charlie Musselwhite has perhaps the most direct connection to the program’s honoree. Born (like Williams) in Mississippi and raised in Memphis, where he jammed on Beale Street with legends like Will Shade of the Memphis Jug Band, he came to Chicago in 1962. He worked frequently here with Williams, who once called him “one of the greatest living harp players of country blues.” But Musselwhite also gigged with younger players like keyboardist Barry Goldberg and guitarist Harvey Mandel, and like them he’d adjourned to California by the end of the decade.

Goldberg, who went to high school with Paul Butterfield Blues Band guitarist Mike Bloomfield, backed Bob Dylan in his notorious 1965 performance at the Newport Folk Festival. Back home he founded the Goldberg-Miller Blues Band with guitarist Steve Miller and, hooking up with Bloomfield and vocalist Nick Gravenites in California a year or two later, formed the psychedelic blues-rock band Electric Flag. In 1968 he formed the original Barry Goldberg Reunion with Mandel, who’d go on to fly his freak flag with Canned Heat, John Mayall, and the Pure Food and Drug Act.

Gravenites, another Chicago native, wrote “Born In Chicago” and cowrote “East-West” for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the mid-60s. After moving to California he wrote for artists as diverse as Pure Prairie League, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Tracy Nelson, a fellow midwestern emigre who founded the prototypical hippie-blues outfit Mother Earth. More a a bellower than a stylist, he took the unenviable job of fronting Big Brother & the Holding Company after Janis Joplin went solo.

Drummer Sam Lay, a veteran session man whose credits include Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter, also worked with the Butterfield Blues Band and backed Dylan at Newport as well as on Highway 61 Revisited.

Harpist Corky Siegel played a major role in bringing the blues to Chicago’s north side in the 60s with the Siegel-Schwall Band (which also employed Sam Lay). But he’s always looked beyond the blues for inspiration: in ’68, his band and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered William Russo’s Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra, a precursor to the “chamber blues” that’ve been his pet project in recent years.

Bassist Bob Stroger wasn’t directly associated with the “blue-eyed blues” movement, but he’s a Chicago stalwart whose presence in any set guarantees at least a modicum of professionalism and integrity. DW

Route 66 Roadhouse

2:00 PM All About Bob and Big Joe

Few blues figures have generated more personal folklore than Delta guitar master Big Joe Williams and Chicago-based entrepreneur Bob Koester. (Williams used to camp out in Koester’s Jazz Record Mart for weeks at a time when he visited Chicago.) Writer Paul Garon and Alligator Records owner Bruce Iglauer, both of whom worked at Koester’s store in earlier years, will join Williams’s old buddy Charlie Musselwhite for this confab, which will be moderated by veteran producer and historian Bob Porter, who helped create what we now call acid jazz at the Prestige label in the late 60s and early 70s. DW

4:00 PM Record Collecting: The Search for the Blues

Record collectors and archivists have played a leading role in documenting and rediscovering blues artists and their legacies. Mississippi-born Gayle Dean Wardlow unearthed Robert Johnson’s death certificate in 1968, spawning a cottage industry of Johnson-related research, and he’s written extensively on blues and blues-related topics. Saint Louis-based collector and historian Joel Slotnikoff maintains the encyclopedic Web site bluesworld.com. Chicago-based Steve Cushing, host of the NPR program Blues Before Sunrise, has enjoyed a dual career as collector and musician, giving him a unique perspective. Bob Porter moderates here too. DW


12:30 PM Gloria Thompson Rodgers

Vocalist Gloria Thompson Rodgers, a Chicago club mainstay, has issued two CDs under her own name, Daddy’s Girl and Liberated (both on her own Cotton Patch label), that showcase her witty songwriting and rich alto. Although she still sometimes struggles too hard against the beat to keep things swinging, it’s encouraging to see a relatively young Chicago vocalist exploring contemporary soul-blues. DW

2:00 PM Pappy Johns Band featuring Murray Porter

Vocalist Faron “Pappy” Johns and keyboardist-vocalist Murray Porter are among the leading lights of what Toronto-based producer-promoter Elaine Bomberry calls “rez bluez,” a Native American/First Nations roots-music initiative. Suggesting that the blues may have arisen out of a cultural commonality between native spiritualist music and dance and the traditions of African slaves, it incorporates a wide spectrum of “contemporary aboriginal music” ranging from the folk stylings of Buffy Sainte-Marie to the rock-powered blues and boogie of this group. DW

