Various Artists/Anthologies , Billy Branch , Lacy Gibson , Lovie Lee , AC Reed , Scotty and the Rib Tips
Living Chicago Blues III
Includes saxman/singer/songwriter A.C. Reed, modern bluesmen Scotty and the Ribtips, hard-rocking piano man Lovie Lee, charismatic guitarist Lacy Gibson and The Sons of the Blues with harpist Billy Branch.
A.C. Reed and the Spark Plugs
Scotty and the Rib Tips
Lovie Lee with Carey Bell
The Sons of Blues
Produced by Bruce Iglauer
Production Assistance by Fred Breitberg
Recorded and Mixed at Curtom Studios, Chicago, IL
Fred Breitberg, Engineer, Assisted by Eddie B. Flick
Album Design by Ross & Harvey Graphics
Cover Photos by Jim Matusik
Photo Credits: D. Shigley, Mark PoKempner, Paul Natkin and Mindy Giles
Thanks to Roy Filson, Bob Corritore, Mindy Giles, Andrew Gerking, Ira Selkowitz, Dick Shurman, Ricahrd McLeese and Chip Covington
Coordinated for Compact Disc and Cassette re-release by Bob DePugh, David Forte and Bruce Iglauer
Liner Note Updates by Bruce Iglauer
Reissue Design and Production by Matt Minde
1991 Remastering by Tom Coyne at DMS, New York, NY
This album is dedicated to the late TONY GOODEN, whose music contributed to The Son Seals Blues Band, and whose image appeared on the covers of Living Chicago Blues, Vols. I-III.
ALCD 7703 LIVING CHICAGO BLUES, VOL. I
The Jimmy Johnson Blues Band
Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang
Left Hand Frank and His Blues Band
Carey Bell's Blues Harp Band
ALCD 7702 LIVING CHICAGO BLUES, VOL. II
The Lonnie Brooks Blues Band
Johnny "Big Moose" Walker
Magic Slim and the Teardrops
ALCD 7704 LIVING CHICAGO BLUES, VOL. IV
Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson
Queen Sylvia Embry
Big Leon Brooks' Blues Harp Band
From the original 1980 release with 1990 updates:
It's Friday night at The New Excuse Lounge at 59th and Halsted on Chicago's South Side, and a blues celebration is in full swing. It's a "Big Virgo Birthday Party" for "Star" Gladys and "Boss Man" Phate, two of the bar's regular patrons. In the back of the club, in an area cleared of tables, the Mississippi Blues Band is putting on a show. The bass player does some fancy dance steps, while the singer strolls out among the tables, wooing the ladies with a slow, soulful blues ballad. The men look on in amusement, but among the women faces are glowing and both hands are waving up over heads when the familiar lyrics strike home. Balloons and banners hang amidst the lighted Schlitz signs overhead, and fried chicken and macaroni rest in covered dishes on a corner table, not to be served until well into the night, when they're suitably cold and stale, as seems to be the custom. But the blues stays hot.
The club has been redecorated and spruced up a bit since Johnnie Handley, a big woman with an authoritative manner, took over eight months ago. She moved here from her previous location, the old Excuse Lounge on Rush Street, undaunted by the fact that the former owner, Ted Porter, had been shot during a robbery at his own club. The New Excuse had long been known as Porter's Lounge, the weekend base for any of a dozen bands, including Little Nick and the Ghetto Kings, Lovie Lee and the Sensationals, Johnny Bernard, Left Hand Frank, Buster Benton, and Johnny Embry. With the exception of Lovie Lee (who just joined Muddy Waters' band), the others still work here and at other South Side taverns.
Like a dozen other clubs on the South Side, where local bands are playing tonight, The New Excuse has remained virtually unaffected by fifteen years of international interest in blues. The crowd is 99% black. The few white blues fans who come to the South Side generally go to the "legendary" clubs, Theresa's and The Checkerboard, to hear stars like Junior Wells and Buddy Guy. Most of the bluesmen who work at The New Excuse aren't known recording artists. Their performances aren't listed in the entertainment section of the newspapers. Few people outside of the neighborhood have ever heard of them. You don't have to be famous to play at The New Excuse, but you'd sure better know how to deliver the blues.
