Jimmy Dawkins, Bobby Radcliff | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Jimmy Dawkins, Bobby Radcliff 

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West-side guitarist Magic Sam, a progenitor of the fusion of blues, funk, and rock that flourished in the 60s and 70s, died in 1969--so it might seem a little late for these tribute shows. But guitarists Jimmy Dawkins and Bobby Radcliff both have personal connections to the master. Dawkins worked the same west-side circuit as Sam in the 60s, and certain elements of his style--his knack for laying declamatory chords behind his own leads, for instance--still echo the music the two of them helped develop. Where Sam was an ebullient crowd pleaser, however, Dawkins is brooding and introspective, often bringing his extended middle-register solos to a slow boil with a deliberation that borders on obsessiveness: he'll worry a phrase or a note until he's made his peace with--or surrendered to--whatever feelings it stirs up in him. His lyrics embrace despair with a chillingly casual ease, as on the title tune of his 1997 Ichiban CD, Me, My Gitar and the Blues, where he sings, "Ain't gonna worry about tomorrow, let every day stand on its own / Tomorrow still be here, and we all could be dead and gone." Somehow his tone transforms that familiar eat-drink-and-be-merry fatalism into a real prediction of doom. Onstage his moodiness can get the better of him--he might do an entire set without making eye contact with the audience or his sidemen, and sometimes he seems so lost in his thoughts that he can barely put together a coherent series of solos. But when he finds his muse, few blues guitarists can rival his naked intensity. Effervescent house rocker Bobby Radcliff, who opens both shows, apprenticed himself to Magic Sam shortly before his death. These days, though, his style is a fusion of Delta aggression and Texas-Memphis string bending, not the soul-inflected, streetwise blues Sam was exploring in his final years. Radcliff specializes in chugging roadhouse shuffles, propelled by tightly wound chording and splintered leads that shiver as they climb to each melodic climax; his vocals hark back to R & B shouters like Roy Brown and Wynonie Harris. The Rockin' Johnny Band will provide backup for both Dawkins and Radcliff, and the two guitarists will undoubtedly share the stage at some point each night. Friday and Saturday, 9:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452. DAVID WHITEIS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.

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