The Reader's Guide to the 19th Annual Chicago Blues Festival | Festival | Chicago Reader

The Reader's Guide to the 19th Annual Chicago Blues Festival 

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For a music festival, being assembled by committee can be a good thing. When I was on the board that organizes Blues Fest, between 1986 and 1992, lively arguments and discussions were the norm, and from this tension arose some eclectic, varied programs: the diverse lineups for the 1986 showcase of Texas and California blues, the 1989 celebration of Louisiana blues and R & B, and the 1990 T-Bone Walker tribute were largely the fruits of determined advocacy and interplay within the committee. But this year, members report, the committee never even met--festival coordinator Barry Dolins communicated with them only by E-mail. He also posted ideas on the city's Web site to prompt comments from the general public. He says this change was intended to make the selection process "more democratic," and that two bookings, Joe Beard and John Mooney, resulted from visitor input.

These experiments with virtual discussion may or may not be to blame, but this year's Blues Fest schedule is one of the most conservative ever. Local club acts predominate; even on the main stage there are few world-class presentations. It's definitely a step down even from last year's lineup, when Otis Rush, Ike Turner, New Orleans R & B queen Irma Thomas, Chuck Berry, and Robert Lockwood Jr. all played under the Petrillo band shell--and they weren't even all headliners.

Choosy festgoers will still find something to sink their teeth into: the Muddy Waters band reunion, the linchpin of this year's loose Waters tribute theme, promises to be a soulful celebration of the great man's memory; Bo Diddley, who's still with us, will preside over a summit with some of his earliest comrades. Detroit-based R & B chanteuse Bettye LaVette's long-overdue Blues Fest debut is a must-see, as is the set by soul-blues veteran Lee Shot Williams. The North Mississippi Allstars, whose eclectic blues hybrid has made them popular on the jam-band circuit, and guitar iconoclasts James "Blood" Ulmer and Vernon Reid will probably thrill progressives as much as they'll horrify purists. And, as usual, artists of merit who should be better known--CeDell Davis, Ricky Allen, Texas guitarist W.C. Clark--will hold forth on the side stages.

As ever, the Petrillo shell in Grant Park hosts the big names and top-tier locals. The Crossroads stage, at the intersection of Jackson and Lake Shore Drive, features mostly electric blues; the Front Porch stage, south of Jackson and west of Columbus, showcases primarily acoustic--or at least rootsy--acts. The Juke Joint, on Columbus near Monroe, has a varied lineup. The stage booked by the Best Buy megachain, this year dubbed the Fun Zone, is on Columbus south of Jackson; bookings intersperse worthy young artists with lowest-common-denominator fare. The Route 66 Roadhouse, at the intersection of Jackson and Columbus, is primarily a forum for blues historians and writers. DW

* = recommended

THURSDAY 30 MAY

Front Porch

NOON * Blues in the Schools: Delta Roots

with the Grant Academy Blues Babies, Roy Hytower, and Billy Branch & the Sons of Blues

Per Blues Fest tradition, Branch leads a crew of schoolkids in what promises to be a rollicking high-noon kickoff set. The harpist, who studied under Muddy Waters sidemen Junior Wells and James Cotton, got involved in the Blues in the Schools program--a sort of history 'n' harmonica workshop offered students at various Chicago public schools--in 1978. Hytower is a veteran Chicago guitarist who's worked with Otis Rush and recorded on his own, but he's probably best known for his portrayal of Waters in the Black Ensemble Theater's Muddy Waters (The Hoochie Coochie Man) (see next listing). DW

1:30PM excerpts from Muddy Waters (The Hoochie Coochie Man)

The Black Ensemble Theater, under the directorship of Jackie Taylor, first launched its critically acclaimed tribute to Muddy Waters in 1984; it was reprised in '90 and again earlier this year. Guitarist Roy Hytower has played the lead in all three versions; this time around the cast also includes Rick Stone as Waters's contemporary and greatest rival, Howlin' Wolf, and Audrey Queen Roy as Koko Taylor. All three will perform here. DW

3:30PM Fruteland Jackson

Jackson's traveling education program, All About the Blues, which the acoustic-blues revivalist launched in the early 90s, reaches an estimated 50,000 students in Illinois and along the east coast every year. He's also active as a performer and recording artist, his most recent release being 2000's I Claim Nothing but the Blues (Electro-Fi). His guitar work is a melange of traditional styles, and his lyrics, delivered in a tenor wail with heavy vibrato, range from trenchant ("Where's My Daddy") to cloying ("Chicago Flood Song"). Even when they don't quite work, it's encouraging to hear a young bluesman try some fresh imagery. DW

5:00PM Tyree Neal

This 19-year-old guitarist belongs to the third generation of a respected Baton Rouge swamp-blues brood. His granddad is harpist Raful Neal; his uncles include guitarist and harpist Kenny Neal (who has albums on Alligator and Telarc), veteran James Cotton bassist Noel Neal, and guitarist Lil' Ray Neal. The kid's not resting on the family laurels, though: his band took second prize in the Memphis-based Blues Foundation's annual International Blues Challenge this past February, and Tyree walked off with the Albert King Award for most promising guitarist. BD

Fun Zone

NOON Dave Specter

Guitarist Specter made his name playing driving postwar Chicago blues in the 80s with Son Seals, but since the end of that decade, when he ventured out with his own Bluebirds, he's forged an elegant fusion of jazzy grace and soul-stirring intensity. In 1990 he signed with Delmark to record Bluebird Blues; he's been with the label ever since. His most recent release, Speculatin' (2000), is yet another showcase for his precise lines, subtle tonal manipulation, and unfailing swing. Why's a class act like this playing first on this rinky-dink stage? DW

1:30pm Cleveland Fats

Guitarist Mark "Cleveland Fats" Hahn started playing with one of trad blues' remaining masters, Robert Lockwood Jr., in 1973, when he was just 18; on his own likable 1998 debut album, The Other Side of Midnight, he builds on that foundation without sounding overly retro. He's equally conversant in slide and single-string work, and in his solos he forgoes gratuitous flash in favor of satisfying old-school subtlety. BD

3:00PM Robert Charels

Charels's supple tenor has a powerful, meaty timbre, and even at his most ebullient the singer remembers to phrase and articulate with care. Nightclubby numbers like "Babe & a Half," from 1997's Deception in Your Eyes (Bahoomba), raise the hope he'll move in a jazzier direction as he grows, but for the time being he's a fine pop-blues belter; selections like the torrid "Bop All Night Long," from 1999's Metropolitan Blue (Fountainbleu), reveal a rock 'n' roll heart. DW

4:30PM Roger Connelly & the Blues Merchants

On record--most recently, Reason to Cry (Lyin' Dog)--Connelly and his Blues Merchants tend to simmer rather than boil, but they fire up the jets live, fusing crisp rhythmic drive with a rich melodic sensibility. DW

6:00PM The Buzz

This local bar band makes up in volume what it lacks in imagination on 2000's Live! at Buddy Guy's Legends! (Sacred Lily), a set of by-the-numbers boogie blooze that goes a long way toward explaining why a lot of people skip the opening sets at the cavernous blues club on South Wabash. DW

