JAZZ, GYPSY, AND KLEZMER
Jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman, born in 1909, grew up in the Maxwell Street area. His father was a tailor, and enrolled his children in a synagogue music program. Soon Benny joined the Hull House Band, and began a music career as a swing band leader.
Klezmer music is based on Jewish folk tunes and the lively Romani (Gypsy) styles. Horns and violins are prominent. In America, the music has evolved to include elements of jazz and Broadway show tunes, in a melting pot just like Maxwell Street. Maxwell Street Klezmer Band of Skokie, IL formed in 1983 and carries on at Chicago area Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and tours in festivals.
Here’s a sample of their sound.
Romani (Gypsy) music, with its lively, plaintive fiddles and a kind of hammered dulcimer known as a cimbalom, is loved all over the world. The Romani originated in India and began migrating between 500 and 1000 AD. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romani_people
Maxwell Street preservationist Steve Balkin, a Roosevelt University professor, has compiled more information on the Romani people in Chicago: http://sites.roosevelt.edu/sbalkin/roma/
“In 1988 my son was ten years old; we went to Maxwell Street looking for baseball cards. It was a perfect summer day. We were struck by the variety of music blaring from various sellers’ tables; gospel, rap, the blues, Broadway musicals, ranchero, you name it, it was there. At one point in the distance I heard what sounded like Italian opera. Following the sound we found an old man sitting behind a card table with a few old tools, a broken flashlight, and assorted other items he appeared to be selling. His hands were folded in front of him. He looked half asleep. The sound I heard was coming from an old, beat-up looking boom box. I was once a music major; my curiosity piqued, I had to ask him about the music. I got his attention. “That sounds like Robert Merrill the Metropolitan Opera baritone. Is that aria he’s singing from the second act of La Traviata?” He hardly moved. But he spoke. “Robert Merrill, Robert Merrill. His mother wanted him to be a cantor. He wanted to be a professional baseball player. They compromised. Robert Merrill.” And then the “second verse”: “Robert Merrill, Robert Merrill. He married Roberta Peters (another opera star). It did not work out. She was a bitch. Robert Merrill. ” He continued in this way for several extra verses, more biography on the great late baritone. Never did his eyes meet mine. I asked him another question. He said nothing. Long pause. And we were on our way.”
—Michael Boruch, DePaul University professor, Maxwell Street Foundation board member
On Maxwell Street, preachers of all races and faiths appealed to the crowds, as Michael Shea’s documentary shows in And This is Free. One of the most faithful gospel singers was Carrie Robinson, who sang and danced in the spirit on Maxwell Street from the 1940s through the 1970s. Her “holy dance” for the song “Power” from this video was adapted, in a more secular fashion, on stage by the British rock group, the Rolling Stones.
Thomas A. Dorsey, a Georgia piano player who came to Chicago. He struggled his whole life over his role in secular vs. sacred music. He played the blues as “Georgia Tom,” often recording with guitarist Tampa Red for Bluebird Records in Chicago. Tragedies in his family led him to play sacred music, and he saw a need to connect gospel hymns with the feelings and rhythms people were expressing in their everyday music, the blues. But for a long time churches rejected his connection, because many people interpreted the blues as “the devil’s music.”
Some people associated blues with voodoo because of the music’s strong power. The music was, in fact, played in juke joints accompanied by alcohol, dancing and other “forbidden fruit.” Many bluesmen, however, view their talents as a gift from God which helped them survive the worst and still enjoy life. Honeyboy Edwards said, in his autobiography The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing, “God learned me music. He gave me that gift. He looks down on me. I go out and play my guitar, travel all over the world.”
Thomas A. Dorsey, known as the father of African American gospel music, went through nervous breakdowns and the tragic deaths of his wife and son in childbirth. He survived to write the magnificent gospel hymn “Precious Lord,” which is still sung at many funerals. After many years, his ideas were accepted. Dorsey co-founded the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses in 1933, and teamed musically with the powerfully inspired Chicago South Side singer Mahalia Jackson six years later to popularize the gospel form.
On Maxwell Street, Blind Jim Brewer and his wife Fannie were among musicians playing both blues and gospel.
A. What is the Blues?
The African American traditions of blues and gospel grew from the same roots in the south: spirituals, work songs, and “field hollers”. Just as in Africa, music—singing and rhythm— kept the community together, since slave times, as they coped with backbreaking labor, cruelty and injustice. The music could be about praising or pleading with God. It could also be stories about the problems, joys and sorrows of people’s daily lives—what Chicago blues master Willie Dixon called “blues: the facts of life.”
….a master musician’s view:
“The whole of life itself expresses the blues. That’s why I always say the blues are the true facts of life expressed in words and song, inspiration, feeling and understanding…All of these songs came from the original tom-toms of Africa, the rhythms of Africa. They were doing code systems with rhythm long before America, and these code systems were the talking drums all over Africa delivering messages. Music today is nothing but the old original beat, only they’re making it with musical instruments instead of the drum. And the African people did always tell stories. That’s where most of the Biblical stories come from.”
—Chicago blues songwriter, arranger, bass player and producer Willie Dixon, in his autobiography I Am the Blues
….a poet’s view: Maxwell Street: “…Confluence of blood and heart: One Beat”
Poet Sterling Plumpp and guitarist Jimmie Lee Robinson break it down in rhythm:
What is the Maxwell Street Sound?
….a critic’s view:
“Maxwell Street is significant to the history of blues not just because music was performed there, but because music was created there. Beginning in the 1920’s, Maxwell Street was the first stopping place for thousands of African-Americans newly arrived from the Mississippi Delta. There, the newcomers could hear established city musicians, and vice versa. This continuous interaction over the course of several decades following the Second World War produced what is typically called “Chicago Blues”, but which could just as easily be called “The Maxwell Street Blues.” Where in previous decades, recorded Delta Blues had been modified to fit the popular song styles of the day, on Maxwell Street it was left raw and simply amplified, both in volume and dramatic intensity. When recorded, the result became not only the dominant form of blues, but a vehicle that radically changed the emerging sound of rock and roll. The sound of bands like the Rolling Stones, Cream, Led Zeppelin and many others came about when English teenagers tried to duplicate the music of Maxwell Street bluesmen.”
—Chuck Cowdery, author of Blues Legends featuring photos by Raeburn Flerlage, Gibbs-Smith, 1995
….a videographer’s view:
A 1981 documentary trailer sums up the sights and the musical soundtrack of Maxwell Street’s history, from scenes of early 20th century Jewish stores to 1930s “hokum” songs, to the popular recorded rockin’ blues of the 1950s, to the street musicians using their van as a stage backdrop, to the “Happy Bus” driver who sings “Count Your Blessings” while taking passengers along Roosevelt Road to Halsted.
B. Maxwell Street Sounds through the Years
We present some of the artists and promoters who influenced and helped develop the Maxwell Street sound; the musicians of the golden age of Chicago blues; the rock music that branched off from it; and the musicians who have continued to play it well into the 21st century. Although music has no boundaries, we’ve outlined five historical eras.
- 1. Southern Roots, Northern Fruits 1920-1945
- 2. Postwar Chicago Blues 1945-1970
- 3. Influence on Rock n Roll 1960s-70s
- 4. Urban Blues 1970-2000
- 5. 21st Century Blues 2001-
1. Southern Roots, Northern Fruits 1920-1945
When gospel Composer Thomas A. Dorsey, who recorded blues as Georgia Tom, arrived in Chicago in 1919, “There wasn’t much blues then. It was ragtime. Ragtime.” Dorsey explained to Living Blues Magazine, “See, you didn’t’t have the blues singers. The blues wasn’t recognized much until the blues singers got a break, till they got a chance [to record], see. And then the blues began to spread.” Coming up from the south, musicians were used to the natural sounds of stringed instruments, horns, drums, fiddles, banjos, washtubs and voices played on the street, in the church or on people’s front porches. The city was faster, louder; their music speeded up and they looked for ways to amplify the sound. Metal resonator guitars like the Dobro and National Steel helped; but when electric guitars were invented, the musicians quickly adopted the new amplifiers. Jewtown store owners were only too glad to let them plug in their electric cords, for the music drew a crowd in front of each store.
Learning from blood relatives and musical mentors, bluesmen and women have passed the music and stagecraft, since the early 19th century minstrel shows through the early 20th century revues featuring singers like Bessie Smith, to the present day. Recordings have preserved some of the sound and the history, but the thread of connection, through friendships, marriages, and kinships, is best known among the musicians themselves. By the early 20th century, music began to be recorded and sold, and bluesmen and blueswomen learned and copied tunes and styles from musicians across the country. The Maxwell Street “sound” was created, beginning in the 1920s.
2. Postwar Chicago Blues 1945-1970
“The guys that played [there] in the 1940s, [myself], Moody Jones, Floyd Jones, Little Walter – we built the road for the blues in Chicago for Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and all the rest. We were the pioneers of the blues.”
—Jimmie Lee Robinson, Chicago blues musician, quoted in Lori Grove and Laura Kamedulski’s book Chicago’s Maxwell Street
Today’s favored Chicago blues songs date back to this era, when the blues hit its heyday on the R& B charts. Electric guitar, bass and drums held down each small band, accompanied by piano, harmonica and sometimes a saxophone. Willie Dixon, bass player, arranger and producer, wrote many of these hits, working with musicians at Chess Records (Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and Koko Taylor) and Cobra (Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, and Magic Sam). VeeJay, a Black-owned record company founded in Gary, Indiana, reached an even larger potential audience with blues acts like Jimmy Reed, plus R&B and pop stars like Gene Chandler (“Duke of Earl”) and even an early Beatle album, before folding in 1966.
Most of the recording artists, like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, were signed to a circuit of clubs and tours, so they didn’t much play on Maxwell Street. Little Walter Jacobs was an exception; he played the street until he died. A photo by Ray Flerlage shows him outdoors playing guitar, avoiding trouble with the musicians’ union which had registered him as a harmonica player.
Many other blues people would visit the Market and sit-in with performers, or come to recruit musicians to play in their bands. While working as a producer for the short-lived West Side label Cobra Records, Willie Dixon would take Buddy Guy over to Jewtown every Sunday to practice his showmanship. In his autobiography I Am the Blues, Dixon wrote that he would tell Buddy, “Man, put some show into the guitar. Throw it up, catch it!” Buddy practiced and became well known for his guitar tricks.
CRITIC CHUCK COWDERY’S RECOMMENDED BOOKS, RECORDS, AND VIDEOS
VIDEOS and CD RECORDINGS
And this is Maxwell Street (CD, Rooster Blues)
Recorded on Maxwell Street in 1964 for the documentary film And This Is Free, the original master tapes were discovered a few years ago and have now (October, 2000) been released as a three CD set. Two of the CDs contain music, the third is an interview with Robert Nighthawk conducted by Mike Bloomfield. Featured on the music disks are Maxwell Street regulars such as Nighthawk, Johnny Young, Carey Bell, Blind Arvella Gray, Jim and Fanny Brewer, and Robert Whitehead. Living Blues, the distinguished blues periodical, named this collection Best Historical Album of the Year for 2001. It also was nominated for the 2001 W. C. Handy Award for Best Historical Blues Album by the Blues Foundation. This is a tremendously enjoyable recording and as real as it gets. Highly recommended.
Masters of Modern Blues (CD Testament records)
Floyd Jones & Eddie Taylor Although recorded in 1966, the tracks here—especially the ones featuring Floyd Jones—are very much what you would have heard Floyd and his cousin, Moody Jones, playing on Maxwell Street in the 40s and 50s. The first rate band here includes Big Walter Horton on harp, Otis Spann on piano and Fred Below on drums. Pete Welding was the producer and Norm Dayron was the engineer.
