“The whole of life itself expresses the blues. That’s why I always say the blues are the true facts of life expressed in words and song, inspiration, feeling and understanding. The blues can be about anything pertaining to the facts of life. The blues call on God as much as a spiritual song do.” – Willie Dixon
November 4, 2020 Volume 1, Issue 26
Blues Concerts to Watch Anytime From Home At Home Chicago Blues Trading 4s
If you need a soundtrack this week, look no further than At Home Chicago Blues Trading 4s. Watch these full concerts on Youtube anytime to see Chicago Blues Masters in action. Performers include Instructors with At Home Chicago Blues and many other Blues greats. Blues is the sound of resilience.
Joanna Connor is a weekly contributor to bBluesNote with her column “Heart of the Blues.” Joannais a Guitar Instructor with At Home Chicago Blues. To learn more about Joanna, visit her website or watch her videos. To take lessons with Joanna, click here.
Blues on Halsted is in the first floor of what appears to be an early 1900s three flat.
It’s everything you imagine a blues bar to be- old wood throughout, narrow, crowded, smoky, stools and tables worn down, a bar tended by two world weary and extremely competent bar keeps, one pithy waitress who at maybe 5 feet tall and 90 pounds still manages to carry a tray loaded down with beer and shots over her head through the tightly packed crowd. It’s a Tuesday night, yes, a Tuesday and the joint is jumping.
I’m there to see one of my favorite artists in those days- Lonnie Brooks. His voice is soulful and sounds like well worn velvet, his guitar playing has the cutting sound of Chicago with the funky edge of Louisiana, where he is originally from. His band is tight and syncopated. I am particularly fascinated and enamored by his back up guitarist, a tall, lanky, imposing guy in his good thirties, a cigarette dangling ala Keith Richards, a cowboy hat cocked low, and a guitar strap with his name on it- Dion, holding up a gorgeous black anniversary model Les Paul.
As much as I love Lonnie and his own unique creole infused blues, Dion Payton is the one grabbing me right down to my soul with his melodic, fiery, passionate leads and uncannily well thought out and grooving rhythmic approach. Lonnie must have noticed my intense attention that I was paying to the band. He greeted me on break with a “you enjoying the show?” and upon my answer thick with my native New England accent asked was I visiting Chicago, and I said no, I’m living here to learn to play blues guitar.
He chuckled and was sizing me up a bit- a young girl answered him with a sentence you didn’t often here. In 1984 there wasn’t even a half dozen female guitarist in all genres combined. He asked me if i would like to play his guitar and open the show with Dion and the band. He brings me to the stage and motions me to play his guitar as a sort of impromptu test. I must have passed. He told me to tell Dion I was sitting in.
I did just that, only to be met with a 6 foot four rather intimidating black man telling me flat out, no! I walked back to my seat, extremely disappointed. I went to the bar and ordered a double Jack, shot it down, and the liquid courage did it’s job. I went up to Dion and said “listen, I can play, Lonnie invited me up “ Dion hands me just guitar and cooly says “play something”. I do just that and he nods. Minutes feel like hours and my nerves are tingling. Dion calls me up “there’s a young lady here in the house that’s gonna play some with us, welcome to BLUEs”.
Well I can’t tell you what we played. But we did three songs and the entire crowd gave us a standing ovation and lots of clapping and hoots and hollers were rained upon us the whole time. I was in heaven! This moment led to the start of my career in Chicago. The Mississippi delta bred Johnny Littlejohn was in the house and when I was finished, he invited me to play a gig with him three weeks later at the same club!
I wish you all well and will continue my blues saga next week! Until Then, keep bluesin.
Listen to Joanna Connor…in concert. Enjoy this video below. This At Home Chicago Blues Trading 4s concert features Connor alongside Donna Herula and Katherine Davis:
Joanna Connor, Donna Herula and Katherine Davis with “Slide by Slide” Show
“The Bluebird Era of Chicago Blues” by Marty Weil @ChiBluesHistory
Chicago record producer, Lester Melrose, was the mainline man at Bluebird, a blues record company that existed from 1931-42. The label is known for creating the “Bluebird sound,” which some critics malign for being formulaic. I say hogwash. The Bluebird sound came directly from the studio’s low-budget session band, which, luckily for us, was chocked full of incredible blues talent.
The Bluebird stable of talent included such stellar musicians as Big Bill Broonzy, Roosevelt Sykes, Washboard Sam, and Sony Boy Williamson I. Another key player was Blind John Davis, the house pianist for Bluebird who was known for his genteel approach to the blues.
The first Bluebird records appeared in July 1932. The discs were test-marketed at selected Woolworth’s stores in New York City–selling for as little as 10 cents each. These test-market 8-inch discs are so rare today that some issues may no longer exist at all!
When Lester Melrose needed a song to sell that spoke to the burgeoning U.S. road system, Big Bill Broonzy delivered the classic recording “Key to the Highway.” Melrose was also bolstered by the help of prolific Chicago bluesman Tampa Red. He turned his Chicago home into what is lovingly referred to as “The Blues Hotel,” which played host to newly arriving blues artists from Mississippi and elsewhere. Tampa Red fed them and gave them a place to stay. In a 1973 documentary, Big Boy Crudup tells of how Melrose brought him to Tampa Red’s Blues Hotel. Crudup was previously domiciled in a wooden crate beneath Chicago’s gritty L tracks. Melrose heard Crudup playing for spare change and signed him to the label. (Without Melrose’s intervention, Elvis Presley would not have had “That’s All Right” to cover.) Crudup wasn’t the only famous guest at Tampa Red’s house. Melrose reportedly covered the lodging costs of Red’s most famous guests, including Willie Dixon and Memphis Slim.
After World War II, the Bluebird label was retired and its previously released titles were reissued on the RCA Victor label.
Marty Weil is the editor of@CHIBLUESHISTORYon Twitter. Marty is a blues researcher, educator, and social media influencer.
This video below provides a mini-lesson of “Key to the Highway,” a song from the “Bluebird Era” of Chicago blues, with John Kattke.
Mini-Lesson of “Key to the Highway” with Brother John Kattke
Photo of the Week by Peter M. Hurley
Jimmy Johnson. Going strong in his 90s, his silky guitar work is beauteous and fluid; it’s his ‘second singing voice’. And that high tenor voice; all rhythm and blues, all soul. Jimmy commands one of the best bands in Chicago blues and is a masterful leader. His age is his strength, learned, experienced and deeply connected to the 2nd wave of post war Chicago blues. Having learned from the masters, he is the current master, on the top of the heap. I love to photograph Jimmy Johnson, his eyes always sparkling, and his gaze fierce but warm. Play on, Jimmy.
This photo of Jimmy taken at 2016 Chicago Blues Fest Tribute to Otis Rush.
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 the Chess Studios’ sound of Bo Diddley and continues to this day. For website, click here.
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