Juke Joint

1:00PM "Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks

Ricks came up in Philadelphia's coffeehouses in the 60s, playing alongside and learning from "rediscovered" blues legends like Son House and Lightnin' Hopkins. He lived and worked in Europe for most of the next 20 years, but since the early 90s he's been based in the Mississippi Delta, where he's made two discs for Rooster Blues (Deep in the Well, Many Miles of Blues) that showcase his comfort with a range of traditional southern styles. But despite his adherence to the masters' tropes, Ricks is no museum curator--his emotional commitment makes even chestnuts like Furry Lewis's "I Will Turn Your Money Green" sound like urgent dispatches from the front lines of the human condition. DW

2:00PM Eric Noden with the Students of Campos High School

Guitarist Noden leads a group of kids through an hour of jug-band high jinks. Also a teacher at the Old Town School, he never lets his encyclopedic knowledge get in the way of a good time: even as he perfectly replicates the styles and mannerisms of long-gone southern acoustic masters, he conveys a sense of jollity that's entertaining in its own right. DW

3:30PM J.B. Ritchie Band

To the best of my knowledge blues rocker Ritchie hasn't recorded anything new since 1997's Power Blues (Teardrop), a thunderous rampage through the postwar Chicago canon that added nothing to the music but probably caused significant hearing loss to a small segment of its audience. Personally, I'd rather listen to a Harley; at least it might take me somewhere. DW

Crossroads

2:00PM Willie Buck

Buck sang regularly in local clubs from the late 60s until the early 90s, but after his closest musical companion, keyboardist John "Big Moose" Walker, suffered a stroke he retreated from the scene. (He made an uncredited cameo, in his day job as a service station operator, in the film Hoop Dreams.) Recently he's begun performing more frequently; heavily influenced by Muddy Waters, he churns out 12-bar blues that's earnest and muscular, though his uncertain timing can be distracting. Buck issued a self-produced LP, It's Alright (Bar-Bare), in the mid-80s; the more recent Willie Buck Live! sounds like it was recorded in a fishbowl but nonetheless captures the vocalist's raw exuberance. DW

3:30PM Dave Weld & the Imperial Flames

Playing guitar behind raucous slide master Lil' Ed, Weld could run through all the tried-and-true blues-rock riffs without sounding noticeably trite--Ed's turbocharged exuberance made everything sound right. On his own, though, Weld sounds like a hundred other anonymous journeymen--full of spit and testosterone but devoid of imagination or craft. DW

5:00PM Gloria Shannon

For the past few years, Shannon has held down the Saturday-evening slot in the basement of Blue Chicago's store at 534 N. Clark, delivering amiable readings of contemporary blues and chestnuts like Ma Rainey's "See See Rider" for the all-ages crowd. Her resonant alto sometimes thins into a slinky nasal tone a la Dinah Washington and Esther Phillips--connections Shannon emphasizes with her jazzy phrasing. Her range is limited, but she conveys emotional intensity with subtle timbral shifts, modulations in volume, and hornlike falloffs at the ends of her phrases. What's missing--even on ribald numbers like "One Eyed Man," her contribution to the 2000 Blue Chicago anthology Mojo Mamas--is any hint of carnality or funk. DW

Route 66 Roadhouse

3:00PM * Myth, Legend, and History: What's the Devil Got to Do With It? The Life of Peetie Wheatstraw

with Paul Garon

Garon's landmark book Blues and the Poetic Spirit (first published in 1975) was a rigorous and often audacious fusion of Marxism, Freudian thought, and surrealist exegesis that argued for the blues as a vehicle of revolutionary liberation. An earlier volume, The Devil's Son-in-Law (1971), profiled Peetie Wheatstraw, aka William Bunch, a 30s-era Saint Louis bluesman who billed himself as the Devil's Son-in-Law and the High Sheriff of Hell. In Wheatstraw's often hallucinatory imagery, Garon found the same impetus toward the "revolt of the spirit" that he would codify in his better-known book. Garon is a forceful personality with a quick wit and a combative streak--both his admirers and his critics should enjoy this presentation. DW

4:30PM * The Mystery of Son House and the Lives of the Early Bluesmen

with "Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks and Jim Dickinson

Delta pioneer Eddie "Son" House, one of Robert Johnson's important influences, cut a handful of sides for Paramount in the 30s and some for the Library of Congress in 1941 and '42--a sparse legacy that includes some of the most emotionally intense performances in the recorded blues canon. Though he resurfaced during the folk revival of the 60s, it's mostly on the basis of these early recordings that he's come to epitomize for many the angst-driven Delta bluesman. Singer and guitarist Ricks (see today's Juke Joint listings) will join legendary Memphis producer and session man Jim Dickinson for an investigation into the role of myth and revisionist history in the way we think about House and other blues pioneers. Both men are known for their depth of knowledge and their contrariness; expect scholarship seasoned with acerbic wit. DW

Petrillo Music Shell

6:00PM Nellie "Tiger" Travis & the Men in Black

Mississippi-born vocalist Travis is a mainstay at Kingston Mines and works regularly at prestigious south-side venues like East of the Ryan and the New Regal Theater. Her dusky timbre smolders on midrange 12-bar blues, and her tremulous vibrato evokes wounded melancholy on ballads. But as evidenced on her self-produced 2000 disc, I Got It Like That, she falters on more melodically challenging material (the pop-funk workout "Something Special," the delicately crafted hymn "Thank You"), resorting to catch-as-catch-can melismata instead of nailing the changes. DW

7:10PM * Lee Shot Williams

He's been based in Memphis since the late 80s, but Williams was a local R & B star in the 60s; he got his professional start singing with the combo of his cousin, guitarist Little Smokey Smothers. He's never had a national hit, but he's cut some notable sides, including "You're Welcome to the Club," for King's Federal subsidiary (it was covered in short order by Little Milton), and the surging soul number "I Like Your Style," recorded in Memphis with Willie Mitchell's band for Syl Johnson's Shama Records. With his warm, relaxed delivery he straddles soul and blues effortlessly, and even his goofily titled 1977 album Country Disco has considerable charms. BD

:25PM * North Mississippi Allstars

Luther and Cody Dickinson--the sons of producer and session man Jim Dickinson (see today's Route 66 Roadhouse listings)--and bassist Chris Chew constitute the Allstars; their 2000 debut, Shake Hands With Shorty, and last year's 51 Phantom (both on Tone-Cool) blend the blues with southern rock, punk, and even hip-hop; The Word, a collaboration with "sacred steel" guitarist Robert Randolph and acid-jazz superstar John Medeski, takes a similarly unorthodox approach to gospel music. The Allstars aren't quite the revolutionaries their most fervent advocates claim: San Francisco bands performed similar experiments in the 60s, and so did papa Dickinson himself in the 70s with his earth-scorching anarcho-roots aggregation Mud Boy & the Neutrons. Nonetheless, they bring a welcome exploratory fearlessness to the contemporary blues scene.