4:00 PM [ Chick Willis Revue with Tommy Brown

Robert “Chick” Willis first surfaced in the mid-50s singing behind his cousin, Atlanta-born R & B vocalist Chuck Willis, who hit big with “I Feel So Bad” and “C.C. Rider” before dying young from peritonitis in 1958. Although his reputation rests to a great extent on his amusingly bawdy rocker “Stoop Down Baby”–and the endless variations he subsequently worked on that tune–he can write far more serious lyrics, and his lead guitar work, influenced by Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones, is economical and extroverted. Willis is joined here by Atlanta blues shouter Tommy Brown, who fronted the Griffin Brothers’ band on their R & B hits “Tra La La” and “Weepin’ and Cryin’.” Brown’s 1954 single for United Records, “Southern Women,” featured all-star Chicago backing from harpist Big Walter Horton, pianist Memphis Slim, and bassist Willie Dixon. Considering the rarity of Brown’s visits, this set shouldn’t be missed. BD

Fun Zone

2:30 PM Pat Smillie

Vocalist Pat Smillie combines hard funk and contemporary southern soul; on his 1999 CD I Got an Angel (Irochet), his constricted timbre works best on ballads, where he sounds tear-choked rather than strained. He writes a lot of his own material, exploring topics outside the usual themes, and he sure isn’t inhibited by machismo: “Bittersweet” remembers a fallen running buddy with a tenderness most male soulsters reserve for women. DW

3:45 PM Renee Austin

Vocalist Renee Austin is now based in Minneapolis, but she first encountered music in a rural church in her native Texas. Her self-produced debut, last year’s Dancin’ With Mr. Blue, showcased her six-octave range and her facility with everything from ballads to house rockers–although occasionally, as on the torchy “Callin’ It Quits,” virtuosity overwhelmed intimacy. She has a disc due out later this year on Blind Pig. DW

5:00 PM Rob Stone & the C-Notes

Harpist Rob Stone’s 1999 debut, No Worries (Marquis), showed that he’d learned a lot about Chicago blues while working in Sam Lay’s band (see Friday’s Juke Joint and Front Porch listings) in the 90s. His improvisations, while often flying outside the boundaries established by Chicago harpists like Little Walter, remain firmly within the harmonic perimeters of the traditional 12-bar structure, and he roots himself in the pocket of a shuffle like a groundhog digging in the soil. His live act can encompass everything from Windy City traditionalism to an arpeggio-abetted abandon that reflects his years gigging in Colorado biker bars. DW

6:15 PM The Buzz

To the best of my knowledge, this Chicago-based blooze-and-boogie outfit has not recorded as a unit since 2000’s Live At Buddy Guy’s Legends (Sacred Lily), an unimaginative rampage through the lickbook that included the self-descriptive “Ugh!” (possibly a follow-up to “Drunk in Iowa,” a track on their late-90s disc Highway). DW

Petrillo Music Shell

6:00 PM [ Willie Kent & the Gents with Bonnie Lee

Bassist Willie Kent’s latest CD, last year’s Comin’ Alive! (Blue Chicago), is yet another example of his understated but masterful musicianship and songwriting artistry. He negotiates traditionalist shuffles and stripped-down blues-funk with equal aplomb, and though he’s 67 his leathery baritone sounds suppler and more expressive than ever. Vocalist Bonnie Lee, a longtime associate of Kent’s, has been performing and recording in Chicago since the late 50s (when she was billed as Bonnie “Bombshell” Lee). Her recent output on Delmark showcases her burnished, somewhat careworn alto on fare ranging from her trademark flag-waver “I’m Good” to piece-of-my-heart testimonials like her update of Little Willie John’s “Need Your Love So Bad,” recast as the personal anthem “I Need Someone’s Hand.” DW

7:20 PM Charlie Musselwhite

The Memphis-bred, Chicago-honed harpist sometimes comes uncomfortably close to blues-rock boilerplate when he’s fronting his own band, but his mastery of the style originated by mentors like Will Shade and Big Walter Horton usually redeems any excesses. (See Friday’s Front Porch listings for more on Musselwhite.) DW

