Birth of a Bluesman | Letters | Chicago Reader

Birth of a Bluesman 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

To the editors:

My compliments on your superb special issue on the Chicago riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King [August 26]. The other Chicago media woefully neglected their duty in commemorating this occasion; apparently a hard look at some of our most painful history is beyond even some of the most high-powered journalists in this town.

I'd like to offer this story as a kind of postscript: It's quoted in the book Blues, a collection of photographs by Robert Neff and Anthony Connor (David R. Godine, publisher, 1975). Chicago harmonica player Carey Bell takes up the story of what happened to him the days after Dr. King was murdered:

"I was out on Madison Street watching the crowd on the Saturday after the killing. Oh, that street was full of people! But there wasn't a damn thing left to steal, not after they burnt up every damn thing. So the firemen were fighting fires, and me and about four or five more guys and a bunch of women were standing around. Two squad cars and a paddy wagon pulled up. 'Get up against the wall!' So I said, 'What'd we do?' And the cop hit me with his damn gun right on the side of the head. And after that, when we were getting in the wagon, I laughed, and he kicked me. I didn't like that.

"Well, when I was in jail thinking about things, I got more and more disgusted and blue. Finally I said, 'Forget it! I'll quit my job! Shit. I ain't gonna do a damn thing.'

"I got out of jail that Easter Sunday, and that Monday I went out to the job and picked up my last pay. Then I went to buy me a gun to kill that cop. I just felt like the whole world had been dropped out from under me.

"Then it came to me to go to a music store and buy me some harps. I wasn't gonna work anymore, but I could play music. So I bought the harps instead of the gun, and I've been playing music full-time ever since."

David Whiteis

N. Leavitt

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by David Whiteis

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories