We caught up with none other than singer OSCAR WILSON during a recording session for a new CASH BOX KINGS album, yet to be titled. Lead vocalist and contributing songwriter to this brilliant blues band, Mr. Wilson is an especially apt choice due to his prolific listening habits, ability to memorize song lyrics and passion for the great music of the past. He truly lives up to the nickname coined by bandmate Billy Flynn, “the human jukebox.”
Peter Hurley: Hey, thanks for contributing to our inaugural column, Oscar. I can think of no better interviewee than yourself. We’re going to focus on record listening and how meaningful it was in shaping your musical life. So, what is the very first recorded music that you remember?
Oscar Wilson: Oh, I remember that well. It was “Work With Me Annie” [Listen to this song here] when I was about 3 years old. My sister told me, “If you are old enough to sing along with that you’re old enough to go to the bathroom by yourself!”I caught a little hell for not getting there in time after that.Come to find out later, that a lot of people reacted strongly to that record.
Hurley: That must be memorable for sure! That’s bound to make an impression. As you went on listening to the radio and records growing up, what was the record that you first related to personally?”
Wilson: That would be “The Entertainer” by Tony Clark [Listen to this song here]. As the youngest of nine kids, I had to entertain to get noticed. I could say that song was written about me, definitely. Had to learn to stand out. And I learned. Check out the lyrics to “The Entertainer,” that one nails it.
Hurley: I can relate, I come from a family of ten. Music, especially the singles that poured forth from the AM airwaves in the early days were an oasis. Though instrumental music has a special power, what was the record where you became most aware of the vocal as a major instrument?
My older brothers sang that one in a group. People are surprised when I sing doo-wop during our Cash Box King sets, but all my influences are on display. We include this in a medley of classics.
Hurley: Doo-wop is a special form of street blues, isn’t it? So much about teenage love, joys and sorrows. Speaking of which, did you have a record that became “your song” with someone you loved or wished you knew better?
Wilson: “As”[Listen to this song here]by Stevie Wonder. Stevie was and is a genius and this one takes me to a different place. So many of Stevie’s songs are special, you could choose any among his whole catalog. But “As” for sure.
Hurley: There were so many groups from that era that came and went. Not Stevie, obviously, but what “one hit wonder” record is one of your faves?
Wilson:Well, speaking of singing to a girl, “Expressway to Your Heart” by The Soul Survivors [Listen to this song here]was a thing I’d croon to my target of affection. That’s some blue-eyed soul right there. I would sing that one to a girl I liked in 8th grade. It’s always about a girl, isn’t it?.
Hurley: True, that. As you became more aware of the recording process and how it is to be present when musical moments are made, what record or record album would you have liked to have participated in making?
Wilson: Any Lightning Hopkinsrecord…yes,any one.My father used to play guitar like that and it drew me close to him to hear him play. This was the blues, man. I lost my father when I was very, very young but my mother loved the blues too. Especially on Fridays, she’d put on some Lightning Hopkins and it would just move me.
I always associate Lightning Hopkins with my family and it gives me a real good feeling. I met some blues greats in my life; Honeyboy Edwards used to live down the street from us, but we knew him as Honeyman. But I never met Lightning Hopkins and that would’ve been a dream for me. [Listen to Lighting Hopkins Texas Blues Man Album here]
Hurley: Speaking of dreams, what song/record do you wish you would have written?
Wilson: “A Gift of Love” by The Impressions. [Listen to the song here]The great Jerry Butler takes the lead on that one. I loved the sincerity and majestic vocals in that song before I even knew romantic love at that time. And when I did fall in love at a later age, it made this all the more meaningful. Jerry Butler is a master.
Hurley: Was that the record that inspired you to believe that you, too, could sing? Or was there another?
My brother-in-law was a musician, Bass Man Pete, they used to call him. I sang that song with the band when they’d rehearse and that inspired them to ask me to go out and play with them. I went out and sang a few times but the musician life style looked tough. I had kids to support at the time and couldn’t quite pick up on it as a profession. But now that my kids are grown, I love it with a passion.