:30 PM [ Otis Rush

If there were any justice in the blues world, southpaw guitar master Otis Rush would be as revered in the mainstream as his old pal Buddy Guy. Inconsistency has been Rush’s bugaboo: after a stunning series of early singles for Cobra Records on the west side, led by his 1956 debut smash, the Willie Dixon-penned “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” the harrowing “My Love Will Never Die” and “Double Trouble,” and the riveting 1958 rhumba rocker “All Your Love (I Miss Loving),” Rush waxed one more classic for Chess in 1960, “So Many Roads, So Many Trains.” Though he kept writing, he never regained that momentum. Rush’s mile-wide string bends and tortured vocal cries can still raise the hair on the back of your neck. He doesn’t delve into Wes Montgomery-influenced jazz and James Brown soul material the way he did in the 70s, but on the right night, there’s no hotter blues guitarist anywhere in Chicago. BD

Saturday, May 31

Front Porch

Noon Sunnyland Slim Memorial Piano Set featuring Allen Batts

Recognizing the contributions of Chicago blues piano patriarch Albert “Sunnyland Slim” Luandrew has long been a priority of this festival. Allen Batts, the keyboardist who’ll carry the torch this year, is considerably more conversant in jazz than Sunnyland ever was. But he can also pound out straight-ahead blues when the situation calls for it–and this one definitely does. Batts is perhaps best known for his stint with Houston-bred guitarist Albert Collins’s Icebreakers (he was aboard for Collins’s classic 1978 session, Ice Pickin’), but his talent for sympathetic backing is such that he’s liable to turn up on a local blues bandstand or recording session at any time. His resume includes appearances on albums by Eddy Clearwater, Maurice John Vaughn, Shirley Johnson, Louisiana Red, and the 1985 Grammy winner Showdown! with Collins, Johnny Copeland, and Robert Cray. BD

1:30 PM Cookie McGee with the Phil Guy Blues Band

Guitarist and vocalist Carmen “Cookie” McGee grew up in Dallas as a neighbor of Freddie King. Her first full-length disc, 1998’s Right Place (JSP), shows that she absorbed King’s crisp attack, supple melodicism, and propulsive rhythmic sense but not (fortunately) his latter-day propensity for rocked-out overkill. Booking her with Phil Guy was an interesting idea: Guy cut his teeth in Baton Rouge, patterning himself after Guitar Slim, but as a youth he listened to records by Texas veterans like Smokey Hogg and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Maybe McGee will inspire him to dig down to his early roots. DW

3:00 PM Easy Baby Blues Band featuring Eddie Taylor Jr.

Born in Memphis in 1934, harpist-percussionist Alex “Easy Baby” Randle was among the myriad journeyman blues musicians who began working south- and west-side clubs during the postwar years. After being discovered in the mid-70s while leading a band at the Rat Trap on West Cermak, he recorded for Barrelhouse and appeared on several harmonica anthologies. In 2002 he launched something of a comeback with If It Ain’t One Thing, It’s Another (Wolf). His huff-and-puff harpwork shows the effects of age, but his gritty vocals still register as intense. Eddie Taylor Jr., one of the few younger African-American bluesmen dedicated to preserving the postwar Chicago style, joins him on guitar. DW

4:30 PM [ Roy Gaines & the West Coast Blues Band

The cozy Front Porch stage traditionally showcases downhome performers, but LA’s Roy Gaines is anything but folksy. A T-Bone Walker disciple who spent his formative years as Chuck Willis’s bandleader, he cut some fine R & B singles of his own during the second half of the 50s (“Right Now Baby,” “Gainesville,” the insane rocker “Skippy Is a Sissy”). Recently the Texas-bred Gaines has made some fine recordings that emphasize his affinity for T-Bone’s horn-fueled swingers. On his recent In the House (Crosscut), cut live at the 2001 Lucerne Blues Festival in Switzerland, he ventures past overt homage with a more aggressive guitar attack. BD

Juke Joint

12:30 PM Roy Gaines

See today’s Front Porch listings.

1:30 PM Easy Baby and Eddie Taylor Jr.

Eddie Taylor Sr. laid the foundation for Jimmy Reed’s sound at Vee-Jay in the 50s, cut some now classic sides of his own on the same label, and also anchored sessions by artists as diverse as Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, and Homesick James. Eddie Jr. didn’t begin to take the blues seriously until after his father’s death on Christmas Day, 1985, but since the mid-90s he’s built a reputation on his unerring re-creation of the postwar Chicago style. In this duet setting, the interplay between Taylor’s fretwork and Alex “Easy Baby” Randle’s workmanlike harmonica should evoke vivid images of the days when the music was still relevant as mainstream popular culture among working-class African-American listeners. DW

2:30 PM Jimmy Johnson

See today’s Petrillo Music Shell listings.