Modern Chicago Blues (CD Testament)
A terrific collection of 21 songs recorded between 1962 and 1966 by the team of Pete Welding and Norm Dayron, it features Johnny Young, Wilbert Jenkins, Maxwell Street Jimmy, Big Walter Horton, Robert Nighthawk, John Lee Granderson, John Wrencher and William Mack, with Otis Spann and other notables in the band on various cuts. Recording locations are not identified, but Welding and Dayron typically recorded in clubs, homes and on Maxwell Street, rather than in studios, so this is about as real as it gets.
House of Blues “Blues Masters Vol. 2: Postwar Chicago Blues (CD Rhino)
A terrific collection of 18 songs recorded in Chicago between 1950 and 1962, with an appropriate picture of Maxwell Street on the cover. The artists include Baby Face Leroy, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson (aka Rice Miller), Johnny Shines, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, Eddie Boyd, Robert Lockwood, J.B. Lenoir, Jimmy Reed, Jody Williams, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Buddy Guy, Earl Hooker and Junior Wells.
Chess 50th Anniversary Little Walter: his Best (CD MCA)
“These are the recordings that changed the sound and style of blues harmonica forever, and everyone who came after him was as influenced by him as jazz saxophonists were by Charlie Parker,” writes Cub Koda in All Music Guide.
Big Joe Williams, Shake Your Boogie (CD Arhoolie) 1990, combines two Arhoolie albums, “Tough Times” from 1960 and “Thinking of What They Did” from 1969.
Big Joe Williams, The Complete Recorded Works Vol 1 (1935-1941) (CD Document Records)
A collection of his early recordings for the Bluebird label. Of all the artists produced by Lester Melrose during that period, Big Joe remained closest to his Delta roots. Although he traveled continuously for most of his career, until his death in 1982 at the age of 79, he spent a lot of time in Chicago. Some of these tracks feature the original Sonny Boy Williamson on harp, creating a sound many believe was a preview of what Muddy Waters and Little Walter would do later.
Sonny Boy Williamson, Sugar Mama, The Essential Recordings of Sonny Boy Williamson (CD Indigo)
A collection of tracks recorded between 1937 and 1942 in Chicago and nearby Aurora, Illinois. Accompanying him on some of the 24 tracks here are Big Joe Williams, Robert Lee McCoy, Henry Townsend, Yank Rachell, Walter Davis, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind John Davis, Washboard Sam and Charlie McCoy.
Chicago Blues Today (Vanguard 3 disc CD set)
The original set of 3 LPs was recorded and released in 1965. Sam Charters was the producer. This re-issue combines all three albums into a 3-disc set. Featured are Junior Wells, J. B. Hutto, Otis Spann, Jimmy Cotton, Otis Rush, Homesick James, Johnny Young, Johnny Shines and Big Walter Horton. Includes a 47-page booklet, with Sam Charters’ original liner notes. The music is terrific, a prime example of classic Chicago Blues.
American Folk Blues Festival (AFB) Vol 1, 1962-66: video (Universal Distribution)
Why it took 40 years for these tapes to be released has not been adequately explained, but this much I know: European tours by American blues artists began in the late 50s, with Big Bill Broonzy. In 1962, two German promoters, Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau, launched the American Folk Blues Festival, an annual fall tour of major European cities by a troupe of blues artists, mostly from Chicago, and mostly selected by Willie Dixon. Horst Lippmann also directed a show on a television station in Baden Baden, West Germany, and each year during the tour he featured the troupe on his show. The programs were recorded on first generation video tape equipment. They are in black and white. The fact that these performances of people such as Son House and Lonnie Johnson, not to mention Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, exist at all is incredible. The fact that the video and audio quality is superb, is nothing less than a miracle.
The AFB DVDs are compilations of performances from multiple years. This is how the music spawned on Maxwell Street reached the rest of the world. They were introduced to it by these tours and things like the television broadcast that occurred in conjunction with them. This is why Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Cream and the rest of the British blues bands happened. Direct Maxwell Street connections include Little Walter, Hound Dog Taylor, and even a young Jimmie Lee Robinson playing behind Big Mama Thornton on “Hound Dog.” See also The American Folk Blues Festival Volume Two (1962-1966) and The American Folk Blues Festival Volume Three (1962-1969)
Chicago Blues: The City and the Music, book by Mike Rowe (DeCapo Press, 1973, paperback, 226 pages. Still the definitive book on the development of Chicago Blues up through the 1960s. Naturally, there is a lot about Maxwell Street. —Chuck Cowdery
Urban Blues, book by Charles Keil, (University of Chicago Press, 1964, reissued 1992, 225 page paperback). The other definitive book on the development of urban blues, including Chicago Blues. More analytical than Rowe’s book, but Rowe’s is better if you’re primarily interested in the Chicago scene. —Chuck Cowdery
A FURTHER NOTE: Keil, a musicologist, was acquainted with Malcolm X and with some leaders in the Black Arts movement of the 1960s. Keil broke ranks with other White critics of the day, who thought electric blues was somehow inauthentic compared to acoustic country blues. Instead, he said the urban bluesmen’s louder, more aggressive performance was a legitimate way of declaring the Black community’s identity and claiming their place in American society. —Bonni McKeown
Blues Legends, by Chuck Cowdery (Gibbs Smith, Publisher, 1995). This book by Maxwell Street Foundation’s former president summarizes the biographies of 20 blues artists who powerfully influenced later developments in popular music. Most worked out of Chicago and many performed on Maxwell Street. The book comes with a 10-song CD and striking, black and white shots by the late photographer Raeburn Flerlage.
3. Influence on Rock ‘n’ roll
Just as Elvis Presley copied African American rock n roll creators like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Fats Domino promoted by Sam Phillips at Sun Records in the 1950s, British rock’n’roll bands copied and built upon American blues. In the 1960s, Chess Records producer and bass man Willie Dixon took many of his songs to the British bands. Brit rockers came over, hung out on Maxwell Street and followed Chicago’s blues stars around clubs on the North, West and South Sides.
The Rolling Stones took special note of Maxwell Street. Mick Jagger’s loose-shouldered stage routine imitates Carrie Robinson’s “holy dance” on the street as she sings the gospel song “Power!” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pm_C36n76VA Carrie’s dance is recorded in Mike Shea’s 1964 documentary “And This is Free.” (The documentary is included on the DVD in the box set And This is Free sold on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/And-This-Is-Free-Legendary/dp/B0015FQZCQ )
American rock bands also looked to Chicago and Maxwell Street for song ideas. Sometimes they were fairly compensated, as in Van Halen paying royalties to blues guitarist John Brim for “Ice Cream Man.” But other times the bluesmen had to fight to get paid, as when Floyd Jones contested the rock group Canned Heat’s use of his lyrics “On the Road Again.” Jones told Living Blues Magazine (LB 59, Spring 1984) that Canned Heat band members Bob Hite, Henry Vestine and Alan Wilson were blues record collectors and very likely bought a 78 rpm record of Jones’ 1953 JOB Records version of “On the Road Again” at Bernard Abrams’ Maxwell Radio Shop. Jones said he eventually won a settlement.
CRITIC CHUCK COWDERY’s ROCK ALBUM AND DVD REVIEWS
This sampling shows the musical relationship between Chicago blues and 1960s-70s rock:
Led Zeppelin, Early Days; The Best of Led Zeppelin, Volume 1 (WEA/Atlantic). There are many Zeppelin box sets and all of the original albums are available as CDs, as Zep has been one of the most enduring bands from the 70s. They also never strayed far from their roots. Except for the Middle-Eastern stuff, most of their music was based on the style of blues pioneered on Maxwell Street. This collection of early hits is a cheap way to get a taste. The CD also includes a video of a very early performance of “Communication Breakdown.” Another good choice would be their self-titled 1969 debut, which featured songs originally performed by Howlin’ Wolf and Otis Rush that aren’t on the “Early Days” compilation.
Cream, The Very Best of Cream (Uni/A&M). They only made four albums, so this 20-song compilation tells you most of what you need to know. Although Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were always more jazz-oriented, Eric Clapton was and remains a devotee of blues in all its forms. Along with Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, Cream made the Maxwell Street sound the world’s sound.
Rolling Stones The Rolling Stones, 12 x 5 (Uni/ABKCO). On their first few albums, the Rolling Stones were essentially trying to duplicate the Chess sound of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon and Little Walter. This is probably the best of them and includes their homage to Chess, “2120 South Michigan Avenue.”
4. Urban Blues 1970-2000
While the rock boys rocked on, the blues, soul and R&B musicians held forth at neighborhood clubs on the West and South Sides, as well as tourist clubs on the North Side and at the annual Chicago Blues Festival.
Maxwell Street, despite its rough condition, was a magnet for young U.S. and international musicians who respected the blues and wanted to learn and practice on the street. Tom Swain of Oklahoma came to Chicago and worked part time at Maxwell Music Center, 18th and Halsted. He played harmonica with bass player John Henry Davis (age 38, from Clarksdale, MS) and drummer Porkchop Hines at Newberry and Maxwell, just west of Blind Arvella Gray’s spot. Swain mapped out the street’s favorite blues spots and wrote an article for Living Blues magazine July-Aug. 1975. Next to Mrs. Cousins’ soul food place on Peoria Street, Swain reported, fiery young Melvin Taylor had just set up a new band, after learning guitar from another Maxwell Street regular, Li’l Pat Rushing. On 14th and Newberry Streets were spots for Big John Wrencher and Blind Jim Brewer.
Help Us Identify the Musicians in this 1979 video.
Contact us at
Nearly a decade later, in the Chicago Reader, October 13, 1988, West Side blues critic David Whiteis wrote: “Every Sunday morning, the energy of the Maxwell Street market area rises phoenix-like from the rubble. The crowds, the hustlers, the musicians, and the entire cavalcade of sights, sounds, and smells still combine to transform the desolate wasteland into a once-a-week carnival.” http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/maxwell-street-blues/Content?oid=872877
At the turn of the 21st century, blues musicians led by Johnnie Mae Dunson, Frank “Sonny” Scott, and Jimmie Lee Robinson actively protested the destruction of their heritage and home. When the street was wiped out, a part of them died too. Jimmie Lee went on a hunger strike: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2002-07-10/news/0207100252_1_american-folk-blues-festival-blues-aficionados-maxwell-street
Chicago Blues on Maxwell Street
(Identified left to right, beginning in front row}
Piano C. Red, Mad Dog Lester Davenport, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Jimmie Lee Robinson, Bonnie Lee, Zora Young, Johnnie Mae Dunson, Robert Dancin’ Perkins, “Top Hat” Bobby Davis, Mr. H (Baron of the Blues), Frank “Little Sonny Scott Jr. Carolyn “The Blues Lady” Alexander, Clarence “Little Scotty” Scott, Johnny Drummer, Grana Louise, Nellie “Tiger” Travis, Gloria Shannon, Pat Smillie, Fruteland Jackson, Robert “Blunt Nose” Osborne, Charles Earwin, Charlie Love, Alex “Easy Baby” Randle, James Washington, Ray Scott, Milton Huston, Eddie C. Campbell, Robert “Huckleberry Hound” Wright, Tenry Johns, Frank Williams, Parl, James Wheeler, Calvin “Vino” Louden, Shunsuke Kikuta, Joe Barr, Steve Balkin, Willie Buckner, Larry Taylor, Minoru Maruyanma, Dave Weld, Pete Allen, Nick “Biscuit” Charles, Mose Rutues, John Sibley, Willie Kent, Casey Jones, J.M. June, Melvin Smith, David Caldwell, Ice Mike Thomas, Jumpin’ Willie Cobbs, Vince Reed
—Photo by Robert Jr. Whitall March 4, 2001 and published in Big City Rhythm and Blues, 2003.
