I first met Mike when assigned to contribute a cover photo to Living Blues Magazine during the worst months of Covid shutdown. We met on the steps outside the Art Institute of Chicago. Michigan Ave. was a spectacularly eerie sight, empty of car and pedestrian traffic as far as the eye could see. I took some shots in front of one of the famous lion sculptures with Mike wielding his trusty black and white Fender guitar. Somewhat symbolic: When fronting his powerful band, Mike possesses a lion energy tempered by a calmness and confidence of knowing that behind him are some of the baddest blues cats playing today. The Mike Wheeler Band is a force: Larry Williams on bass, Brian James on keyboards, and Cleo Cole on drums… Check them out when you can; the hardest working blues band in show business and together the longest. The passages below, describing the breadth of Mike and his band’s musical experience, are from their website: MIKEWHEELERBAND.COM
Mike Wheeler has a vast knowledge of music and a voice that’s reminiscent of the late Sam Cooke. He can sing and play everything so well that you may forget what the original record even sounds like. From Jazz to Rock, from popular music to Top 40, he slides in and out of musical genres with sophistication, ease and indulgence. Mike Wheeler is a brilliant staple in the Chicago blues community, playing and writing songs for a variety of Chicago artists including, Nellie Tiger Travis, Peaches Staten, Sam Cockrell, Demetria Taylor, Big Ray & Cadillac Dave. Mike was a well known member of Big James &The Chicago Playboys, a notable band in Chicago and recorded five albums with the group. He has travelled the world as an ambassador for Chicago blues music. He’s been to Monaco, France, Switzerland, Spain and Belgium, just to name a few. He’s also shared the stage with the most elite musicians the world has known, including Willie Kent, Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, George Benson, Jimmy Johnson and Shemekia Copeland. Mike was inducted in the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame in 2014. Mike uses Elixir Strings.
Larry Williams is a Bassist Extraordinaire with unmatched stage presence and charisma. Influenced by artists such as Bennie Williams, Jerome Scott, Sam Cockrell, Larry Graham, James Jamerson, Willie Dixon, Stanley Clarke and Verdine White just to name a few. Larry’s style is clean and driving, reminiscent of the late greats yet modern, enabling him to play with the best in the business. From Gospel to Alternative, Larry can play it all. He has played on national and international stages. He has performed with Albertina Walker, Tyrone Davis, James Cotton, Jimmy Johnson, Buddy Guy, Vicki Winans, Koko Taylor, B.B. King and George Benson along with countless others. He has recorded on three major blues labels: Alligator, Blind Pig and Delmark Records. He is a true example of someone who knows what he was born to do!! Larry uses Elixir Strings.
Cleo Cole began playing drums at the age of 10. He was influenced by his older brother Jethero Cole. Cleo played in his grammar and high school bands and also attended the Conservatory of Music where he was taught by Peter Romalis. He then began playing around town with various artists such as Doug McDonald, Alvin Cash, Floyd Taylor, Zora Young, Maurice John Vaughn, Shirley King, Big James, Nellie Travis, Peaches Staten, Sam Cockrell and Pistol Pete. His influences are Omar Hakim, Dennis Chambers, Billy Cobham, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Killer Ray Allison, Willie “Big Eyes”Smith and Willie “The Touch” Hayes. He has traveled all over the world. He was part of the Legendary Blues Cruise 2011 where he bonded with his fellow drummers. Cleo plays Yamaha Maple Customs and has a stick endorsement with Vic Firth. He has recorded on Blind Pig and Delmark Records. Cleo Cole is a drummer that you must see and hear for yourself!!!
Brian James is keyboardist for The Mike Wheeler Band. He has played and acted as musical director for The Chi-Lites, The Drifters, The Classic Five, Sugar Blue, John Lee Hooker Jr, Chico Banks and Blues Legend Lonnie Brooks. He brings to the band his varied and diverse range of experiences and influences stemming from stints with Reggae, Country, Jazz, Rock Zydeco, Pop, Blues and R&B groups. Brian has an Associates of Fine Arts degree from Illinois State University and is currently working toward his B.A. in teaching. Brian is sponsored by Nord keyboards.
– Photo by Peter M. Hurley taken @ BLUE Chicago 536 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654 where Mike Wheeler Band can often be seen.
Photo © Peter M. Hurley
Mr. Hurley is a contributing photographer and writer for Living Blues Magazine and the staff photographer for Chicago Blues Network. His recent book Blues Legacy: Tradition and Innovation in Chicago, in collaboration with Blues historian and author David Whiteis, showcases his work in the field. His passion for blues music began with a 6th grade dance party discovery of Bo Diddley which led to Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and so on. It continues to this day. VISIT PETER’S WEBSITE HERE.