Noon Roger Connelly & the Blues Merchants

1:00 PM Big John Dickerson

From Minneapolis, brass-leavened R & B and blues in the uplifting style of onetime Chicago mainstays Big Twist & the Mellow Fellows. (BD)

2:00 PM Johnny Drummer

See below.

3:00 PM The Southsiders

4:00 PM J.B. Ritchie

Ritchie and his band, who’ve haunted the outskirts of the Chicago circuit for quite a while, play a fierce, raucous early-70s-style biker blues with all the subtlety of two freight trains colliding. (BD)

5:00 PM Sam Cockrell

During the 1970s, legendary Memphis soul man Willie Mitchell produced three R & B singles by this local bassist’s group Majik; Cockrell’s current outfit, the Groove, which just released a CD, I’m in the Business (Boom Boom), mixes accessibly danceable soul with its blues. (BD)

6:00 PM Pete Special

Guitarist Special arrived as cofounder of Big Twist & the Mellow Fellows and stuck it out with that popular group until shortly after Twist’s untimely demise in 1990. While most of the other Fellows now do business as the Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings, who’ve backed several vocalists now, Special sings in front of his own outfit; unfortunately his gravelly voice and derivative guitar style were more tolerable coming from a sideman. (BD)


2:30 PM Johnny Laws

Laws, a veteran south-side vocalist, has a reedy timbre that’s agreeably supple on ballads, but on up-tempo numbers and dance tunes he has a tendency to get lost in the groove, hammering away at a lyric until his riffing sounds almost compulsive. The time constraints of a short set like this, which might crimp the style of a more improvisational performer, will probably work in his favor–he’ll be forced to make every syllable count. (DW)

4:30 PM Johnny Drummer & the Starliters Band with Special South-Side Guests

Drummer, actually a keyboardist and singer who’s been around since the 70s, has recently come to anchor weekends at Lee’s Unleaded Blues lounge on South Chicago Avenue, where the parade of guest artists routinely turns Saturday nights into compact chitlin’-circuit soul reviews. As a vocalist he’s best with medium-tempo ballads and traditional 12-bar shuffles; as an accompanist he plays a lot of chords. But while his occasional churchy solos are light on technique, they’re shot through with deep blues feeling. (DW)


3:30 PM Nate Turner & the Windy City Blues Band

6:30 PM Blues Heaven Foundation Remembers Jimmy Rogers


2:00 PM Blues in the Schools with Erwin Helfer & Katherine Davis

As part of Chicago’s Blues in the Schools program, pianist Helfer and vocalist Davis have been working with a group of fourth graders on the music of the classic female blues singers, such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. Helfer is a subtle and elegant boogie-woogie and traditional blues pianist whose music, always rich with the jubilant carnality of the barrelhouse tradition, has recently taken on a sweet, autumnal sense of longing. The flamboyant Davis, with her leathery alto, can do justice not only to the theatrical Smith-and-Rainey-era material but also boogie-woogie and sophisticated R & B. Helfer’s band, the Chicago Boogie Ensemble, featuring Davis on vocals, will open the show for the kids. (DW)

4:00 PM uSunnyland Slim Memorial Piano Set featuring Johnnie Johnson & Detroit Junior

The festival’s annual tribute to the Chicago piano

patriarch this year showcases two of the most distinctive 88s aces extant. Johnson, from Saint Louis, was an invaluable sideman and collaborator to Chuck Berry when Berry was establishing the parameters of rock guitar at Chess in the 50s: his rolling ivories anchored “Maybellene” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” and in his autobiography Berry cites him as an inspiration for “Johnny B. Goode.” Detroit Junior’s moniker is misleading: he’s a Chicago stalwart who gave the blues such standards as “Call My Job” (which he first waxed for the USA label in 1965) and “If I Hadn’t Been High.” (BD)

6:00 PM Sweet Home Chicago: The Legacy of Robert Johnson featuring Fruteland Jackson

Though he’s been known to write hard-hitting lyrics on contemporary themes (“All the Daddy I Had”), for this set local guitarist and educator Fruteland Jackson will almost certainly stick to the standards associated with Robert Johnson and his Delta contemporaries. Jackson combines feathery acoustic fingerpicking with the more percussive techniques usually associated with those players, and in recent years his voice has gained sureness and depth. When he hits his stride, he succeeds in putting over acoustic blues as living music instead of a museum piece. (DW)