FRIDAY 31 MAY

Front Porch

NOON Eric Noden and the Jug Stompers with Katherine Davis, Erwin Helfer & His Chicago Boogie Ensemble, and the Students of Stone Academy and Grant Academy

Noden (see Thursday's Juke Joint listings), along with chanteuse Davis and boogie-woogie pianist Helfer, leads another group of schoolchildren. Helfer is a local treasure who should by all rights be a national one: in his youth he learned from such masters as Willie Mabon, Little Brother Montgomery, and New Orleans' Archibald; like few keyboardists still working he combines two-fisted power with a keen feel for melodic coloration and tone. In recent years an autumnal melancholy has crept into his playing, but his trademark boyish bounce remains paramount. Vocalist Davis is equally at home with lusty roadhouse belting and swinging jump 'n' jive, and her synergy with Helfer is such that they don't even seem to have to listen to each other anymore. DW

2:30PM John Weston

Like Rice Miller (the second Sonny Boy Williamson), Arkansas harpist Weston favors long warbled phrases interspersed with choppy tongue stops; he also specializes in Miller's trademark repeated-triplet riff. His singing is taut and emotional; although his intonation sometimes falters, his dry-timbred voice is a perfect instrument for his intimate and sometimes harsh storytelling (e.g., "My baby broke my heart and I broke her jaw"). DW

4:00PM Big Bill Morganfield

The son of one McKinley Morganfield--better known as Muddy Waters--Morganfield never played music professionally until after his father's death, in 1983. His recording debut, 1999's Rising Son (Blind Pig), revealed a resonant baritone and bee-buzz slide technique--both based strongly on his dad's style--but some tracks caromed right past intense into overwrought. His 2001 follow-up, Ramblin' Mind, was no less evocative, but Morganfield's vocal and instrumental attack apparently benefited from the steadying hand of veteran producer Dick Shurman. He has yet to forge a musical identity of his own, but for this appearance, at a festival dedicated to his father's memory, that could be considered an asset. DW

5:45PM John Mooney & Bluesiana

Fusing spicy New Orleans second-line grooves with Delta slide guitar would seem an impossible proposition, but Mooney pulls it off, emerging as his own man in the process. At 16 the guitarist received personal instruction from Mississippi blues legend Son House, by then a resident of Mooney's hometown of Rochester, New York. Mooney's relentless rhythmic thrust and stinging slide technique nod to his mentor, but a 1976 move to New Orleans enriched his conception with a heady dose of funk. On All I Want, his latest disc for Blind Pig, the title cut, "Hey Little Girl," and "Feel Like Hollerin'," where he's backed by his band Bluesiana, bristle with Crescent City parade beats, while his fiery vocals on the solo "Baby Please" and the House homage "Son's Blues" are as traditional as his resonant fretwork. BD

Fun Zone

NOON Liz Mandville Greeson

In the late 80s Mandville fronted a local bar band called the Supernaturals, which did reasonable justice to a repertoire of 50s and 60s R & B covers--thanks in large part to the crisp professionalism of the instrumentalists (including Mandville's ex-husband, Willie Greeson, on guitar). That combo is ancient history; today the chanteuse records original material with a contemporary bent for the otherwise fiercely traditional local Earwig label. She's turned out to be more sizzle than steak--closer to Bette Midler in stage presentation and depth of emotional commitment than Tina Turner or Etta James. BD

1:30PM Third Stone

These guys apparently adapted their name from Jimi Hendrix's early tour de force "Third Stone From the Sun." I haven't heard Blues Central Station (Orchard), their sole CD, but from what I witnessed on the Best Buy stage at last year's festival, their ponderous, overwrought metallic onslaught makes a travesty of any implied fealty to the guitar god. DW

3:00PM Ken Saydak

Now that synthesizer-trained keyboardists who use their left hands mostly for twiddling knobs are the norm, laying down a pile-driving eight-to-the-bar boogie is fast becoming a lost art. But local 88s ace Saydak can still pound the ivories like Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons did in the 40s, and his smoky growl ain't bad either. Saydak paid his dues on the bandstand behind guitarists Mighty Joe Young and Lonnie Brooks in the 70s and 80s, and he's in perpetual demand as a session player (he guested on Johnny Winter's three mid-80s Alligator albums). Recently he's stepped up as a leader, issuing a pair of CDs on Delmark. BD

4:30PM Rockin' Johnny Band

Judging from his recent efforts as both leader and sideman, earnest local guitarist Johnny Burgin desperately wants to turn the clock back to the early 1950s, when Chicago blues legends roamed the streets in droves. But Burgin has neither the chops (he's played out of tune on more than one recording) nor the voice (he sings in an anemic whine) to pay proper homage to his idols. BD

6:00PM Noah & the Stratocats

Guitarist Noah Wotherspoon is barely legal, but he's already developed a distinct style that incorporates explosive pyrotechnics a la Stevie Ray Vaughan into an exploratory approach to melody that suggests his mom was playing Jorma Kaukonen records while he was in utero. For all his aggression, Wotherspoon mercifully rises above the braying machismo common to his contemporaries, and his band backs him up with tight, propulsive funk- and rock-derived grooves. DW

7:15PM Bill Perry

Perry plays the sort of overwrought blues-rock guitar that sells these days, but given his former associations with Richie Havens and the Band's Garth Hudson and Levon Helm, he may be capable of something a trifle better. His vocals have a tad more depth than those of most of the indistinguishable guitar technicians who've come to dominate the unsubtle subgenre, and his originals sometimes rise a notch above average too. After releasing his debut CD, Love Scars, on Virgin's Pointblank imprint in 1995, he put out his latest, Fire It Up, on Blind Pig. BD

Juke Joint

1:00PM Carey Bell

Though the humble harmonica no longer has quite the cachet it did in the 50s and 60s, there are still a great many competent harpists navigating the blues circuit today. Yet only a few have taken the time to develop a sound that's unmistakably their own. Former Chicago mainstay Bell, who learned the ropes playing with Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon in the 70s, is one of them; his trademark trick is an unearthly moan that he frequently trots out midsolo. Born in Macon, Mississippi, he came north in 1956 with his mentor, pianist Lovie Lee, but it took him 13 years to make his solo debut, an LP for Delmark. Most of his best solo recordings have come more recently, on Alligator and Blind Pig--his singing has gained resonance and authority with the passage of the decades. BD

2:00PM Big Bill Morganfield

See today's Front Porch listings.

3:00PM John Mooney & Joe Beard

Guitarist Beard, a sometime Chicagoan now based in Rochester, New York, is the guy who introduced Mooney (see today's Front Porch listings) to Son House, so the two should have plenty of common ground to explore on this intimate stage. Beard played music only part-time for most of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but in the 90s he made a couple solid albums for Audioquest and built a decent reputation on the club circuit. Before leaving his native Mississippi for Chicago, he took pointers from Matt and Floyd Murphy, and his sound still bears traces of his rural roots. But the influence of R & B is pervasive; in the early 60s he played with the Continentals, a Rochester band whose members also included John Ellison, future founder of the mighty Soul Brothers Six. (Note to the committee: teaming Ellison and Beard would be an intriguing booking for next year.) BD

4:30PM John weston

See today's Front Porch listings.

