Pete’s Pics / “Blues in Action” by Peter M. Hurley
Featuring: Deitra Farr
A very Happy New Year to visitors of this column.
A voice and stage presence that we miss while clubs and festival venues are in lockdown is that of Ms. Deitra Farr. Whether solo, sitting in with an ensemble or with “Chicago Wind featuring Deitra Farr & Matthew Skoller,” Deitra is known for her sassy demeanor and get-down-to-it delivery with the voice of a blues angel. Silky and mature, deep in experience, Ms. Farr’s vocal offerings are some of Chicago’s finest of any genre, sorely needed in these times. Fortunately, she is featured in 20 cds to get us through, among them her solo efforts “The Search Is Over” and “Let It Go,” both on JSP Records.
Photo above taken at Chicago Blues Festival / 2018
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. Visit Peter’s Website here.
Have Guitar Will Travel by Marty Weil @ChiBluesHistory
Albert King in 1978 with the second Lucy, made by Dan Erlewine
During the 1960s Blues Revival, Delta bluesmen like Son House and Bukka White were plucked from obscurity and placed on festival stages throughout the Western world. In the case of Son House, he didn’t own a guitar at the time (1964) he was rediscovered in Rochester, NY, by producer Dick Waterman. One of the first things Waterman did was take Son House guitar shopping. Waterman wanted Son to purchase a National Steel guitar, a choice House opposed. House felt the National was junk, but Waterman prevailed, asserting that the look of the National fit better with the image of House that Waterman wanted to put on display. Of the National Steel’s durability, there is little question, Bukka White put it best when he said, “I don’t play ’em. I stomp ’em. (Bukka White was “rediscovered in 1963 by guitarist John Fahey and Ed Denson.)
A guitar is the one instrument Chicago blues bands can’t do without. The instrument is so central to the blues sound that bluesmen such as B.B. King and Albert King gave them names (Lucille and Lucy respectively). Famously, B.B. King re-entered a burning nightclub to retrieve his guitar before it was burnt up in the fire that had engulfed the club after two men began a brawl over a woman named Lucille.
In Albert King’s case, he became synonymous with the Gibson Flying V guitar. He played a 1959 model and then a mid-60s Flying V model when his first V was lost. From 1972 onwards, he played a custom guitar based on the Flying V, which the Gibson people named “Lucy.” The guitar was built by Dan Elrwine. Reports vary over what tuning King favored but Erlwine reported suggested that he used a C-F-C-F-A-D with very light gauge strings.
Since the birth of the blues, guitars have at the heart of the blues sound. W.C. Handy, the discoverer of the blues, heard the music being played on an acoustic guitar in Tutweiler, MS, in 1903. Ever since blues artists have proudly carried their beloved axes into battle on stages worldwide. Even Jimi Hendrix, who famously set his guitar on fire during a concert performance said, “The time I burned my guitar it was like a sacrifice. You sacrifice the things you love. I love my guitar.”
Marty Weil is the editor of@CHIBLUESHISTORYon Twitter. Marty is a blues researcher, educator, and social media influencer.
“Heart of the Blues” by Joanna Connor
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.
“Life is about rhythm. We vibrate, our hearts are pumping blood, we are a rhythm machine, that’s what we are.” – Mickey Hart, Grateful Dead drummer
“The drum is the favorite instrument of the Spirits.” – African proverb
The guitarist delivers the incendiary component in blues – from a wisp of ethereal smoke to a torrid blaze. The vocalist penetrates the nucleus of our essential emotions. Perhaps there is the howl of a harmonica, the sensuality of a horn delivering messages, summoning up passions. Certainly if there is a bass present, we are anchored and yet freed from inertia by the earthy pulsations. Yet when there is a drummer, we are delivered straight into the primordial essence that is contained in everything alive, Mother Earth itself. A great drummer is a master of several components: the driving force, the manipulator of increments of time, the motion of the song, the the conductor of volume. He or she is the spice in the stew, the athlete of musicians, the one who takes us back to the first note of music played, the one who propels us to move, and that drummer will allow the music to soar or flail if they are uninspired or inept. To sum it up: a band is only as good as its drummer.
I always wanted to be a drummer. I was told I was constantly emptying cupboards in our Brooklyn apartment in order to lose myself in percussion nirvana. I’m sure the neighbors were fans. I asked to play drums in our JR high band, the first year that I could choose an instrument other than a violin or its cousins in the string world, or do more than sing in chorus. It was 1974. My band director looked at me and said plainly “girls don’t play drums, choose something else” So I chose a saxophone. I never lost my affinity for the drums. I tell any aspiring guitarist to listen to the drummer, whether on record or onstage, therein lies the keys to the kingdom in any groove. Lock in with the drummer and you will be transported to the essential component of any song, and you will lose yourself, which is always my goal when I play music or listen to it.