1:00 PM Blues Kids of America Salute the Centenarians: Sleepy John Estes, Professor Thomas A. Dorsey, and Sonny Boy Williamson II

More Chicago public-school students, under the directorship of author, playwright, and musician Fernando Jones, honor a trio of legends who have little in common besides the year of their birth: Guitarist Estes was an unreconstructed primitivist, even after his 60s “rediscovery” and subsequent recordings on collectors’ labels like Delmark; pianist Dorsey was a purveyor of good-time pop blues until the early 30s, when he gave himself to the Lord and then proceeded to invent modern gospel by setting spiritual lyrics to blues-influenced rhythms and melodies; and harpist Rice “Sonny Boy Williamson II” Miller incorporated Delta tradition into his own idiosyncratic vision to create one of the richest and most satisfying personal canons in all of blues. Like the Blues in the Schools sets, this performance will doubtless make up in warm fuzziness what it lacks in thematic or musical direction. (DW)

2:30 PM Fruteland Jackson

See above.

4:00 PM uHenry Townsend

Saint Louis bluesman Townsend, who turns 90 in October, was a pivotal presence on the Gateway City’s thriving blues scene in the 20s and 30s, proficient on both guitar and piano. He made his debut recordings for Columbia 70 years ago, but he’s been underdocumented ever since: a handful of mid-30s sides for Bluebird, plus albums for Bluesville in 1961 and Nighthawk in 1979, make up the lion’s share of his discography. Not sure what he sounds like these days, but undoubtedly worth checking out. (BD)

5:00 PM Homesick James & Steve Arvey

Octogenarian Homesick James–whose career trajectory parallels the path of blues itself, from the rural south to Chicago in the 50s and beyond–has always been a stubbornly individualistic performer. But in recent years he’s raised irascibility to an art form: throwing together snippets of standards both vintage and recent; pulling and popping his guitar strings with anarchistic fierceness and then breaking into a shimmering slide run; and interspersing his tight-throated vocals with boasts, anecdotes, and aphorisms drawn from some 70 years of hard traveling. Guitarist Steve Arvey is an earnest journeyman with an affection for traditional styles, but he’ll have his work cut out for him accompanying Homesick, who’s sent some of the world’s most seasoned sidemen round the bend. (DW)


6:00 PM Lynne Jordan & the Shivers

The ongoing degeneration of Chicago’s north-side blues circuit into a tourist-and-conventioneer-driven cash cow is eloquently personified by this popular act. Prior to embracing the blues, Jordan sang behind Tom Waits on Frank’s Wild Years and Urge Overkill on their 1991 Supersonic Storybook–neat, but these are hardly luminaries of her adopted genre. While she’s admittedly got prodigious pipes, she’s apparently content to use them in portraying the cliched bawdy, blues-belting mama: the music in her overworked repertoire seems to emanate from no place deeper than her campy vintage costumes. (BD)

7:00 PM The Rekooperators featuring Al Kooper & Jimmy Vivino with special guest Johnnie Johnson

Al Kooper played organ on Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” was a member of the rock-slanted Blues Project, cowrote Gary Lewis & the Playboys’ 1965 pop-chart topper “This Diamond Ring,” founded Blood, Sweat & Tears, and discovered and produced Lynyrd Skynyrd. Impressive as these accomplishments are, however, how they translate to a starring slot at a world-class blues festival is beyond me: Kooper’s set at the 1995 fest, in which he buried Muddy Waters’s classic “Honey Bee” under a truckload of overwrought rock guitar, was the unrivaled low point of that year’s event. But I harbor some hope for New York guitarist Vivino, the linchpin of Shemekia Copeland’s acclaimed debut CD last year, and the unassuming Johnson (see above) should at least provide a steady presence on piano. (BD)

:30 PM uBobby “Blue” Bland

His phlegm-flecked vocal cords aren’t as supple as they used to be, but Bobby “Blue” Bland ranks behind only B.B. King among the still-active members of the old guard of urban blues. In fact, he’s sounding and looking better now than he has in a long time: a 1995 triple-bypass surgery seems to have turned back time. The Memphis-bred singer broke through in 1957 with the driving “Farther Up the Road,” then crossed over to pop audiences with the breathtaking, brass-heavy soul waxings “I Pity the Fool,” “Turn on Your Love Light,” and “Call on Me.” Since 1985 he’s cranked out mellow blues for the Malaco label, but in his two golden decades at Duke–from 1952 to 1972–he scored no fewer than 45 R & B hits, and they remain his primary claim to immortality. (BD)




noon J.B. Ritchie

See above.

