“I never had the blues. The blues always had me” – Brownie McGhee
November 18, 2020 Volume 1, Issue 28
“At Home” Blues Concerts At Home Chicago Blues Trading 4s
This “WangDangDoodle” At Home Chicago Blues Trading 4s show is going strong – you can watch this video concert, with FIVE Chicago Blues Masters, until December 3rd (the show originally aired last month). Bring Chicago’s Blues music legacy into your livingroom with Jimmy Johnson, John Primer, Billy Branch, Dave Specter and John Kattke. Buy $5 Tickets and share the joy: bitly.com/WangDangD
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.
It seemed invincible, a fortress , a touchstone of Chicago’s cultural lifeblood. The Kingston Mines, the “Playground of The Stars” was its clarion call on advertisements , and it was a claim with merit. Today this indomitable blues party haven stands silent for 9 months due to a twist in history none could foresee.
The luminescent orange exterior, the homemade signs outside announcing the talent, the parade of humanity that packed it nightly, the Shure Vocal Master that was the sound reinforcement run by each band on stage, the worn carpet, the smell of booze, smoke, all were a part of the juke joint magic that served up some of the hottest music on the planet, seven nights per week, until 4 am or 5 am on Saturday. It was there I jammed with superstars or shook their hands or engaged in conversations: celebrities who were there for their own muse, be it paying homage to true American music, soaking in the earthy atmosphere or perhaps looking for more illicit adventures. It was there Jimmy Page, and I backed up Sugar Blueand Valerie Wellington, a woman whose voice and demeanor was a reincarnation of Bessie Smithone Thursday night at 3 am, it was there I spoke with Herbie Hancock, who watched our entire set, it was there I shook Mick Jagger’s hand, it was there I received accolades from Vince Vaughn, it was there Nicholas Cage fell in love with me and the band and became a fan, returning a dozen times while he filmed “The Weatherman”, it was there I laughed with Bonnie Raittwho came to show some love to AC Reedone night as he was performing there by singing with him while she was on tour for her “Nick of Time” album (AC played on her debut album).
But the real reason this club was a sanctuary was the talent that played there night after night, playing to try and pay the rent, playing without glory. We made beautifully deep music just because we had to live this life as our true selves, all the while impacting the audiences in ways they will never fully know. Together, the musicians and the patrons were the real luminaries that made this place what it was.
As yet another unfortunately necessary lockdown looms here, the future of this 50 year-old club looks precarious. I can only hope for the best and look back with gratitude at the total sum of 19 years that I made music there.
Hoping for a future resurrection of this venue and many others, be extra safe! Joanna
“Koko Taylor: The Queen of the Blues” by Marty Weil @ChiBluesHistory
I was coo-coo for Koko Taylor. I attended so many of her performances in the 1980s that she would often invite me to croak “All Night Long!” into the microphone when she sang her signature song, “Wang Dang Doodle,” which was written by her mentor and champion Willie Dixon.
Koko Taylor was Willie Dixon’s final “project” at Chess Records. Interestingly, Taylor originally envisioned herself as the next Diana Ross, but Dixon had other, better ideas for her career. Dixon signed Taylor to a management and production contract in 1962. Taylor told an interviewer what it was like to record for Dixon, “Willie Dixon negotiated how the songs would go, he arranged the music and selected the musicians. My job was to sing, and that is what I did, no more no less.”
With the demise of the Chess label after its sale in 1969 to General Recorded Tape (GRT), Taylor’s career suffered and Dixon rightly believed she didn’t get a fair shake with the new owners. Like many Chicago blues artists, a career in music didn’t cover the monthly bills. For most of her career, Koko Taylor labored as a housekeeper.
By the 1970s, her voice wasn’t what it was in 1962, but Taylor persevered. In 1975, she became Alligator Records’ first female artist. She recorded a Grammy-nominated album for Alligator titled, “I Got What It Takes.” The comeback album returned Taylor to her rightful place in the blues limelight. With great fanfare in 1994, Koko Taylor opened her own blues club on Division Street in Chicago. Koko Taylor’s reign as the Queen of the Blues ended when she died from complications from surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding on June 3, 2009. Taylor is remembered as a beloved and talented figure in Chicago blues history.
Marty Weil is the editor of@CHIBLUESHISTORYon Twitter. Marty is a blues researcher, educator, and social media influencer.
Photo of the Week: Primer & Branch by Peter M. Hurley
John Primer and Billy Branch. Billy Branch and John Primer. All Stars. The Real Deal. Sons Of The Blues. Quintessential sidemen AND Consummate bandleaders. They’ve done it all and when they do, it’s blues music at its best. Hell, it’s music at its best. Virtuosos. Front men and side, lead or ensemble players, their musicianship was forged in the hot cauldron of the blues mills of live performance in smoky clubs, International festivals, recording sessions, and back rooms with Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Jr, Wells…say no more. Having stood on the shoulders of the Masters before them, they are now our present day Masters.
When asked what it’s like to be in the groove, to be in the zone, Billy mused. “Like flying,” he said. “In an altered state of consciousness, in the moment and not thinking about what comes next. Lighter than air, like in a parachute.” When blues vets sync up, it’s magic time and this gig for the Chicago Blues Network taken from the stage of Evanston’s S.P.A.C.E. was no exception. While Primer stung his acoustic Fender with a steel-finger slide, Branch blew choruses in a heavenly synchronicity invoking the Delta blues that blazed the trail for the electrically charged Chicago Blues of today.
– Peter M Hurley 11/18/2020
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. pmh1951.wixsite.com/blueportraits
Latest “Blues From the Inside Out” Podcast with Dave Specter Guitar Instructor & Musical Director of At Home Chicago Blues
Listen in as Dave Specter talks with award-winning Blues Guitarist and Vocalist Nick Moss.
“Guitarist and singer Nick Moss shows the world his fearsome guitar chops and his complete familiarity with the great tradition of Chicago blues music.” – MOJO (UK-based magazine)
Dave Specter’s “Blues From The Inside Out” Podcast Interview with Nick Moss
Latest “No Border Blues” Podcast with Johnny Burgin & Stephanie Tice
Johnny Burgin, Guitar Instructor with At Home Chicago Blues, and Delmark recording artist, with producer Stephanie Tice present “No Border Blues”. This new video podcast, sponsored by Chicago Blues Network, talks with notable international blues artists about how and why they got the blues. It shines a spotlight into the hidden blues scenes– “mesmerized clusters”– of serious blues music and fans in places you might not expect. Meet Trickbag! from Sweden.
“No Border Blues” Episode Five: Trickbag!
In the News: “Spec” speaks out against injustice, with help from Billy Branch and Brother John, on new Delmark release by Linda Cain (Shared from Chicago Blues Guide with permission)
Dave Specter is a man who wears many hats: guitarist, songwriter, bandleader, recording artist, producer, podcast host and music venue co-owner.
Since 1985, Specter has performed regularly at top Chicago blues and jazz clubs, festivals and concert halls across the U.S. Since 1989, he has toured internationally with shows in Europe, South America, Israel, Mexico and Canada. Before forming his own band in 1989, he toured as a band member with blues greats including Son Seals, The Legendary Blues Band, Hubert Sumlin, Sam Lay, and Steve Freund. He has performed and/or recorded with luminaries like Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Otis Rush Jimmy Rogers, Jimmy Johnson, Lonnie Brooks, Otis Clay, Ronnie Earl and many more.