Friday, June 12, 2009

The Chicago Blues Fest Kick-Off Jam !!!

On Wednesday, June 10, Crossroads newsletter editor Steve Jones and I made it to Buddy Guy’s Legends club for an exciting event that heralded the start of another Chicago Blues Fest. The show was hosted by the Chicago Chapter of The Recording Academy. This is the local chapter of the organization that stages the annual Grammy Awards. The show was a fundraiser for the Academy’s Professional Arts Education programs that are held throughout the Midwest, and a tribute to Chicago’s rich musical heritage.

Arriving at the club, we were directed to a press table where we joined Bob Kieser, founder of the website. As Bob gave us the latest news in the blues world, the friendly staff at Legends came by with a seemingly endless supply of tasty treats including some delicious mini-crab cakes. Each of us took a moment to check out the silent auction items that included a framed photo of the late queen of the Blues, KoKo Taylor, and another package that include an original artwork featuring piano legend Pinetop Perkins. Both packages also included your choice of ten CDs from the Alligator Records catalog.

Radio personality Buzz Kilman and NBC5 entertainment reporter LeeAnn Trotter were the hosts for the show. The music started off with the Brother John Kattke Band featuring the leader on guitar and vocals backed by a three piece horn section and the great Marty Binder on drums. Kattke used his wah-wah pedal effectively on a couple of tunes and turned in a strong version of “I’ll Play the Blues For You.”

Next up was guitarist Vino Louden, a long-time member of KoKo Taylor’s band. Louden suffered life-threatening injuries in an auto accident a year ago. After being told he would never walk again or have the use of his left arm, Louden proudly took the stage for his first live appearance since the accident and proceeded to show the audience how wrong the doctors were. The highlight of his set was a moving cover of the bobby Blue Bland classic, “I’ll Take Care of You.” Kattke remained on stage and switched to keyboards for Louden’s set.

Each artist got to do a set of four of five songs. Matthew Skoller was next and started his portion of the show with a hot instrumental featuring his splendid harmonica work. Backed by Nick Moss on guitar, Skoller later did an emotional tribute to Junior Wells on “Hoodoo Man Blues.”

Following Skoller, the band did an instrumental that featured Nick’s inspired guitar playing that was one of the evening’s highlights. That was the set-up for the appearance of Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick fame. Brother John switched back to guitar and traded licks with Nielsen on powerful version of “Ain’t That A Shame”. Nielsen then asked if anyone wanted to come up and sing with the band on “I Want You to Want Me” A woman quickly volunteered and did a decent job on the vocal while Nielsen ripped off some monster power chords on his guitar.

The next highlight was a set featuring Pinetop Perkins, who was quite dapper in his suit and Fedora hat. Perkins may be 95 years old but he can still navigate a piano keyboard, which he aptly demonstrated on “Down in Mississippi.” Part of the way through his set he was joined by his former band mate Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on harmonica. Smith has developed into a fine harp player and his presence elevated the energy level on the stage. Perkins picked out a rolling boogie pattern on “Big Fat Mama” and traded vocals with Smith on “Got My Mojo Working”.

The band switched around a bit as Moss was joined by his regular drummer, Bob Carter, and his wife Kate on bass, with Brother John back at the keyboards. They did several tunes that gave Nick the space to showcase his prodigious talent as a guitar player. Another musical highlight occurred when Lurrie Bell added his guitar to the group. Lurrie took the lead vocal on “Don’t Lie to Me” as he and Moss took turns dazzling the audience with masterful fretwork. Willie Smith returned to the stage and added his harp to “I Got My Brand on You.” It was a treat to be able to hear Moss and Bell trade licks.

Billy Branch arrived at the club after playing the national anthem before the White Sox game. Branch stated that he only missed one note in his rendition. He led the band through several selections including an energetic “Eyesight to the Blind”, his harp playing as strong as ever. Branch then invited Tracee Adams to the stage for “Rock Me Baby” and her powerful voice woke the crowd up. Her performance injected plenty of sparks into the classic tune. The next special guest was singer Nellie “Tiger” Travis, who also dazzled the crowd with a rockin’ “Let the Good Times Roll”. Travis has a strong, expressive voice and knows how to win over an audience. Branch executed some intricate lines on his harp, at one point hitting and holding a note to great effect.

Michael McDermott was up next. This hometown boy is more of a rocker but he started his set with “In My Time of Dying” on acoustic guitar. Another song repeated the phrase “drunk again” and its’ dark nature made it a blues tune at least in spirit.

Then it was time to make the long trip back home. It was an exciting evening and the show certainly served as a tremendous start to the Chicago Blues Fest weekend. Thanks to Robin Clement of the K101 Agency for inviting us and arranging to get us on the press list. Also a big thank you goes out to The Recording Academy- Chicago Chapter- for staging an event featuring some of the best blues musicians in town. Make sure you look for ads for next year’s event and get an early start on the festivities.

Mark Thompson President - Crossroads Blues Society

(note- look below for photos of this great event!)

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