Chicago Blues Hall-Of-Famers MAURICE JOHN VAUGHN, FREDDIE DIXON and JOHN WATKINS have not been idle these past months. When gigs dried up from the pandemic, the 3 veteran bluesmen put their heads and musicianship together to record a cd titled “3 by 3” on Vaughn’s Reecy Records label, released on July 2nd, 2021.

            “We’d meet for a session in masks, the studio would be disinfected afterwards, and we’d kick it back in the following day” said Vaughn. “Painstaking at first, we managed to get in a groove in short order. I’m proud of it and it’s kept us in good spirits during this tough time.” Sessions took place in the Beecher, IL studio known as On The Moon utilizing the highly sensitized hearing and empathetic soul of blind proprietor/engineer Byron Harden. “Byron’s got a great ear,” says Dixon. “He can hear things no one else can and he communicates from a deep place.”

          The three principal musicians have been friends since their days as Blues journeymen. Vaughn first crossed paths with Watkins during the latter’s Kingston Mines club period and later during John’s stints with James Cotton and his uncle Jimmy Johnson. Freddie met Maurice as bassist with A.C. Reed and Vaughn played guitar. Freddie and John were co-members of Willie Dixon’s touring band known as the Chicago Blues All Stars in the last decade of the elder Dixon’s life. Since then, they have often worked together under each other’s leadership in Chicago clubs, and festivals both in the US and Canada.

            “This cd is both a collaboration and a way for each of us to fulfill separate purposes. And everyone’s got something to contribute that a solo project would not have had,” says Vaughn. “It’s a 21 song double cd, 7 cuts for each of us. We play on some of each other’s tracks and John and I brought some cuts together from various sessions with other friends from recent years.”

            Dixon’s aim is to “pay tribute to the artistry of my dad, so my cuts are Willie Dixon songs” he says. “I’ve wanted to do this for some time and this was the perfect opportunity. In the future I’ll include originals of mine but this is a way to honor my father. We’re reaching out to young people with the blues. It’s time to mentor and to pass this music on to the next generation. Willie Dixon was all about that, that was his legacy. He felt Blues music was the most powerful thing on earth. And it is.”              

           John Watkins has been looking forward to recording again since he rejoined the re-formed All Stars (who have now gone their own way) in 2017. This rekindled a performing spark that he continued to pursue in his adopted town of Detroit. “This is like a new lease on life, man. Maurice and Freddie made the call and I was there. We all brought so much to this combination. It’s been a gathering of kindred spirits.” Maurice enthusiastically echoes his bandmate’s sentiments that creating this cd has been a successful joint effort: “I’ve enjoyed the independent production aspect and the teamwork of “3 by 3.” The sound and the end product are on me and my partners. And it’s brought us closer since we’re all positive and motivated to do this.”

           The beauty of the 3-Star lineup is in the varying sensibilities of each. Vaughn’s “The Spy” has one foot in a Southern Blues style reminiscent of Bobby Rush, Dixon’s treatments of Willie Dixon’s tried-and-true Blues standards like “Little Red Rooster” are given new life with horn arrangements combined with a wry vocal delivery, and Watkins brings his gutbucket blues funk back up from the days of his classic original “Here I Am” to “Traveling Man” (written by Vaughn) and his own “Stealing Love is a Crime.”

           Given the results under the duress of COVID 19, Vaughn, Dixon and Watkins might have created a new paradigm for an independent recording project that features three leads. With its equal numbers of songs per artist, shared sit-ins on many tracks, and a brilliant mix of originals and covers, “3 by 3” is both an economic and creatively brilliant venture of fantastic results. 

– Peter M. Hurley
Photos © Peter M. Hurley

To purchase the CD, CLICK HERE.

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.