Lucky Peterson played his first gig at age three. By the time he was five, he had already recorded his first single, produced by none other than the legendary Willie Dixon. Before Lucky turned six, his career had been propelled into the national spotlight with television appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and even What’s My Line?
As a child prodigy, Lucky was somewhat of a novelty act. But he became a true blues veteran. Over the years, Lucky played to audiences all over the world, dazzling both fans and critics with his multi-instrumental talents (he played keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and trumpet), his soulful vocal style and his youthful approach to the blues.
Chicago’s Reader raved, "His musicianship is unassailable…a combination of sleek-handed dexterity and imagination…a happy marriage of blues authenticity and foot-pleasing danceability. This is a young musician of unlimited enthusiasm and nearly unlimited potential having the time of his life and excelling at every stop along the way."
Born Judge Kenneth Peterson in 1963, Lucky was raised on music in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, His father, James Peterson, was a blues singer and owner of the Governor’s Inn, a northern version of a Deep South "chitlin’ circuit" roadhouse club. Artists like Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Muddy Waters and Koko Taylor played there regularly. Virtually growing up on stage, little Lucky began playing almost before he began talking.
He started on drums, but after hearing the famed Bill Doggett one night, Lucky became fascinated by the huge Hammond B-3 organ. "Bill had a fit trying to keep me from it," recalls Lucky. After some lessons from Doggett and the legendary Jimmy Smith, Lucky focused most of his musical energy on the organ. In his spare time, he also mastered bass and piano, becoming good enough to sit in with his father’s band and back touring artists like Lightnin’ Hopkins and Jimmy Reed. "At first, people wouldn’t believe he could play so well," says James Peterson. "They would think the organ was rigged."
By the time Lucky was five, word of this child prodigy had spread among the blues community. Willie Dixon, a friend of James Peterson, heard little Lucky and produced the boy’s first record, a single entitled 1,2,3,4 and a follow-up album for Chicago’s Today Records. The single hit the airwaves with a bang and the national television appearances followed.
As Lucky continued to grow, he honed his instrumental skills by learning from and jamming with some of the best blues players in the world. When Little Milton’s band came up short an organ player one night, Milton asked the then 17-year-old Lucky to sit in. One gig was all it took for Milton to fall in love with Lucky’s playing. He asked Lucky to join the band permanently. After seven months, Lucky had become Milton’s bandleader. Opening shows with his own 45-minute set on vocals and keyboards, Lucky’s three-year stint with Milton led to an equally long gig with Bobby "Blue" Bland as Bobby’s featured soloist.
During a break in Bobby’s touring schedule, Lucky headed to Europe on a package tour billed as "Young Blues Giants." There he recorded his second career album this time for the French label Isabel Records. In 1988, Lucky left Bland’s touring band, relocated to Florida’s Tampa Bay area and began concentrating on a solo career. His reputation quickly led to regular session work for tiny Florida-based King Snake Records. His funky keyboards sparked Kenny Neal’s Big News From Baton Rouge!!, Rufus Thomas’ That Woman Is Poison! and Lazy Lester’s Harp And Soul, which were all released by the more visible Alligator Records label. In 1989, Alligator released Lucky’s third solo outing, Lucky Strikes! Lucky co-wrote three songs for the album and played all of the keyboard parts and all but one of the guitar solos.
Alligator’s promotion helped to bring Lucky’s music to the attention of radio stations and music critics nationwide. They liked what they heard. Billboard called Lucky "…a prodigy whose raw talent bodes well for his future as a leader." Keyboard said, "Peterson is a 26-year-old blues master." The album received airplay on nearly 200 radio stations nationwide, and Lucky toured the U.S. several times.
Lucky’s next Alligator recording, 1990’s Triple Play, picked up right where Lucky Strikes! left off, again featuring his dynamic organ fills and leads with equal emphasis on his stinging lead guitar and soulful vocals. The material blended straight-ahead blues, Memphis soul and funky grooves that placed Lucky Peterson on the cutting edge of the blues.
During the following years, Lucky went on to record for multiple labels and become a festival headliner, especially in Europe. He died on May 17, 2020 at the age of 58, acknolwledged worldwide as a master musician.