1:00 PM The Kinsey Report

See below.

2:00 PM Shannon Kurfman

3:00 PM Geneva Red

4:00 PM Sam Cockrell

See above.

5:00 PM Big James Montgomery

As the leader of the Chicago Playboys, this Chicago trombonist (yes, a blues trombonist) cut his teeth behind west-side singer Johnny Christian before anchoring horn sections for Otis Rush and Buddy Guy. His new CD, Funkin’ Blues (Jamot), lives up to the title, with James Brown grooves and even a touch of rap. (BD)


6:00 PM Matthew Skoller


1:00 PM Blues in the Schools with Billy Branch

Harpist Branch, one of the founders of Blues in the Schools, will lead another group of Chicago schoolchildren through a set of songs they’ve learned or written under his tutelage. Branch (who’ll also do a few numbers with his Sons of Blues) says he never ceases to be amazed by his students, who come up with everything from “I didn’t do my homework today / I can’t go out and play / I feel so bad, like a ballgame on a rainy day” to “Gangsters raping little girls / What else would they do in this cold, cold world / This world is just like hell / These men should be put in jail.” (DW)

2:30 PM Dave Myers & His New Aces Featuring Kim Wilson, Kenny Smith & Robert Jr. Lockwood

In the 50s the Aces, led by harp master Little Walter, took the primitive sound of the Delta and imbued it with the relative sophistication of swing, but in these slick days their records sound delightfully raw. Guitarist and bassist Dave Myers was still with the group circa 1954, when his brother, Louis, left and was replaced by Robert Jr. Lockwood. Lockwood, though originally mentored by his stepdad, Robert Johnson, has long favored a chord-heavy guitar style he adapted from the Memphis jazzmen he played with in his formative years. Harpist Kim Wilson (see below), late of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, has been working closely with Myers in recent years; on Myers’s 1998 CD, You Can’t Do That (Black Top), he’s equally comfortable with jaunty jump blues and backwoods moaning. Drummer Kenny Smith is still learning to swing his way out of the backbeat-heavy Chicago shuffle he learned from his father, longtime Muddy Waters percussionist Willie “Big Eyes” Smith; in this company his new skills will certainly be put to the test. (DW)

4:30 PM Tribute to Jimmy Reed featuring Johnnie Mae Dunson Smith and

Jimi “Prime Time” Smith with Roy Hytower, Eddie Taylor Jr. & Vera Taylor

Eviction from her crumbling west-side home last year earned Johnnie Mae Dunson Smith more celebrity than she ever got from playing drums and singing the blues. An Alabama native, she arrived here in 1943 and worked the circuit for decades, cutting a 1965 single for Checker and two duets for the obscure Magic logo with her friend Jimmy Reed. The prolific lady also wrote songs for Reed and managed him for a time. Her guitar-playing son, Jimi “Prime Time” Smith, recently cut his own rather generic debut album, Give Me Wings (Atomic Theory). This Reed tribute also involves Roy Hytower (see below), Eddie Taylor Jr., whose late father tempered Reed’s erratic timing with immaculate guitar accompaniment, and the elder Taylor’s widow, Vera, herself a veteran blues belter. (BD)