RECOMMENDED CHICAGO BLUES LITERATURE: 1970-2000
Blues Speak: Best of the Original Blues Annual, edited by Lincoln Beauchamp, U. of Illinois Press 2010. “Chicago Beau” published his annual cultural magazine from 1989-1995. His articles delve into race and economics, connecting Chicago blues with jazz and African-based world music. http://blues.about.com/od/bluesbooks/gr/Lincoln-Beauchamp-BluesSpeak.htm
David “Honeyboy” Edwards, The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing, Chicago Review Press in 1997. Honey shares his epic 20th century travels with the most iconic of fellow bluesmen from Mississippi to Chicago.
Living Blues magazines, 1970-1983: Jim and Amy O’Neal founded this magazine, and it gave a close-up view of Chicago blues culture, including the local West Side, South Side and suburban scenes, until the magazine moved to the University of Mississippi, Oxford in 1983. These old editions are available on the 8th floor of Chicago’s Harold Washington Library, and are likely also to be found in the Bluesoterica archive of former editor Jim O’Neal. http://22.214.171.124/bluesoterica/index.asp
5. 21st Century (2000 – )
Over the years, the neighborhood clubs which feature live blues, soul and R&B became fewer and fewer, and the older blues musicians, the ones who brought it from the south to Chicago, continued to die off. Despite the lack of promotion on the radio, scant coverage in the Chicago mainstream and urban media, and lack of recognition in the music industry (only one category of “Blues” remains in the Grammy award field), the musicians and fans refuse to let the music die. Maxwell Street musicians have come to the market after it was moved to Canal Street and then to DesPlaines. They’ve continued playing in bands around the city and suburbs. They also have gathered at the annual Chicago Blues Festival, often at street performance areas rather than being featured on the main stages.
Maxwell Street blues reunion on small stage at 2008 Chicago Blues Fest:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIZ5tW-6E0M Featuring Robert “Dancin'” Perkins on bass, his long-time guitarist Riler “Ice Man” Robinson on guitar, “Smilin’ Bobby” Smith on guitar, Frank “Little Sonny” Scott on percussion, and Dancin’ Perkins’ son Chris (who began playing drums in his dad’s band on Maxwell Street at the age of 8) on drums.
RECOMMENDED 21st CENTURY BLUES BOOKS, WEB LINKS:
Critic David Whiteis has a chapter, “Maxwell Street: Last Dance at the Carnival of the Soul,” and chapters on blues singer Clarence Scott (Little Scotty) and guitarist Lurie Bell, in his book, Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories, U. of Illinois Press, 2006 http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/85epd5hc9780252030680.html
Blues and Soul singer/drummer Larry Hill Taylor, growing up on the West Side of Chicago with blues musicians for parents, visited Maxwell Street often as a youngster. Larry tells his raw urban story in the book Stepson of the Blues, co-written by his publicist Bonni McKeown, 2010, Peaceful Patriot Press http://www.stepsonoftheblues.com
Today’s Chicago Blues, Lake Claremont Press 2007: Karen Hanson, a writing teacher at DeVry University and a relatively new blues fan, made things simple for other newcomers in her guidebook to blues venues and entertainers in the mid-2000s.
Rosalind Cummings-Yeates did somewhat of an update for tourists with her own book Exploring Chicago Blues, History Press, 2014, available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. A world-wise travel writer with roots in Mississippi, she introduces the rapidly-changing club scene and profiles several musicians http://www.rosalindcummingsyeates.com/exploring-chicago-blues/
For info on the current Chicago blues scene, always check out Lori “Low-reen” Lewis, who plays guitar or bass in the Maxwell Street Market Band with Paul Petraitis, Stewart Rashid, and Jimmi Mayes. She specializes in knowing the “holes in the wall” where the best soul and blues can be found, and in the areas north of Chicago http://lowreensliveblues.com
For a mainstream guide to blues and blues-rock acts and events in the area, see Linda Cain and Jennifer Noble’s Chicago Blues Guide http://www.chicagobluesguide.com/index.html
The Windy City Blues Society website posts clubs, events, and bands http://windycityblues.org/musicians/
C. MAXWELL STREET BLUES MUSICIAN BIOGRAPHIES
Index by first names:
- Anderson “Al” Harris, 1953-2009
- Alex “Easy Baby” Randle, 1934-2009
- Arvella (Blind Arvella ) Gray, 1906-1980
- Arthur (Little Arthur) Duncan, 1934-2008
- Baby Face Leroy Foster, 1923-1958
- Bernard Abrams, 1918-1997: Ora Nelle Records
- Bill (Big Bill) Broonzy, 1893-1958
- Blind Percy (Robinson) ?? – ??
- Bobby Too Tuff, 1932-
- Bobby Top Hat Davis, 1932-
- Coot “Tenor” “Playboy” Venson: ?? – ??
- “Daddy Stovepipe” Johnny Watson, 1867-1963
- Dancin’ (Robert) Perkins, 1931-
- Dave Lindsey, 195? to 200?)
- Eddie C. Campbell, 1939-
- Eddie Taylor, 1923-1985
- Floyd Jones, 1917-1989
- Frank “Little Sonny” Scott, 1927-
- Good Rockin’ Charles, 1933-1989
- Mr. H. , ?? – – ??
- Honeyboy Edwards, 1915-2011
- Homesick James Williamson, 1910-2006
- Horst Lippman, 1927-1997
- Hound Dog Taylor, 1915-1975
- J.B. Hutto, 1926-1983
- Jim (Blind Jim) Brewer 1920-1988
- Jimmie Lee Robinson, 1931-2002
- Jimmy (Maxwell St/Jewtown Jimmy) Davis, 1925-1995
- Jimmy Dawkins, 1936-2013
- Jimmy Reed, 1925-1976
- Jimmy Rogers, 1924-1997
- Joe (Big Joe) Williams 1903-1982
- John Brim, 1922-2003 ; Grace Brim, 1924-1999
- John Henry Barbee, 1905-1964
- John Lee Granderson, 1913-1979
- John Lee Hooker, 1917-2001
- John (Big John) Wrencher, 1924-1977
- Johnnie Mae Dunson Smith, 1921-2007
- Johnny Dollar 1941-200?
- Johnny Drummer, 1938 –
- Johnny Harper ?? — ??
- Johnny Shines, 1915-1992
- Johnny Williams, 1906-2006
- Johnny Young, 1917-1974
- Kid Dynamite ?? –
- Kansas City Red, 1926-1991
- LV. Banks, 1932-2011
- Larry Taylor, 1955-
- Left Hand Frank Craig, 1935-1992
- Leon (Big Leon) Brooks, 1933-1982
- Lester Melrose, 1891-1968: Bluebird Records
- Lurie Bell, 1958-
- Matt “Guitar” Murphy, 1929-
- Melvin Taylor, 1959-
- Michael Bloomfield, 1943-1981
- Moody Jones, 1908-1988
- Othum Brown ( ??- ??)
- Papa Charlie Jackson, 1885-1938
- Pat (Li’l Pat) Rushing, 1928-2008
- Piano C Red, 1933-2013
- Porkchop Hines ??-??
- Queen Sylvia Embry, 1941-1992, and John Embry, 1931 -1985
- Riler “Ice Man” Robinson, 1929-
- Robert Nighthawk, 1909-1967
- Scotty (Little Scotty) Scott, 1945-2012
- Smilin’ Bobby Smith, 1939-
- Snooky (James Edward) Pryor, 1921-2006
- Sonny Boy Williamson I, 1914-1948
- Sunnyland Slim, 1903-1995
- Twist Turner, 1954 –
- Walter (Big Walter “Shakey”) Horton, 1918-1981
- Walter (Little Walter) Jacobs: 1930-1968
- Willie (Little Willie) Anderson, 1920-1991
Anderson “Al” Harris, 1953-2009
Al Harris moved to Chicago from Shreveport, LA in the early 1960s. In his early teens, he learned how to play guitar from a South Side neighbor. He also played drums, piano and just about any other instrument put in front of him, but singing was what he relished most, said Sectoria “Peaches” Madison, the mother of his daughter.
Beginning in the 7th grade, Harris played throughout the Chicago area. He also worked as a forklift operator in steel mills, family said. On Maxwell Street, he could be found regularly in the backyard of Nate’s Delicatessen, an institution that made a cameo in the film “The Blues Brothers” as the Soul Food Cafe. There, in front of a five-piece band, Harris would show off his mellow baritone. http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/al-harris/Content?oid=907463 He put a heartfelt, funky West Side spin on soul favorites like Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” and Sam Cooke’s “Change Gonna Come.” Harris performed in the Chicago Blues fest in 2008, his last major appearance before he died in January 2009. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2009-02-01/news/0901310141_1_mr-harris-maxwell-street-singing
Alex “Easy Baby” Randle, 1934-2009
Alex “Easy Baby” Randle, singer, drummer and harmonica player, was born in Memphis. He took after his mother and uncle, who both played harmonica. Playing in the juke joints and gambling houses in Memphis, he befriended Howlin’ Wolf, James Cotton, Joe Hill Louis, and other blues men. In 1956, Easy Baby moved to Chicago, playing all over town and working as a mechanic. He led a raucous house band in the 1970s at the Rat Trap at Cermak and Keeler. He’s recorded on Barrelhouse and Rooster Blues, the Austrian label Wolf, and on the Random Records Harmonica Orgy anthology. He played at the Chicago Blues Festival in 1998, 2000, and 2003. http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/alex-easy-baby-randle/Content?oid=907503
Arvella (Blind Arvella ) Gray, 1906-1980
Born James Dixon in Somerville, TX, Gray was a farmer, laborer and roustabout for the Ringling Bros. circus. In addition to his lack of sight, he lost a thumb and a finger in a shotgun incident in 1930, but learned to play guitar in spite of the handicap. He’d wander, singing, through the crowds of Maxwell Street from the early 1930s through 1970s, a National resonator steel guitar hung around his neck and a cup pinned to his lapel to collect tips. He recorded in 1964, his own version of the railroad ballad “John Henry” which mentioned buying a dress on Maxwell Street. All Music Guide says Gray may have had a hand in writing the Bob Dylan song “He was a Friend of Mine.” Ira Berkow interviewed Arvella for his book Maxwell Street: Survival in a Bazaar. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/blind-arvella-gray-mn0000861374/biography
Blind Arvella plays his Maxwell Street version of the ballad “John Henry”, c. 1964, on the And This Is Free: The Life and Times of Chicago’s Legendary Maxwell Street CD. Also see his live performance of this song on the Street in Mike Shea’s film, And This Is Free.
Arthur (Little Arthur) Duncan, 1934-2008
Born in Indianola, MS, raised on the same Woodburn Plantation as B.B. King, Little Arthur Duncan migrated to Chicago with most of his family. He taught himself harmonica hearing his upstairs Chicago neighbor, Little Walter Jacobs, practicing. He played harmonica “upside down” with bass notes on the right, according to Komara’s Blues Encyclopedia. Arthur settled on the West Side and played with Maxwell Street/West Side musicians like Earl Hooker, Little Willie Foster, Floyd Jones and Jimmy Reed, who greatly influenced his style. Larry Taylor recalls playing drums in the late 1970s-early 80s with Arthur’s group, named the Backscratchers after the favorite Slim Harpo song: Willie Charles Burns on bass, Hip Linkchain guitar. In 1989 he cut Bad Reputation for the Blues King label, and that year was documented alongside Robert Plunkett and Emery “Detroit Junior” Williams on Cannonball’s “Blues Across America—The Chicago Scene.” Arthur managed businesses including his club Artesia at Hamlin and Lake Streets, which by 1991 had moved to Madison and LaVerne. http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/little-arthur-duncan/Content?oid=878530 He recorded in 1999-2000 for Delmark (“Singing with the Sun”) and Random Chance. Arthur kept playing around Chicago til his final illness and death.
Little Arthur Duncan plays harmonica on “And This is Free: Live on Maxwell Street.”
