By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
Not that I liked everything he did. But when he got down into doing his version of Tin Pan Alley, that was definitely the blues.
On the other hand, I think a lot of people who are listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan, and using him as their source, are missing the point. They hear the flamboyant rock qualities--the flashy, fluid guitar--and they try to capture some of that, but they don't understand where he was coming from. They don't understand how much Stevie knew and loved the music of Buddy Guy and Albert King. It's these disciples of Stevie Ray Vaughan that I have a problem with, because their roots are shallow and they don't go as deep into the feeling of it all. The result is that a lot of these kids who are coming up playing this Stevie Ray Vaughan stuff are playing the flash and wearing the funny hats, but they're just scratching the surface of what it's all about.
NT: How much of a catalyst was Chicago in terms of your fascination with the blues?
BC: Well, I was truly blessed to grow up in Chicago because I got to see a lot of the old, traditional blues masters when they were still playing at the height of their powers. And it was all so accessible. There was no kind of division there--if you were young and interested, they seemed to be complimented by that, and they would take you in and let you be their friend.
And one of the things about playing harmonica was that, if one of the older blues musicians found out that you played, they would get you up onstage. They were just really kind in that way. So at 18, I found myself playing with legends, sitting in with the Aces [Little Walter Jacobs' former backup band] over at the Monday-night jam sessions at Louise's Lounge on the south side of Chicago. I mean, I was still legally underage. And that was an incredible experience, because you had to take your playing to a whole different level.
At one point in time, I became friends with Louis Meyers who was the guitar player for [harmonica great] Little Walter, after he broke away from playing with Muddy Waters. So here was a guy who had really been there. Now Louis was a great guitar player but also a great harmonica player, and he'd spent enough time around Little Walter to really hone his chops on the ax. And I was just one of those young kids fascinated by this old master, and he kind of enjoyed the role of being the teacher and I enjoyed the role of being the student. And after his gigs, we'd go to his favorite rib joint on the south side and eat spicy rib tips and I'd listen to him tell Little Walter stories. And it was wonderful. I didn't have a care in the world during those moments.
NT: You had your own blues label [Blues Over Blues] in Chicago during the late '70s and early '80s--what was the story there?
BC: Well, right after college, I had a little bit of money in the bank and I decided to do something meaningful with it and record a few of whom I considered to be the unsung legends of harmonica. I was 21 at the time, and the first record I made was with Little Willie Anderson, a great harmonica player who had never had an album.
Now, the story on Willie was that, during the '50s and '60s, he idolized Little Walter and imitated the way he played, talked and acted. [Noted blues drummer] Odie Payne once told me that when you looked at Willie, you were looking at how Little Walter was. Word had it that when Little Walter got shot in the leg, Willie started limping also. So I brought Willie in the studio and surrounded him with Walter's former bandmates--Robert Junior Lockwood, Jimmy Lee Robinson and Freddy Below--and we laid down a session that caught the Little Walter feel.
The second record I put out was one by Big Leon Brooks, and it spawned a great friendship. I'd been listening to Big Leon Brooks for many years and I knew that he just had to be recorded, because he was such a wonderful singer and harmonica player. So a friend and I pooled our money until we had enough to do some sessions and put out another record. Well, by this time, Big Leon was not in great health. He had heart problems, hypertension problems, all kinds of body problems. And when we finally got enough money together, we made a plan to go talk to him at his regular Sunday-night gig over at the [west-side neighborhood blues club] Golden Slipper--he was the harmonica player in Taildragger's band, and he would also do a good part of the singing during the set. Well, he wasn't there that night, and Taildragger [a relatively obscure Chicago blues singer who modeled himself after Howlin' Wolf] said, "Leon had a heart attack and he's in the hospital, and we're not sure if he's going to make it."