3:30 PM Cookie McGee & Phil Guy

Cookie McGee (see today’s Front Porch listings) has played electric guitar all her life, so it will be interesting to see how she merges her post-T-Bone lead work with her senior partner’s rootsier ideas. DW

4:30 PM Larry McCray

See today’s Crossroads listings.


1:00 PM Johnnie Mae Dunson

Octogenarian Johnnie Mae Dunson gigged sporadically around town in the 40s and 50s, recorded a side or two on Checker, and wrote a few songs for Jimmy Reed. By contemporary “rediscovery” standards this qualifies her as a living legend, and since her late-90s reemergence she’s carved a niche for herself as something of an empress dowager of Chicago blues. Her 2000 CD Big Boss Lady (Lakada) features her strutting bad-mama theatrics on offerings like “I’m a She Wolf” and the title song; in person, her mezzo-soprano wail remains heartfelt and potent, and her persona as a regal old lady still hot to trot unfailingly pleases the crowd. DW

2:30 PM Larry McCray

Guitarist Larry McCray came on the blues scene in 1990 with Ambition, a debut recorded in a friend’s Detroit basement studio. Blending contemporary blues, old-school soul, and superheated rock into a high-energy hybrid capped by his rich voice, he threatened to alter the idiom as powerfully as Robert Cray. But McCray’s 1993 follow-up set, Delta Hurricane, was full of empty guitar-hero bombast; a subsequent disc for the now defunct House of Blues label only intermittently hinted at the brilliance of his first offering. Fortunately, the new millennium is still young, and so is Larry. BD

4:00 PM Johnny Rawls & Destini Rawls

Johnny Rawls developed his fatback chording and keening single-string lines on the chitlin’ circuit in the 60s and 70s, backing stars like O.V. Wright and Little Johnny Taylor. Beginning in the 90s he released a series of well-received discs on JSP, where he also served as house producer. His latest, 2002’s Lucky Man, on his own Deep South Sound label, further showcases his deft blend of grits-and-greens rootsiness and poppy accessibility. His daughter Destini’s hastily recorded 2001 debut, I’m Movin’ In (JSP), saddled her with unfamiliar material, but it still showcased her muscular, gospel-honed vocal delivery, which softens into a kittenish purr on ballads. DW


2:00 pm Festival Producers Forum

The folks who put on some of the world’s most prestigious blues festivals will discuss the joys and trials of planning and executing a blues fest in today’s economically, socially, and culturally uncertain environment. Participants will include Tom Mazzolini from the San Francisco Blues Festival, Jerry Pillow from the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas, and Norman Hewitt from the Lugano Blues to Bop Festival in Switzerland. DW

4:00 PM Songwriters Session

This panel includes some of today’s most important blues and blues-related songsmiths: Paul Richmond’s credits include the Manhattans’ “Shining Star” and Tyrone Davis’s “In the Mood,” which served as the basis for MC Eiht’s 1994 smash “All for the Money.” Bob Jones’s 200-plus compositions include Artie “Blues Boy” White’s 1977 breakout “Leanin’ Tree” and the mid-90s Willie Clayton/Pat Brown favorite “Equal Opportunity.” Jessie Clay wrote Tyrone Davis’s 1991 smash “Mom’s Apple Pie.” And Bruce Bromberg has produced and written for myriad blues and roots-music acts, especially those who’ve recorded on his Hightone label. Expect an articulate and informative talkfest. DW

Fun Zone

2:30 PM Big G & The Real Deal

Nineteen-year-old Oklahoma City native Garrett “Big G” Jacobson has been playing professionally since he was 12. On his latest self-released CD, 2001’s That Funky Thang, he explores hard funk (the title tune) and contemporary chitlin’ circuit soul-blues (a torrid reading of Little Milton’s “Walking the Back Streets and Crying”). One senses, though, that his heart is still in fretboard-melting Texas-style workouts like the impeccable but overlong Albert Collins tribute “Dry Ice.” DW