2:00 PM uJunior Wells

Alumni Band

featuring Lee Oskar, Steve Ditzell,

Foree Superstar, Phil Guy & J.W. Williams

Ditzell was Junior Wells’s guitarist from the late 80s until a year or two before Wells’s death in early 1998. His fretwork has moved increasingly toward rock over the years, but he still plays the Wells canon with the heartfelt dedication of a fellow traveler. Phil Guy, who appeared on Wells’s On Tap (Delmark) in the mid-70s, was second guitarist in the Buddy Guy-Junior Wells band of that era. He’s rootsier and less flamboyant than Ditzell, bending strings and firing off crisply fingered phrases in the mid-60s Chicago style. Vocalist Foree “Superstar” Montgomery, a regular at Theresa’s Lounge back in the 70s and early 80s, when Wells led the weekend sessions there, belts out contemporary blues standards in an unnuanced, crowd-pleasing roar. Harpist Lee Oskar, best-known as a member of the 70s R & B group War, jammed with Wells a few times and participated in his memorial service but the two seldom, if ever, actually gigged together. And bassist J.W. Williams, another mainstay of the Buddy and Junior bands in the 70s, has always sounded to me as if he’d rather be playing funk than blues, but he’s a solid craftsman whose tendency to overplay is tempered by a solid rhythmic sense and an energetic attack. Together they should be able to create an adequate approximation of the sound that filled Theresa’s–but there’ll still be a gaping hole where Wells’s deep blues musicianship and irrepressible spirit should be. (DW)


noon Roy Hytower

An actor (he’s starred in Black Ensemble Theater productions as Muddy Waters, Otis Redding, and Jimmy Reed), a soul singer (he cut fine singles in the late 60s for Expo, Brainstorm, and Mercury’s Blue Rock subsidiary), and a blues guitarist with a light-fingered, jazzy touch, Hytower’s been underrecognized in Chicago since the early 1960s. He’s currently shopping a new album that, with songs like “Cyber Sex” and “Deadbeat Dad,” showcases his contemporary approach more effectively than anything he’s done up to this point. (BD)

1:30 PM Kim Wilson & Big Al

See below.

2:30 PM Johnnie Mae

Dunson Smith

See above.

4:00 PM Billy Branch

See above.

5:00 PM David “Honeyboy” Edwards

Edwards, who worked alongside Robert Johnson and other Delta blues pioneers of the 20s and 30s, is a more simplistic stylist than many of his contemporaries. His guitar playing serves more as rhythmic accompaniment than as melodic counterpoint–and “rhythmic” here is a loose term, because his timing is erratic even by country blues standards. But despite his advanced age Edwards can still attain an almost frightening intensity, delivering lyrics in a dark, throaty shout and ripping single-note phrases from his fretboard as if he were tearing them out of the Delta soil itself. (DW)


5:00 PM The Kinsey Report

Despite dad’s trad background, the sons of bluesman Lester “Big Daddy” Kinsey–vocalist and guitarist Donald, bassist Kenneth, and drummer Ralph–have opted to explore more contemporary directions, incorporating rock and reggae influences into their aggressive blues. Donald’s guitar work in particular is a deft blend of rock-tinged energy and crisp blues phrasing, and his vocals bleed soul. Two strong late-80s albums for Alligator established the Kinsey Report as one of the more promising young blues bands around, but the group lost direction upon signing with Pointblank in 1991: the decibel levels went sky-high, while the subtlety meter dropped to zero. Now the trio is back on Alligator, and its new set, Smoke and Steel, restores it to the right track. (BD)

6:00 PM Larry McCray

This former General Motors assembly-line worker, still on the sunny side of his 40th birthday, is a muscular fretman with an all-too-rare mastery of dynamics: he’ll spew slicing shards of notes one moment and bring it down smooth and sweet the next. His 1990 debut album, Ambition (Pointblank), was a remarkable statement of purpose, segueing from stratospheric rockers to smoky soul numbers to after-hours blues. McCray’s taken a misstep or two in the studio since then, but his latest, Born to Play the Blues (House of Blues), is a welcome return to form. (BD)

7:00 PM uJames Cotton

Deep in the Blues, James Cotton’s Grammy-winning 1996 acoustic outing on Verve/Gitanes, showed that after all these years he’s still an imaginative harmonica stylist, heavily influenced by his mentor Rice Miller but aggressive in his own harsh-toned way. In performance Cotton tends to coast on showmanship: his voice, once a gritty-sweet blues instrument, has weathered into a hoarse croak, and his crowd-pleasing high-octane solos often seem designed to make his harmonica tricks look more difficult than they are. Nonetheless, backed by a crew of energetic roadhouse warriors and with a repertoire of standards and originals that spans more than half a century of blues, R & B, soul, and pop, Cotton remains one of the most exuberant presences in contemporary blues. (DW)

:00 PM Kim Wilson Blues Revue

with special guest Billy Branch

With their mid-80s hits “Tuff Enuff” and “Wrap It Up,” Wilson’s Fabulous Thunderbirds (also featuring guitarist Jimmie Vaughan) helped ignite a blues boom that resonates to this day. The harpist began recording on his own in 1993; on his recent solo album My Blues (for his own Blue Collar label), he’s so obsessed with re-creating vintage blues styles that he does more harm than good, casting them in wax instead of bringing them to life. Perhaps in his headlining stint here, where local virtuoso Billy Branch will no doubt egg him into some fierce harmonica duels, he’ll recapture the raucous spirit of the Thunderbirds. (BD)




noon Kraig Kenning &

Steve Arvey

See above (Arvey).