Over on the West Side, the blues action is scattered among fewer clubs, At one time, there was a bustling music scene here, but stretches of empty lots and abandoned buildings testify to the ravages of urban renewal and the riots following the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Still, a few ongoing clubs carry on the West Side tradition. Necktie Nate's, The Del Morocco, Mary's and The Show & Tell support older style bands, while the more upbeat, modem sounds emanate from The Majestic Lounge at 14th and Pulaski.
The Majestic is the oldest more-or-less continuing West Side blues club. Henry Moody bought the old L&A Lounge in 1968, and over the years remodeled and renamed it. It's not a big or fancy club, but it does have a real bandstand, bordered by a low wrought iron railing, and a house PA system. Over the years, Henry has presented nearly every important West Side blues musician — Freddie King, Magic Sam, Otis Rush, Mighty Joe Young, Luther Allison, Eddy Clearwater, and the Johnson Brothers, Jimmy, Syl and Mac, as well as hundreds of talented unknowns.
Today, few of the "name" West Side bluesmen work at The Majestic; they've been lured away by the North Side clubs and the college market. But business is still good with the house band, a tight trio called Oasis, and if the customers miss the old stars, they don't show it by their lively response to the music. The crowd is younger than at The New Excuse, but, like their South Side counterparts, they're mostly black, working people from the neighborhood.
Henry gives them more than their money's worth. For a $2 cover charge at the door, the club presents a series of featured guest vocalists, doing a few blues or soul tunes each. Because The Majestic is a late-night joint with a 4 a.m. license, other musicians show up for a guest set after they've finished their own gigs at other clubs. A young soul singer gets the ladies going, a harmonica player adds a down-home touch, a comedian turns the air blue with his jokes and jibes, a stocky gent gets up from one of the tables to render a little B.B. King, and a female vocalist offers some Bobby Bland tunes. The entertainment is almost non-stop.
Afterwards, two of the performers sit and talk over recording plans. Their conversation is a capsule commentary on the two directions that local bluesmen can take to try to break out of the small club and day job grind. One talks of finishing the overdubs on a new 45. If the record succeeds, it will be played on black-oriented stations like WXOL or WVON, and the singer may wind up in a revue at one of the big black showcase clubs like the Club 77, Bootsey's or The Palladian West. There, the audience will pay $8 or $10 a head to see a Saturday night procession of stars, with a headliner like Bobby Bland or Johnnie Taylor. The other musician wants to try a different route. He's not strictly a bluesman, but he's seen his friends Eddie Shaw and Mighty Joe Young break out of the West Side circuit, and he wants to "go underground" and cut a blues album, to cash in on the (hopefully) lucrative college and white club market.
The road tour of the ghetto to the white audience almost always passes through the North Side. Heading north and east from The Majestic, the urban landscape changes from one of liquor stores, rib joints, storefront churches and funeral parlors, to one of antique shops, pizza parlors, movie theatres and night clubs. The bluesmen are working in different surroundings, but the music sounds surprisingly similar to The New Excuse or The Majestic.
The four major North Sides blues clubs each have their own flavor. The Wise Fools Pub, Kingston Mines, and B.L.U.E.S. are located only two blocks apart in the Lincoln-Fullerton-Halsted entertainment strip, but they're miles apart in atmosphere. And Biddy Mulligan's, in residential Rogers Park, has a feeling and audience all its own.
The Wise Fools was the first regular Lincoln Avenue blues club, opened in 1969 and run since 1972 by David and Lynn Ungerleider. The Fools specializes in tight, professional shows with a rotating roster of some of the best-known Chicago bands — Lonnie Brooks, Mighty Joe Young, Koko Taylor and Son Seals among others, with special appearances by stars like Willie Dixon and John Lee Hooker. It's the most "formal" of the North Side clubs, with a small music room, no dance floor, good sightlines and P.A. system. Like the other North Side spots, it gets its share of blues tourists, but the Fools draws much of its crowd from affluent Lincoln Park's young professionals. Probably more than any other club, The Wise Fools has exposed Chicago blues talent to new audiences, and served as a stepping stone for bands to venture further afield.