3:45 PM Howard & the White Boys

This year bassist-vocalist Howard McCullum and his melanin-impaired compatriots celebrate 15 years together, and they’re just as mindlessly excessive and musically crude as they were when they started out. But somehow along the line they conned an endorsement out of Buddy Guy, and that–plus a couple of CDs on the otherwise worthwhile Evidence label–seems to have imbued them in some quarters with an aura of legitimacy. DW

5:00 PM Molly Nova & The Hawk

Molly Nova’s electric violin work ranges from deep blues laments through western swing to post-Ponty pyrotechnics. The Hawk, drummer Turk E Krause (aka “Wildturkeyhawk”), is a blues-rock warrior with a honky-tonk soul who’s capable of layered rhythmic improvisation. On last year’s Another Shade of Blue, their debut as a duo, their gritty-sweet vocal harmonizing lends further depth to their instrumental prowess. Thematically, though, they should stick to barroom philosophy: their post-9/11 screed “It Just Is” is long on sloganeering (“Osama soon he will know that the good guys are comin'”) and short on thought. DW

6:15 PM Noah & The Stratocats

Guitarist Noah Wotherspoon’s fleet-fingered post-Kaukonen explorations usually eschew excess in favor of craftsmanship; his Stratocats are facile with a variety of shuffle-based grooves, and they can funkify fairly righteously a la Sly Stone. But what they’re missing so far is an overarching aesthetic vision that’s both expansive and focused enough to incorporate their influences into an original, coherent whole. DW

Petrillo Music Shell

5:00 Jimmy Johnson

Like his younger brother Syl, whose sizzling 60s and 70s soul sides brought him moderate national stardom, guitarist Jimmy Johnson has long straddled the fence between blues and soul with style–though he’s leaned strongly towards the blues camp since the late 1970s. Still, his piercing vocals and darting guitar leads display obvious elements of the days when the Mississippi native (who came to Chicago in 1950) led polished soul bands on the south and west sides. Johnson’s challenging compositions studiously avoid 12-bar cliches, and for years he closed his sets with a credible treatment of Dave Brubeck’s jazz theme “Take Five”–hardly typical bandstand fare at Kingston Mines or B.L.U.E.S. bd

6:15 PM [ Chicago’s 20th Anniversary Salute featuring Billy Branch, Carl Weathersby, Melvin Taylor, Butch Dixon, Barrelhouse Chuck, Mathew Skoller, Shirli Dixon & Shirley King

This is the festival’s wild-card booking, a round-robin parade of contemporary Chicago stalwarts. Guitarist Melvin Taylor plays as if there aren’t enough notes in the universe to palliate his muse; Carl Weathersby is capable of almost as much extravagance, but at his best he leavens his killer chops with tonal and melodic nuance. Pianist Barrelhouse Chuck, meanwhile, is a staunch less-is-more traditionalist who carries on the legacy of his mentors, Sunnyland Slim and Little Brother Montgomery. Butch Dixon, son of the fabled Willie, is known mostly as a session keyboardist, well-versed in tradition but also competent in rock and funk settings. Harpist Billy Branch, a master of tonal dexterity with a relentless melodic imagination, will graft Little Walter’s classic “Juke” onto a funk-rock beat one minute and peel off a note-for-note rendition of a Big Walter masterpiece like “Easy” the next. Mathew Skoller’s harp style is more determinedly rootsy: he can warble with the sweetest of them, but he favors the hawklike squalls and leather-lunged blowing associated with the postwar style at its most primal. Vocalist Shirley King (daughter of B.B.) has a constrained range, but her alto rasp is expressive. Shirli Dixon (another of Willie’s kids and director of the Blues Heaven Foundation) has a style based in traditional Chicago 12-bar blues, with a polished soulfulness and a gritty sass that shows the influence of Koko Taylor. If nothing else this set will give lie to the canard that modern Chicago blues is nothing but lump-de-lump regurgitation of shuffle-boogie tropes. One wishes, though, that a soul-blues artist like Lee Morris or Stan Mosley could have been included to make the point clearer. DW

:15 PM Bonnie Raitt

I’d prefer to see Saturday night capped off with someone more strongly associated with Chicago and/or the south–several of this year’s side-stage acts could’ve filled the bill. But on her own terms, Bonnie Raitt is a difficult choice to quarrel with. From her eponymous debut in 1971 through last year’s Silver Lining (Capitol), she’s merged the blues stylings she learned from Mississippi Fred McDowell and Sippie Wallace in the late 60s and early 70s with an unpretentiously eclectic pop-rock sensibility. Raitt’s slide guitar remains solidly blues based, and her years on the rock ‘n’ roll highway have imbued her with a rough-cut exuberance that can transform even a chestnut like Kokomo Arnold’s “Old Original Kokomo Blues” (the template for Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago”) into a joyous roadhouse rocker. And on ballads, her careworn velvet croon is among the most heartrending in all of contemporary music. DW