Baby Face Leroy Foster, 1923-1958
A drummer and guitar player born 1923 in Algoma, MS, Foster worked for tips on Maxwell Street before graduating to the clubs playing with men like Sunnyland Slim, Sonny Boy Williamson and Lee Brown. Known as a goodtime party guy, in 1947 he joined with the fabled “Headhunters,” including Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers, who would musically “cut the heads” of any players foolish enough to challenge them on stage. Foster accompanied Little Johnny Jones recording “Big Town Playboy” in 1949; J.B. Lenoir in 1950, Little Walter in 1948 and 1950, Floyd Jones in 1948, playing drums on “Hard Times.” Beset by alcoholism, he died at age 35.
Leroy plays the hypnotic train-rhythm blues “Rollin’ and Tumblin,'” a with the Baby Face Trio, Muddy Waters and Little Walter, on the And This Is Free CD.
Bernard Abrams, 1918-1997: Ora Nelle Records
One of Chicago’s very first record companies to record blues was Ora-Nelle Records, owned and operated by Bernard Abrams and his wife Idel at their Radio and Records store at 729 ((823???) W. Maxwell Street. Ora-Nelle launched the career of harmonica master Little Walter Jacobs, and Abrams’ store was a friendly place for musicians and blues record collectors for years.
According to British writer Mike Rowe’s book Chicago Blues: The City and the Music, Ora Nelle issued only two records: one by the mandolin-guitar duo Johnny Young and Johnny Williams. The other was little Walter’s “I Just Keep Loving Her” with Othum Brown, backed by Walter’s harp on the other side, singing “Ora Nelle Blues.” The Abrams must have named the record company for Othum’s lady friend Ora Nelle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-E7z56E0DwI Another Maxwell Street musician, Jimmy Rogers, used the song’s key phrase “that’s all right” in his hit song several years later.
Bill (Big Bill) Broonzy, 1893-1958
Broonzy first played fiddle with Papa Charlie Jackson, learned guitar, got a foothold in Chicago nightclubs and in turn mentored other musicians. Through the 1930s he helped originate the small band sound (singer, guitar, piano, bass drums) typical of Chicago blues. On Dec. 23, 1938, Big Bill played solo in the first “Spirituals to Swing” concert at the Carnegie Hall in New York City—a stand-in for Robert Johnson who had been murdered that year. Bill toured Europe and lived in Amsterdam. He became a folk audience favorite and a founding faculty member of the Old Town School of Folk Music. In the benediction at the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, the civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery referred to the phrase “If you’re black, get back!” from Broonzy’s song “Black, Brown and White Blues.” http://www.broonzy.com
Blind Percy (Robinson?) ?? – ??
Blind Percy is the name of a musician who Jimmie Lee Robinson said helped teach him to play on Maxwell Street. http://paramountshome.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=95:mercy-mr-percy-that-is-surely-him&catid=45:new-york-recording-laboratoriesartist&Itemid=54
Percy may have had other stage names as well. He’s said to be one of the few harmonica players who used a rack around his neck to free up his hands to play guitar or other instrument at the same time, like Jimmy Reed and Bob Dylan. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/blind-percy-his-blind-band-mn0002300503/biography
Blind Percy and His Blind Band play “14th St Blues” c 1927 on the And This Is Free CD
Bobby Too Tuff, 1932-
Another Maxwell Street veteran, Bobby sings as a street performer, summer, 2006 (is this the later Canal St. Maxwell Market?) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yStDAOj2GPQ
Bobby Top Hat Davis, 1932-
Born in Dallas, TX, Bobby “Top Hat” Davis was already entertaining people at age nine, shining shoes and tap dancing outside the Dallas State Movie Theater. He collaborated with Texas bluesman Little Son Jackson in 1947, and taught himself to play drums and organ. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/bobby-davis-mn0001952769/biography Moving to Chicago in 1957, with Roscoe Gordon and Baby Face Willette, Davis got a longtime gig at the Crown Propeller Club. He played with Otis Rush, Eddie Boyd, and Matt “Guitar” Murphy, and occasionally drummed for Muddy Waters and accompanied Ray Charles in the 1980 film Blues Brothers. On Maxwell Street, From 1959 til 1967, Davis played organ by the service station at 14th and Halsted with drummer Rosie Davis and guitarist Eric Davis. Bobby had a blues show on public access TV Bobby’s own son Eric Davis, a promising 40 year old guitarist with a family of his own, was cruelly shot to death in his car before Christmas 2013 on the South Side after a night of playing music at the Kingston Mines. http://illinoisentertainer.com/2014/01/january-2014-sweet-home/
Coot “Tenor” “Playboy” Venson, ?? – ??
Venson was a drummer and harmonica player who accompanied Big Joe Williams in the late 1950s-early 60s. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4pL4d7EW9E Larry Taylor remembers his mother, around 1960, taking him to Maxwell Street when he was five years old, seeing a drum set for the first time and Coot playing it, wearing a top hat and a long overcoat summer and winter.
“Daddy Stovepipe” Johnny Watson, 1867-1963
A jug band style musician born in Alabama in 1867 right after the Civil War, Watson was among the earliest recorded bluesmen, making a record in Richmond Indiana 1924. He had begun playing in Mexico on 12-string guitar with mariachi bands in 1900, then with the traveling Rabbit Foot minstrels. His wife, known as Mississippi Sarah, sang and played the jug. The couple moved to Mississippi where Sarah died unexpectedly in 1937. Johnny traveled and played the southwest, then moved back to Chicago where he played as a one-man band on Maxwell Street til he died in 1963—a classy, sometimes lonely figure in his top hat and waistcoat. His statue keeps a vigil on the gentrified 21st century Maxwell Street. http://www.thebluestrail.com/artists/dstove.htm
“Daddy Stovepipe” Watson with his wife Mississippi Sarah, trade insults in a classic jug band tune on the And This Is Free CD, 1936 “The Spasm”
Dancin’ (Robert) Perkins, 1931-
Perkins, a bass player, was born in 1931 outside Baltimore, MD. His parents moved to the near South Side of Chicago; they took him to visit Maxwell Street when he was eight years old. He soon took up guitar and then bass. He played with John Davis (the “Mayor of Maxwell Street”), Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis, Pat Rushing, Willie James, and John Embrey, whom he credits “with keepin’ me going to play the Blues by finding me jobs at the clubs.”
He got the nickname, Dancin’, from his dance stepping while playing his bass. He is also known as Mr. Pitiful, from his former band with the late Magic Slim. Perkins kept the name Mr. Pitiful and Magic Slim kept the name Teardrops. Perkins played on Maxwell street from 1965 on, even at the new market at Canal Street after the old market was moved in 1994. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdeRc5vsoS4
Dave Lindsey, 195— to 200—?
Born in Chicago, son of West Side guitarist Big Bad Ben Murphy, Dave Lindsey led a band that held down the blues during the 1990s at Maxwell and Halsted before the market was moved to Canal Street. His hard-hitting, emotion-filled guitar playing drew praise from Chicago Tribune critic Howard Reich and poet Sterling Plumpp: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-04-13/features/9404130169_1_chicago-blues-real-blues-urban-blues Lindsey, a well organized band leader, stocked all kinds of musical instruments in his basement and rented them out reasonably to fellow musicians who lacked instruments or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMoo371JKiE David Lindsey backing Al Harris at the 1993 Taste of Chicago.
Eddie C. Campbell, 1939-
Eddie C’s shimmering West Side-styled guitar playing and introspective songwriting had their roots in Duncan Mississippi, where he left for the bright lights of Chicago at age ten, sneaking a peek at Muddy Waters and jamming with his idol when he was only 12. He fell in with some West Side young bloods—Luther Allison and Magic Sam—and played for Howlin Wolf, Little Walter, Little Johnny Taylor and Jimmy Reed. Koko Taylor recommended him to Willie Dixon, who hired him as a Chicago Blues All-Star in 1976. Eddie C. cut a few sides for local labels in the 60s, and in 1977 released the LP King of the Jungle (Mr. Blues). In 1984 he moved to Europe, then recorded CDs in 1994 for Blind Pig and in 2009 for Delmark. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/eddie-c-campbell-mn0000169690/biography In 2013, on tour in Germany, he was paralyzed by a stroke and heart attack. By the end of the year he’d recovered enough to play harmonica, but not yet guitar.
Eddie Taylor, 1923-1985
Born in Benoit, MS, guitarist Eddie Taylor started music early in life. His babysitter was Memphis Minnie, an extraordinary singer, songwriter and guitar player who moved, like many of the musicians of the time, from the Delta to Memphis to Chicago. As a young boy learning to play along with his friend Jimmy Reed, he followed guitar heroes Robert Johnson, Charley Patton and Son House. Arriving Chicago in 1949, Taylor played on Maxwell Street and in the clubs on the West and South Side, first with guitarist Jimmie Lee Robinson, then with harpist Snooky Pryor and guitarist Floyd Jones. He’s best known for laying down the boogie behind his old homey Reed. Taylor toured Europe and Japan, recording for VeeJay, Testament, Advent, Big Bear, and L&R Records. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/eddie-taylor-mn0000176673/biography Eddie and his wife Vera, a singer recorded on Wolf Records, raised a brood of Chicago blues musicians: Eddie Jr., blues guitarist and singer; Tim, a drummer; Larry, blues and soul singer and drummer Demetria, blues vocalist; Brenda, hiphop vocalist.
Here’s Eddie singing Peach Tree Blues (original by Yank Rachell) on the Testament Modern Blues Masters album featuring Floyd Jones on bass, Big Walter Horton harmonica, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jV-SL4ggtY
Floyd Jones, 1917-1989
A thoughtful guitarist from Marianna, Arkansas, guitarist Floyd Jones grew up with Howlin’ Wolf. In Chicago, he wrote memorable poor-man’s tunes such as “Hard Times” and “Stockyard Blues” as well as the haunting “Dark Road” about his mother’s death “when I was quite young.” He played with his cousin Moody Jones on Maxwell Street, as well as Johnny Shines, Big Walter Horton, Eddie Taylor. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/floyd-jones-mn0000194122/biography
He switched to bass as that electric instrument became popular. Floyd had his own hard times recovering royalties in court when the rock band Canned Heat “borrowed” the words to his “On the Road Again.” (see Living Blues magazine issues 58, 59, winter and spring 1984).
Floyd Jones plays “Dark Road,” c. 1952, on the And This is Free CD.
Frank “Little Sonny” Scott, 1927-
Frank Scott was born in Montgomery, TX, and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Moving to the Maxwell Street area in Chicago, he played harmonica and drums and sang blues on the street. Later he created his own folk art items such as Maxwell Street crosses and, around 2000, built a wooden Juketown Bandstand at the northeast corner of Maxwell and Halsted, to protest the demolition of 2001. Even after his bandstand and the stores were torn down, Sonny Scott continued to show up on various streets and at the Maxwell Street Foundation booth at the Chicago Blues Fest during the 2000’s. http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/blues-plate-special/Content?oid=908489
Frank appears along with Jimmie Lee Robinson, Sleepy Otis Hunt, Willie Hudson and Bill Warren on a CD produced in 1995 by photographer Jim Fraher, Lost American Bluesman: http://www.amazon.com/Lost-American-Bluesmen/dp/B000005BNA/ref=ntt_mus_dp_dpt_1
Good Rockin’ Charles, 1933-1989
Inspired by both Sonny Boy Williamsons and Little Walter Jacobs, Charles Edwards, born in 1933 in Tuscaloosa AL, began playing harp shortly after hitting Chicago in 1949. Suffering studio fright, he ducked out of playing on guitarist Jimmy Rogers’ 1956 Chess recording of “Walking by Myself” — leaving the door wide-open for Big Walter Horton to step in with afine solo. Steve Wisner’s short-lived Mr. Blues label recorded Charles in 1975, later re-issued by P-Vine. He’s best known for playing with Johnny Young, Lee Jackson, Arthur Spires, and Otis “Big Smokey” Smothers. Through the late 1970s and 1980s he showed up to play at the Delta Fish Market.