The Kingston Mines, with its barn-like atmosphere (it's a converted warehouse), noisy crowd, big dance floor and infamous leaky roof, has found a niche as the city's blues/boogie party center. Nights at the Mines are billed as Blues Shows, with special guests like LaVelle White and Big Bad Leroy Brown joining regulars Lefty Dizz, Eddy Clearwater, Aron Burton and Johnny Dollar. Doc Pellegrino, the physician who owns the club, claims most of his audience is from the suburbs, but the Mines has also become a musicians' hangout, with lots of sitting in, both by local artists and celebrity guests like The Rolling Stones.
B.L.U.E.S. co-owner Bill Gilmore says the biggest compliment he receives is when musicians continually tell their friends that the address is on South Halsted Street instead of North. Gilmore purposely searched for a casual, intimate bar similar to Elsewhere on Lincoln, a club he operated a few years ago. B.L.U.E.S. is much less a showcase room than the other North Side blues clubs; instead, it's become home for blues afficianados, and a second home for many of the traditional Chicago stylists like Big Walter Horton, Floyd Jones, Good Rocking Charles, Jimmy Walker and Sunnyland Slim. B.L.U.E.S. usually books a different band every night, so it's often the first North Side gig for one of the South or West Side groups. And there's always someone in the audience waiting to sit in, emphasizing the similarity between B.L.U.E.S. and the ghetto clubs.
Biddy Mulligan's is described by owner Chip Covington as "a North Side singles/Irish/blues bar with a very diverse audience that loves to dance." In the last couple of years since Chip took over the club, he's expanded its booking policies beyond the better-established bands that play Lincoln Avenue. Recently, he's brought in an impressive array of out-of-towners, including Gatemouth Brown, Larry Davis, Lowell Fulson and Johnny Heartsman, to supplement the steady diet of local artists like Otis Rush, Carey Bell and Abb Locke.
After a few lean years in the late '60s, blues has come back in Chicago as strong as ever. From the ghetto taverns to the slick show lounges, from jam sessions at the Delta Fish Market to suburban dinner theatres, new talent is on the way up and veteran performers are finally winning recognition. In this city, Living Chicago Blues isn't just the name of a series of records. It's reality.
A.C. REED AND THE SPARK PLUGS
Blues fans from Greece to Japan have applauded A.C. Reed and his powerful tenor sax on tours with Albert Collins, Buddy Guy and Son Seals. When A.C. steps out front to sing, there's even more to shout about. Because, while A.C. is rightly regarded as one of Chicago's premier blues sax players, he learned long ago that his singing and songwriting would provide the extra ingredient to make him special among horn players. He remembers back in the '50s when a bandleader offered him a job, even though the group already had a better sax player. "Why do you want me?" he asked. The answer was, "Man, they like that shit you sing!"
A.C.'s vocal specialties are his own humorous originals and the songs of the late Jimmy Reed. Being known as a Reed brought A.C. some easy recognition, but it's also obscured the fact that he's his own man, a blues artist who combines singing, composing, and sax playing in a way that no one else has. A.C admits his relationship to Jimmy is unclear. Though relatives told him they were half-brothers, they were raised in different states and didn't know each other well until they both came to Chicago in the 1940s. But the resemblance in their styles was strong enough for A.C. to be indelibly bequeathed the Reed name.
A.C. — the initials of his real name, Aaron Corthen — was born into a sharecropping family in Wordell, Missouri on May 9, 1926. Other half-brothers played piano and guitar, but it was the saxophone he heard on a Jay McShann record that attracted A.C. After spending a few years in Carbondale, Illinois, he moved to Chicago when he was fifteen and used his first two paychecks from a foundry job to buy a pawnshop saxophone. A.C. put in two years at the Chicago Conservatory of Music, scrupulously studying and copying every Gene Ammons note he heard.
But it was blues, not jazz, where he found his niche. J.T. Brown, the singing sax player who fronted Elmore James' backup band, took A.C. under his wing and tutored him in the differences betwee blues and bebop. "The first thing he taught me," A.C. recalls, "was to play less notes, play simpler, and to tell a story with my solos." Brown's advice worked, and A.C. won a gig with Willie Mabon at the Planet Lounge in 1948. During the '50s, A.C. finally quit his day job, and joined Dennis Binder's band, the Rhythm and Blues All Stars, touring through Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Colorado. The band played almost exclusively for whites. "Blues was pretty strong out there," A.C. recalls, "and Jimmy Reed, he was like a president out there in Texas."
