Jesse Fortune & Little Smokey Smothers | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Jesse Fortune & Little Smokey Smothers 

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JESSE FORTUNE & LITTLE SMOKEY SMOTHERS

Guitarist Abe "Little Smokey" Smothers and vocalist Jesse Fortune haven't always gotten their due in this town, but these Chicago blues veterans have earned international reputations with their generation-spanning command of styles and influences. Smothers's career stretches back to the mid-50s--and includes a stint backing Howlin' Wolf--but he didn't record Bossman (Black Magic), his first release under his own name, until 1993. The disc showcases his tasteful phrasing, crisp enunciation, and versatile tone, which swings effortlessly from a feathery whisper to a throaty scream. His more recent Second Time Around (on the Dutch label Crosscut) displays stylistic as well as tonal range: he smooths out the rough edges for a breezy rendition of Benny Goodman's "Soft Winds," then plunges into a cover of Albert King's swaggering "I Get Evil." Fortune got his start gigging with such Chicago stalwarts as Buddy Guy and Otis Rush; in 1963 Willie Dixon produced a handful of sides for him on the USA label, one of which--"Too Many Cooks"--is now prized as a classic both here and abroad. But Fortune's fortunes never really picked up, and by the late 60s he'd settled into a career as a barber, only occasionally sitting in at west-side neighborhood clubs. Then, in the early 90s, a chance encounter with some young aficionados led to a deal with Delmark, which released his Fortune Tellin' Man in 1993. Fortune's keening, gritty tenor suits both hard-edged 12-bar blues and more modern soul-blues stylings, and even at his harshest he retains a tinge of gospel exultation. Though some critics complain about the pervasiveness of B.B. King's influence in Fortune's style, his rowdy exuberance could only come from within--and he's had it since he was scuffling in juke joints three decades ago. Saturday, December 26, 10 PM, Smoke Daddy, 1804 W. Division; 773-772-6656. David Whiteis

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Jesse Fortune photo uncredited; Little Smokey Smothers photo by James Fraher.

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