Mr. H. (Baron of the Blues), played harmonica for 50 years with Bobby Top Hat Davis. Mr. H was raised in the Pilsen neighborhood next door to Maxwell Street , where he began to listen and play with the musicians in the 1960s. In the early 1990s he played often with Piano C Red’s group at the makeshift Blues stage in front of the Johnny Dollar Thrift Shop. He helped protest the street’s demolition through 2000.
Honeyboy Edwards, 1915-2011
Born in Shaw, MS, David “Honey” Edwards was one of the last Delta guitar players to travel and perform professionally. http://www.davidhoneyboyedwards.com He hoboed (v.t.) and played music around the south with Robert Johnson, Sunnyland Slim, Eddie Taylor and both Big and Little Walter. Hearing of prosperity on Maxwell Street, Honey migrated to Chicago in 1945 with harmonica player Little Walter. They found the street thronged with people of all kinds. He and Walter made their money. “The best sound,” he said in his autobiography, “got the best crowd.” Honey continued to play, tour and share his life stories, most recently on the Earwig label with Michael Frank, til his death at age 96. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7UV0JKEfVQ
Homesick James Williamson, 1910-2006
Homesick (as most of his colleagues and fans called him) was born in Somerville, Tennessee, some 25 miles east of Memphis. Connecting with other musicians, he moved to Chicago during the late 1930s or 40s and worked a day job in a steel mill.During the 1950s he played in the city’s clubs, often with the harmonica player Snooky Pryor or with pianist Lazy Bill Lucas, who accompanied him on his first recordings for the Chance label. He recorded with, and emulated slide guitar master Elmore James, who may have been his cousin, and continued to record into the 1990s. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/homesick-james-williamson-mn0000825544/biography
Horst Lippman, 1927-1997
This German promoter helped the music spawned on Maxwell Street to reach the rest of the world. He offered the legendary Howlin’ Wolf guitarist, Hubert Sumlin, the then princely sum of 10,000 German marks to make a clandestine LP (on the Amiga label) in East Berlin in 1964, when such “decadent” music was verboten on the airwaves. He also had an ear for East Coast blues, recording Washington, D.C.-based Piedmont guitar wizard Archie Edwards in Archie’s landmark barbershop. On his own label, L&R (Lippman and Rau), into the 1980s, he recorded many artists in his annual American Folk Blues Festival in Frankfurt, including Chicago blues giants Willie Dixon, Earl Hooker, and Eddie Taylor. http://rateyourmusic.com/artist/horst_lippman
Hound Dog Taylor, 1915-1975
Theodore Roosevelt “Hound Dog” Taylor took his guitar and slide to Maxwell Street in 1940 when he first arrived in Chicago from Natchez, Mississippi at age 23. A band could make $120 on a Sunday morning, he told Ira Berkow, author of Maxwell Street: Survival in a Bazaar. He was happy to have left the south where people made only 75 cents a day picking cotton. Once north in the big city, musicians flocked to Jewtown, he said—Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers. He quit music to work other jobs til the mid-1950s, but then he formed a band, the House Rockers, with drummer Ted Harvey and Brewer Phillips on second guitar. They tore up West and South Side clubs for awhile with some raucous rocking blues, then obtained promotion from the brand new Alligator Records label in 1971. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/hound-dog-taylor-mn0000225754/biography
J.B. Hutto, 1926-1983
Born in Blackville, SC, J.B. Hutto’s gospel-singing family moved to Chicago’s West Side in 1949. He took up first drums, piano, then settled on guitar, putting together a powerful ensemble with drummer Porkchop Hines on Maxwell Street and harp player George Maywether. They were known for a hard-driving style, featuring JB’s slide, taking after Elmore James, but also for slow blues with thoughtful lyrics. JB’s nephew, hard-rocking slide guitarist Little Ed Williams, began playing publicly in 1986, three years after J.B.’s death in 1983, and recorded for Alligator Records. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/jb-hutto-mn0000777780/biography J.B. took Li’l Ed on the road when his nephew was just a teenager, painting a mustache on his face to make him look old enough to get into a club. Backstage with J.B. by guitarist Dave Weld: http://www.chicagobluesguide.com/features/jb-hutto-by-weld/jb-hutto-weld-page.html
J.B. Hutto plays his racy “Pet Cream Man”, featuring his guitar slide on the And This Is Free CD
Jim (Blind Jim) Brewer 1920-1988
Blinded in his youth, Jim Brewer was urged by his parents to learn music. His mother loved gospel music and his father the blues. He moved to Chicago in 1940 and played on Maxwell Street off and on for over 40 years. In the 1960s and 70s, with his wife Fannie, he played with a gospel group.
Jimmie Lee Robinson, 1931-2002
Robinson, the spiffy, spur-wearing “Lonely Traveler,” issued his own Amina Records CD “Maxwell Street Blues,” and he mentions Maxwell Street in his unique jazzy version of “Big Boss Man.” Born and raised in the Maxwell Street neighborhood, Robinson played with Eddie Taylor, Memphis Minnie, Big Bill Broonzy, Elmore James, Little Water and many more postwar Chicago blues masters: http://delmark.com/rhythm.robinson.htm and into the 21st century with Frank Scott, Johnnie Mae Dunson and others who actively protested Maxwell Street’s demolition, writing protest tunes and even going on a hunger strike. Suffering from bone cancer in 2002, he took his own life at age 71. http://www.celticguitarmusic.com/maxwell%20street.htm
Jimmy (Maxwell St / Jewtown Jimmy) Davis, 1925-1995
Also known as Jewtown Jimmy, Davis was born Charles Thompson in Tippo, MS according to Komara and Lee’s Blues Encyclopedia. He began playing in traveling minstrel shows. Adopting the one-chord guitar drone style of John Lee Hooker, he followed his hero to Detroit. He came to Chicago in the 1950s and played on Maxwell Street for the rest of his life, In the 1960s, he owned and operated the Knotty Pine Grill and often stood out front, playing guitar to attract customers. He recorded for Elektra label in 1965, then on Testament and Takoma in the U.S. and Sonet and Flywright in Europe. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1996-01-05/news/9601050022_1_chicago-blues-festival-debut-record-recording-artist For years Davis was down and out, but he persisted in playing, adding some modern guitar stylings. In this 1994 video, a year before his death, he returns to sing a Howlin Wolf style song on Canal Street after the city moved the outdoor market there from Maxwell Street. He hangs up the mic and takes a break to visit with fans and friends, then picks up a guitar for another song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFTnxJHT_eI
Jimmy Dawkins, 1936-2013
Born in Tchula, MS, Jimmy Dawkins, known as “Fast Fingers” on guitar, helped develop the small West Side band style, where guitars covered many of the traditional big band horn parts. He made many recordings with Delmark, Evidence, JSP and other labels, from 1969 into the 21st century. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/jimmy-dawkins-mn0000352524/biography Unlike many fellow musicians, Dawkins took time to learn the business of music, and produced records of West Side and Maxwell Street musicians, including John and Queen Sylvia Embry. Some have been reproduced by Delmark Records. He was better known in Europe than in the U.S. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/19/arts/music/jimmy-dawkins-fast-fingered-blues-guitarist-dies-at-76.html?_r=0
Jimmy Reed, 1925-1976
Jimmy Reed, born in Dunleith, MS, is remembered for his simple, bouncy songs, his sweet, raggedy voice and squealing harmonica. He learned guitar as a boy with Eddie Taylor, left an abusive field boss for Chicago, worked at an iron foundry and began playing in small clubs and on Maxwell Street. In 1952 he and Eddie teamed up again and became a hit on VeeJay Records. Jimmy and Eddie toured the U.S. and Europe, from Black nightclubs to German auditoriums and southern white fraternities. Jimmy popularized the harmonica rack; it left his hands free to play his guitar riffs while Eddie kept up the rhythmic bass line (the famous “Jimmy Reed lump.” Jimmy’s wife Mary sang along on some of his recordings and helped him remember songs, and his son Jimmy Jr. plays harmonica and guitar. Alcoholism and epilepsy made Reed’s public appearances unpredictable at times. He never gave up, continuing to play until his death on a California road trip. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/jimmy-reed-mn0000076881/biography
Jimmy Rogers, 1924-1997
Jimmy Rogers grew up in Vance, MS, where he played in a harmonica quartet with future Chicago buddy Snooky Pryor and learned guitar in his early teens. He performed in the Delta with his early idol Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 (Rice Miller) and around Memphis with Howlin’ Wolf and guitarist Joe Willie Wilkins. Settling in Chicago in the mid-1940s, he joined leading artists onstage: Memphis Minnie, Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, and John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson (No. 1).
Rogers also played for tips on Chicago’s Maxwell Street market with Pryor and harmonica player Little Walter Jacobs, who he introduced to Muddy Waters. Rogers cut a dozen singles for Chess, including his 1957 “Walking By Myself” and other hits— “Ludella,” “Sloppy Drunk,” and “That’s All Right.” Rogers continued to play and record with Waters in the ’50s and also led his own band. He played about a year in Wolf’s band, ran a clothing store and taxi business from 1961-69, and returned to play music until his death.
Little Walter and Jimmy Rogers play “Little Store Blues” an acoustic country boogie before the era of heavy electric blues, c.1948 on the And This Is Free CD.
Joe (Big Joe) Williams 1903-1982
Big Joe, born Joseph Lee Williams in Crawford, MS, traveled with the Rabbit Foot minstrels and recorded for the Okeh label in the Birmingham Jug Band in 1930. In St. Louis, Lester Melrose recruited him for the Bluebird label in 1935. Delmark Records owner Bob Koester, met Big Joe in 1951 and recorded him. http://delmark.com/rhythm.bigjoe.htm Big Joe’s song “Baby Please Don’t Go” has been covered by many singers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kUPkczM4iM
Winding up on the folk circuit as an acoustic solo performer on his nine-string guitar, the strength of Big Joe’s Delta blues overpowered his downtrodden appearance to win over sophisticated New York audiences: http://www.bluesforpeace.com/unsung-heroes/big-joe-williams.htm
John Brim, 1922-2003 ; Grace Brim, 1924-1999
Guitarist and harmonica player John Brim came to Chicago in 1947 via Indianapolis from Hopkinsville, KY. His wife Grace, born in Briscoe, AR was one of the few female postwar blues musicians—a capable drummer, singer and harmonica player on John’s and other recordings and one of her own. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/grace-brim-mn0000161795/credits John wrote and recorded the suggestive song “Ice Cream Man,” which Chess didn’t release til 1969. He also recorded for Random Records, JOB, and Parrot. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/john-brim-mn0000181495
Both Brims, based in Gary, IN, played with other Chicago blues heavyweights like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Fred Below, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Jimmy Reed, Eddie Taylor, Willie Mabon, and Willie Dixon. Brim also operated a dry cleaning business and a record store. When the rock group Van Halen covered “Ice Cream Man” the Brims used the royalties to open their own Broadway Nightclub/ House of the Blues in 1979. It was short lived due to competition and opposition from other North Side blues clubs. After Grace died, Brim continued to tour, record and play in blues festivals til his passing in 2003.
John Henry Barbee, 1905-1964
Born William George Tucker in Tennessee, Barbee worked country suppers and southern juke joints, then moved to Chicago, adopting the name of the legendary Appalachian railroad man John Henry. He played with Sunnyland Slim and Big Joe Williams and joined Moody Jones’ group playing for tips on Maxwell Street. Vocalion recorded two of his songs. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/john-henry-barbee-mn0000811768/biography Moody’s mid-1940s photo shows him and Barbee playing guitars with Ed Newman on bass and James Kindle on banjo. He died tragically of a heart attack after he ran over a man in an automobile. He’d just purchased the car with his earnings from the American Folk Blues festival tour of Europe. John Henry Barbee sings “Against My Will”, c. 1936, on the And This Is Free CD.
