| Chicago Reader

Dusty Brown 

In the 1950s Chicago produced such an extraordinary number of talented blues artists that many who might have been stars in less heady times never rose above the second tier; harpist Dusty Brown was among them. Born in Mississippi, he moved here in the mid-40s and by the early 50s was gigging with his own band in clubs like Lover's Lounge, at Madison and Paulina. He recorded a handful of sides for the Parrot and Bandera labels, but by the mid-60s, when gigs dried up for all but the A-list bluesmen, he'd pretty much retired. He enjoyed a brief career resurgence in the early 70s, including a tour of France in 1972, but since then his local appearances have mostly been limited to increasingly infrequent guest shots at north-side clubs--by his own reckoning he hasn't headlined a show in at least 15 years. On his Bandera singles from 1958, neither the primitive production nor the sparse, generic 12-bar backing can detract from his sophisticated, unerringly precise harp work: he has a keen tone and a confident melodic sense, but he largely limits himself to crisp single notes and brief phrases, inserting each economical gesture at exactly the right instant with offhand ease. On up-tempo numbers his vocal phrasing borders on pugnacious, but on the slow blues "Please Don't Go" he smooths his slightly grainy, callow-sounding tenor into a vibrato-sweetened croon that foreshadows the soul balladeers who were to follow--in his best bedroom voice, he mutters, "C'mon, baby," while a guitar line slithers and curls behind him. A month ago I saw Brown sit in with Al Harris for a song or two at the California Clipper, and his harp playing is as fiery and exact as ever; his voice has thickened considerably, but his delivery is still supple and expressive. These dates aren't the start of a comeback--Brown has told me he's happy to stay away from the hurly-burly of the club circuit--so we may not get another chance to see this vital, undeservedly obscure bluesman for a long time. Friday and Saturday, February 15 and 16, 10 PM, California Clipper, 1002 N. California; 773-384-2547.

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