Grand Opening Celebration
I didn't want to miss the all-star celebration at Eddy Clearwater's new blues club, Reservation Blues, on Sunday, April 21, 2001 so I decided to make a day out of it.
I found a discount air fare for $89 roundtrip which was cheaper and easier than driving so I booked an early Sunday morning flight with a return 24 hours later, early Monday morning - hoping I could stay awake!
I arrived 45 minutes early at the airport but didn't see my flight listed on any of the departure boards so I asked someone at one of the check in desks and was told, "yes your flight left on time, 7 AM." I thought I misunderstood her and replied, "you mean my flight leaves on time?" She said, "no, it already left." I said, "but it's only 6:45 AM." Then she set me straight, informing me that daylight savings time began earlier that morning. Was I the only one who didn't know about this? What an April Fools joke! Fortunately I was able to get one of the last seats on the next departing flight at 9 AM.
I got into Midway Airport, took the Elevated Train into the downtown loop and made the short walk up Clark Street to Famous Dave's BBQ & Blues (739 N. Clark Street) to have brunch and listen to John Primer who was performing solo.
The club wasn't too crowded as I walked in and selected a table and noticed John sitting up near the stage by himself. I went over to say hi and we chatted for a short while prior to his set starting.
John Primer has always been a favorite of mine ever since I first saw him playing with Magic Slim at the Blues Saloon in St. Paul quite a few years ago. I remember that night quite well because it was my birthday (and Primer's birthday was the day before). The band was getting ready to play on stage when we heard this guitar playing coming out of the speakers but couldn't see who was playing. Primer was up in the small balcony with his remote playing his opening guitar solo as he slowly made his way down the narrow (and treacherous stairs) on his way to the stage. That impressive entrance and his exceptional guitar skills left an impression on me that night.
Today's show at Famous Dave's was a special treat because I was able to see John in a solo setting were he played material that he normally would not play on stage with his band. Highlights were his excursions into early R&B, soul and even some great Doo Wop. He played Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On," did some Temptations and several early Doo Wop classics that sure were refreshing to hear. (At the break John said he grew up on that music and always likes to play it whenever he can-and based on what I heard he should do more of it. So the next time you see him, make a request.) He also played a stunning "I Wish It Would Rain," as well as some classic Chicago tunes. Which was also appropriate since Primer was the guitar player in Muddy Waters' last band before Muddy died in 1983.
Primer was born in Camden, Mississippi and moved to Chicago in 1963 at the age of 18. He spent his formative years playing around the Windy City, finally landing in the house band at Theresa's Lounge where he spent 9 years learning his chops from guitarist Sammy Lawhorn, among others. He then joined Willie Dixon's All-Stars for several years before being recruited for Muddy's band at the suggestion of Mojo Buford. After Muddy died Primer joined forces with Magic Slim where he quickly became a part of the Holt family for the next 13 years. On his own now these past 6 years John Primer is one of the "Real Deal" Chicago bluesmen who are carrying on the torch of the blues passed down by the likes of Muddy and Willie.
After the Sunday brunch at Famous Dave's I took another short walk back to Shaws Crab House at 21 E. Hubbard Street just north of the Loop to listen to one of my favorite young Chicago blues harmonica payers, Rob Stone. Rob was playing his authentic style of classic Chicago blues harp with a trio format today. Rockin' Johnny on guitar and Phil Barron on keyboards, along with Rob on harmonica and vocals, proved to be one powerhouse of a group.
Shaws Crab House, a small restaurant specializing in excellent seafood, doesn't even have a stage so the band was set up in the front corner by the pay telephone. That didn't matter to the attentive crowd once the Rob Stone trio launched into their classic Chicago sound. Playing well recognized songs from the song books of Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Junior Wells, and Sonny Boy Williamson as well as original material and some entertaining songs by Bo Diddley, Lonesome Sundown and Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me" (probably my favorite Sam Cooke song).
Rob's harmonica playing is steeped in the classic Chicago sound yet not constrained by it. His playing remains true to the original source yet he plays with a refreshing style and energy that leaves a powerful impression on his listeners.
Boston born and raised, an underage Stone snuck into a local club to hear Charlie Musselwhite. Inspired by what he heard, the next day he ran out and bought his first harmonica. He taught himself how to play by listening to many classic blues records, and soon began studying harmonica with Jerry Portnoy. Within a year he was well on his way to becoming the respected harmonica player he is today. A chance meeting with Sam Lay while playing in Colorado led to Rob joining Sam's band and making the move to Chicago where he now lives and plays with his band The C-Notes. Rob's first solo CD, No Worries "is an hour of classic Chicago-style Blues, with a great big 50's atmosphere but done in a 90's way." (Quote from Gordon Baxter's review of the CD.) Rob has just finished recording his second CD, Just My Luck, to be released this spring. You can also catch Rob playing at this year's Chicago Blues Festival. His website is: www.robstone.com
Rockin' Johnny is quickly becoming a sought after guitar playing on the Chicago circuit as well as fronting his own band, The Rockin' Johnny Band. It was fortunate I was able to catch them in this trio format today. Rockin' Johnny and Rob play together quite a bit but this was the first time Phil Barron has joined them on keyboards as a trio. The three of them were able to pull off a remarkable show that left you thinking they had been playing together for years. That speaks well of their musicianship and professionalism.
Rockin' Johnny, originally from Greenville, North Carolina was taught guitar originally by this father and influenced by seeing the likes of Gatemouth Brown, Eric Clapton and Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson, among others. After his move to Chicago he met Taildragger where he said his real blues education began. Rockin' Johnny has 3 CDs out, Straight out of Chicago, Man's Temptation and his new release, The Rockin' Johnny Band: More Real Folk Blues which features Rockin' Johnny's exceptionally fine guitar playing.
With groups like the Rob Stone Trio and his full band, The C-Notes, the blues is alive and well and in good hands. Stone hopes that his music will invite a younger audience to realize that all blues need not sound the same and to appreciate the near-forgotten styles and the excitement of traditional blues.
After a brief visit to the Jazz Record Mart located around the corner I got a ride up to the Historic Wicker Park neighborhood from Rockin' Johnny where I spent a short time taking in the great architecture in the area and noticed the gentrification that was occurring around the area where Eddy Clearwater's new blues club is located. There are some great old Row Townhomes, many of them restored, in the area.
Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, one of Chicago's blues legends has opened his new club, Reservation Blues at 1566 N. Milwaukee Ave. (at North Ave. just a few miles north of the Loop and a short EL ride on the O'Hare line).
The Grand Opening was billed as an All-Star lineup "Head Cutting" session featuring many of Chicago's great blues players. Well there are so many great Chicago blues players that can show up at any time at any one of a number of Chicago blues clubs, but to get a group of blues elite, like the turnout at this event, is always a special treat. Not everyone got a chance to play on stage this wonderful night but just having them in the house, showing their support for Eddy and enjoying the entertainment was an exhilarating experience.
We were able to rub shoulder's, literally, and talk to these Chicago Blues giants throughout the evening and into the early hours of the morning. Here is a partial list of some of the blues players in attendance: Carey Bell, Son Seals, Casey Jones, Pinetop Perkins, Dave Myers, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Sandra Hall, Willie Kent, Sam Cockrell, Rockin' Johnny, Willie Big Eyes Smith, Billy Branch, James Wheeler, Nick Charles, Sammy Fender…well you get the idea…it was one remarkable night of blues.
Food for the body, blues for the soul!
The club itself is a small, intimate room with an ornate bar running along one side, the stage at the back end (with the full kitchen behind) and seating throughout the room for dinner and music. The décor has a Southwestern Native American theme and the menu features Mexican and SW Native American entrées and appetizers with an extensive wine and imported beer selection. You can see pictures of the interior, the menu, calendar, directions, and other details about the club at their new website: www.reservation-blues.com
You can also get their from Eddy's website: www.eddyclearwater.com
Eddy and his band (featuring Tom Holland-Guitar, David North-Bass and Merle Perkins-Drums) opened the evening's music with a lively set of "The Chief's" classic music. Although he didn't don his famous headdress the spectacular stained glass windows and tapestries hanging from the walls certainly added the color.
Eddy showed quite a bit of emotion as the night went on and he commented on some of the history of Chicago Blues when he was learning his chops at the feet of some of the masters. He said he wanted to bring back that spirit of cooperation and unity that many clubs and musicians showed in the early days. He is hoping that his new club can show the way for a new spirit of unification where the musicians and clubs stick together and support each other. After all, Chicago is known as the Blues Capitol of the World so the city should set an example to be followed. Many of Chicago's blues elite were here tonight just to show their love for and support of Eddy and his club.
At one point Eddy made a special point to honor and pay tribute to Dave Myers, who was one of the original architects of Chicago Blues with his playing in the Aces with Little Walter and his brother Louis Myers. Eddy talked about how Dave helped shape the sound of Chicago blues and wanted to honor him and show his respect while Dave was sitting there in the audience to hear it. Eddy also talked about how Dave really gave him one of his big breaks by recommending him to be on one of the European Blues tours back in 1976. This was one of the special moments in an evening filled with many.
Some of the performers we got to hear included, Sandra Hall singing about how to "really" hold a whopper, Ronnie Baker Brooks' unbounded energy, Billy Branch's superb harp, Carey Bell with his 2 "walk abouts" the crowded room and classic harp blowing, James Wheeler, Rockin' Johnny, Sammy Fender and more of "The Chief" closing out the night.
It was a night to remember. I meet some great new friends, got reacquainted with some old friends and got to rub shoulders with some great blues musicians. When in Chicago you definitely need to make the new Reservation Blues Club one of your stops. There will be some special performances there during the Chicago Blues Festival weekend.
Sometime after 3 AM I got a ride from long time friend and photographer Chuck Winans to the airport with a stop off for an early breakfast on the way. I caught my 7 AM flight back to the Twin Cities and thus ended my 24 hours of Chicago Blues-definitely tired but fulfilled. A trip I wouldn't hesitate recommending to anyone.
CLICK HERE for more photography from this great evening of blues!
This review is copyright © 2001 by Ray Stiles, 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.
Click button to join
our mailing list!