On my final night in Chicago, I got the opportunity to see one of the new rising stars of Chicago blues, Rockin' Johnny Burgin, paired with his mentor, Chicago blues legend Tail Dragger. Visiting B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted Street for the second time during my four day visit to Chicago gave me a chance to see a unique show and to meet a number of the up and coming performers on the Chicago blues scene.
The Rockin' Johnny Band, led by guitarist Rockin' Johnny Burgin, has embraced the classic traditions of the Chicago blues sound. Accompanied by drummer Kenny Smith, bassist Sho Komiya and second guitarist Rick Kreher, The Rockin' Johnny Band performed some old style Chicago blues with a slight twist or two, such as the use of a wah wah pedal with his slide, to lend a touch of the Rockin' Johnny personality to the music. Drummer Kenny Smith plays drums a lot like his famous father, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. Komiya and Kreher round out the sound, making for a tight knit group of musicians who have played together for a number of years.
The promise of a performance by Tail Dragger brought out some better known patrons to B.L.U.E.S. on Sunday evening, including drummer/producer Twist Turner and harp man Rob Stone along with Chris James and Patrick Rynn, guitarist and bass player for Rob's band, The C-Notes. I had a nice conversation with Rob, Chris and Patrick about their performances at the Chicago Blues Festival and their particularly impressive Friday afternoon appearance with legendary drummer, Sam Lay on the Route 66 Stage to discuss the development of Chicago blues combos, complete with live musical demonstrations. Along with a great performance on the Best Buy Stage the first day of the Festival, it is clear that Rob Stone and The C-Notes are another young blues combo who will be heard from in the future.
Anyway, back to the performance of The Rockin' Johnny Band on Sunday evening at B.L.U.E.S. ; the band played the first set of the evening as everyone, band included, awaited the arrival of Tail Dragger. Assisted by guest harp player, Mojo Mark, the ban's first set included a nifty instrumental version of "Sweet Home Chicago," dominated by Rockin' Johnny's excellent slide guitar. As Mojo Mark traded solos with Rockin' Johnny, the band also performed a shuffle style version of Eddie C. Campbell's, "Why Don't You Wake Me Up" and Otis Smother's " Got My Eyes On You."
One of the big differences that I noted in the first set was the predominance of instrumentals performed by the band. Johnny demonstrated some exceptionally creative guitar and slide, while Mojo Mark filled with some fine regular and chromatic harp to round out the band's sound. Mark is no stranger to the Rockin' Johnny Band, having appeared on the band's recent release, More Real Folk Blues.
Near the end of the first set, the long awaited Tail Dragger strode into the club wearing a black cowboy hat and bib overalls, with his trademark cigar clenched in his teeth. The crowd at B.L.U.E.S. cheered his arrival, as they anticipated the good things to come as the evening progressed.
After a short "pause for the cause," The Rockin' Johnny Band returned, opening with an instrumental from the new CD entitled, "Blues In B." After that it was time for the "big show," as Tail Dragger grabbed a microphone and began to rap with the audience. Tail Dragger definitely knows how to work a crowd and really played up to the people seated near the stage, one woman in particular who seemed flattered by Tail Dragger's musical intentions. Bringing back visions of the late, great Howlin' Wolf with his gravely vocals, Tail Dragger launched into a number of his own compositions, many with great personal and social meaning. One of his first songs, "Be Careful," clearly referred to the need to be careful about what you do in the public eye because of the trouble it can get you into. His references in the song to Bill Clinton and Jesse Jackson made the need for care in your actions, perfectly clear. Other songs like "Take Care of Your Business," "Don't Start Me Talkin'," and Everybody Use Your Head," all provided messages to the listener about how one should conduct their business and how to treat and be treated by other people. Tail Dragger loves to talk between songs; offering the story how a pesky young man kept showing up at his shows wanting to play guitar with Tail Dragger and how he finally gave in, deciding to take the young man under his wing to teach him how to play the blues. The young man he was talking about was Rockin' Johnny Burgin. He is also an expressive singer, wearing his emotion on his shoulder and even dropping to his knees to make a plea for his forgiveness. The crowd was spellbound by his performance.
The show by The Rockin' Johnny Band and Tail Dragger at B.L. U. E. S. was a fitting end to my weekend of music in Chicago. It was clear that everyone in the audience, myself included, enjoyed the show and the effort displayed by the band to entertain There was no doubt as I left blues, that I had again gotten to visit the "mecca" of blues music and tradition, Chicago, Illinois. I can't wait to return!
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.