JOHN HENRY DAVIS
Les Forgue writes in www.earlyblues.com in 2014, that he sometimes helped pass the tip bucket for John Henry Davis, who claimed the vacant lot on the northeast corner of Maxwell and Newberry. He played electric slide guitar and sang, often with a tall, thin white harmonica player, Tom, and the drummer “Porkchop” Hines who claimed to have played with Louis Jordan and often sang the hit “Caldonia.” Porkchop lived in the building next door and supplied the electric power for the show. Les Forgue felt John Henry was stingy, for only giving him $2 for his bucket-passing duties. But to the young Vince “Lefty” Johnson, a West Sider who became a street musician in addition to his computer repair entrepreneur in the 1990s and 2000s, Davis was a helpful mentor, welcoming guest musicians to sit in.
Harp player and Arizona blues club owner Bob Corritore also reported sitting in with John Henry Davis https://bobcorritore.com/bio/
A photo of Davis appears in Corritore’s display of the Andre Hobus blues photos collection : https://bobcorritore.com/photos/the-andre-hobus-blues-photo-library-part-2/
Descriptions of Davis and other Maxwell Street musicians of that era are likely to be found in the 1981 documentary directed by Linda Williams.
John Lee Granderson, 1913-1979
Born in Tennessee, John Lee Granderson moved to Chicago in 1928 and played with John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson I, among others. During the 1960s he worked as sideman and leader, playing on many anthologies in the style of early 20th century Memphis. He never made a full album in his own right, although after his death Testament Records featured him as part of the Chicago String Band produced by Pete Welding http://www.allmusic.com/album/release/the-chicago-string-band-mr0000785155 He stopped performing in public in 1975 and died of cancer four years later, according to All Music Guide: http://www.allmusic.com/artist/john-lee-granderson-mn0000234726
John Lee Granderson performs “Hard Luck John” (c. 1964) on the And This Is Free CD.
John Lee Hooker, 1917-2001
One of the Delta’s most esteemed bluesman, Hooker (cousin of guitarist Earl Hooker) was known for his menacing one-chord drone songs and irregular timing. He came north from Clarksdale, MS but spent most of his life in Detroit and later in California. On tour in Chicago clubs, he drafted musicians with Maxwell Street connections to accompany him, including his VeeJay label-mates Eddie Taylor. Hooker is shown singing among the crowds on Maxwell Street in the first “Blues Brothers” movie in 1980, accompanied by Big Walter Horton, harmonica and Willie Big Eyes Smith, drums.
John (Big John) Wrencher, 1924-1977
One-armed John blew a fat tone out of his harp mike with a big Fender amp on the street. According to his AllMusic biography by Cub Koda, harmonica player and singer Big John Wrencher was born in Sunflower County, MS, on a plantation. He played all over Tennessee and Arkansas before a 1958 car crash left him with only one arm. This did not silence his authoritative voice or the big, slurring sound he brought out of the harmonica, which he learned to hold, along with a microphone, cupped in his right hand. Moving to Chicago he’d play Maxwell Street at the height of the crowd each Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Usually backed by nothing more than an electric guitar and a drummer. During the 1960s he often played with Carey Bell on bass and John Lee Granderson on guitar. Wrencher’s sound and style was country juke joint blues, brought to the city and amplified to the maximum. He died of a heart attack on a visit back home in Clarksdale, MS. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/big-john-mn0000063942
Big John Wrencher plays “Maxwell Street Alley Blues,” c. 1968, on the And This Is Free CD.
Johnnie Mae Dunson Smith, 1921-2007
The Queen of Maxwell Street sang blues protest songs in Maxwell Street Preservation Coalition’s 1999 video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dkg-naNhMMY Moving to Chicago from Alabama in 1943, Johnnie Mae played drums and wrote songs with Jimmy Reed. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2007-10-07/news/0710060395_1_chicago-blues-festival-maxwell-street-songwriting
Though he isn’t mentioned in Johnnie Mae’s Chicago Tribune obituary, her son Jimi Primetime Smith, visited her often in her last years and has continued her legacy in Minnesota, singing blues and soul songs and playing a mean guitar. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtMnDwIRbc8
Johnny Dollar 1941-200?
Born Johnny Williams in Greenville, MS according to Komara’s Blues Encyclopedia, Johnny played guitar as did his brother Lefty Dizz (Walter Williams). He served in Vietnam in the 1960s, and then worked on the Chicago police force, being wounded a total of five times and suffering emotional scars. http://www.bluesmusicnow.com/dollar.html Writers were awed by his stories and his presence http://blindman.fr.yuku.com/topic/14477/JOHNNY-DOLLAR-TRIBUTE-NIGHT
Johnny played with Magic Sam, and in the Soundmasters R&B band with lineup with the Fisher brothers Thomas, Charles, Eddie and Jim. Through the 1970s and 80s, he played in other bands with drummer Larry Taylor and guitarists Johnny Littlejohn and Steve Freund. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/johnny-dollar-mn0001416035 On the North Side he played at Lilly’s. He may have been associated with the Johnny Dollar Catfish Stand on Maxwell Street. He was recorded by Wolf Records http://www.wolfrec.com/wolf-artists/johnny-dollar-my-baby-loves-me.html
Johnny Drummer, 1938 –
A keyboarder and singer leading his own band into the 21st century, Johnny Drummer (born Thessex Johns in Alligator, MS in 1938) http://www.johnnydrummermusic.com absorbed music in church and from relatives. He moved to Chicago when he got out of the Army in 1959, staying near a club at 62nd and May where Lovie Lee, Big Walter Horton,Carey Bell, and Nathaniel Applewhite were playing. He said he entered music by playing drums in Lovie’s band, maybe because he was the only one who had a car. He played with Eddie King and many other blues and soul artists and recorded a single with One-der-ful Records in 1962. After a string of bad luck in 1971 (his house burned and his car was stolen) he took day jobs with the city school board and police department to support his family, til he had the chance to retire in 1994 and return to music full time. He started playing keyboard onstage in self-defense, he says, because other musicians often didn’t know the keys to play his songs. He held down regular Sunday nights at Lee’s Unleaded and appeared on Maxwell Street, joining the 2001 protest against demolition. He recorded three albums on Earwig Records from 1999 til 2007.
Johnny Harper ?? — ??
Harper’s swinging version of “Every Day I have the blues” on a Canal Street Sunday morning in summer 2006. At the end, Johnny appeals for donations to help fellow musician Piano C Red who had been shot in March in a robbery, his legs paralyzed. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeedEU2vGs8
Johnny Shines, 1915-1992
Born outside Memphis, TN, Johnny Shines moved to Arkansas at age 16 and became a follower and imitator of Howlin’ Wolf, then traveled with Robert Johnson, learning his masterful finger-picking and slide guitar style. He stayed briefly in St. Louis, then moved to Chicago in 1941 and began playing on Maxwell Street, often with Big Walter Horton, who he knew from Memphis. He fitted his Kalamazoo acoustic guitar with an electric pickup, helping shape the sound of Chicago blues. He also played with the Dukes of Swing, an eight-piece jazz band. Chess recorded him but failed to release his songs; JOB label recorded several of his postwar blues classics in 1952-53, but he was discouraged by slow sales and retired from professional music until 1965, when the folk blues revival called him back. He recorded a Grammy nominated album “Hangin’ on” for Rounder Records with his old friend Robert Lockwood and was featured in Robert Johnson tributes and documentaries.
Johnny Williams, 1906-2006
This guitar player from Alexandria, LA, came to Chicago in 1938, lost a finger working in a meat packing plant and almost gave up music. According to British writer Mike Rowe, he met Blind Arvella Gray one Sunday on Maxwell Street, and saw he was playing with only three fingers and no eyesight. If this man can play, he thought, I can too! He went about re-teaching himself. Williams played often with his cousin, mandolinist Johnny Young with Floyd Jones and his cousin Moody; and harmonica player Snooky Pryor.
Johnny Williams plays “Worried Man Blues”, c. 1948, on the And This Is Free CD.
Johnny Young, 1917-1974
Cousin and bandmate of guitar player Johnny Williams, Young is revered by succeeding mandolin players as king of the blues. Born in Vicksburg, MS, and growing up in Rolling Fork, he learned from his uncle Anthony how to play the high-pitched country stringed instrument. Young picked up his mandolin style from the Chatmon brothers in the band Mississippi Sheiks. By the 1930s he was working with Sleepy John Estes and Sonny Boy Williamson I. He migrated to Chicago and was playing on Maxwell Street by 1947. He had trouble fitting into the music scene as blues became electrified, but found some favor in the folk circuit.
Johnny Young performs “Money Taking Woman, ” c. 1948, on the And This Is Free CD.
Kansas City Red, 1926-1991
Drummer and band leader Kansas City Red was born Arthur Stevenson in Drew, Mississippi. His nickname came from a brief trip to that city after being rejected from military service in 1942. He followed David “Honeyboy” Edwards and then Robert Nighthawk, offering to fill in for a sick drummer one night despite never having played drums before. He was good at hustling gigs, and by the 1950s was forming bands, singing and playing with people like Earl Hooker. Robert Lockwood Jr., Eddie Taylor, Jimmy Reed, Floyd Jones, Blind John Davis and Elmore James and others. In Chicago, starting with Club Reno, he managed and owned several bars.
Through the 70’s and 80’s Kansas City Red held down club gigs, recording for Barrelhouse, JSP and Earwig. His sides appear on the anthology, Bring Me Another Half-A-Pint, a few tracks on the albums Original Chicago Blues, and Old Friends featuring Honeyboy Edwards, Walter Horton and Floyd Jones. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/kansas-city-red-mn0001798429
Kid Dynamite ?? –
A short little guy with a big voice, Kid Dynamite pounds his chest and belts out blues and soul favorites whether in his South Side neighborhood, in a North Side club, or down on Maxwell Street. According to CenterStage Chicago, he’s performed with Howard Scott & the World Band, the late Buddy Scott, J.W. Williams,James Brown, Dennis Edwards, Pervis Spann, Walt Willey, and Charlie Love. The Kid was captured in a favorite 1988 photo by Marc PoKempner featured in Columbia University’s Museum of Modern Photography: http://www.mocp.org/detail.php?t=objects&type=browse&f=maker&s=Pokempner,+Marc&record=8
Review by critic David Whiteis: http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/kid-dynamite/Content?oid=880214
L.V. Banks, 1932-2011
Born in Stringtown, Mississippi, playing guitar and singing the blues from an early age, L.V. Banks moved to St. Louis, served in the military, and settled in Chicago in the 1960s. He played on Maxwell Street and entertained in South Side clubs. His international reputation was enhanced through a late 90s recording contract with Wolf Records in Austria. In the early 00s, the L.V. Banks Blues Band included sidemen such as Michael Thomas (rhythm guitar), Ike Anderson (bass) and Dwayne Manuel, adding Allen Batts on piano on his 2000 release Ruby. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/lv-banks-mn0000122798 Banks’ son, Tré Banks, also plays guitar and sings, displaying in his work his father’s influence. Here’s Tre’s memorial tribute to him: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXBEMtB6gzE
Larry Taylor, 1955-
West Side blues and soul singer and drummer, stepson of guitarist Eddie Taylor Sr. and son of singer Vera Taylor, has played with dozens of Chicago blues masters including Junior Wells and A.C. Reed, and proudly carries the tradition of West Side soul and Maxwell Street blues into the 21st century. www.larrytaylorbluesnsoul.com He played on Maxwell street in the 1980s with his stepfather, and Floyd Jones, Dave Lindsey and Pat Rushing, and toured Berlin in 1977 with Willie Dixon and Jim O’Neal’s New Legends of Blues. With piano player Barrelhouse Bonni he produced his own CD album They Were in This House and published an autobiography Stepson of the Blues recorded for Wolf Records and played with his brothers Tim and Eddie Jr. and sisters Demetria, Edna and Brenda, and drummed on several Delmark Records including his uncles Jimmy and Eddie Burns. Here he sings in 2013 with a band of fellow West Siders: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YPabDDlCaE
Left Hand Frank Craig, 1935-1992
Born in Greenville, MS, Frank Craig was playing guitar by age four, learning blues and country/western from older musicians who bought home-brewed corn whiskey from his mother. He played at local sheriff’s parties and fairgrounds. Moving to Chicago at age 14, he was too young for clubs like the Zanzibar and Vi’s where Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf played. So he formed bands with his teenage friends, guitarist Eddie King and bassist Willie Black, and played outside the clubs for tips.