Upon A.C.'s return to Chicago in 1960, his old friend Earl Hooker talked him into cutting his first 45s for Age Records. During the '60s, A.C. cut singles for Age, USA, Nike and Cool, including Talkin' 'Bout My Friends, and he played on sessions by Hooker, Ricky Allen, and Muddy Waters. In 1967 he joined the Buddy Guy band, just as Buddy's newfound popularity opened him up to the white audience. The association lasted a decade, highlighted by tours of Europe, Japan and Africa, and almost constant gigging in the U.S.
When working with Buddy ceased to be fun for A.C., he quit touring and played around the city, mostly with Phil Guy's band. Son Seals called A.C. for a European tour in 1977, and, after a year with Son, A.C. joined another Alligator artist, Albert Collins. A.C. has toured with Albert for two years now. He still gets a special kick out of his singing spots on Albert's shows. "Everybody wants me to play with 'em," he grins, "cause I sing that shit they like."
A.C. left Albert Collins in the mid-1980s and is again leading his own band, The Spark Plugs. He's cut two albums, Take These Blues and Shove 'Em for the Ice Cube label and I'm In The Wrong Business! for Alligator (AL 4757). He tours constantly all over the U.S.A.
SCOTTY AND THE RIB TIPS
Scotty and the Rib Tips. That name has been an indelible part of Chicago's black music scene for more than fifteen years. Always gigging, always scuffling for recognition, playing in the shadows of the bigger names, but always tight and professional, whether in support of Chicago's top blues and soul acts, or at the Rib Tips; own shows at countless out-of-the-way lounges and taverns. A permanent South Side institution.
Chicago wouldn't be the same without rib tips or Scotts. Kenneth "Buddy" Scott and his clan are running neck-and-neckbone with the Harrington folks (Carey Bell and sons, Eddy Clearwater and nephews) in the competition for the city’s most prolific soulful family. Buddy was one of ten boys, most of whom ended up in the Scott Brothers Band, a longtime fixture on the Chicago soul music scene. The family network, which has grown to include sons and nephews, is now called the Scott Brothers World, with various branches employed separately or simultaneously as the Tyrone Davis Band, the Rib Tips, or just the Scott Brothers. The family loyalty always comes first — even in Tyrone’s band, the Scotts wear their distinctive black silk "Scott Brothers World" jackets, with Tyrone Davis’ name relegated to the back of the garments.
Alligator's serving of Rib Tips on this album features Buddy with brother Walter and sons Kenneth Jr. and Jerome. Buddy's sons represent the third generation of blues-playing Scotts. Their grandmother, Ida, was a guitarist back in the '50s, when little Buddy used to peek through the doors of the Piccadilly at 36th and Indiana to see her play with Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter.
The Scott clan moved to Chicago in the early 1940s from Jackson, Mississippi, where Buddy was born in 1935. Buddy was a boxer before he was a bluesman, and learned guitar from his mother and tutor Reggie Boyd. His first gig was as a singer with a vocal group called The Masqueraders (appropriate, as this name was only another disguise for the Scott Brothers). In the early '60s, he worked with both The Masqueraders and with drummer Ted Porter (later owner of Porter's Lounge) in a blues band at Turner's Blues Lounge. When Scotty joined another group, The Upsetters, he picked up some T-Bone Walker licks from leader T. Jones. The band eventually evolved into Scotty and The Upsetters; then fate stepped in. One of the sidemen was a Mexican named Joey. At first, he refused to eat soul food with the rest of the band. But when they finally turned him on to rib tips, Joey just couldn't get enough. To show his appreciation, Joey began calling his fellow musicians The Rib Tips. Their fans took the joke seriously, and the name stuck like barbecue sauce.
Scotty and The Rib Tips worked Turner's, Lee's Lounge, Curley's, Barney's, the Club Arden, Pepper's, and dozens of other South and West Side clubs, often with Little Mack Simmons as featured guest. Following some early '60s records with his Masqueraders, Scotty recorded — and paid for — 45s on Biscayne, PM and Capri. He played guitar or bass on sessions with Mack Simmons, Lee Shot Williams, McKinley Mitchell, Arlean Brown, and of course The Scott Brothers. He taught his sons to play, hired them as the new Rib Tips, and in the last few years has sometimes put his guitar down to work as a standup vocalist at show lounges like Bootsey's and the Club 77. Scotty has dabbled in other areas of the music business, too, operating a chain of record shops (Scott's, of course) and a South Side rehearsal studio, and writing arrangements for others bands. It's been a yeoman's struggle for Buddy Scott, from the days when he'd pay other musicians to call him to the bandstand, to his recent gig with the Chi-Lites, when he had to stand behind the curtains and play while the stars sang. No one in Chicago has worked harder to establish his name and the name of his family. Scotty's dues are paid in full.