Crossroads

2:00PM * Danny Reed & Ricky Allen

Reed, a guitarist, was in the studio for many a Chicago soul session (as was his brother, bassist Bernard); Curtis Mayfield was a primary influence on his technique. Nashville-born Allen was a star in these parts in the early 60s; he made his first single for producer Mel London's Age label in '61, with Earl Hooker on liquid guitar, and his gospel-tinged vocals were subsequently spotlighted on a solid string of soul-blues 45s for Age, USA, 4 Brothers, and other local imprints. (He scored a top 20 R & B hit in '63 with the grinding Age single "Cut You A-Loose.") For decades Allen has maintained a low profile, making an occasional appearance to whet the appetite of his long-standing fans for a full-fledged comeback; recently he issued a live album on a Swedish label. BD

3:30PM Fred Johnson & His Checkmates with Pee Wee Madison

Veteran vocalist Fred Johnson bellows blues and R & B standards in a voice so coarse it sounds as if he's been scraping his larynx on a washboard. His Checkmates are equally unvarnished, although ex-Muddy Waters drummer-turned-guitarist Ray "Killer" Allison has recently brought a little panache to their sound. Guitarist James "Pee Wee" Madison was a member of Waters's band from the mid-60s to 1973. His primitivism--ragged phrases fired off in a shrieking tone--played foil to the craftsmanship of Sammy Lawhorn, Waters's other fretman during most of that time. Age has taken some of the edge off, but Waters aficionados won't want to miss this rare opportunity to see him. DW

5:00PM John Brim & the Chicago All Stars

As direct links to the golden age of postwar Chicago blues grow fewer and fewer, Brim's presence grows more and more precious. With help from the cream of the city's sessioneers (including harpists Jimmy Reed and Little Walter, bassist Willie Dixon, and often Brim's wife, Grace, on drums), the Kentucky-born guitarist made a series of platters in the 50s that still stand as sterling examples of the idiom. "Tough Times," waxed for deejay Al Benson's Parrot label in 1953, set pointed social commentary to a deliberate beat; "Rattlesnake" (a snarling "Hound Dog" clone), "Go Away," and "I Would Hate to See You Go" came out on various Chess imprints. His best-known Chess outing, 1953's "Ice Cream Man," didn't see the light of day until the firm issued it on LP about a decade and a half later--and then Van Halen's 1978 cover introduced Brim to a whole new constituency. He just passed his 80th birthday, and still surfaces every now and then--he made a low-key CD for Tone-Cool in the mid-90s and plays locally just often enough to maintain his living-legend status. BD

Route 66 Roadhouse

3:00PM Reflecting on Muddy Waters

moderated by Ralph Metcalfe Jr.

Local raconteur Metcalfe, a tireless advocate of Chicago blues-history preservation, will preside over this discussion among veterans of Waters's bands (see today's Petrillo Music Shell listings). DW

4:30PM The Story of Little Walter

with Dave Ray, Tony Glover, Scott Dirks, and Ward Gaines

Guitarist Dave "Snaker" Ray and harpist Tony Glover are two-thirds of Koerner, Ray & Glover, one of the most potent folk-blues-jug band revivalist acts to have survived the 60s. They're also dedicated folklorists: Ray's encyclopedic knowledge of tradition has supplied the trio with much of its material over the years, and Glover, a longtime music journalist, has written three instructional harmonica books and compiled "Little Walter Chronological," the definitive discography of the Chicago blues-harp genius. A few years ago he joined forces with Chicago harpist and blues journalist Scott Dirks and D.C.-based harmonica aficionado Ward Gaines to write a full-length biography, Blues With a Feeling: The Little Walter Story, which is due later this year. DW

6:00PM The Langston Hughes Centennial Session: Poetics of the Blues

with Sterling Plumpp

Poet Sterling Plumpp has spent most of his life studying and writing about the role of ritual, folkore, and spirituality in the blues--and the blues as an integral component of African-American expression. Here he'll read from and discuss his oeuvre; he'll no doubt also expound on his dissatisfaction with some of the directions the music has taken since it was rediscovered by the corporate entertainment industry. DW

Petrillo Music Shell

6:00PM * Muddy Waters Alumni Association featuring Pinetop Perkins, Carey Bell, Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson, John Primer, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, Calvin "Fuzz" Jones, and James Cotton

Eighty-eight-year-old pianist Perkins is the elder statesman here, but he's as active as any Waters band vet on this roster, with numerous recent CDs on the shelves. He replaced Otis Spann in Waters's combo in 1969, bringing a wealth of experience that included tenure on the second Sonny Boy Williamson's King Biscuit Time radio broadcasts of the 40s and stints behind slide guitarists Robert Nighthawk and Earl Hooker; his thundering fingers reportedly inspired Ike Turner to take up the 88s. Johnson was with Waters for much of the 70s; bassist Jones and drummer Smith kept Waters's rhythms running clean for many a moon before they split off with Perkins in 1980 to form the Legendary Blues Band. Guitarist Primer anchored Waters's last band, then hooked up with Magic Slim's Teardrops for more than a decade. For more on harp wizards Bell and Cotton, see today's Juke Joint listings and the Petrillo listing after this one. BD

7:25PM James Cotton & His Five Star Band

Blues is first and foremost a vocal medium--or at least it used to be--and sadly Cotton's voice has been ravaged by the years. But he remains an unquestionable master of the harmonica. Cotton's celebrated tenure as Muddy Waters's harp ace (1954-'66) is the reason he's on the bill this evening, but it's not the be-all and end-all of his career: As a youth in Mississippi, he was personally trained by the second Sonny Boy Williamson, and in the mid-50s, prior to joining Waters, he cut a pair of singles for Sam Phillips's Sun label in Memphis. In 1967 he assembled his own sizzling blues-rock outfit and signed with Verve Records; in the 70s and 80s he made memorable albums for Buddah and Alligator. The stage, not the studio, was his forte, though: he'd zip around like a pinball, dripping sweat as he blew the guts out of his mouth organ. We won't see the fire-breathing Cotton again, but his elegant harp excursions remain satisfying. BD

:40PM * Bo Diddley with Billy Boy Arnold, Jody Williams, Clifton James, Ken Saydak, and Bob Stroger

This is a reunion of truly historic significance. Harpist Arnold and guitarist Williams, both of whom have revitalized their own careers in recent years, were members of Bo Diddley's early-50s street-corner band and played on some of his most important sides for Chess, including "Who Do You Love" (Williams) and the seminal "Bo Diddley" and "I'm a Man" (Arnold). Bassist Stroger is a first-call sideman who has worked with the likes of Otis Rush and Sunnyland Slim, and he's often Diddley's choice for Chicago gigs. Pianist Saydak (see today's Fun Zone listings) wasn't around for the golden era, but he's a solid craftsman cast in the vintage mold. A special treat is the appearance of drummer Clifton James, who laid down that eternal beat on "Bo Diddley" and contributed to myriad other Chicago blues and R & B classics. He works too seldom these days, but he's in good shape and should have no trouble re-creating the irrepressible percussive drive that helped forge rock 'n' roll almost 50 years ago. DW

