Two-Bar Blues

As detailed in last Friday’s Tribune, a grudge match is escalating between Lenin “Doc” Pellegrino, owner of the venerable Lincoln Park blues club Kingston Mines, and Rufus McCullum, a former Kingston Mines manager who opened the Lake Street club Rooster Blues in October. “He’s trying to copy everything about Kingston Mines,” Pellegrino says, running down a laundry list of similarities that include the long, benchlike tables, the food, and nonstop entertainment on two stages. McCullum also hired some of the same talent as Pellegrino–most notably Billy Branch and Carl Weathersby–and that’s what really pissed Pellegrino off: “I said from now on anybody that plays Rooster Blues doesn’t play for me.”

This understandably caused a stir among some musicians. “This is how we make a living and we should be able to play anywhere we want,” says guitarist and singer Michael Coleman, who hasn’t played Kingston Mines in 15 years and is now a regular at Rooster Blues. “We don’t tell them who to sell alcohol to or who to let into the club.” And Branch, taking a more incendiary tack, has repeatedly referred to Pellegrino’s proprietary attitude as a “plantation mentality.”

The situation has obviously been aggravated by personal hostility. Pellegrino, who fired McCullum in 1998, says he copied Kingston Mines “surreptitiously,” as if McCullum had some obligation to inform his former employer of his future business plans. But there’s nothing illegal or even unusual about Pellegrino’s actions. “If they play Gino Battaglia’s [Blue Chicago] I don’t mind, and, in the future, if they play Eddy Clearwater’s new club, I don’t mind,” he said. He even occasionally shares talent with B.L.U.E.S., a club right across the street. “But if they play two miles down Halsted Street in a club that looks just like mine, I don’t need them.”

In fact, Battaglia enforces a similar policy in regard to musicians who play Famous Dave’s, a restaurant with live entertainment across the street from his 736 N. Clark location. “If you’ve got two movie theaters across the street from each other they’re not going to play the same movie,” Battaglia said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Duck the Malls

‘Tis right before Christmas and the CD bins are crammed as usual with crass attempts to cash in on star power (this year led by Christina Aguilera and Charlotte Church) and blandly repackaged, carefully secularized holiday chestnuts. But dig to the bottom of this stinky stocking and you’ll find a few seasonal releases that took a bit more thought.

My Pal God Records–whose owner, Jon Solomon, recently left Chicago for his native Princeton, New Jersey–has released The My Pal God Holiday Record 2, which features mostly original tunes related to Christmas, New Year’s, and winter by Chicagoans like Emperor Penguin, Atombombpocketknife, and Rebecca Gates as well as out-of-towners like the Oxes and Drums and Tuba. None of the 13 tracks is likely to make it into the holiday canon, but Gates’s quiet, soulful love song “12.31” will sound just as good in the summer.

An aside: Every Christmas eve since he was 15 years old, Solomon (now 27) has hosted a 24-hour marathon of unusual holiday music on WPRB, Princeton University’s radio station. Chicagoans with Web access and Real Audio can listen to it at

Christmas Singles, from the Champaign label Parasol Records, targets December 25 more specifically. Most of the 16 selections are sweet, jangly pop originals, but former Sarge front woman Elizabeth Elmore daringly takes on “White Christmas”; the best thing I can say about her version is that it’s brief. Among the participants are Philo, Angie Heaton, Vitesse, and White Town, whose “Merry Fucking Christmas” is the only tune that stuck with me after I put the CD away–“White Christmas” aside, natch.

If you’re looking for something seasonal that will actually yield repeated pleasures, the one to get is the latest entry in Fantasy’s series of reissues from the Takoma Records catalog: The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album. The inventive fingerstyle guitarist has released at least four Christmas albums in his twisted five-decade career, but this collection, originally released in 1968, is the first and best. Although Fahey’s motivation for making the album was obviously mercenary, his staggering technique and unusual tunings revive the genuine wonder in familiar songs like “The First Noel” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” The reissue also includes most of his 1975 album Christmas With John Fahey Vol. II, including “Christmas Fantasy–Part II,” a rambling improvisation that includes haphazard references to various carols.

In the liner notes Fahey comments, with typical cynicism, “I’ve always been a little pissed off that my best-selling records are Christmas records rather than music I had written, but that’s been ameliorated by the money!”


To celebrate the tenth anniversary of their annual winter solstice percussion concerts, Michael Zerang and Hamid Drake will give ten consecutive sunrise performances between Saturday, December 23, and Monday, January 1. The most solstice shows they’ve previously done in a given year is four, and only one each year has actually been at sunrise. Advance tickets for individual shows, which take place at Link’s Hall (3435 N. Sheffield; 773-281-0824), cost $12 and can be purchased at Bookworks (3444 N. Clark; 773-871-5318); a pass for the entire series is available for $85.

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