Hurley: Beyond passion, what is that record for you that is a “guilty pleasure,” one that you have trouble admitting that you like?
Wilson: That one would be “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley [Listen to the song here]. I’ll turn this one up on the car radio if I’m by myself.
It’s got that old r&b feel but I wouldn’t admit to singing along with it to my friends. Well, you got it out of me.
Hurley: The car radio must be the sweetest place to have the best listening experience! It ain’t a record until it sounds great blasting from a moving vehicle. Out and loud. With that in mind, what record has the best recorded sound to your ears?
Oh my, that man can play and Angel Eyes has a sound that is so sublime. We knew Gene Ammons’s kids growing up, played baseball with them and everything. Folks might say, “This cat’s better” or “That guy can really blow!” but when I think of jazz, Ammons is the man with the sound I always have in my mind and heart.
Hurley: Being from Chicago, we were lucky to hear his soulful playing filling the clubs. What record did you know would be a hit upon first hearing?
Wilson:That would be “While I’m Alone” by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly [Listen to the song here]. Man, I used to think I wrote that song! I’d have my radio by my side at night and that song’d come on at some point in my sleep. It seeped into my consciousness until that song was in me. If I heard it during the daytime, I’d wonder “how did they know my song?”
Hurley: I have to laugh at that. I fell asleep to my older brother’s transistor under my pillow with my ear to it every night. When he’d come in after I’d fallen asleep, he’d pound me on my arm and take it back. I never did learn not to take his transistor; the temptation was too great. What record did you love that you wouldn’t play for a parent, Oscar?
Wilson:Oh, man, “If 6 Was 9” by Jimi Hendrix [Listen to the song here]. Hendrix was bad. I had a garage full of albums back then and my mother would tell me to take his records off anytime I’d start playing ‘em. But she did like the slow blues version of Voodoo Chile,’ though. That had some blues that she was familiar with and wasn’t so loud for her.
Hurley: Yeah, that was the album era. When it came to singles, what was the first record that you owned/bought with your own money?
Wilson: “The Love That I Found” by The Brothers of Soul [Listen to the song here]. I had a summer job at our local church at about 12 or 13 and the first thing I did with the little bit of money I got was buy this 45. I treasured that and it led to a whole lotta years of collecting.
Hurley: Last question for now, Oscar: If you had to choose only one record to bring on a spaceship that represented MUSIC OF PLANET EARTH to other intelligent life, what would it be?
That, right there, is a song for every form of life and for all time.
Hurley: Thanks very much for this, Oscar, this has been a delight and a privilege. Good luck with your new record. Please say hello to your Cash Box King bandmates and let’s stay in touch.
Wilson: You got it, man.
– Peter M. Hurley, May 24, 2022
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.
Dave Specter: LP Album Pre-Order and Interview for Six String Soul
Pre-Order the Vinyl LP!
Dave Specter – Six String Soul: 30 Years On Delmark
With this album, Dave Specter, Chicago Blues Network Guitar Instructor, and host of “Blues from the Inside Out” Podcast, showcases 30 years of Chicago Blues as a Guitarist, Vocalist and Songwriter on this double LP on Chicago’s Delmark Records, with all-star guests including:
OTIS CLAY • JIMMY JOHNSON • RONNIE EARL • LURRIE BELL • BILLY BRANCH • WILLIE KENT • JORMA KAUKONEN • JACK McDUFF • LYNWOOD SLIM • SHARON LEWIS • JESSE FORTUNE • BARKIN’ BILL SMITH • STEVE FREUND • FLOYD McDANIEL • TAD ROBINSON • LENNY LYNN and more!