SATURDAY 1 JUNE

Front Porch

NOON Sunnyland Slim Memorial Piano Set by Detroit Junior & David Maxwell

The annual tribute to the blues-piano patriarch is handled this year by local pianist Detroit Junior and Boston-based Maxwell, both of whom are well suited to the task. Emery Williams Jr. (Junior's legal handle) is best known for "Call My Job," his often-covered '65 single for USA, but virtually everything the diminutive pianist writes is infused with a sly wit (his mock-rueful "If I Hadn't Been High" is a surefire crowd pleaser) and he radiates good humor from the moment he takes the bench. Maxwell's crashing, boogie-fired attack makes him a direct descendant of Sunnyland Slim (as well as Otis Spann); in the 70s he backed Freddie King, Bonnie Raitt, and James Cotton, and he's still in demand as a session player. BD

2:30PM * CeDell Davis

Crippled by polio as a child, septuagenarian CeDell Davis clutches a knife in his gnarled right hand and rakes it across the strings of his guitar to create soundscapes aswirl with dissonance, conflict, and unresolved tension. His lyrics evoke erotic infatuation and midnight-of-the-soul psychic cataclysm (as you might guess from the titles of his two Fat Possum discs, Feel Like Doin' Something Wrong and Horror of It All), and he delivers them with feverish intensity. Some find his near dissonant tunings and flailing technique unlistenable, but those willing to not only witness strange and terrible visions but be immersed in them will find this an unforgettable, even transformative, experience. DW

4:00PM Homesick James & Honeyboy Edwards with Steve Arvey and Jon McDonald

There'll be nearly a century of blues history on the stage as Homesick James meets up with fellow Delta veteran David "Honeyboy" Edwards. James, whose career extends back to the 1920s, is the senior of the two (although his exact age, like his real name, is a matter of some dispute), but he arguably made the transition from rural to urban more readily than his partner. His 50s sides on Chicago labels are collectors' items, and by the early 60s he was working and touring regularly in his cousin Elmore James's aggressively amplified ensemble. The 86-year-old Edwards came of age in the Delta; his running buddies included Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, and Big Joe Williams. He recorded sporadically from the 40s through the early 50s, but he never really adapted his style for the burgeoning electric-blues movement. Both men can still summon searing intensity, although neither is known for his adaptability or cooperation in ensemble situations. Arvey and McDonald are earnest young traditionalists who learned their craft by listening to the likes of these two; they may not have much to add to the conversation, but their steady timing and linear sense of melodic development will probably lend coherence. DW

5:30PM Super Chikan

James "Super Chikan" Johnson's 1997 debut, Blues Come Home to Roost (Rooster Blues), introduced his trademark juxtaposition--the contrast between the barnyard vocalese that (along with the cackles and clucks he scratches from his strings) earned him his nickname and his caustic social commentary and wry portraits of Mississippi life. Half the songs on that album could be described as amiably laid-back, and on the other half he sounds lethargic, but on subsequent outings--2000's What You See (Fat Possum) and last year's Shoot That Thang (Rooster Blues)--he's expanded into stripped-down New Orleans funk and burbling soul blues, and his attack has become more aggressive. His band, the Fighting Cocks, sometimes struggles to keep up with him, but his peculiar blend of antic showmanship and deep sincerity usually manages to carry the day. DW

Fun Zone

NOON Big G & the Real Deal

Oklahoma City's Garrett "Big G" Jacobson released his first disc, Rhythm Attack (Big G Productions), in 1998, when he was all of 15 and followed it up with That Funky Thang in 2001. He sings with a worldliness beyond his years, and his welcome refusal to engage in self-indulgent guitar pyrotechnics bodes well for his continuing evolution. DW

1:30PM Howard & the White Boys

This high-energy blues-rock outfit snares more gigs with less musical imagination than any frequently booked band in the area: Buddy Guy inexplicably continues to champion them, and Evidence Music has issued two of their CDs. Vocalist and bassist Howard McCullum--the non-Caucasian in the ranks--injects some of his lyrics with a sophomoric humor that undeniably resonates with the frat-party crowd and others wholly unfamiliar with good blues, but that still doesn't solve the mystery for me. BD

3:00PM Robert Ross

Guitarist and vocalist Ross is a New Yorker. His recorded oeuvre, from an EP on the Baron label in '81 to his latest, the comp Sleight of Hand (Fountainbleu), displays admirable range, encompassing everything from hard-rocking covers of blues classics like "Crosscut Saw" to an evocative reading of Earle Hagen's "Harlem Nocturne." He's also written some nice original lyrics. But he's yet to forge a musical personality that's greater than the sum of his influences. DW

4:30PM Rob Stone & the C-Notes

This young local outfit respects vintage Chicago blues deeply enough to blow the dust right off it. Stone's primary harp influence is Little Walter, and guitarist Chris James (with whom he shares vocal duties) has listened long and hard to the way the rhythm guitars of Eddie Taylor and Jimmy Rogers drove a band during the 50s--his crisp solos are never littered with extra notes. Bassist Patrick Rynn is equally at home on electric or acoustic, and the latter comes in handy when they kick into the rockabilly-flavored Tarheel Slim chestnut "Wildcat Tamer." BD

6:00PM Dona Oxford

New York-based Dona Oxford played keyboards in Shemekia Copeland's band for a while, and appeared on Copeland's 2000 Grammy-winning CD, Wicked. In 1999, she released her solo debut, Rowena Said...(Fountainbleu), on which she gamely tried a little bit of everything, including Crescent City funk, heartrending balladry, and rocking 12-bar blues. But her latest, Raw, a live recording, confirms my previous observations of her stage show: despite her facility on the keys, she and her band tend to take the easy way, heavy on the crowd-pleasing 12-bar crunch and too light on the subtlety and soul of which she's obviously capable. DW

7:15PM Ronnie Baker Brooks

The guitar-toting son of the legendary Lonnie Brooks made his debut at age nine, when his father let him sit in at Pepper's on the south side. He joined Lonnie's band full-time in the mid-80s; in '98 he released his debut CD, Golddigger (Watchdog), and the following year hit the road with his own group. His latest, Take Me Witcha, picks up where Golddigger left off: whether rocking out or simmering through an aching soul-blues ballad, Brooks tempers his technical flair with maturity and intelligence. DW

Juke Joint

1:00PM Johnny B. Moore

Mississippi-born guitarist Johnny B. Moore went national in 1975 when, as a baby-faced 25-year-old, he joined Koko Taylor's band. Subsequent recordings under his own name, for such labels as B.L.U.E.S. R & B, Delmark, and Wolf, solidified his reputation among aficionados. Moore's repertoire extends from obscure 30s Delta chestnuts to contemporary soul blues, and his improvisational technique blends dexterity, imagination, and taste. His singing, though, is stiff, and so is his stage presence, which explains why he's never transcended journeyman status despite his stellar chops. Nonetheless, a session with him is a virtual lesson in the living heritage of Chicago blues guitar, and his sidemen kick with a tough exuberance honed in west-side jukes. DW

2:00PM Super Chikan

See today's Front Porch listings.

