15th Chicago Best Festival - Days 2-4
Sun Jun 21 21:24:41 EDT 1998
Chicago Blues Festival - Day 2: June 5, 1998.
Friday we started off by seeing Vernon "Chico" Banks and his band at
the Crossroads Stage. Banks is criticized by some as not being bluesy
enough - I'm sure he doesn't care. He plays a lot of funk and feed-
back-induced rock mixed in with his blues. Lovers of Hendrix and
Stevie Ray Vaughan would enjoy Chico's music a lot. His fingers are
fast and his band is very good. I'm sure he makes no apologies for
not being pure blues.
I thought Jimmy Dawkins' set at the Petrillo was sort of a mixed bag
of good and not-so-good. On the one hand he's still a very good blues
player (although maybe not "Fast Fingers" anymore), but on the other
he wasn't very abundant with stage presence. He was proud and kept
stressing that this was "the Westside sound," but the band seemed just
assembled for this occasion and wasn't very tight at some moments.
He certainly had some great talents with him, however: Ab Locke and
Eddie Shaw on tenor sax and Billy Flynn on guitar. Jimmy also had
another guitar player and ex-Otis Rush second-guitarist Brother John
was playing Hammond organ and electric piano. Both Billy Flynn and
the other guitarist were playing Gibson SGs, which is interesting
because SGs aren't very popular nowadays. Jimmy was playing an old
beat-up white Gibson ES-355. There was also a third horn player whose
name I didn't catch - I think Mr. Dawkins said he was formerly with
Syl Johnson. And then, of course was a drummer.
Perhaps the most entertaining thing about Jimmy's set is that he stopped
the band when the drummer had to quickly leave the stage to go to the
bathroom. They immediately proceeded into the next song without the
drummer, who was back on stage very soon afterwards. The audience
cheered when the drummer returned after relieving himself.
Next on the Petrillo Band Shell stage was Joe Louis Walker.
Joe Louis Walker is a stud. I really like his voice and he puts on a
good show, but it really didn't catch on fire until Steve Cropper came
out and gave the nod to Joe's organist to start "Green Onions." Whew,
yea, we liked that one a lot! Steve's understated, but biting guitar
playing was choice! And then to add even more excitement a bit later,
Scotty Moore was brought out. It's not that Scotty was playing up to
his best lifetime abilities, but just his aura added a lot to the
synergy of the show.
My buddy and fellow Blues-Ler, Sean Birmingham, was unknowingly
psychic enough to put on his Elvis Presley hat that day before going
downtown to Grant Park with his lovely wife, and golly gee, who did
he meet before the evening shows but Scotty Moore, so he had Mr.
Moore (yeah, that's how Sean addressed him) autograph the hat. That
would be enough to make many guys' manhood grow a few inches! I was
certainly jealous of his cosmic brilliance!
Otis Rush was definitely "on" Friday night. I could tell that he was
really excited about headlining Friday night at the 15th Chicago Blues
Festival. The guitar licks were burning and Otis was smiling. His
band was good too - with four horn players (two saxes, trumpet and
trombone) instead of the usual two or three and they sounded nice and
full. Too bad they couldn't play very long. At the end, Otis said
that they had to shut him down, and it let the steam out of collective
Chicago Blues Festival - Day Three: June 6, 1998.
Saturday, the first band I got to see was Deitra Farr and Johnny Rawls
on the Crossroads stage at 3:30. Actually I got there late because
of my guitar lesson. You've heard others talk on Blues-L about how
great this performance was, and it's true - I was very pleased. It's
the stuff that gives you that big grin plastered onto your face. I
had seen Ms. Farr several times with Mississippi Heat and enjoyed
their recordings, but I hadn't had the pleasure of hearing Johnny
Rawls sing live before this day. I'm glad Don O. had be highly
recommended him to me. I've got to catch all of his gigs that I can.
