Day 2. There are five stages in Grant Park for this Fest celebrating the unique American art form, Blues music. Being that the theme for the Fest this year is “Rollin’ Up the River” and there are far more legendary Blues musicians from the State of Mississippi than any other state, I am choosing to position myself in front of the Mississippi Juke Joint stage more than any other. Each day a one-hour panel discussion occurs at 11:30 AM on this stage. Today, Saturday and day 2 of the Festival, the topic is Pinetop Perkins.
Panel Discussion commemorating Pinetop Perkins 100th B-day. Panelists include Pat Morgan, a long-time business manager of Pinetop, Barrelhouse Chuck, and Kenny “Beedyeyes” Smith. Pinetop died in 2011 at the age of 97. He won three Grammies including the 2011 release “Joined at the Hip” that included the work of Perkins, panel member and drummer Smith, and the father of Smith, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Pinetop was born in Belzoni, Mississippi in 1913 and played, recorded, and toured throughout Northwest Mississippi and Arkansas regions before beginning a long stint as the piano player in the Muddy Waters band and later forming his own bands. Regarded as maybe the top boogie woogie piano player in his day, he only took up the instrument in his 30’s after an injury ended his guitar-playing days. Panelist Morgan cleared the air by saying that Pinetop was wrongly cut by a woman who had been locked in a bathroom by a man who Pinetop was later mistaken for; Perkins incurred the wrath of the woman seeking revenge on her perpetrator.
I was a bit late for the panel presentation, but was there for this tale of how Pinetop was to begin a 60-year career at the piano. And, I was not so late that I missed out on a piece of Pinetop’s 100th birthday cake. He would have been a centenarian on July 7, 2013. Thirty minutes following the discussion, the live music began.
The Peterson Brothers. This is a good-time band from Bastrop, Texas that likes to play around; stands to reason since they’re only teenagers. The leader of this 3-piece band is guitarist and primary vocalist Glenn, Jr., age 16. His younger brother, bass man Alex, is only 14; but, in size, the larger brother. They play blues classics, but are also working on a family songbook, including this composition “Tell Me Everything.”
Tell me everything,
Don’t tell me what I want to hear.
I want to know everything.
Then they went into a 10-minute version of Albert King’s “Don’t Lie to Me”:
Don’t you lie to me,
Don’t you lie to me;
Cause it makes me mad,
I get evil as a man can be.
Shes gone, I don’t worry,
Cuz I’m sittin’ on top of the world.”
And a tune from a great Chicago blues guitarist and songwriter, Albert Collins:
If you love me like you say,
Why you treat me this-a-way;
Well, I’m no fool;
I’m cool, I know the rules.
The brothers like to have fun. Leader Glenn tried to stare me down on my perch in row three, while playing something slow and funky. I only stared back and he moved on, finding a less serious audience participant. That may have been one of his musician parents in the crowd. The older also played at cueing his younger brother how to position himself and where to stand; actually we observed two brothers having a good time on stage, and no doubt the younger doesn’t need to be shown how to play the bass. Both the intense blues play and cuttin’ up antics worked well on an appreciative audience.
I gotta go; I gotta go; I gotta go baby;
You just don’t treat me the same.
The brothers finished with a Muddy Waters’ number:
Got my mojo working,
But it sure don’t work on you.
Eddie Taylor, Jr. Eddie, Jr. plays Chicago blues music of the 1950s popularized by his father and others. Today at this large festival he opened with familiar numbers, Albert King’s “Crosscut Saw”, “Sweet Home Chicago”, and Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee.” And, these lyrics to another song:
You went away baby,
Came back a little too late.
Eddie vocalizes and plays electric guitar; he sits to the side on a high stool and shares the front line with fellow blues guitarist Lurrie Bell and his harmonica player. Both of these sidemen soloed often and took full lead and vocal responsibilities for one tune each. The Lurrie Bell lead number includes the following lyric from the Albert King tune:
There are two kinds of people I can’t stand,
That’s a lying woman, and a cheatin’ man;
Don’t you lie to me.
Taylor ended his one-hour set with: “Wish you the best in wealth and health.”
The last performance of day 2 at the Mississippi Juke Joint stage was a tribute to Howlin’ Wolf, another Chicago-area Blues vocalist and guitarist with roots in Mississippi (b. 1910 in White Station, MS). Wolf performed the songs of Willie Dixon for Chess Records in the early 1960’s: “The Red Rooster,” “Shake for Me,” “Wang Dang Doodle,” and “Spoonful” to name just a few. His own compositions from the 1960’s include “Killing Floor.” Eddie Shaw hosted this Festival tribute that consisted of a number of musicians, including saxophonist Shaw, stepping to the fore to play numbers associated with Wolf. Playing the music is the means to keep the memories alive.
Day 3. Sunday at the Mississippi Juke Joint stage began with a panel discussion commemorating the 60th anniversary of Chicago’s Delmark Records. The chief presenter was 80-year-old Bob Koestler, the founder of this independent record label. The musicians who recorded blues music with Delmark include Junior Wells, Big Joe Williams, and Magic Sam; jazz artists with Delmark credits include AACM, Donald Byrd, Ira Sullivan, and Sun Ra; and more recently, Fred Anderson, and Ken Vandermar. There are many more jazz and blues musician recordings not mentioned here. Maybe the best place to browse for their music is at Delmark’s legendary shop, the Jazz Record Mart, on Grand near State Street.
Lurrie Bell’s Chicago Blues Band. After the Delmark recollections, I drifted away from the Mississippi Juke Joint stage to hear Lurrie Bell’s band. This necessitated a walk around the longest line of porta-potties at the Fest and a pleasant stroll through rows of pine trees into a grassy clearing dotted with picnic tables. Thanks to the Chicago Park District grounds crew for creating this pastoral effect despite the presence of Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive and potties on the perimeter. The stage we faced is aptly named the Front Porch (corporate sponsor name excluded).
Bell had four successive and successful recordings for Delmark Records; that was followed by a recording with his father for Alligator Records and a recent CD on his own label Aria BG. His latest is entitled “Blues In My Soul.” Writings about Bell vaguely speak of difficult personal times he has faced. The following song lyrics voiced today that appear on his latest CD may reflect difficult times overcome:
I like what I’m doin’ today,
I feel the blues all the way down in my soul.
I guess I’ll always feel this way,
about my journey through life and times.
You know, the way I feel right now,
I guess everything will be alright.
Bell seems to enjoy mixing classics with his own compositions. His band performed a stirring rendition of “Hoochie Coochie Man” (Willie Dixon), a song popularized by Muddy Waters. He then performed his own composition, “Let’s Talk About Love”:
I wanna talk about love,
I feel so good when I talk about love.
The band closed with “Got My Mojo Working’” and the Junior Wells tune, “Messin’ With the Kid.” Bell was joined today by Matthew Skoller on harmonica, a major player on the Chicago blues scene since 1987 and producer of the Lurrie Bell CD, “Let’s Talk About Love.”
I witnessed so many great musicians and sets played these past three days I could name an all-star team without even considering the headline nighttime acts. That is what keeps me coming back—the great music played in the daytime by experienced and passionate blues musicians. Thanks to them, the City of Chicago, and the audience of knowledgeable and dedicated Blues followers I met at the Chicago Blues Festival 2013.