I was privileged to see a who’s who in the jazz world growing up attending the Newport Jazz Festival every year. I was also a witness to some of the kings of Chicago blues drumming too. And I have been even more fortunate to perform with some. Chicago is blessed to have a multitude of master drummers in all genres. Look at any of the drum chairs through the decades in LA or New York and most often it’s a drummer from Chicago. And no matter the style of music, no one can shuffle like a Chicago drummer. And a shuffle is the granddaddy of grooves.
A book could be written about Chicago blues drummers. But I will leave that for another day or to someone else. There are a few that impacted my musical life and I will honor them.
A locomotive of a drummer, a ferocious timekeeper was Kennard Johnson. He was with James Cotton for years and appeared on Steve Miller’s “Fly Like An Eagle” seminal album. Kenny moved to Massachusetts after leaving Cotton and I was fortunate to have him hold down the drum chair every Friday at Ralph’s in my other hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts. He last played with Kenny Neal before his untimely death.
Another early influence who completely captivated me was Jerry Porter. I first saw him touring with Buddy Guy and JR Wells, when we were both maybe 21. His absolute concentration, his muscular style, his passion was captivating. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He went on to play with several luminaries including playing with James Cotton up until Cotton’s passing. Jerry still lives here and you can see him play with Funky Mojo Daddy currently.
Brian BJ Jones was a personality, onstage and off. His drumming told stories, was domineering and strong. I played with him at the infamous Theresa’s Lounge when I first moved to Chicago, backing up a Chicago Sheriff who played guitar and sang on the weekends – Phil Lowman. BJ played and recorded with so many blues and souls artists, it’s mind blowing – The Staple Singers, Eddie Clearwater, Koko Taylor, Otis Rush, Magic Slim, and myself. You can hear him on my first album “Believe It”.
Lest this article becomes too lengthy I will list a few of the drummers that I have played with that are absolutely the griots, the keepers of the sacred syncopations, the soul of the music: James Knowles, CJ Knowles, Sam Lay, Willie Big Eyes Smith, Sam Goode, James Carter, Lance Lewis, Cameron Lewis, TY Drums, Vic Baker, Jason J-Roc Edwards, Bryant T Parker, Sheryl Youngblood, Pookie Styx, and so many more. I owe all of those mentioned a thank you to being so influential on my development as a musician. I urge anyone reading this to study the art of drumming as a listener, as a player. And who knows, maybe someday this aspiring drummer and admirer of all that rhythm will live out a small dream unfulfilled.
The beat goes on into 2021- Joanna
“No Border Blues” Hosted by Johnny Burgin and Stephanie Tice
Take a Blues Journey with NO BORDER BLUES video podcast, on Youtube as well as Megaphone and sponsored by The Chicago Blues Network. Twice a month we chat with notable international blues artists about how and why they got the blues. We shine a spotlight into the hidden blues scenes– “mesmerized clusters”– of serious blues music and fans in places you might not expect. Delmark recording artist Johnny Burgin and producer Stephanie Tice are happy to present exclusive musical performances and intriguing cross-cultural exchanges with artists you should know about.
Lee Kanehira and Kotez
Blues piano player Lee Kanehira fell in love with old school Chicago blues after studying classical piano, and has been in pursuit since. She has two self produced albums to date, has also recorded and performed with Johnny Burgin, The Cash Box Kings and Shoji Naito and many others. In 2018 she won the Chicago Blues Piano Contest, and was invited to play for “A Tribute To Otis Spann” at the 36th annual Chicago Blues Festival. Her main influences are Leroy Carr, Otis Spann, Memphis Slim and Barrelhouse Chuck. Her original “Pumpkin Boogie” as well as Kotez’s “Mada Sukinanda” (a Japanese translation of Little Walter’s “I Just Keep Loving Her”) were widely played selections from “No Border Blues Japan” on international blues radio. Harmonica player and singer Kotez is a longtime veteran of the Tokyo blues scene and is known as a fiery showman. He endorses Suzuki manji harmonicas. As a duo, their motto is “Blues Never Die”!
What Do All the Knobs Do!? Guitar Knowledge Share with Instructor Johnny Burgin
Johnny Burgin: Guitar Knowledge Share
Johnny Burgin, Guitar Instructor with Chicago Blues Network, walks you through a deeper understanding of the controls on your electric guitar. Take a look at this video (these 10 minutes could save you hours)! Take lessons with Johnny Burgin or the other amazing Instructors of At Home Chicago Blues, featuring video lessons by and LIVE Zoom chats with Chicago Blues Masters.
Grab Your Guitar, and Stop By! Start your blues journey with other blues enthusiasts. On your own schedule, watch videos explaining the tunes. Attend LIVE Zoom conversations that will help your playing. These “At Home Chicago Blues” lessons give you access to Chicago Blues Masters and fellow musicians.