Scotty and The Rib Tips are still playing on the South Side, holding down the gig as house band at Lee's Unleaded Blues (formerly Queen Bee's) on South Chicago Ave.
—Jim O'Neal, Co-Editor, Living Blues Magazine
LOVIE LEE with CAREY BELL
Joining the Muddy Waters band and cutting a first recording session would be a boost for the career of almost any bluesman. But, within the totally unspectacular framework of the long career of Lovie Lee, two such events in the same year are more like an atomic explosion.
For years, Lovie has simply been the affable neighborhood piano player to the patrons of Porter's Lounge and other South Side clubs. His good-natured stage presence, accented by his big grin and thick glasses, made him a solid draw at the Cinderella, Florence's, The 1125 Club and Porter's. Still, he had never recorded, never played in a big-name band, rarely toured outside Chicago, and had received only a few mentions in the blues publications, mostly because he was known as Carey Bell's stepfather. Then, he retired from his day job at an upholstery company in 1979, and all of a sudden things began happening. Carey put him in touch with Alligator Records, leading to his first session, and a chance gig with Mojo Buford in North Dakota unexpectedly turned into a steady job with the Muddy Waters band, when Mojo suggested Lovie to fill the pianist's job just vacated by Pinetop Perkins.
Until then, Lovie had been quietly plying his part-time blues trade, which he began as a teenager in Meridian, Mississippi. He was born Eddie Lee Watson on March 17, 1917, but an aunt dubbed him "Lovie" when he was a baby, and the name stuck. He began playing in church and in his parents' restaurant, inspired by a local piano player named Cap King. Growing up during the '30s, Lovie heard most of the popular blues artists of his day at the Star Theatre in Meridian — Bessie, Mamie and Clara Smith, Roosevelt Sykes, and Lonnie Johnson. In fact, after playing at places like Jimmy's Spaghetti House, Moore's Restaurant, and the Club 19, he won the job as intermission pianist at the Star Theatre. But mostly he and his little band, with Sherman "Blues" Johnson on drums and a variety of guitarists, played the little local bars, the private parties, rodeos and gypsy weddings that were part of Meridian's social life. Lovie never aspired to be more than a hometown entertainer, and never gave up his day job in a woodworking factory. One day in the early 1950s, Lovie was playing a gig at the Blue Moon Drive-In ("you drive in and lucky if you drive out") when a teenager with a harmonica in his pocket wandered in and asked to jam. It was the young Carey Bell, who had run away from his home in Macon, MS to become a musician. Lovie took the boy under his wing, and together they formed a new band, the Swinging Cats, with guitar, trumpet and sax to supplement the piano and harmonica. In 1957, Lovie brought the group to Chicago. There wasn't enough work to keep them in the city, but Lovie and Carey remained when the others returned to Meridian. They put together a new band with Honeyboy Edwards on guitar and started picking up local gigs,
As he had done in Mississippi, Lovie decided not to depend on music for his living. He held a series of jobs, at the post office, in a department store, and finally as an upholsterer. But he always kept his band, the Sensationals, together. They played the taverns, private parties, and Elks Club dances, with guitarists like Little Nick, Arthur Gray, King Edward, Byther Smith and Lee Jackson. Carey had long since left to tour with his own band, with Eddie Taylor, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and others. But periodically he returned to sit in with his adopted "stepfather."
In 1979, Lovie sent for his birth certificate, and discovered the midwife had recorded his birthdate as 1909. His "new" age allowed him to retire early ("I was eight years old when I was born!" he laughs). Strangely, Lovie's retirement from his years of day jobs led to his biggest breaks as a musician.
Finally, after playing the blues for most of his sixty-three (or is it seventy-one?) years, Lovie Lee is really just beginning his career as a bluesman.