Sunday, June 1

Front Porch

Noon [ Campbell Brothers

“Sacred steel” church music dates back to the late 30s, when lap-steel guitarist Willie Eason introduced the instrument into the services of the Pentecostal sect known as House of God, Keith Dominion. Technically the music’s purpose is to facilitate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, but since 1997, when the Arhoolie label began to document the tradition in a series of CDs, a remarkable crossover has occurred. These days there are sacred-steel artists playing blues clubs, rock festivals, and the jam-band circuit. Chuck Campbell spearheaded the introduction of the pedal steel into the genre’s instrumental armamentarium in the early 70s; his tone sounds alternately like a train whistle, a human voice speaking in tongues, and the ecstatic cry of the Spirit itself. DW

1:30 PM Big Doowopper

In 1998, Delmark signed blind Chicago subway performer Cornell “Big DooWopper” Williams, a coarse-voiced veteran songster who alternates between fervid originals like the New Orleans-scented “Busy, Busy, Busy,” rough takes on soul chestnuts like Smokey Robinson’s “I’ll Be in Trouble,” and gospel standards. His latest, last year’s Feel the Spirit, is a tribute to Mahalia Jackson. Williams’s keyboard work is rudimentary, and his street-toughened shout is too stiff for a lot of up-tempo pop-soul, but when he takes it to church on a sanctified rave-up like “Let the Church Roll On” this battle-scarred pilgrim sounds as though he’s halfway to heaven already. DW

3:00 [ Mose Allison

Prototypical hepcat Mose Allson was born in 1927 in the deep blues country of Tippo, Mississippi; as a young man he admired Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong, and Fats Waller, as well as blues artists like Memphis Minnie and Big Bill Broonzy. In the mid-50s, after graduating from LSU with a degree in English, he moved to New York; he cut his first record in 1957 (on Prestige), and went on to pen such classics as “Your Mind Is on Vacation,” “Ever Since the World Ended,” and the withering “Middle Class White Boy.” The Who recorded his “Young Man Blues” for Live at Leeds, introducing his name to a new generation. Allison’s splay-fingered, jaggedly swinging piano style combines the harmonic influence of boogie-woogie keyboard heroes like Pete Johnson with the sharp angularity and rhythmic complexity of bebop. His wit is acerbic, and his nasal croon is a razor blade wrapped in velvet. DW

4:30 PM Campbell Brothers

See above.

Juke Joint

12:30 pm Frank Morey

Frank Morey hails from Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, and he piles on the Beat shtick pretty heavily–a croak that sounds like Beefheart with a hangover, Tom Waits-ish titles like “Barflies, Dead Dreams and Rivers of Whiskey Lies.” But he throws in enough sardonic in-jokes–such as grafting “I Know (the Woman’s Goin’ to Break My Heart),” from last year’s The Delmark Sessions, onto the melody of Howlin’ Wolf’s homicidal “Forty-Four”–to deflect accusations that he takes himself too seriously. DW

2:00 PM Drink Small

This veteran South Carolina songster bills himself as “the Blues Doctor” and invokes the medicine-show tradition with his songs, patter, and persona. He recorded a few sides in the 50s, but his subsequent studio activity was virtually nil until his “rediscovery” 30 years later. Since then he’s cut discs on Mapleshade and Ichiban, on which he storms through everything from ribald originals to unlikely covers of hits by the likes of James Brown and the Isley Brothers. In performance he spices his farrago of Piedmont fingerpicking, Delta-style slide, and stately ragtime with an apparently bottomless repertoire of rhymed toasts, folktales, and aphorisms. His deep baritone is the perfect instrument for his theatrical, occasionally buffoonish stage presentation. DW

3:30 PM [ Lurrie Bell Blues Band

Lurrie Bell, 44-year-old son of harpist Carey Bell, was an internationally famous sideman (Koko Taylor, Billy Branch) before his 25th birthday. After going solo in the 80s he recorded a series of medium-to-brilliant discs for JSP and Delmark, but his struggles with mental illness prevented him from launching a meaningful career until about two years ago, when he finally got appropriate medical assistance. His subsequent regeneration has been nothing short of astounding. From fierce rock-blues barrages to delicate traditionalist filigree, he infuses everything he plays with authenticity and conviction. DW


