Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
Interview with WXRT DJ Tom Marker
Keeping the Blues Alive since 1984
By Eric Schelkopf
Photos: Jennifer Noble
Photos: Jennifer Noble
Without question, WXRT DJ Tom Marker is the biggest supporter and promoter of Chicago blues in town.
Anyone who is a Chicago blues fan has listened to his show "Blues Breakers," www.wxrt.com, which he has hosted since 1984. Marker is also the mainstage emcee of the Chicago Blues Festival each summer.
Fittingly, he was presented with a "Keeping the Blues Alive" award in 1999 from the Blues Foundation in Memphis, Tenn.
I had the distinct honor of interviewing him about his career.
Q - You took over hosting "Blues Breakers" in 1984. What were your goals for the show and do you think you accomplished them?
My goal the first Monday was to play an hour of great blues. I sure wasn't as familiar with the blues then as I am now, but it's always been pretty easy to find an hour's worth of great blues.
Q - I understand your first taste of the blues came in high school, when you heard "East-West" by The Butterfield Blues Band. Tell me about your feelings after hearing that album. What is it about the blues that moves you in general?
I think maybe the first time I heard blues it was by the Rolling Stones. They had blues on their records from the time I was barely a teenager.
Not much later, I was hearing more British rock acts' versions of blues songs so that made me more familiar with the style. Butterfield was an eye opener with the "East-West" record.
I was 15 years old at the time and it was a record that opened my
imagination as to what music could be with its blend of blues and
Eastern music. Also during my high school years the great Chicago blues
label Chess Records was selling their library to another record company.
I think it was an attempt to goose their sales at the time but they decided to release a classic blues album by one of their big stars every week for a period of time. My buddy, Charles Schantz, went out and bought one every week.
I had heard all this blues-rock but now here was the real thing on our turntables.
Q - You've had the opportunity to interview and meet many blues musicians over the years, including Muddy Waters and Stevie Ray Vaughan. What were your impressions of them? Do you have any favorite interviews or stories?
There were several times I found myself backstage at a Muddy Waters show, often at Harry Hopes in Cary, IL. There was always a crowd around Muddy so I sort of hung around Pinetop Perkins, one of the sweetest men ever.
Meanwhile, Bob Margolin was telling my young bride where his hotel was just in case she wanted to know.
Q - What was it like receiving the "Keeping the Blues Alive" award? Do you feel that "Blues Breakers" has helped to keep the blues alive?
I was very proud to receive the KBA. Plus, it meant WXRT would fly me to Memphis for a fun blues weekend.
The award did its job. Ever since it has inspired me to do just that, keep the blues alive.
I believe that supporting the blues should be part of the mission of a blues radio program in Chicago.
Also every touring blues musician from anywhere has Chicago as a tour stop at fine establishments from downtown to the near west and north suburbs.
Q - Who are your favorite blues musicians these days, Chicago or
otherwise? Who have been some of your favorite blues musicians over the