At the end of the third day of the Chicago Blues Festival, I was faced with an
interesting dilemma. After seeing Robert Jr. Lockwood put on an exceptional show on the Petrillo Bandshell with a full band, I had the opportunity to see him a second time performing an acoustic show at The Hot House, a mere block from my hotel. My other option was to take in some of Chicago's new talent at Koko Taylor's Celebrity Room (a blistering 3 blocks from my hotel). After a bit of thought, I opted to try some thing new for the evening and hopped on the "L" to see the double bill of Big James and the Chicago Playboys with an opening set by Nellie "Tiger" Travis and the Men In Black at Koko Taylor's.
Koko Taylor's Celebrity Room on Wabash is one of the newer clubs on the South side of Chicago. Although the club doesn't necessarily have the history of some of the
other Chicago clubs, it does have the "Queen of the Blues" as its owner and her
presence is visible throughout the club. As with many of the clubs I have visited in
Chicago, Koko Taylor's is long and narrow, but with a great deal more seating that
some of the other places I have visited. Another added feature on Saturday night was
the inclusion of a dinner buffet with barbecued chicken, rib tips, green beans, rolls,
cole slaw and potato salad.
Although my primary interest on Saturday evening was seeing Big James and the
Chicago Playboys, I was also curious about the opening act, Nellie "Tiger" Travis and
the Men In Black. I had heard a lot about the singer and her band and wanted to see if what I had heard about her was true. I was certainly pleased to discover that the
reports of Nellie Travis' tremendous talent were absolutely true!
Nellie "Tiger" Travis and the Men In Black opened Saturday's entertainment with an
exciting and entertaining set featuring and combination of well done covers and
original material from her recent CD, I Got It Like That. Her backup band, Men In
Black, was very professional and well rehearsed, helping Travis to capture the interest
of the growing audience at Koko Taylor's. The band performed a variety of tunes
including incorporating blues, soul and r+b songs into the show. Travis' vocals
displayed the same versatility in her live set as they do on her CD, making her very
popular with a wide range of music fans. After seeing her live performance and
hearing her current CD, it is clear that Nellie and her band can look towards a bright
music future in and, hopefully, outside of the Chicago area.
After the fine opening set by Nellie Travis, Big James and the Chicago Playboys took their turn on Koko Taylor's stage. Trombonist Big James Montgomery and his long time musical partner, sax player Charles Kimble, have put together an excellent musical group featuring a horn-infected funk blues sound. The band has a reputation around Chicago as a great party band with a generally upbeat repertoire. With a serious funk groove, this is a band that is very capable of getting people's "butts outta the seats" and onto the dance floor.
The band is extremely talented and solos were shared all around between Big James,
Charles Kimble, guitarist Mike Wheeler and keyboard player Joe Blocker. I was
particularly impressed with Big James use of the trombone as a solo instrument,
fitting is mean sounding solos right into the mix. The interplay between band
members was excellent, each one seeming to know just what to do at exactly the
right time. The band played a number of songs from their two fine CDs, Funkin' Blues and If It Wasn't 4 Da Blues, along with a number of other high energy songs that really got the crowd going.
After two nights of more "traditional" Chicago blues, the one-two punch of Nellie
"Tiger" Travis and Big James Montgomery was an excellent change of pace. Judging
the response of the audience at Koko Taylor's Celebrity Room, I was definitely not
alone in my assessment of the evening's entertainment.
Other reviews from the festival weekend:
18th Annual Chicago Blues Festival by Dave "Doc" Piltz
Vance Kelly & The Backstreet Blues Band by Dave "Doc" Piltz
Jimmy Johnson by Dave "Doc" Piltz
Big James and the Chicago Playboys w/Nellie "Tiger" Travis and the Men In Black by Dave "Doc" Piltz
Jazz Record Mart/Delmark Records Blues Brunch by Dave "Doc" Piltz
The Rockin' Johnny Band w/Tail Dragger by Dave "Doc" Piltz
This review is copyright © 2001 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.