3:00PM Paul Oscher

Oscher was the first white harpist hired by Muddy Waters. The two first met at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, then a frequent destination of the Brooklyn-born Oscher. He joined Waters's crack band in 1968, at the tender age of 18, probably because his full-toned amplified riffs brought to mind his storied predecessors Little Walter and James Cotton; his sparkling contributions ultimately influenced the next generation of harpists--notably William Clarke and Jerry Portnoy. His belated debut as a leader, Knockin' on the Devil's Door (released by Viceroots in 1996), shows off his considerable skills on guitar as well as harp. BD

4:30PM "Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks

See Thursday's Juke Joint listings.

Crossroads

1:30PM Phil Guy & His Chicago Blues Machine

The "other" Guy doesn't generate the rabid acclaim his older brother Buddy does, but at this point he's probably more in tune with the spirit of the blues. In 1969, after more than a decade gigging around Baton Rouge, often with harpist Raful Neal, he followed Buddy to Chicago, and though he played guitar in his band in the 70s, he hasn't ridden his sibling's coattails by any stretch. (Curiously, he rated only two fleeting mentions in Buddy's autobiography.) His talents have never been properly documented on record--what little he's squeaked out has been pretty disappointing. But live Phil often cooks up funk-inflected rhythms to spark his slashing guitar work, and there's still a taste of the swamp in it, especially when he delves into vintage Guitar Slim material. BD

2:40PM Lee Roy Parnell

Like his fellow Texan Delbert McClinton, Parnell is impossible to conveniently classify. He had a string of mainstream country hits in the 90s ("Tender Moment," "A Little Bit of You," "Heart's Desire"), but last year's Tell the Truth (Vanguard), a savory stew of blue-eyed soul and blues with a southern-rock flavor, was downright dismissive of current commercial trends in Nashville or anywhere else. His dad was a close friend of western-swing pioneer Bob Wills, and by age 14 Parnell was playing in clubs; before he was 20 he was a member of Kinky Friedman's Texas Jewboys. Landing in Austin in the mid-70s, he spent a decade paying dues before trying his luck in Nashville. His glistening slide work and gritty vocal delivery give Parnell a natural affinity for the blues that can't be taught. BD

3:30PM * W.C. Clark

It took Texas guitarist W.C. Clark far too long to establish himself on a national scale. Even now, his 70s stint with young Stevie Ray Vaughan (in the Triple Threat Revue, along with singer Lou Ann Barton) and the fact that he cowrote Vaughan's "Cold Shot" often overshadow his own compelling blend of Lone Star blues and soul. Clark was an Austin blues stalwart long before Vaughan came along; he cut his teeth playing bass with T.D. Bell in the 50s and later toured with soul great Joe Tex. His trio of CDs for the now-defunct Black Top label spotlighted his sweet yet sinewy vocals and insistent, stinging guitar amid R & B-laced grooves that set him well apart from the pack--1994's Heart of Gold ranks with the decade's best contemporary blues releases. Clark really belongs on the main stage: compared to this year's underwhelming crop of headliners, he's a veritable superstar. BD

Route 66 Roadhouse

2:00pm * Muddy Waters In Print

with Robert Gordon and Peter Guralnick

Gordon's 1995 book, It Came From Memphis, brought that city's 60s boho scene alive with almost hallucinatory immediacy and reestablished the rightful place of the blues tradition in the development of southern music. His long-awaited Waters biography, Can't Be Satisfied, came out last week. Guralnick introduced himself in 1971 with Feel Like Going Home: Portraits in Blues and Rock 'n' Roll, and subsequent volumes--including Lost Highway (another compilation of portraits and vignettes), Sweet Soul Music (a comprehensive historical study of southern soul), and, most recently, his epic two-volume Elvis biography--have cemented his reputation as the dean of living roots-music writers. He has a Sam Cooke bio in the works. Sitting in on a discussion between these two is a privilege a lot of music lovers would gladly pay for. DW

4:00PM Reissuing the Classics

with Bob Porter, Larry Cohn, Chris Strachwitz, and Lawrence Hoffman

Blues historian and producer Hoffman joins three veteran record men to discuss the lucrative reissue business. Hoffman compiled the four-CD blues retrospective Mean Old World, which was issued by the Smithsonian through the MCA label in 1996. Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz, Sony's Larry Cohn, and Bob Porter all have decades of experience as purveyors of both traditional and contemporary blues, jazz, and roots music; Porter helped create what we now know as acid jazz when he enlisted drummers Bernard "Pretty" Purdie and Idris Muhammad to funkify some of his jazz sessions at Prestige, notably those featuring tenor saxist Rusty Bryant. DW

5:30PM The Living Blues Interview

with Jim O'Neal and Amy Van Singel

In 1970, O'Neal and van Singel, along with a group of idealistic blues-loving friends, launched Living Blues magazine from their home in Chicago. The first issue featured an interview with Howlin' Wolf, and in-depth conversations with blues artists both famous and obscure have been a staple of the book ever since--O'Neal and van Singel just published a book-length compilation of them, The Voice of the Blues. Neither remains officially involved with the magazine, now based in Oxford, Mississippi, although O'Neal continues to contribute articles and serve as a fact checker on demand. They'll discuss the music, the magazine, and the interviews, and they'll field questions from the audience. DW

Petrillo Music Shell

5:00PM Johnny B. Moore

See today's Juke Joint listings.

6:40PM Jelly Roll Kings Revisited featuring Jack Johnson, Sam Carr, and John Weston

The Jelly Roll Kings, originally known as the Nighthawks, were the main juke-joint attraction around Helena, Arkansas, from the early 60s until the 80s, when harpist and bandleader Frank Frost and guitarist Jack Johnson began to pursue solo careers in earnest. Their sound was a prototypical post-50s Delta crunch, raw as a wound and funkier than a fishmarket. Frost passed away in 1999; John Weston (see Friday's Front Porch listings) will try to fill his shoes with the help of Johnson and original Kings/'Hawks drummer Sam Carr. Weston is capable enough, but the restrained style he's usually shown on record is far removed from Frost's whiskey-soaked squall--he'll have to kick it up a notch (or get kicked hard by his bandmates) for this set to re-create the original band's power. DW

:00PM Shemekia Copeland

Copeland, daughter of the late Texas guitar master Johnny, hit the ground running in 1998 with Turn the Heat Up (Alligator), and she's been on a star track since. She can outbellow even the most overwrought blues-rock backing, and often does, but her gift goes deeper. Wicked, her latest release for Alligator, includes gems like "If He Moves His Lips," a deliciously barbed heart-to-heart with Ruth Brown, "The Fool You're Looking For," rasped like a true soul survivor, and "Up on 1-2-5," a harrowing inner-city vignette on which she summons both stark rage and weary resignation. Her upcoming disc is being produced by Dr. John--hopefully his impeccable taste will encourage her to explore the more nuanced and complex sides of her musical personality. DW