1:00 PM Jo Jo Murray with special guest Jimmi Mayes

Jo Jo Murray is a south-side mainstay known for performing spot-on versions of others’ hits in their own styles. On his self-released mid-90s disc Song of Love, which consists of original material, his melodic vocals and jaunty sense of rhythm bring buoyancy to soft-soul fluff, and on bluesier fare his guitar leads attain a metallic sheen. Jimmi (ne “Jimmy”) Mayes was twistmaster Joey Dee’s drummer in the mid-60s; also in the band was a guitarist called Jimmy James, who used Mayes on one of his own sessions (“My Friend”) a few years later, after he’d achieved success under his birth name of Hendrix. But aside from some torrid soul 45s on obscure labels and a self-produced cassette in the early 90s, Mayes has never been showcased as a leader–an unforgivable oversight, given his resume and talent. DW

2:30 PM Nora Jean Bruso with special guests

On her self-released debut CD, Nora Jean Bruso Sings the Blues, this veteran west-side vocalist occasionally indulges in overwrought emotionalism (e.g., her over-the-top assault on the Bobby “Blue” Bland hit “Members Only”), but when she relaxes the results are pleasing. She applies her raucous growl judiciously on the vengeful “When You Leave, Don’t Take Nothing,” and when she digs into soulful fare like “I’d Rather Go Blind,” her leathery timbre dissolves into a plaintive near whisper to express both outrage and heartbreak. DW

4:00 PM [ Willie Clayton

Willie Clayton, born in Mississippi in 1956, cut his first record at age 13. Two years later he moved to Chicago, where legendary WVON deejay Pervis Spann booked him into his club the Burning Spear and eventually introduced him to Memphis producer Willie Mitchell (of Hi Records fame), whom Clayton credits for mentoring him as a vocalist. Clayton achieved celebrity status on the southern circuit in the mid-90s with outings like “Three People (Sleeping in My Bed)” and “Equal Opportunity” (with Pat Brown); his current single, the pop-R & B-style “I Love Me Some You,” from The Last Man Standing (N-Zone Entertainment), looks like it could be his biggest song yet. With his sinewy but supple tenor, seasoned with gospel grit yet smooth enough to slink satin-smooth over a love ballad, Clayton represents contemporary soul-blues at its best. DW

Fun Zone

1:00 PM Fiona Boyes

Fiona Boyes is leader of the Mojos, a quintet from Melbourne, Australia, that specializes in gulf-coast roots music and traditionalist boogie-woogie. On her own she’s a Delta-style acoustic troubadour, a role in which she won the solo competition at the Blues Foundation’s 19th annual International Blues Challenge in Memphis this year. DW

2:30 PM Steve Arvey & Kraig Kenning

The best thing about this folk-blues duo is slide guitarist Kenning’s lyrics, which mostly avoid the usual she-done-me-wrong cliches for meatier fare reminiscent of singer-songwriters like Bruce Cockburn. His fret work combines influences ranging from Delta traditionalists like Houston Stackhouse to such latter-day urban improvisers as Robert Nighthawk. Arvey, who cut his teeth with Maxwell Street bands in the 80s and went on to work with legends like Hubert Sumlin and Junior Wells, picks and chords with amiable authenticity alongside him. DW

3:45 PM Liz Mandville Greeson

Liz Mandville Greeson, she of the three-plus-octave range and seemingly limitless arsenal of vocal pyrotechnics, has spent much of her career learning to rein in her excesses. On 2001’s Back in Love Again (Earwig), she recast herself as a torchy balladeer, and that was probably a good move: the emotional intensity of offerings like “All Alone” and “The Night Thing” lends itself well to her Ethel Merman-on-chitlins wail, and the ease with which she negotiates the Joni Mitchell-like curlicues of “The Gift (Prince of Theft)” almost compensates for the song’s pretentiousness. DW

5:00 PM Wailin’ Walter & The Blues Screamers

Vocalist Walter Malone wraps his supple but less than stentorian pipes around everything from Chicago standards to rocked-out variations on vintage 12-bar themes. The band’s 1999 CD, the self-produced Shimmy, Shake, Stomp, Shout!!!, succeeded best when it was least ambitious, as on the amiably danceable “Connie Lee.” But when they tried to get too creative–as on their metal-damaged desecration of Muddy Waters’s “Rock Me” and the overwrought southern-noir nightmare “Ghost Train Runnin”–they strangled themselves on their own mojos. DW

