Raconteur, Muddy Waters’ Grammy Award winning songwriter, and In The Belly Of The Blues author TERRY ABRAHAMSON guests as today’s columnist. Terry profiles brilliant blues vocalist OSCAR WILSON, co-front man of CASH BOX KINGS along with harpist and vocalist Joe Nosek. The band will appear as closers at Sept. 18th’s Chicago In Tune – Blues concert at Millenium Park. More info below:
You hear the thunder a little after midnight. Around 43rd and Wells. Lightning doesn’t cue it and rain won’t pass through it, because this thunder is a phenomenon not of meteorology, but of beateorology. And it’s really not thunder at all. What you’re hearing, Live from Heaven, is the Elgin movement toe-tappin’ of a giant: Bobby Blue Bland, leanin’ on the Lord’s jukebox with a pocketful of dimes for the only song he needs to hear. “Farther on Down the Road,” conjured, caressed and transmogrified by Oscar Wilson, who Alligator Records’ Bruce Iglauer, a guy who should know, says that The Nightcats’ Rick Estrin, a guy who should know, says is “the best living Chicago Blues singer.”
“The best?” Maybe. Probably. What defies debate is this: in the pantheon of living Chicago Blues singers, Oscar Wilson is definitely the richest.
Oscar’s lifelong acquisition of Blues experience is, in fact, longer than lifelong, fated for fatherless fetushood two months before exiting a placenta that must’ve felt like the honeymoon suite at The Drake compared to his allotment of personal space in the second floor six room more-bodies-than-beds flat at 4349 South Wells. The front room, the used-to-be-a-porch off the kitchen; you squeezed in between your sibs and your cousins anywhere that a blown-out pilot light wouldn’t kill you. “I never got to be a baby because there was always another baby under me.”
Long before Oscar heard B.B.King’s “Ghetto Woman,” he knew the story. It al-ways makes him cry. “My mother would butcher a hog on the kitchen floor.” Sau-sage. Bacon. Chitlins. Soap. Yeah, soap. Not quite a “Calgon, take me away” childhood. Nor was it a “Schwinn, take me away” childhood. “I wanted a bike. I put it together from parts. The day I finished putting it together, a big boy took it.”
Sure, a lotta kids from 43rd have those stories and heard the same Blues pouring out of the car windows and tavern doors. “But it didn’t hit them like it hit me;” maybe because their mothers didn’t have Elmore James and Junior Wells and Honey Boy Edwards (“Us kids had to show respect; call him “Mr. Honey Man!”) and Mac Simmons and Big Smokey Smothers over to the apartment, playing music on a regular basis. Or maybe because they didn’t have that Jimmy Rogers/Bobby Bland thing in their voices that makes a pitching change announcement sound like whoopee talk, and sends the women home hiding what can’t be put in with the regular wash.
He has processed these riches through the Rufus Thomas/Pop Staples/Sam Cooke WVON filter of his youth, cloaked himself in the battered beauty of his roots and been taken to the prom by Blues masters Bob Corritore, Shemekia Copeland, Joel Patterson, Derrick Procell, and the Cash Box Kings the all-star band he fronts with Joe Nosek who reminds us that Mr. 43rd is also “a top-notch songwriter,” a gift he’ll inevitably focus on the pay disparity between the Bluesicians who look like Oscar Wilson and the ones who don’t.
Oscar is proud of it all and proud of what he has yet to reveal – Blues and otherwise – from the vault of his lush and enrapturing soul. And all he asks, as you groove to the wonders of that trove of treasures, is that you set aside one last roll of dimes for Bobby Blue Bland.
– Terry Abrahamson, August 17, 2021
– Photo by Peter M. Hurley taken at Chicago Blues Festival June, 2018
© Peter M. Hurley
Saturday, September 18, 5:30–8:30 PM
Chicago In Tune – Blues
A celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Alligator Records with Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling, Cash Box Kings with special guests, Shemekia Copeland, Billy Branch and Wayne Baker Brooks
CASH BOX KINGS:
On Terry Abrahamson:
A Chicago Blues Hall of Fame inductee, Terry’s music has been recorded by Muddy Waters, Prince, George Thorogood, Joan Jett, Clarence Clemons, John Lee Hooker, Long Tall Deb & Colin John, the Chambers Brothers, Jan James & Craig Calvert, Bob Margolin, Johnny Winter, James Cotton, Big Llou Johnson and Patti Parks. With Derrick Procell, Terry has written music recorded by Eddie Shaw, Oscar Wilson, Nellie “Tiger” Travis, Joseph “Mojo” Morganfield & Shemekia Copeland, whose recording of “In the Blood of the Blues” won two Blues Music Awards.
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– 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.