Though somewhat unheralded, the mandolin has a long history in blues and other southern black folk music. Yank Rachell, born in 1910 in Brownsville, Tennessee, is one of the few remaining bluesmen who specialize in the instrument. His keening, sensual style–rooted in the call-and-response tradition but imbued with an improvisational feel all his own–supports a voice that’s gutbucket gritty and also surprisingly tender, capable of everything from the raunchiest dirty blues to the most melancholy meditations. Since the 1920s he’s played alongside some of the great blues legends–Sleepy John Estes, John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson–and his recordings span nearly 50 years, from a 1929 disc with Estes and Hammie Nixon to a recent release on Chicago’s Delmark label. Rachell, who played extensively in Chicago during the prewar era, currently resides in Indianapolis, and his Chicago appearances are becoming all too rare. This one celebrates his 80th birthday. Details weren’t available at press time, but don’t be surprised if some of his old comrades drop in to pay him tribute and share a few licks. Tonight and Saturday, Rosa’s, 3420 W.Armitage; 342-0452.

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