6:15 PM Jim Diamond

Kentucky-based guitarist and vocalist Jim Diamond leads a rowdy crew of roadhouse warriors through energetic but mostly by-the-numbers blues rock. Diamond can show imagination when he wants to: the band’s self-released 1999 disc, Somewhere Somehow, featured “Surfin’ the Blues,” an impish but heartfelt tribute to surf-guitar legend Dick Dale, as well as a take on Kenny Burrell’s “Chitlins con Carne” on which Diamond demonstrated a dexterous melodicism he too often eschews in favor of bombast. DW

Route 66 Roadhouse

2:00 PM Soul, Zydeco, and the Blues

Depending on who you are and where you’re from, it may come as no great revelation that deep soul, zydeco, and other African-American popular music forms are considered “blues” (or at least close enough for getting down) by a lot of people. For those who haven’t gotten the message, Chicago-based soul, doo-wop, and blues historian Bob Pruter moderates this panel of authors, who’ll discuss the role played by the blues tradition in various related genres. Panelists include my coauthor Bill Dahl (author of Motown: The Golden Years) and historian Roger Wood, whose Down in Houston, published this year, has been hailed as a landmark addition to the literature on gulf-coast blues, R & B, and related music. DW

4:00 PM Year of the Blues

Spurred by Seattle’s Experience Music Project and the Memphis-based Blues Foundation (not to mention the publicity surrounding Martin Scorsese’s upcoming PBS film series The Blues), Congress has officially designated 2003 “Year of the Blues.” Here Bob Santelli, director of the Experience Music Project museum, moderates a panel including the Blues Music Association’s Maggie Mortensen, Living Blues magazine cofounder Jim O’Neal, and Chicago-based blues scholar, writer, and producer Dick Shurman, who’ll talk about the rest of the year’s planned activities. DW

Petrillo Music Shell

5:00 PM Ken Saydak & Zora Young with James Wheeler

The three Chicago blues veterans who share this set have all paid their dues. Pianist Ken Saydak is an unsung local session MVP, having backed everyone from Mighty Joe Young and Lonnie Brooks to Koko Taylor and Johnny Winter in the studio. Vocalist Zora Young brings an enduring gospel grounding and a distinct R & B tinge to her melismatic belting. Born in West Point, Mississippi, she’s been on the local scene since the 70s, and did a stint with Sunnyland Slim’s combo in the 80s. Guitarist James Wheeler spent most of his career as a sideman, though he’s broken free of that status to some extent in recent years and is blessed with a sturdy singing voice. BD

6:20 PM [ Mose Allison

See today’s Front Porch listings.

7:00 PM [ Cicero Blake

Underrecognized Chicago vocalist Cicero Blake got his start in the early 50s singing tenor lead for the doo-wop group the Goldentones (who eventually morphed into the legendary Kool Gents and spawned soul hit maker Dee Clark). He went solo in the early 60s, recording a series of sides on local and regional labels that featured his expressive vocals (evocative of Jackie Wilson) but didn’t break him on the national market. In the mid-70s he recorded “Dip My Dipper,” released several times on different labels, which finally made him a hot commodity on the soul-blues circuit. Subsequent CDs on Valley Vue and Ace have been critically acclaimed, and as he enters his late 60s his voice is as supple and sensually charged as ever–but he has yet to find the magic hit that will catapult him to the kind of mainstream recognition he deserves. Catch him while you can. DW

:20 PM Buckwheat Zydeco

Now that Clifton Chenier and Boozoo Chavis are gone, accordionist Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural Jr. is the principal torchbearer of Louisiana’s zesty zydeco tradition. Dural wasn’t born into the genre: the Louisiana native started out as an R & B keyboardist at a very young age and fronted the expansive funk band Buckwheat & the Hitchhikers for the first half of the 70s. After apprenticing for a few pivotal years with the regal Chenier, Dural permanently contracted the zydeco bug, baptizing himself as Buckwheat Zydeco. Since the end of the 70s, his incorporation of rock and soul influences has helped him cross over to a wider audience than most of his contemporaries. BD

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/James Fraher, Michael Jackson.