Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
NARAS Chicago Chapter Blues Fest Kickoff Jam
June 6, 2012
Buddy Guy's Legends, Chicago
By Glenn Noble
Photos: Jennifer Noble
The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) is best known as the people who present the Grammy awards, and their Chicago Chapter presented the 10th annual Blues Fest Kickoff Jam. The line-up promised a sampler of the wide range of talents and styles currently keeping the Blues alive in Chicago, and the packed bill did not disappoint.
NARAS East Regional Director Tera Healy and Chapter President Matt Hennessy welcomed a sell-out crowd to the familiar setting of Buddy Guy’s Legends. Matt then handed over the stage to the MC for the night, the imposing and immaculately turned-out figure of Big Llou Johnson.
Big Llou, backed by Brother John Kattke and Russ Green opened up with lively tracks from his new CD My Name is Big Llou. This guy is 300 pounds of fun and opened the show in a larger than life way.
Switching pace, and in a more reflective and reverent mood, Big Llou was followed by an acoustic set from Lurrie Bell and Matt Skoller. This reached into Lurrie's childhood gospel influences and largely featured tracks from the new CD The Devil Ain't Got No Music.
There was a total change of style as Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials jumped on and all over the stage, living up to the title of their current album Jump Start. As ever, Lil’Ed delivered to the excited audience one of their typically high energy performances.
The Chicago Blues Divas – Deitra Farr, Peaches Staten, and Nellie “Tiger” Travis – represented the great tradition of Chicago’s female blues vocalists. They took the stage with a tribute to Chicago's Queen of the Blues, the late Koko Taylor, as three of the most talented ladies on the blues scene today entertained with their readings of some of Koko's classics. The diminutive and sparky Peaches Staten opened, with “So Long Baby Bye Bye”. Deitra Farr joined the party on “I'm Feeling Good” and “Bad Company”. Along came Nellie “Tiger” Travis who “Let the Good Times Roll” and then “Oil and Water” or maybe “Holy Water”, “Boiling Water” or “Whiskey and Water”! Finally the three talented ladies joined together for, what else, but a rousing “Wang Dang Doodle”.
So from a trio of singing talents, we were treated to a trio of guitar talents in the shape of the Brooks family. With Wayne Baker Brooks and Ronnie Baker Brooks setting the scene, Wayne led off with “I Can Read Your Mind” from his new CD, supported by Matt Skoller's harp. Ronnie slid into the rhythm guitar spot with practised ease on the next number before stepping up front as Wayne moved aside. Opening with the heavy riffs of “I Had My Chance” Ronnie soon had the crowd up and ready to welcome on the patriarch of the Brooks family, Lonnie Brooks. “Don't Take Advantage of Me” gave the veteran blues man the opportunity to show off a sweet, clear voice that contrasted perfectly with the histrionics of the guitar lines. Jamming to “Baby Please Don't Go”, Ronnie and Lonnie bounced call-and-response licks off each other with effortless ease. How else could the set end but with the hallmark “Sweet Home Chicago”, as each of the Brooks' led a third of the audience in a singalong competition, which everyone in the crowd was happy to take a part in.
From guitar to harmonica, Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues kicked off a funky “Going Down”, followed by “That's Alright” and several more blues tunes before closing with a jam along “Route 66”. Billy Branch has been a long time supporter of Chicago’s NARAS chapter; he is also an international ambassador for Blues in the Schools educational programs.
It might have been getting late but Shemekia Copeland came to wake everyone up with a powerful blast of “Dirty Water”. Then she went on to sing “Circumstances,” “Giving Up You,” “Never Going Back to Memphis” and “When A Woman’s Had Enough”. Shemekia knows how to engage the crowd and often has them standing on their feet. We are proud that she calls Chicago home. Shemekia’s latest release 33-1/3 is out now on Telarc Records.