“Specter’s career has been intertwined with the deepest roots of Chicago blues and Delmark’s rich musical history. This double LP release constitutes a definitive testimony to one of today’s most tasteful and versatile blues artists featuring Specter in a wide variety of styles, all played with six string soul. Digital download card included. All tracks remastered by Julia A. Miller.” – Delmark.com
Interview! Check out this interview with Dave Specter, on theNeon Jazzradio program, hosted by Joe Dimino. Specter talks about first experiences hearing Blues, returning to the stage after COVID times, traveling, the Six String Soul release and more, in the video below:
A Neon Jazz Interview with Chicago-based Blues Guitarist, Singer, Bandleader & Producer Dave Specter
“Blues from the Inside Out” Podcast Hosted by Dave Specter
Sponsored by Chicago Blues Network
One of the elder statesmen of Chicago blues, bass player extraordinaire and vocalist Bob Stroger talks about his new album “That’s My Name” and shares memories from his long and storied career in the blues, playing with Otis Rush, Sunnyland Slim, Jimmy Rogers and many more.
“After moving to Chicago as a teen in 1955, the great blues bassist Bob Stroger didn’t even have to get out of bed in order to hear the music he would wind up spending the rest of his life playing. He lived in the back of a night club on the Windy City’s West Side. Not just any night club, either, this was one that happened to book some blues artists, along the lines of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. It probably makes sense that the bass is what he heard first, as it always is the sound of the electric bass which carries the furthest distance, disturbing the most people. Peeking in at the action at the club encouraged Stroger further. Despite the melancholy association of the blues, to Stroger “it looked like they were having a lot of fun and I made up my mind that what I wanted to do was play music,” he wrote in a little autobiography on his own website.” – Earwig.com (Written by Eugene Chadbourne, All Music Guide, updated by Michael Frank)
After appearing on over 30 Delmark releases as a sideman, “Sir” Bob Stroger, Lord of the Blues, now has his first release on Delmark as a leader: That’s My Name by Bob Stroger & the Headcutters. The band is a blues quartet hailing from Brazil, creating a stirring combination of Chicago Blues and its broader influences. – Adapted from info at Delmark.com
Blues from the Inside Out is a monthly podcast featuring top names in blues and roots music from a unique, artist-to-artist interview perspective and often includes live studio performances and jam sessions.
Every episode is a warm, relaxed and engaging conversation between two artists, packed with insights into each guest’s music, life and influences. Listeners get a chance to eavesdrop on this intimate chat that weaves in blues and roots history, tales of legendary performances and collaborations, and the kinds of personal anecdotes that make you smile, laugh out loud or maybe even cry. bluesfromtheinsideout.com
The Official Chicago Blues Bootcamp Kicks off on May 29th! Musicians from All Over the U.S. Join Chicago Blues Masters Who Work, Live and Breathe the Blues
Chicago Blues Bootcamp will start this Sunday May 29 to June 3, 2022. Musicians from across the nation will be joining us! Students will receive 6+ hours of instruction and jamming per day, from our instructors, all professional musicians who work, live and breathe the Blues. Most of our instructors and guest artists are Chicago Blues Hall of Fame Artists. Plus, a chance to join them at Chicago Blues Clubs for late night performances. Become part of the Chicago Blues Network.
Learn Chicago Blues, at Home! Video Lessons from Chicago Blues Masters
If you want to learn Blues, learn from the Pros! You can sign up for “At Home Chicago Blues” lessons for $23.95/month and receive access to over 40 custom videos by Chicago Blues Masters including Billy Flynn, Johnny Burgin, Dave Specter, Joanna Connor, Brother John Kattke and Harlan Terson; plus weekly LIVE Zoom meetings with the Instructor and other students. Ask questions directly! Just choose your instructor to get started…
Chicago Blues Bootcamp – Meet Teachers & See Lesson Clips in this Video
Social Impact: Chicago Blues Network will donate 20% of each order for “At Home Chicago Blues” lessons to the Blues Foundation’s HART Fund for direct medical support of Blues Musicians; and to the Firehouse Community Arts Center in Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood.