On Friday night, following a second full day of music at the 18th Annual Chicago Blues Festival I made my first visit ever to B.L.U.E.S. on Chicago's north side. For the past 22 years, the club has offered music to its patrons seven nights a week. In fact, B.L.U.E.S. recently celebrated the playing of the 500,000th song at the club. The pictures covering the walls provide a sense of the history that the club has
experienced with images of Hubert Sumlin, Son Seals, Eddie Taylor, Jimmy Rogers and Otis Rush among others watching over the venue and its patrons.
B.L.U.E.S. is an intimate setting and a perfect place to see guitarist, singer and
songwriter Jimmy Johnson, the well known, talented brother of another Chicago music legend, Syl Johnson. On Friday evening, Johnson was backed by an excellent band composed of John Randolph (guitar), Jesse "Slim" Cross (bass) and "Pookie" on drums. The band opened the evening's entertainment, while Johnson sat in the back of the club waiting to make his "grand" entrance.
The set opened with an instrumental that included some smoooooth, funky guitar
work by John Randolph and a snapping bass solo by Jesse Cross. Randolph proved
himself to be an exceptional guitarist that was able to provide a jazzier feel to the
music while ready to generate that stinging blues sound whenever necessary. The
band followed with a song entitled "Born In Detroit, Michigan," followed by a radically
different version of the well worn classic, "Mustang Sally." Both songs featured
bassist Jesse Cross on lead vocals.
After the three opening numbers, it was "SHOWTIME" and Jimmy Johnson climbed on stage. The band began a reprise of the opening instrumental that quickly developed into a funk oriented version of the Albert King classic, "Born Under A Bad Sign." Johnson and company followed with nice versions of "Bit By Bit" and "I Hate To See You Go." The interplay between Johnson and Randolph was both interesting and entertaining. Jimmy Johnson plays in more of a classic West Side style that differed noticeably from Randolph's jazzier sound. As the two guitarists traded solos, it was easy to sense the changing feeling within each song. It was also great to see Johnson play off of all of the band members as he traded licks and clicks with Randolph, Cross and even Pookie.
As the evening progressed, a couple of things were noted. First, I was caught up by
the greater sense of emotion in the songs played by the band in the smaller, more
intimate setting. Unlike the Festival or some of the larger, more impersonal clubs I
have visited, it is much easier to "see" as well as hear the emotion of the songs being
performed. Second, I was reminded what a distinctive voice Jimmy Johnson
possesses. Since his voice is so much higher than the "typical" blues vocalist, all of
the songs (covers and originals) had a different feeling to them. This is clearly what
makes Jimmy Johnson's sound so unique.
It was an excellent evening with Jimmy Johnson at B.L.U.E.S. on the North side. As I walked back to the train station feeling good about the second day of my visit to
Chicago, I became even more excited about the upcoming events I would witness over the next two days in the Windy City. I was loving my latest "blues immersion."
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.