1:00 PM Jimi “Prime Time” Smith

See above.

2:00 PM Larry Garner

See below.

3:00 PM The Fins

4:00 PM Howard & the White Boys

This Chicago quartet’s latest CD, The Big $core (Evidence), looks like a blaxploitation spoof, but on the inside it’s 100 percent generic blues-rock, with lots of loud guitar solos and a fair amount of juvenile lyrical humor. Why Buddy Guy persists in championing these jokers remains a mystery, but he even turns up on their new album, duetting with bassist Howard McCullum (the band’s nonwhite leader) on a lethargic remake of Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You.” (BD)

5:00 PM Rene Austin

6:00 PM Noah & the Stratocats


5:00 PM Tribute to Record Row

6:30 PM Piedmont Blues Salute to John Jackson


12:30 PM Madcat & Kane

This bland duo from Ann Arbor formed in 1990; its first album, Key to the Highway (Schoolkids’), cut a few years later, displays a pronounced traditional bent. Peter Madcat Ruth learned some of his early harmonica riffs from Chicago master Big Walter Horton, and later played with Dave Brubeck. While his advanced technique gives him the ability to play an avalanche of notes, he only occasionally succumbs to the temptation to overdo it. His partner, Shari Kane, an avowed disciple of Robert Johnson and the Reverend Gary Davis, plays guitar and shares vocal duties. (BD)

2:00 PM Yoko Noge & Jazz Me Blues

Having made a name for herself playing and recording blues in her native Japan in the late 70s and early 80s, Noge moved to Chicago in 1984 and began studying piano with one of our greatest local treasures, Erwin Helfer (see above). She’s somewhat lacking as a blues singer, but she’s admirably assimilated a fair amount of Helfer’s teachings. (BD)

3:30 PM Mary Lane with Rockin’ Johnny

On Appointment With the Blues, her mid-90s disc on the local Noir label, veteran west-side vocalist Mary Lane tackled material ranging from hard-blues anthems (Morris Pejoe’s “Hurt My Feelings”) to aching pleas (her own “I Always Want You Near”), revealing an emotional range and timbral suppleness that she doesn’t always show in live performance. Guitarist Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, whose resumé includes gigs at more west-side holes-in-the-wall than even a lot of west-siders ever knew existed, has hustled himself into a position as one of Chicago’s most in-demand session men. Conversant in both traditional and contemporary styles, he should be able to prod Lane into letting the full breadth of her talent shine. (DW)

5:30 PM John Jackson and Cephas & Wiggins

He didn’t record until the Arhoolie label “discovered” him in 1965, but guitarist John Jackson has been singing and playing since the 1930s, in a gentle, fluid style that deftly blends blues, folk, country, and ragtime. Chicago’s Alligator Records has just issued his latest album, Front Porch Blues; among his new labelmates are “Bowling Green” John Cephas, whose highly dexterous guitar technique is steeped in the classic Piedmont tradition, and Cephas’s musical partner, “Harmonica” Phil Wiggins. Wiggins is 24 years younger than Cephas, but they’ve been playing together since 1977–and on their recent disc, Homemade, it sounds like they started at birth. (BD)


1:30 PM Bonnie Lee

Lee started singing in church, and her pliant vibrato and dusky tone retain a strong gospel flavor. Growing up in Texas in the 30s and 40s, she also listened carefully to artists like T-Bone Walker and Gatemouth Brown; from them she acquired a lithe, swinging sense of rhythm, and today, even when rasping her way through a 12-bar warhorse like Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to Do,” she rides the beat gracefully, often conceiving her phrasings like a jazz singer. Lee’s specialty, though, is torchy emotionalism: she brings an apocalyptic fury to Big Maybelle’s paean to heartbreak “Ocean of Tears,” and her signature tune, “I Need Someone’s Hand” (a remake of Little Willie John’s “Need Your Love So Bad”), is a turbulent blend of fierceness and vulnerability. (DW)

