Blues vocalist and harpist Grady Freeman spent the 50s alongside such future legends as Junior Wells and brothers Dave and Louis Myers, and in the early 60s he gigged around Chicago with the likes of Little Walter and Otis Rush. In 1963 he signed with Chess Records, and though he recorded a number of R & B and blues songs for the label, none was ever released, and in frustration he dropped out of the music business for almost a quarter century. Then in the late 80s he formed the Family Band, which at times included respected blues vets like tenor saxist Little Bobby Neely, and started playing shows again on the south side. In front of that group his harp blowing had a rough-edged 50s style, and he sang with a countryish vibrato reminiscent of Rice Miller. On his 1999 debut CD, Kick Off Your Shoes (GFSS Partnership), however, he tackles sophisticated soul blues, alternating between swinging elegance and burbling funk; though his vocal timbre is meaty and confident he emotes subtly, with quavers or gasps, instead of outright hollering. He solos with the dexterity of a horn man, skittering impishly from one graceful glide or swoop to the next, and he textures his richly burnished harp tone with a rippling vibrato. Hard-core aficionados of the Chicago style might wish Freeman would cut loose more often–only occasionally, as on his jubilant cover of Little Walter’s “I’m Just Your Fool,” does it sound like he’s working up a sweat. But to my ears, the majestic ease with which he masters even the most challenging material is as thrilling as any show of abandon. Freeman will be accompanied here by his current backing band, the Seventh Sons, distinguished by guitarist John Elverum’s rockabilly tinge and the masterfully understated drive of drummer Rob Aguilera. Friday and Saturday, 9:30 PM, Checkerboard Lounge, 423 E. 43rd; 773-624-3240.

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