Chico and the Fan

A legendary drummer should go out with a bang

And he sure loved his job.

Back in Chism's room at Kivel, I'm admiring the relics from his career, some of which date back to the 1950s.

There's a flier for a show B.B. King played in Chism's hometown of Chicago; a framed painting of Carlos Santana; a concert poster featuring a young, grizzly-bearded Chism next to John Lee Hooker; and several black-and-white photographs. There's also a ceramic clock shaped like a red drum set on the window sill, and a pair of drumsticks wedged between some chair cushions. The drumsticks are beat to hell, with notches, ridges, and bumps that taper into splinters near the tips.

March of time: Chico Chism holds up his first record.
courtesy of Bob Corritore
March of time: Chico Chism holds up his first record.

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Featuring The Flamekeepers, Big Pete Pearson, Lynne Avril, Bob Corritore, Nightshift featuring The Chief and Tom Grills, George Bowman, Walkin' Cane Mark, Mike Howard, Matt Row, Hans Olson, Blues Dinosaurs, Johnny Rapp, and more; scheduled to take place Tuesday, January 30
Rhythm Room

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Because of the dementia, Chism doesn't tell stories anymore (he really doesn't speak more than a couple of words at a time), but he smiles when I pick up the drumsticks. "Damn, Chico, you really played the hell out of these!"

Chism nods. "Yep."

I spend several minutes holding his drum sticks and turning them over in my hands. Finally, Chism looks bored and starts scooting toward the hall.

"Show you something," he says, in his gruff, bluesy voice.

We end up strolling through the dining room, where some jazzy canned music is playing on the speakers. "What's this music?" I ask Chism. "They need some blues in here!"

Chism laughs. "Heh-heh. Yeah, that's right!"

He meanders over to one of the dining tables and points to a placard with the name "Chico Chism" on it. And I remember how he'd corrected the young guy who introduced him to me two years ago as just "Chico Chism."

"I'm the legendaryChico Chism," he'd said.

As Corritore said afterwards, "Coming from anybody else, that might have sounded arrogant, but coming from Chico, it's just a fact."

After showing me the placard that does not have his proper title on it, Chism shuffles back toward his room. I call after him.

"Hey, you gonna be at the show they're having for you at the Rhythm Room?"

Chism stops and turns to me. "Oh . . . yeeaah," he says, with a gleam in his eye. Then he winks, blows me a kiss, and strolls off down the white hallway.

Of course Chism wouldn't want to miss one more chance to dive into the blues bag. Because, as Chism told me shortly after I met him, "I'm a blues guy, through and through, because the blues is about feeling. That's why the blues will always be alive.

"And that's why I've spent my life in the blues."

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