SUNDAY 2 JUNE

Front Porch

NOON Carter Singers

In 1959, a Mississippi State Penitentiary inmate named James Carter recorded a version of the traditional chain-gang lament "Po Lazarus" for folkorist Alan Lomax, who was touring the south on one of his periodic music-hunting expeditions. The tape remained buried in Lomax's archives until about five years ago, when musician T-Bone Burnett happened upon it. A few years later, when the producers of the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? enlisted Burnett to help with the sound track, he decided to include the Carter tape. The film became a hit, the sound track topped the Billboard country chart, and, after more than a year of searching, Burnett, Lomax archives staffers, and a journalist from Florida located Carter in Chicago, where he'd settled down and raised a family after being released from prison. Burnett has estimated that Carter will eventually reap more than $100,000 from the song. In February he took the first plane trip of his life to Los Angeles, where he attended the Grammys and saw the sound track voted album of the year. Here a family gospel group organized by Carter's daughter Elizabeth will pay tribute to the man, his life, and his belated good fortune. DW

1:00PM Devil in a Woodpile

The rollicking rhythms and stage high jinks of vocalist-washboardist Rick "Cookin'" Sherry and his crew effectively evoke the ribald showmanship of legendary street-corner aggregations like the Memphis Jug Band and Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers. But those old-timers weren't just clowns: they adapted their arrangements from sophisticated jazz and vaudeville acts, and their lyrics often addressed serious social issues ranging from drug abuse to racism. That's what's missing here: Sherry's foghorn bellow lacks nuance, and although his bandmates have undeniable chops, the group's act is so heavy on the hokum that it sometimes seems like blackface without the burnt cork. DW

2:30PM Jessie & Her Band

Jessie Terrell's reputation is just beginning to spread outside the south- and west-side neighborhood clubs. On her debut CD, Come Get This Love (Annie G), she delivers ballads and midtempo soul blues in a kittenish purr undergirded with a steely timbre. Her melismatic flurries, executed with a quicksilver vibrato, sound borrowed from urban-contemporary pop, but she avoids the cheap-trick sexiness of too many R & B divas in favor of an adult approach that relies on ambiguity and nuance. Songwriter Bob Jones provides lyrics that play perfectly to her strengths, and she negotiates the tunes' challenging melodic patterns with nimble grace. DW

4:00PM Remembering Skip James and a Fond Farewell for John Jackson

with Cephas & Wiggins and "philadelphia" Jerry Ricks

Ricks (see Thursday's Juke Joint listings) returns to join the duo of guitarist John Cephas and harpist Phil Wiggins (see today's Juke Joint listings) in a tribute to fabled Bentonia-blues stylist Skip James and Virginia guitarist John Jackson, who died this year. The so-called Bentonia sound (some experts dispute the categorization) is characterized by a unique open tuning and high, ghostly moaning; it's one of the most recognizable yet difficult to replicate in all of acoustic blues, and James was perhaps its best-known practitioner. Jackson, who died in January, was a dexterous purveyor of the ragtime-influenced Piedmont fingerpicking style. Cephas & Wiggins are primarily associated with the Piedmont sound; Ricks is also accomplished at it; as evidenced by his nimble-fingered take on James's "Special Rider Blues" on Many Miles of Blues (Rooster Blues), he's conversant in the Bentonia style too. DW

6:00PM * Louisiana Red & His Chicago Blues Band

Born Iverson Minter in Bessemer, Alabama, in 1932, Louisiana Red has survived trials and tribulations that evoke the legends of such tormented blues troubadours as Robert Johnson. His mother died when he was seven days old; he says that as a child he watched the Klan lynch his father. Over the next decade, as chronicled in songs like "Red's Childhood Memories" and "Orphanage Home Blues," he suffered severe physical and emotional abuse at the hands of various relatives and institutional caretakers. In the early 50s he set out to become a bluesman, recording under various aliases--Rocky Fuller, Playboy Fuller, Guitar Red--on Checker and Atlas, among other labels. After some success with "Red's Dream" on Roulette in 1962, he faded from public view, although he continued to record off and on. In the 70s he hit the international blues circuit, and since then he's appeared on aficionado labels like Evidence and Earwig, playing everything from rootsy Delta stuff to electric postwar boogie. On his latest, A Different Shade of Red: The Woodstock Sessions (Severn), recorded with a full band, he summons a soul-blues suppleness in place of his usual parched wail for up-tempo funk-propelled outings like "Blues 2001" and "Take Your Time." His sinewy slide-guitar lines ascend into fractured upper-register hallucinations on "I Had a Dream," while the loping "Blue Evening" finds him opting for hornlike linearity. Although the overall emotional intensity is less than usual, he draws blood on the poor man's lament "Where's My Friends?" and especially on the swaying rock 'n' roll lullaby "Sleep Little Robert," which he sings in a constricted, acidic croon. It's a bitterly ironic invocation of childhood happiness and security from a man who experienced precious little of either. Here he'll be backed by local bassist Willie Kent and his band, who accompanied him on the recent traditional Chicago-blues outings Millennium Blues and Driftin'. DW

Fun Zone

NOON Steve Arvey & Kraig Kenning

Arvey played on Maxwell Street in the 70s, and his resume also includes sideman gigs with the likes of Hubert Sumlin and Junior Wells. For most of the 80s he led his own band, West Side Heat. These days he works primarily as a retro acoustic picker, either solo or alongside fellow fretman Kenning. Kenning's focused slide work is the duo's strongest suit, and his lyrics--influenced by craftsmen like Canada's Bruce Cockburn--are a welcome departure from blues cliche. Nonetheless they do little that isn't better done by more accomplished blues singer-songwriters (e.g., Chris Smither). DW

1:30PM Renee Austin

Texas-born, Minneapolis-based vocalist Renee Austin is in command of a daunting vocal range--her flacks claim six octaves--and can modulate from a gutbucket growl to a crystal-shattering wail with breathtaking dexterity. Her debut CD, Dancin' With Mr. Blue, places her in settings that range from the soul-baring melancholy of "Calling It Quits"--where her vocal stunts boggle the brain but distract the heart--to the hard-rocking revenge fantasy "Pillow." Having more chops than one knows what to do with must be a delightful curse--Austin will hopefully become more comfortable with her burden as she takes it on the road. DW

3:00PM Howard & the White Boys

See Saturday's Juke Joint listings.

4:30PM Nigel Mack & the Blues Attack

Canadian harpist-guitarist Mack's most recent CD, Road Rage (on his own Blues Attack label), is mostly live tracks compiled from an earlier limited-issue cassette release, 100% Live, plus three studio tracks that didn't make it onto his 1997 debut, High Price to Play. Those recordings, plus a grueling road schedule, have helped expand Mack's following south of the border, and the new recognition is well deserved. Both his slide style and his harp work are refreshingly unforced, and he struts his versatility on everything from Willie Cobbs's jaunty "You Don't Love Me" to Elmore James's searing "The Sky Is Crying," as well as his own hard-driving originals. His lyrics take on topics like the destruction of the rainforests ("500 Yds. of Paradise") as well as more traditional blues concerns. DW

6:00PM Mighty Blue Kings

For a hot minute, this local institution threatened to break nationally, but the neoswing craze they were inexorably linked to didn't last long enough. There was never much interest in real jump blues among the new swingers, and there isn't much within this combo either: Ross Bon and his impeccably groomed young cohorts definitely look the part, and their rhythms swing in a certain facile manner, but Bon's mundane vocals never summon the booming authority of pioneers like Wynonie Harris and Big Joe Turner. Perhaps the Kings suspected the jig was up: Alive in the City, their latest CD, takes a disconcerting detour into old-school soul, with Bon roughening his voice to cover Billy Preston, Lou Rawls, and Al Green. BD

Juke Joint

1:00PM "Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks

See Thursday's Juke Joint listings.