Frank worked days as a manual laborer and nights as a side musician on bass or guitar, leaving the band leading headaches to bluesmen like Junior Wells, Little Walter, Hound Dog Taylor, and Willie Cobbs, Junior Simpkins, Willie Williams, Carey Bell, Little Arthur Gray, and James Scott. Frank recorded, as a bass player, on an Eddie King single in 1960 and on later sessions behind Morris Pejoe, Little Eddie Newell and Willie Williams. Suffering from poor health, Left Hand Frank moved to California to join his sister, retired from music, and died in 1992. According to Larry Taylor, who played drums with him Saturday nights on Pulaski Road on the West Side during the late 1970s, Left Hand Frank’s played left-handed guitar similar to Albert King. He is featured on Alligator Records Living Chicago Blues I compilation: http://www.alligator.com/artists/Left-Hand-Frank/ and on a French album of his own, Live at the Knickerbocker.
Leon (Big Leon) Brooks, 1933-1982
Born in 1933, growing up in Sunflower, Mississippi, Leon Brooks learned from masters Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), Elmore James, Boyd Gilmore and Charlie Booker. In Chicago he met a new mentor on Maxwell Street— Little Walter Jacobs— and sat in with Muddy Waters’ band. He played with Freddie King and Jimmy Lee Robinson, Willie Johnson, Kansas City Red, Floyd Jones, Otis Rush and Robert Nighthawk throughout the ’50, at 703 Club, the Zanzibar, Mr. Ricky’s, Theresa’s and others. Pulled down by a drug problem, he quit music for 15 years, took a job and raised a family.
In 1976, Leon’s old friend Lester Davenport invited him to sit in on a West Side gig with Tail Dragger. Soon he held North Side jobs at Kingston Mines and John Brim’s Broadway Night Club, plus a trip to Mississippi. Back on the West Side, Leon worked with Tail Dragger, Eddie Taylor, Larry Taylor and James Scott at Mary’s, David & Thelma’s Lounge, the Golden Slipper and the Show & Tell. He recorded for Alligator in 1980, and cut a full album, Let’s Go To Town, for the small Blues Over Blues label. Beset with heart ailments, Big Leon died at Former Living Blues editor Jim O’Neal’s writeup http://www.airplaydirect.com/music/BigLeonBrooks/
Lester Melrose, 1891-1968: Bluebird Records
During the early 20th century, Chicago-based Bluebird Records, headed by Lester Melrose, was one of a handful of U.S. record companies selling “race” (Black) music. http://www.thebluestrail.com/artists/mus_lm.htm
A white businessman from Olney, IL, Lester and his brother owned a music store on Cottage Grove Ave. on Chicago’s South Side in 1922. He published compositions by Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver, and in 1928 recorded the Hokum Boys, Tampa Red and Georgia Tom for Paramount. Melrose set up his own studio, recording 90 per cent of all RCA Victor and Columbia’s African American artists between 1934 and 1951, according to Mike Rowe’s book Chicago Blues. These included Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red, Memphis Minnie, Roosevelt Sykes, Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, Arthur Crudup and many others. http://www.allaboutbluesmusic.com/lester-melrose/
Lurie Bell, 1958-
This talented, fiery guitarist honed his chops in West and South Side clubs and on Maxwell Street, and toured Berlin with the 1977 New Legends of Blues and played in Sons of Blues band with fellow New Legend Billy Branch. His father was bass and harmonica player Carey Bell, and they made an album together, Son of a Gun, for Rooster Records in 1984. Surviving a period of depression and homelessness, during which he continued to play on Maxwell Street, Lurie got some help. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKT2Ulirh6s Some 20 years after this 1994 video, he plays worldwide. Lurie is the subject of Paul Marcus’s 2005 documentary “Mercurial Son” and a chapter in David Whiteis’ book Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories. His late wife Susan Greenberg was a photographer whose black and white pictures showed performing blues musicians from many different angles.
Matt “Guitar” Murphy, 1929-
Murphy is most famed for playing as Aretha Franklin sang “Think!” in a set designed as Nate Duncan’s Maxwell Street delicatessen in the first Blues Brothers movie. He’s a genuine Mississippi bluesman, born in Sunflower, MS. In 1948 he moved from Memphis to Chicago. He played with Howlin’ Wolf, Memphis Slim, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, James Cotton, Ike Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson I, Etta James, Chuck Berry and Joe Louis Walker. In 2003 he suffered a stroke on-stage, finished the set with one hand, and slowly recovered enough to play occasional festivals after 2010. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/matt-guitar-murphy-mn0000327100
Melvin Taylor, 1959-
This modern pyro-technical blues guitarist born in Jackson, MS, came to Chicago with his family at age 3 and started playing on Maxwell Street at age 11. Mentored by guitarist Pat Rushing, Melvin led his first band, the Transistors, in the 1970s. Pinetop Perkins, one of the last of the Delta blues piano players, brought him on tour in Europe, where he made two albums in the 1980s. He has played in Chicago clubs and toured the world for 30 years. Here’s an article from Greece: http://blues.gr/profiles/blogs/an-interview-with-versatile-melvin-taylor-one-of-the-greatest
Michael Bloomfield, 1943-1981
A highly talented guitarist “Born in Chicago” (the title of his famous song), Bloomfield joined a small but influential group of young white men, including Paul Butterfield and Charlie Musselwhite, who visited South and West Side clubs to learn from and play with Chicago bluesmen. Bloomfield was instrumental in helping Mike O’Shea produce the Maxwell Street documentary in 1964, And This is Free. He played on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 album in 1965. Managing the folk club Fickle Pickle, he made it a point to unearth and promote acoustic blues musicians who were then considered old-fashioned: Big Joe Williams, Yank Rachell, Sleepy John Estes, Little Brother Montgomery. For awhile Bloomfield had his own band, Electric Flag. He died of a drug overdose. http://www.mikebloomfield.com
The documentary Born in Chicago shows the white guys who learned from Chicago African American blues men and often became more famous than their teachers. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/26/movies/born-in-chicago-tells-of-titans-who-taught-young-proteges.html?_r=0
Moody Jones, 1908-1988
Born in Earle, Arkansas, Moody Jones migrated to Missouri and arrived in Chicago in 1939. Learning tenor banjo, guitar, bass, and piano, he could play any kind of music—blues, Irish, Spanish, hillbilly—and craft his own instruments, such as a one-string washtub bass. He teamed up with his cousin Floyd Jones, and also Snooky Pryor and Blind Arvella Gray, and they played on Maxwell Street beginning in the 1940s. Moody told writer Mike Rowe they’d stroll through the crowds up to 12th Street from Maxwell (14th Street) and back down, earning $40 to $50 each—a fortune in the 1940s. Little Walter, a harmonica master, came to Moody asking for guitar-playing pointers. The track “Snooky and Moody’s Boogie” may have inspired Little Walter’s 1953 hit “Juke.” Jones made further recordings for the JOB label in the early 1950s, backing musicians such as Snooky Pryor and Johnny Shines. By 1955, according to Mike Rowe’s book Chicago Blues, Moody gave up blues for gospel music and became a pastor.
Othum Brown ( ??- ??)
One of only two records issued by Bernard Abrams’ OraNelle Records, according to Mike Rowe’s Chicago Blues, was Little Walter’s “I Just Keep Loving Her” with Othum Brown, backed by Walter’s harp on the other side, as Othum sang “Ora Nelle Blues.” The Abrams named the record company for Othum’s lady friend Ora Nelle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-E7z56E0DwI
Papa Charlie Jackson, 1885-1938
Jackson was known as the first commercially successful male blues singer. He launched his recording career in 1924 with “Salty Dog” on Paramount and released 33 discs by 1930. A veteran of minstrel and medicine shows, he played banjo, both finger-style and flatpick. He recording a song “Maxwell Street Blues” for Paramount Records in in 1925: “Lord, I’m talkin’ bout the wagons, talkin’ ‘bout the pushcarts too; Cause Maxwell Street’s so crowded, on Sunday you can hardly pass through.” http://www.allmusic.com/artist/papa-charlie-jackson-mn0000012139/biography
Papa Charlie Jackson sings his “Maxwell Street Blues” (c. 1925) on the And This Is Free CD
Pat (Li’l Pat) Rushing, 1928-2008
Born in Clarke County, MS, according to the 2013 reference book Blues: A Regional Experience by Bob L. Eagle and Eric S. LeBlanc, band leader and guitarist Pat Rushing was photographed by many tourists on Maxwell Street. Larry Taylor, drummer and singer recalls playing with Rushing in the 1815 club on the West Side, and on the street with Little Willie James and Sugar Baby on Bass, also Jewtown Jimmy Davis, Jumpin Willie Cobbs, Dave Lindsey, Al Harris. A 1996 review of Rushing’s ferocious style from David Whiteis in the Chicago Reader:
http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/pat-rushing-with-willie-james—the-maxwell-street-blues-band/Content?oid=890047 He often played with, or around the corner from another musician, John Henry Davis, and hosted other performers including drummer Winehead Willie Williams, according to blues fan Les Fourge. Rushing’s band also spawned proteges including guitar whizzes Melvin Taylor, Willie James, John Primer, and Pat’s sons Danny (drums) and Rico (bass).
Piano C Red, 1933-2013
Piano C. Red (legal name Cecil Fain, aka James Wheeler) wore a red suit and played a red piano which he often brought to Maxwell Street. He drove a cab and recorded this song, “Cab Drivin’ Man,” which points out Chicago’s major tourist sites, shown in this 1999 video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3OZrn7hZEE, In 2006 he was shot and his legs paralyzed in a robbery http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RER-dzmr28 . He died in a nursing home in 2013 from complications of his wounds. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-06-11/news/ct-met-piano-red-obit-20130611_1_piano-c-cecil-fain-flat-foot-boogie-band Maxwell Street Foundation sponsored a show featuring Piano C Red at Junior’s Lounge on the remodeled street in 2007.
Porkchop Hines ??-??
Drummer Edward “Porkchop” Hines impressed Maxwell Street Bazaar author Ira Berkow in the mid-1970s as “a short man of 73 who wears cap, glasses, vest, snappy pointy shoes, and is kind of crochety.” He had told of playing with jazz greats Gene Krupa and Louis Armstrong. During the 1970s blues revival, got invited to play in college towns. On Maxwell Street, a picture in Mike Rowe’s book Chicago Blues shows he played with John Embry, Long John Wrencher, J.B. Hutto and Jewtown Jimmy Davis. He taught Johnnie Mae Dunson to play drums.
Queen Sylvia Embry, 1941-1992, and John Embry, 1931 -1985
Singer/bassist Queen Sylvia, and her guitarist husband John were staples on Chicago’s blues scene in the ‘70s . Even after a divorce they remained friends and recorded an album on Razor together, 1979, After Work, re-released on Delmark as Troubles. Queen Sylvia played with Lefty Dizz and the Shock Treatment and with Jimmy Dawkins, and recorded on L&R/Evidence, Arhoolie, Alligator, and Leric/Delmark. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/sylvia-embry-mn0001207728 She died of cancer at age 51. http://www.wirz.de/music/embryfrm.htm
John Embry left only a small recorded legacy, but his solid musicianship and clean life-style provided stability to the often-chaotic world of bluesmen, including Jimmy Reed, who would often stay with him. His Maxwell Street shows of the 1980s featured Little Nick on guitar and Dancin’ Perkins on bass. The band’s affection for one another lent warmth to the music. In the Chicago Reader Oct. 13, 1988, David Whiteis recalls that John Embry died in 1985—only days after playing Maxwell Street on the last warm Sunday morning in late October.