3:30 PM uLarry Garner

Once accused of being “too blues” by a tin-eared record exec whom he graciously refuses to finger (though the phrase ended up as the title of one of his early albums for JSP), Baton Rouge swamp-blues guitarist Garner brings genuine wit to his lyrics and unerring taste and grit to his fretwork. His Verve/Gitanes set You Need to Live a Little was one of 1994’s most refreshing contemporary blues releases, boasting the insightful “Live a Little” and “Another Bad Day” and an amusing “Had to Quit Drinking” that closed with a plug for his favorite beer–Guinness, just in case he looks thirsty. (BD)


noon uCootie Stark & Neal Pattman

These two veteran southern bluesmen have received a well-deserved boost from the North Carolina-based Music Maker Relief Foundation, which aids under-

recognized southern musicians who are 55 or older and make less than $18,000 a year. Guitarist Stark, who is blind, sang and played on the streets of Greenville for years; his rough, effervescent style is more percussive and somewhat less subtle than the light fingerpicking usually associated with the Piedmont region. One-armed Pattman is a rather rudimentary instrumentalist but plays with spellbinding feeling, whether he’s alternating sharp-toned harp riffs with yelps and yowls on the raucous “Momma Whoopin’ Blues” or offering an a cappella lament for the victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing on “Oklahoma City Blues,” both on his current disc, Prison Blues (Cello). (DW)

2:00 PM John Jackson and Cephas & Wiggins

See above.

3:30 PM Madcat & Kane

See above.


5:00 PM Mississippi Heat

Featuring Zora Young & Katherine Davis

This isn’t some raw new Delta discovery in the Fat Possum mold, as the name might lead you to believe. Mississippi Heat has been based in Chicago since its formation in the early 90s. Leader Pierre Lacocque came here from Belgium in 1969, but he’s a postwar Chicago devotee all the way, blowing husky harp with an amplified Little Walter edge, and Barrelhouse Chuck adds a rolling piano undertow in the tradition of Little Brother Montgomery and Otis Spann. The band’s new self-released album, Handyman, is distinguished by the presence of two lady belters: the gospel-fired Davis, their singer for the past two years, and Young, whose sassy urban approach has augmented their live shows for the past six months. (BD)

6:15 PM uBarbara Carr

A product of the fertile Saint Louis gospel and R & B scene in the 50s and 60s, Carr was brought to Chess Records in 1966 by famed bandleader Oliver Sain and later worked for such labels as Huron and MCR. In the early 80s she initiated her own Bar-Car imprint, and more recently a series of discs on Ecko has endeared her to yet another generation of blues and R & B fans. Carr is the self-proclaimed “queen of the put-downs,” and when she’s not castigating the fellas for their inadequacies, she’s issuing daunting erotic challenges. But she can also be tender, even vulnerable, as on “Not a Word,” a tale of furtive backdoor love from 1998’s Bone Me Like You Own Me. And her heartrending rendition of Gene Chandler’s 1963 hit “Rainbow,” on What a Woman Wants (her most recent Ecko release), is nothing short of transcendent. (DW)

7:15 PM uBarbara Lynn

Lynn, who won a prestigious Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in February, was a striking presence when she first shot up the R & B charts in 1962 with “You’ll Lose a Good Thing.” A talented southpaw guitarist, she wrote that song as well as many of her encores, most notably “Oh! Baby (We Got a Good Thing Goin’),” a driving shuffle later covered by the Rolling Stones. Producer Huey Meaux kept Lynn on the charts throughout the 60s, but audiences were blinded to the appeal of her unadorned delivery by the flash of disco, and she faded from view. An uneven 1994 album, So Good (Bullseye Blues), gave tentative notice of her comeback, but her dazzling performance at the R & B Foundation bash in LA made it clear she’s serious about revitalizing her career. (BD)