I didn't even notice that he's handsome - as did other Blues-Lers - I
just know he's a very good singer, guitarist, and (judging from Deira's
CD) record producer too.
Near the end of their set they got Chicago's number one blues fan, a
guy named Eddie (you were thinking Richard M. Daley, Mayor?!?) to sing
"Rock Me Baby." It was kind of sweet. I've only lived in the Chicago
area a little over three years, but have seen the portly caricature of
a man, Eddie, at as many gigs any blues fan - even Chuck Winans!
After Deitra and Johnny, we went over to The Front Porch Stage where
a large crowd of people was watching David "Honeyboy" Edwards command
his band of "Friends" and the audience through several numbers before
being drawn to The Petrillo Band Shell for Carey Bell.
Carey has a really good, tight band and played a lot of chromatic
harmonica with a really big sound. Geez, it was almost like a chorus
of harmonicas. I wish he's play around here more often. Fortunately
we were able to get seats in the Petrillo; the last time I saw him
before this was at Legends - standing room only - with lots of fans
and other on-lookers. Of course his hour-long set at the Festival
was too short.
Next up was Texas Johnny Brown who had been to the Festival two years
ago with a group of relatively old Houston-area musicians. Johnny
was dapper-dressed and played uptempo blues, slow blues and some
soul ballads. He's a competent guitar player and singer for all
three types of music, and, wow, they say he's been in the music
business for over 50 years! He was backed only by bass, drums and a
keyboardist who at times was making weird harmonica-like sounds on
his instrument. Geez, Larry Garner's buddy, Wabbi, was around the
Festival for several days and could have been brought up to play some
real and good harmonica. I'm sure he would have done it for free.
Instead of staying for Olu Dara and Ruth Brown, I felt compelled to
go over to Legends to see Shemekia Copeland's Chicago debut. I
sure was glad I did, as I expressed in the review I wrote in the
early morning hours of June 7th. One error in that report was that
the artist who performed after at Legends that night was not Joe
Louis Walker (he was at FitzGerald's in Berwyn, IL), but, rather,
John Primer. I thought I was heading home to get my beauty rest
after Shemekia gave me multiple blues music orgasms, but instead I
had to put my exaltation down on paper.
Chicago Blues Festival - Day Four: June 7, 1998.
I made it down to the Crossroads Stage Sunday afternoon with about
five minutes to spare before Shemekia Copeland's band started. (Lord
has mercy on me!) As was the case the night before at Legends, the
keyboardist was featured on vocals for the first song and the guitar
player on the second, then the star of the show came out after a brief
introduction by Alligator Records president, Bruce Iglauer, and sang:
Big Lovin' Woman
I Always Get My Man
My Kind Of Guy
Salt In My Wounds
Has Anybody Seen My Man?
Turn The Heat Up
(?) "I'll Sing The Blues""
Your Mama's Talkin'
(encore) Let The Good Times Roll
I hope I get, for the most part, these names correct for her band
members; they're not the same as who played on her album. Jo(?) Archer
on keyboards, Arthur Milson on guitar, Eric King on bass, and from
Johnny Copeland's band, Barry Harrison (a really nice guy) on drums.
I'm ready to see this band again. A few minutes ago I was just
looking at the photos I took and savoring the moments.
After that, the rest of the day was truly anti-climatic. I saw
Kelly Joe Phelps do the last past of his set of his great country and
country-blues slide guitar work and mostly-incoherent vocals at the
Juke Joint Stage, and then a few minutes of The Strate Ahead Jazz
Band at the Front Porch Stage before going home to change clothes
and head to a wedding. I much prefer to see Kelly accompany someone
else who is singing, such as when I saw him last September 20th with
Dave Alvin at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music. Kelly's truly
excellent as a instrumentalist, but doesn't have the charismatic
personality or clear vocal diction to be a great front man, so as a
solo performer he sticks out as a real oddity.
That's my story and I'm gonna stick to it.
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