Riler “Ice Man” Robinson, 1929-
Ice Man worked hard all his life, from the chemical plant in Marks, Mississippi, to a meat packing plant in Chicago. He played his first club gig in Chicago in 1961, but his career picked up steam in 1972, when he began performing at the Maxwell Street Market. His partners over the years have included John Embry, John Henry Davis and L.V. Banks. In the 1990s, Robinson played family parties and barbecues, and in NorthSide clubs like Rosa’s, Lilly’s and B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted. “I work out my anger, happiness, love, sorrow, everything — I shoots all of it right out through that guitar,” Robinson told National Geographic Explorer in a 1994 television special on the Great African-American Migration from the south to the north. http://www.bluesmusicnow.com/ice.html In his 2001 Fedora album I’ve Never Been Loved, Ice Man is backed by Frank Goldwasser on guitar, Willie Kent on bass, and producer Chris Millar on drums. Here he is in a 2008 Chicago Blues Fest reunion with other Maxwell Street stalwarts, Smilin‘ Bobby and Dancin Perkins. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIZ5tW-6E0M
Robert Nighthawk, 1909-1967
Robert McCollum, born 1909 in Helena, Arkansas, changed his name to Robert Lee McCoy after a brush with the law, then took “Robert Nighthawk” as his stage name. He learned guitar from Houston Stackhouse in Mississippi. An expressive slide guitarist, he was one of the first bluesmen Chess Records recruited after Muddy Waters’ success. He went on to influence Earl Hooker and other guitar players, as well as his son, drummer Sam Carr. He didn’t like the city and preferred playing in the South, so he made very few recordings. After a long absence Nighthawk returned to Chicago in 1964 and recorded a blistering set taped live on Maxwell St. with the filming of Mike Shea’s 1964 documentary “And This is Free.” http://nighthawk.sundayblues.org/maxwell.htm
Robert Nighthawk on the And This Is Free CD sings “Prowlin’ Nighthawk”, c. 1937.
Scotty (Clarence “Little Scotty”) Scott, 1945-2012
Famous for his double-entendre song “Hot Dog,” Clarence “Little Scotty” Scott came to Chicago from Florence, after being badly burned in a White Supremist attack. In various parts of his life he was a pimp, a preacher, and a street vendor of homemade political buttons. Chicago writer David Whiteis includes a chapter on Scotty in his book, Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories.” Scotty played on Maxwell Street for years and helped protest its demolition at the turn of the millennium. Not hampered by a tracheotomy, Scotty sang at a birthday party for fellow bluesman Artie White and preaches against violence and for love in the family : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGmQUrLJTOU He died Feb. 1, 2012 of complications from a heart attack: http://www.austinweeklynews.com/News/Articles/2-8-2012/Little-Scotty-has-gone-home/
Smilin’ Bobby Smith, 1939-
Smilin’ Bobby, a singer and guitar player promoted by bass player Laurance Glasser, puts on a fine show, marked by his habitual grin, well-written songs, and stinging guitar leads. Born in Helena, Arkansas, Bobby Smith moved to Chicago’s West Side in 1949, played in small clubs, taking to Maxwell Street Sunday mornings around 1961. He shared the stage with Magic Sam, Byther Smith, Magic Slim, Little Milton, Buddy Guy, Jr. Wells, Howlin Wolf and many other blues legends. For the last 50 years Bobby has toured the mid-west and Europe, recording with Wolf Records and the Phat Chance labels.
Snooky (James Edward) Pryor, 1921-2006
Born in Lambert, MS, Snooky Pryor grew up with Jimmy Rogers and Floyd Jones, according to Mike Rowe’s book Chicago Blues. Pryor served in World War II in the Pacific and then, stationed at Ft. Sheridan, IL , came to Chicago on weekend passes and sat in with Sonny Boy I and Homesick James Williamson at the Purple Cat on Madison St. Moving permanently to Chicago in 1945, he began playing on Maxwell Street. In 1948 Pryor recorded the Chicago blues postwar classic “Telephone Blues” on Planet, and recorded through the 1950s for JOB, Parrot and VeeJay, also playing sessions for fellow musicians. Disillusioned with the music business, he moved to southern Illinois to do carpentry work and take care of his family. In the 1980s, he returned to tour Europe and record with Blind Pig records. He died in Missouri.
Snooky Pryor performs “Cryin’ Shame” on the And This Is Free CD.
Sonny Boy Williamson I, 1914-1948
Not to be confused with “Sonny Boy II,” aka Rice Miller, who performed into the 1960s, Williamson was the principal pre-World War II harmonica player on the Lester Melrose roster, according to Mike Rowe’s book Chicago Blues. Born in Jackson, TN, he moved to Chicago in 1934, playing on Maxwell Street and in clubs around the city. http://www.document-records.com/fulldetails.asp?ProdID=DOCD-5055 He played with Homesick James Williamson (said to be his cousin) and mandolinist Yank Rachell around Tennessee, and was recording in Chicago by 1937. He created unique songs such as “Bad Luck Blues,” “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” “Bluebird Blues,” “Sugar Mama” and “Elevator Woman” and set the stage for the upbeat electric blues Chicago of the 1950s. According to harmonica player Jerry Portnoy, Sonny Boy’s style was more chord-heavy and on the beat, while Little Walter, coming after him, took flight with more advanced solos. http://www.jerryportnoy.com/maxwell-street-origins/
Sunnyland Slim, 1903-1995
Sunnyland Slim (Albert Luandrew) was a patriarch of the Chicago blues scene — piano player, bandleader, label owner, gambling house operator, recruiter of younger artists. Born in Vance, Mississippi, Sunnyland played the organ at local churches and movie theaters. Around 1925 he went to Memphis, joining Beale Street’s bustling club and theater scene, and accompanied blues stars including Ma Rainey and Blind Blake. Sunnyland arrived in Chicago in the early ‘40s, played at parties with harmonica great John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson I, and picked up his falsetto vocal technique from Doctor Clayton. Sunnyland didn’t have many big hits himself, but he brought musicians to record on area labels including his own Airway Records http://www.allmusic.com/artist/sunnyland-slim-mn0000490769/biography and mentored many artists including Maxwell Street harmonica player Snooky Pryor and singer Big Time Sarah.
Twist Turner, 1954 –
Originally from Seattle, drummer/producer/ songwriter Twist Turner (Steve Patterson) played with West Coast bluesman Isaac Scott and joined the Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco blues scenes from 1975-2013. He loved Maxwell Street: “Everything in my house was from Maxwell Street, there were blues bands on every corner although you did have to watch out for the pickpockets down there. Maxwell Street was just a whole way of life, you really can’t explain it unless you were there.” Twist played with harpist Little Arthur Duncan off and on for 31 years till Arthur’s death in 2008. He’s
played on over 50 records with artists including Big Mojo Elem, Sunnyland Slim, Hip Linkchain, Little Mack Simmons, Eddie Shaw, Jimmie Lee Robinson, Robert Plunkett, Paul Jones, Mick Taylor, Easy Baby, Lovie Lee, Billy Branch, ZZ Hill, Taildragger, Harmonica Hines, Maurice John Vaughn, Melvin Taylor, and Willie Kent and more. http://blues.gr/profiles/blogs/veteran-drummer-twist-turner-talks-about-the-legends-and-the
Vince Johnson: Computers and guitars
Vince “Lefty” Johnson is a multi-talented one man band known on the West Side for fixing computers and as a street musician.
Born in Chicago right after his parents arrived from Hollandale, MS, Vince grew up in Lawndale in the neighborhood of California and Polk. Graduating in the 1970s from Manley High and from East-West University. At Tuskegee University he earned a masters in electronic engineering. While working for IBM, Motorola, Zenith, and other companies, he began repairing computers and started his own V&J Services in 1995.
Hearing Chuck Berry playing on records inspired him to take up guitar. As a West Side teenager, he couldn’t avoid hearing music coming down the main business corridors, Madison Street or Roosevelt, one could hear Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters playing at the clubs. Going with his dad to buy things at the Maxwell Street market, he watched the musicians and asked to sit in. He found a mentor in John Henry Davis. (Davis is seen in the 1981 documentary “Maxwell Street Blues” directed by Linda Williams.)
“It ended up that I took on the earlier acoustic styles of the people who played on Maxwell Street—the music my parents grew up with down South,” said Johnson in a 2018 interview with Bonni McKeown for the Austin Weekly News. “I have a street license to play all over the city. I play with my guitar, and my foot percussion thing and I have my racked harmonica like Jimmy Reed played. It takes a lot of stamina to play and sing out there on the street 6 hours a day. I run 3-5 miles three times a week and play basketball. I try to eat right, I’m a vegetarian.”
Lefty plays on the sidewalks at Chicago Blues Festival and neighborhood events, and at the Maxwell Street outdoor market Sundays which the city moved to DesPlaines Ave. He likes meeting younger people and educating them about the blues.
Bonni McKeown interviewed him in December 2017 for Austin Weekly News: http://www.austinweeklynews.com/News/Articles/1-8-2018/Vince-Johnson-masters-computers-and-guitars-/
Vince is also featured in an oral interview elsewhere on the Maxwell Street Foundation site.
Walter (Big Walter “Shakey”) Horton, 1918-1981
Born in Horn Lake MS, according to Edward Komara’s Blues Encyclopedia, Horton played with musicians in Memphis and recorded on sessions with Sun Records.He toured the south with various musicians such as Big Joe Williams, Honeyboy Edwards and Floyd Jones. Eddie Taylor recruited him to play harmonica with his band in Chicago around 1952, but Walter jumped to play with Muddy Waters and others. He played harp on Testament’s Masters of Chicago Blues album featuring Eddie Taylor and Floyd Jones. He was featured in the American Folk Blues tours of Europe, including this one with Willie Dixon in 1970: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0L0tjldPKI
Walter’s uncertain physical and mental health, detailed in David Whiteis’ book Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories, hampered his career, but he continued to play on Maxwell Street and with other bands, and his playing influenced others such as Little Walter.
Walter (Little Walter) Jacobs: 1930-1968
Born in Marksville, LA , Walter Jacobs traveled the south, moved to Chicago in 1945, and started his career on Maxwell Street. He learned harmonica from Big Walter among others, and made his first recordings for the neighborhood record label, Bernie Abrams’ Ora Nelle Records. With his sweeping jazz-like solos and intentional overdriving of amplifers, Little Walter revolutionized the art of electric harmonica. Only a teenager, he joined the Muddy Waters band, had a solo hit with the instrumental “Juke,” then quit to form his own band. Even as one of the international touring blues recording artists of the day, Walter continued to play Maxwell Street, playing guitar instead of harmonica to avoid conflict with the musicians’ union. He died tragically of alcohol abuse. Harp blowers ever since have kept his wonderful licks alive. http://blues.about.com/od/artistprofile1/p/LittleWalter.htm
Willie (Little Willie) Anderson, 1920-1991
Born in 1920 in West Memphis, AR, Willie Anderson learned blues harmonica by hearing Sonny Boy Williamson I, and following guitarists Robert Nighthawk and Robert Jr. Lockwood. He came to Chicago in 1930 and began playing professionally with Johnny Young. He found a new mentor in Little Walter, who he faithfully imitated. In 1979, he was recorded by Bob Corritore, a white harmonica player and documenter of blues, on his Blues on Blues label. Corritore’s photos of Anderson and other musicians of that era are here: http://bobcorritore.com/photos/chicago-blues-1970s-to-early-eighties-part-2-2/
During the 1980s Anderson showed up often to play on Maxwell Street and at the Delta Fish Market.