:30 PM uDenise LaSalle

Although she lives in Jackson, Tennessee, and performs mostly on the southern soul-blues circuit, Denise LaSalle’s a Chicago legend. She moved here from Mississippi in the mid-50s and performed and recorded locally for a few years; then, in 1969, she and Chicago entrepreneur Bill Jones launched the Crajon label, which released some superb soul and R & B singles by other artists. Between 1971 and 1976, LaSalle herself charted nine times for the Westbound label; more recently she’s had hits on ABC, MCA, and Malaco, and she’s about to release a gospel album, God’s Got My Back, on an imprint called Angel in the Midst. The material she works, much of it her own, is among the strongest in modern blues, ranging from ballads (“Why Am I Missing You?”) to sexy anthems (“Don’t Jump My Pony”), and her stage show is a carefully crafted combination of scathing signifying, snappy double entendres, and deeply felt messages of sisterly solidarity. (DW)




noon Rene Austin

1:00 PM Little Al Thomas

Born near the Maxwell Street neighborhood in 1930, Thomas came of age as Chicago blues was evolving from slick, jazz-tinged popular prewar entertainment to the more aggressively rootsy style that took hold in the late 40s and early 50s. His primary influences are B.B. King and boyhood idol Louis Jordan, but he specializes in gritty shuffles and slow blues moaners. (DW)

2:00 PM Howard & the

White Boys

See above.

3:00 PM Anthony Gomes

4:00 PM Roger Connelly &

the Blues Merchants

5:00 PM Pete Special

See above.

6:00 PM Noah & the Stratocats


2:30 PM Piano C. Red


1:00 PM uOthar Turner & the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band

Nonagenarian Othar (also known as Otha) Turner, who’s been playing his handmade fifes since childhood, leads what may be the last of the Mississippi hill country’s African-American fife-and-drum bands, a regional tradition that extends back to antebellum days. The music they make is fragile yet exuberantly spiritual, drawing on the sounds of African wind and percussion instruments and the cadences of British and early American martial tunes. Here Turner’s outfit will conduct a traditional “call to the festival,” marching through the crowd and onto the stage. (DW)

1:40 PM Bobbie Mason

This 23-year-old is best known to devotees of local musical theater–she’s portrayed LaVern Baker in Black Ensemble Theater’s critically acclaimed Doo Wop Shoo Bop and sang the Brenda Holloway hit “Every Little Bit Hurts” in its 1997 production of The Otis Redding Story. Here she’s scheduled to pay tribute to one of the fest’s centenary honorees, blues and gospel great Thomas A. Dorsey (see above); she’ll be joined by her voice instructor Lena McLin, who is Dorsey’s niece. (BD)

3:00 PM Guy Davis

Davis, a young African-American acoustic bluesman, has developed a distinctive melange of traditional blues and folk-rock updatings of southern-blues themes; in live performance he intersperses these with folktales, testimonials to the significance of the blues in contemporary life, and pithy homilies on the virtues of family and community. He’s a versatile fretman, equally proficient at slide, fingerpicking, and single-string leads, and his voice is a gravelly mixture of gutbucket funk and urban angst. Some critics find him overly mannered, but Davis makes no bones about his hambone tendencies. “I need to entertain,” he informs us in the liner notes of You Don’t Know My Mind, his 1998 disc on Red House, and in fact there’s plenty of historical precedent for his act, from the “clowning” of Delta blues patriarch Charlie Patton to the antics of the southern string bands and medicine-show entertainers of the 20s and 30s. (DW)

3:45 PM Corey Harris

Harris is a leading light of the new traditionalist movement among young African-American blues artists, but on his most recent disk, Greens From the Garden (Alligator), he presents the blues as world music, mixing healthy dollops of African-based rhythms, New Orleans funk, three-four Creole dance patterns, and even echoey rain-stick psychedelia into straight-ahead blues stylings that range from gentle backwoods picking to grinding electric-slide workouts. Yet he seldom sounds dilettantish; rather, he’s a rootsy cosmopolitan who cares more for emotional honesty than for anyone else’s notions of authenticity. (DW)

5:00 PM Willie & Kenny Smith with Barrelhouse Chuck

Willie “Big Eyes” Smith served pretty faithfully as Muddy Waters’s drummer from 1959 to 1980, when he split to join the Legendary Blues Band with most of the rest of Muddy’s combo. He fronts a band of his own these days, and his 1995 debut, Bag Full of Blues (Blind Pig), spotlights his heretofore underappreciated vocal skills as well as his typically tight stickwork. His talented son Kenny (see above, under Dave Myers & His New Aces) and pianist Barrelhouse Chuck join him here. (BD)