—Jim O'Neal and Bruce Iglauer
Since Muddy Waters' death, Lovie Lee has mostly played around Chicago, including a featured gig at the 1990 Chicago Blues Festival. He's released two "home grown" records on his own label, and continues to play the Chicago clubs regularly.
Lacy Gibson's rich voice and flashy, unpredictable guitar style shouldn't surprise anyone who was at the 1973 Ann Arbor Blues Festival and saw him stroll out in his turban to open up for Jimmy Reed with a powerhouse set. Nor should they surprise anyone who saw him heat up the bandstand with his opening numbers until his bandleader/boss Son Seals almost needed asbestos boots. Nor anyone who saw him with Billy "The Kid" Emerson at the 1980 Beale Street Blues Fest, or with Otis Rush at ChicagoFest, or with Abb Locke at Biddy Mulligan's, or in any other of the countless musical roles Lacy has assumed over thirty years of playing Chicago.
Lacy credits his mother for much of his style and inspiration. During his youth in Salisbury, North Carolina, she taught him the hillbilly guitar style she played so well, and also the rich gospel-tinged singing that still marks his performances today. After moving to Chicago at the age of thirteen, in 1949, Lacy began hearing hard blues for the first time. He idolized Lowell Fulson, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, and of course local hero Muddy Waters. But Lacy's background included other music than blues, and he struggled to be a complete guitarist. "Lefty Bates taught me a lot," he recalls (Lefty worked with everyone from Jimmy Reed to the Ink Spots), and lessons also came from M.T. Murphy, Wayne Bennett, T-Bone, and longtime friend Milton Rector, all of whose music spanned jazz, blues and popular favorites.
After his first gig, with C.T. Tolbert and his Counts of Rhythm, Lacy joined Rector in a band called the Chicago Flames, playing pop and jazz hits of the '50s, as well as a taste of blues. They played supper clubs and cocktail lounges as well as blues clubs, occasionally backing jazz vocalists, but with Lacy handling most of the singing. (One of the jazz singers they accompanied was Geri Mitchum, mother of bassman Snapper Mitchum. Snapper first brought Lacy into Son Seals' group.) Since the '50s, Lacy has worked with "damn near all of 'em," from Willie Mabon and Billy Emerson to Lowell Fulson, Ray Charles, Jerry Butler, Red Holloway and Al Hibbler.
Lacy is no stranger to the recording studio. He's worked frequently as a session man, with Willie Dixon, Fred Below, Mabon, Emerson and others, and cut two 45s for the Repetto label. Perhaps his most unusual recording is an album for Sun Ra's El Saturn label, cut when Lacy and Ra were brothers-in-law, and still sporadically reappearing on the market.
Lacy's best exposure came during his two years on the road with Son Seals. After playing together at Louise's South Park Lounge, they toured Europe twice, travelled throughout the Northeast, and cut an album at the Wise Fools Pub in Chicago, Son's Live and Burning. Lacy's warmup workouts were a highlight of Son's show. When Lacy went into the studio for the Living Chicago Blues series, he naturally used Son's band, adding keyboard man King Solomon (who ended up as another member of Son's group) and a European friend, Sebastian Danchin, who had toured with the band in France. With a repertoire of songs they had played night after night on the bandstand, Lacy laid down the blues with the conviction that can only come from a man whose departing lady once took his false teeth with her.
Since leaving Son's band, Lacy has continued to practice the versatility of which he is so proud. He's toured and recorded with Willie Dixon, worked at the rejuvenated South Park Lounge, played at The Poinciana on the West Side with Willie James Lyons, and gigged with tenor man Abb Locke. You can never be sure where Lacy Gibson will turn up next (now playing a Guild guitar in spite of his name), but you can be sure it will be memorable.
— Dick Shurman
Lacy went on to record a solo album entitled Switchy Titchy for the Dutch label Double Trouble (produced by Dick Shurman). These days, Lacy isn't as musically active as he was in the 70s, but he helps operate an after hours club on the West Side, and often plays late night unadvertised shows there.