2:00PM Cephas & Wiggins

On record these Piedmont fingerpicking vets sometimes make it sound too easy--John Cephas's masterful filigree work weaves in and out of Phil Wiggins's supple harmonica with graceful elegance, but the emotional intensity usually associated with the blues seems more implied than overt. In performance, though, they bring it all. Although they're obviously aware that what they're presenting is, in some ways, a lesson in folklore, their fusion of chops and feeling makes this vintage music sound fresh. DW

3:00pm Tony Rogers & Son

Local blues guitarist Tony Rogers, backed by his seven-year-old son Jamiah on drums, played the Chicago Neighborhood Festival kickoff at Daley Plaza a few weeks ago. This is their first Blues Fest appearance. DW

4:30PM * Louisiana Red

A solo set; see today's Front Porch listings.

Crossroads

1:30PM Sammy Fender & His Blues Masters

Seems like you can't go into a north-side blues joint these days without encountering veteran guitarist Fender and his bassist sidekick Sugar Baby hovering near the bandstand, awaiting their chance to sit in for a couple numbers. Fender, who's been somewhere on the Chicago blues scene since the 60s, can be enjoyable on the right night, though I once witnessed him tuning his guitar very loudly right in the middle of a song during an A.C. Reed set at B.L.U.E.S. His discography is slim, considering how long he's been around--Transformating Love seems to be his most recent disc, and he shows up on Reed's 1999 Delmark CD Junk Food. BD

3:30PM Shirley Johnson

Born and raised in Norfolk, Virginia, singer Johnson came to Chicago in the early 80s; stints in the bands of Buster Benton, Little Johnny Christian, and Professor Eddie Lusk followed. These days she's a mainstay at Blue Chicago. On her just-released U.S. debut, Killer Diller (Delmark), her husky alto conveys deep heat, but she struggles with some of the songs' more challenging intervals. She's at her best when her churchy roots show, as on her own searing tale of heartbreak "Missed the Best Chance," Twist Turner's aggressive minor-key soul ballad "Your Turn to Cry," and Leiber and Stoller's atypical but rousing gospel rave-up "Saved." DW

Route 66 Roadhouse

3:00PM All the Wives Club

Marva Morganfield, the widow of Muddy Waters, will preside over this panel discussion, which will also include the wives of other well-known bluesmen. The topic, not surprisingly, is the challenge of trying to maintain a household and raise a family while papa's on the road. The poor husbands of blues divas will just have to fend for themselves. DW

5:00PM State of the Blues

Participants in this discussion on promoting the blues as an art form, a culture, and a business will include Robert Santelli, director of the Experience Music Project in Seattle; Bruce Iglauer, head of Alligator Records and president of the Blues Music Association, a trade group consisting of artists, record executives, and other industry figures; and representatives from BMA's education and preservation-oriented sister organization, the Blues Foundation.

Petrillo Music Shell

5:00PM Johnnie Mae Dunson

Octogenarian Johnnie Mae Dunson performed locally in the 40s and 50s, but her primary claim to fame is the handful of songs--including "If You Want It Done Right" and "Life Won't Last Me Long"---she wrote for Jimmy Reed. In the late 90s she emerged from obscurity, partly because of publicity surrounding her struggles to avoid being evicted from her home, and soon started performing again. Her debut CD, 2000's Big Boss Lady (Lakada), showcased her still-potent pipes as well as her carefully crafted bad-mama persona, on such numbers as "I'm a She Wolf," "I'm a Whole Lotta Woman," and the title song. Dunson's onstage presence, regal and sassy in turn, is entertaining in a small-club setting, but whether she can hold the attention of the festgoing masses, most of whom won't be able to see her well, is debatable. DW

5:55PM Jimmy Dawkins

He was nicknamed "Fast Fingers" as a Chicago blues up-and-comer in the late 1960s, but Dawkins never really embraced the flashy moniker, and truth be told, it's not all that accurate. He's chosen a distorted metallic tone for his stinging but not overly fleet lead licks, and he's a static presence onstage, all business as he delivers his lyrics in an introspective, brooding manner. The Mississippi emigre was part of the same fertile late 50s and early 60s west-side scene that spawned Magic Sam and Freddy King, but it took him considerably longer than those legends to interest a record label in his services. Delmark finally sponsored his eponymously titled debut album in 1969, and though he's been prolific since, it remains his hottest studio effort by far. BD

7:00PM * Bettye LaVette

Here's one of the few imaginative bookings on this year's schedule. LaVette isn't shy about expressing her sexuality--the veteran Detroit singer often flirts with her admirers and ventures into their midst midsong. And her pipes are gloriously undiminished by four decades of use; she brings to mind to Tina Turner and Gladys Knight in their prime. Born in Muskegon, Michigan, LaVette was impressed by Etta James in her early teens but mostly modeled herself on soul men such as Clyde McPhatter and Marvin Gaye. Her 1962 debut, the teasing R & B workout "My Man--He's a Lovin' Man" (Atlantic), was a national smash. LaVette followed up with more stirring hits: an impassioned "Let Me Down Easy" for New York's Calla Records in '65, the country-rooted "He Made a Woman out of Me" in '69 for Nashville-based Silver Fox. But stardom proved elusive. A potential break evaporated when Atco canceled the release of an LP she'd cut at the legendary Muscle Shoals studios in 1972. By the time she landed at Motown a decade later, the label had lost its luster. Despite the recent death of her longtime musical director Rudy Robinson, LaVette promises to bring some welcome glitter to an otherwise unusually drab fest. BD

:05PM James "Blood" Ulmer and Vernon Reid

Free-jazz and hard-funk guitar virtuoso Ulmer and Living Colour axman Reid recently entered the fabled Sun studio in Memphis to record the roots-influenced but aggressively exploratory Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions, to be released by producer Joel Dorn's Label M. Unfortunately, the imprint folded soon after, so this may be the only opportunity for local listeners to savor the results of their collaboration. The duo's knuckles-and-fingernails fretboard flailings give new voice to the ineffable meld of existential terror and anarchic joy that characterize the Delta blues tradition. Ulmer's tormented shout recalls the gutbucket rasp of elder statesmen like Howlin' Wolf, and he tempers it with a melismatic flexibility that harks back to field hollers and work songs. This kind of thing can easily degenerate into mindless overkill, but between Ulmer's outcat chops and Reid's rock 'n' roll soul, they negotiate the line between genius and madness with impressive dexterity. DW

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/James Fraher, Michael Jackson, Mark PoKempner.

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