6:00 PM uLouisiana Red

Louisiana Red is internationally acknowledged as an important stylist in the postwar tradition of urbanized Delta blues, but he’s nonetheless spent much of his career in obscurity–in part because he moves around obsessively. His guitar style is heavily influenced by the Delta continuum that extends from Son House and Robert Johnson through Muddy Waters, although he’s also proficient in rock and funk. As a lyricist he alternates between hallucinatory, often hilarious free association and visions of harrowing bleakness. Red has lived in Europe for at least a decade; given his mercurial lifestyle it may be a decade until he returns. (DW)


1:30 PM uTabby Thomas & Chris Thomas King

Septuagenarian Tabby Thomas is a patriarch of the Baton Rouge swamp-blues scene: in the early 60s he cut a few prize singles for Excello, notably “Hoodoo Party,” and he now operates his own nightspot, the beloved Tabby’s Blues Box. His guitar-wielding son Chris (the “King” is a recent and inorganic development) is a restless spirit who has variously embraced metal, reggae, soul, and rap, but his latest disc, Red Mud (Black Top), is a return to acoustic blues. All that genre hopping seems to have hurt the 35-year-old more than it’s helped him: though Arhoolie released his debut album in 1986, he was still sufficiently obscure to be proclaimed best new blues performer by New Orleans’s Offbeat magazine in 1997. (BD)

3:30 PM Joe Beard & Chris Beard

Though born in Mississippi, guitarist Joe Beard didn’t start playing blues professionally until he moved to Rochester, New York, where he was befriended by his new neighbor, Delta legend Son House. By the mid-60s, Beard had crafted a strongly traditional style that reflected his admiration for Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Lightnin’ Hopkins, but only in the last decade has his rep spread beyond his home base–thanks in large part to two albums he made for Audioquest. Blues Union (1996) found him in the company of elegant guitarist Ronnie Earl, and last year’s For Real paired him with another standout fretman, Duke Robillard. He shares the stage with his son Chris. (BD)


noon uTaj Mahal & Neal Pattman

See above (Pattman) and below.

1:00 PM Guy Davis

See above.

2:30 PM Corey Harris

See above.

3:30 PM Othar Turner

See above.

4:00 PM uLouisiana Red

See above.


5:00 PM Lil’ Ed & the

Blues Imperials

Slide-guitar madman Lil’ Ed Williams and his crew hit the stage with guns a-blazing–and then they turn it up. Beneath the bombast there’s some genuine musicianship on display: Ed learned guitar from his uncle, the late west-side slide guitarist J.B. Hutto, and commands an admirable repertoire of shimmering runs and whip-snapping turnarounds, usually delivered in a dirty-toned scream. In recent years he’s also developed an elemental but pleasing single-string solo style. Patrons of the more nuanced Chicago blues tradition tend to throw up their hands at the likes of Lil’ Ed and his crew, but the blooze-and-boogie crowd can’t seem to get enough of his stuff. (DW)

6:00 PM Corey Harris

See above.

7:10 PM Marcia Ball

Long, lean, lanky Marcia Ball pounds out a romping piano boogie with unbridled panache and sings gulf coast R & B with genuine bayou passion. Born in Texas and raised in Louisiana, Ball went to Austin in 1970 to sing country, but by the end of the decade she’d readjusted her sights. A series of acclaimed albums for Rounder (Soulful Dress, Hot Tamale Baby, Let Me Play With Your Poodle) in the 80s and 90s have showcased her mastery of rocking New Orleans R & B, plaintive swamp pop, and red-hot Lone Star blues. On Dreams Come True, a 1990 collaboration with fellow Austin belters Lou Ann Barton and Angela Strehli, she held her own in some pretty fast company. (BD)

:25 PM uTaj Mahal & the Phantom Blues Band

In the mid-60s, when most of the other young musicians playing acoustic blues in the north were white, Taj Mahal was building a reputation on the Boston folk circuit as an earnest purveyor of traditional blues styles; since then he’s opened the door to let in Jamaican, Caribbean, and African influences as well as more contemporary electric blues, blues rock, and funk. Although some have derided him as a dabbler, he’s venerated today by artists like Corey Harris and Guy Davis as an elder statesman of the modern revivalist movement among young African-American blues musicians. In live performance, his easygoing folksiness sometimes crosses the line into preciousness; but his technical virtuosity and encyclopedic knowledge are still a potent combination. (DW)

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