THE SONS OF BLUES
Because most well-known blues artists today are 40 or older, people often assume that the blues has been abandoned by younger blacks. The crowds at The Majestic, The Checkerboard and Theresa's know better. Young bluesmen play regularly in such clubs, creating little fanfare but proving there's plenty of potential for the future of blues. In the blues hierarchy, it usually takes years for an up-and-coming musician to work his way up to leading a band and making records on his own. It's not surprising, then, that the younger bluesmen now work primarily as sidemen. Even so, some are already beginning to find recording opportunities and starring roles.
As more and more young black musicians in their teens and 20s surface in the South and West Side taverns, it becomes apparent that they represent not a curious, isolated phenomenon, but a natural, direct continuation of the blues tradition. Often, the blues is a family tradition, passed from generation to generation. Two of the most productive blues families in Chicago, the Harringtons and the Dixons, have contributed youthful talents to the new S.O.B. band.
S.0.B.: Sons of the Blues. What more appropriate name could there be for Lurrie Bell, son of Carey Bell Harrington, and Freddie Dixon, Willie Dixon's son? Their partners in the S.O.B. Band are harmonica player Billy Branch, who had to move from California to Chicago to discover the blues, and Jeff Ruffin, a young drummer the group found at Queen Bee's Lounge.
The S.O.B. Band is not a full-time group. Freddie and Billy tour with Willie Dixon's Chicago Blues All Stars; Lurrie shares the guitar spotlight with another fine young bluesman, Johnny B. Moore, in Koko Taylor's band, The Blues Machine. But the musicians get together for gigs in Chicago when they can, and in 1977, Freddie, Billy, Lurrie and 10 other Chicago bluesman, aged 18 to 23, made history in Germany as stars of "The New Generation of Chicago Blues," a presentation of the Berlin Jazz Festival. To commemorate the event, the group came up with a new song, Berlin Wall, which was first performed in public at the Berlin Festival. Lucius Barner, the song's composer, is a son of the blues, too: his mother is a popular South Side blues tavern owner.
At 19, Lurrie Bell, the S.O.B.'s singer-guitarist, seems destined to be a star in a new era of Chicago blues. Already he's creating a sensation at his appearances with Koko Taylor and other Chicago bands. Earlier this year, an Ohio club owner was so impressed that he booked Lurrie as a headliner, billing him as "the hottest blues guitarist in Chicago." Only two years ago, Lurrie was an inconspicuous second guitarist and bass player, a shadowy figure at the back of the bandstands where Carey Bell, Buster Benton or Eddie C. Campbell were working. Lurrie soon began to surprise everybody, including his father —first with his sparkling guitar work, then with his robust blues vocals. Lurrie is as fresh, eager, and full of confidence as anyone on the scene.
The vocal and instrumental co-star of the S.O.B. Band is 27-year-old Billy Branch, another enthusiastic, refreshing new figure in Chicago blues. Born just north of Chicago at Great Lakes Naval Hospital, Billy toyed around with the harmonica when he was growing up in Los Angeles. He didn't apply his harp to the blues until he returned to Chicago to enroll in college in 1969. The blues-rock records of the 60s and the 1969 Grant Park Blues Festival spurred Billy on, inspiring him to seek out the wonders of Queen Bee's and Theresa's Lounge. It took a few years of sitting in with Junior Wells' band, Lefty Dizz, and others before much happened. A celebrated harmonica battle with Little Mack Simmons and studio work for Willie Dixon and Oscar Brown, Jr. paved the way for more recording sessions, a spot in pianist Jimmy Walker's band, and finally, an invitation to replace Carey Bell in Willie Dixon's renowned group. When not on the road with Dixon, Billy often plays with Walker and with Tin Pan Alley, a young band which recently issued its own single featuring Billy and guitarist Pete Crawford.
Billy is a crusader for the blues, both as a performer and a teacher. Through his ongoing contributions to workshops and blues classes at public schools in Chicago, Billy Branch is sowing the seeds of yet another generation of Chicago blues.
After numerous personnel changes, The Sons of Blues continues to thrive as one of Chicago's most popular local bands. Fronted by Billy Branch and guitarist Carl Weathersby, they've recorded an album for the Red Beans Iabel and a cut on Alligator's anthology record, The New Bluebloods (AL 7707). Billy has recorded as a featured sideman with dozens of artists, including Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, Lou Rawls and Johnny Winter. Billy joined James Cotton, Junior Wells and Carey Bell on the award-winning Harp Attack! album (AL 4790).