My first club visit of the Blues Festival weekend in Chicago was to The Checkerboard
Lounge on Chicago's South Side. Formerly owned by Buddy Guy, The Checkerboard
holds a prominent place in Chicago blues history. On Thursday evening, after a full day of music that ended with the ageless rocker, Chuck Berry, I went to The Checkerboard to see Chicago blues mainstay Vance "Guitar" Kelly and The Backstreet Blues Band. Kelly is a regular at The Checkerboard on Thursdays and I was looking forward to seeing him for the first time on his "home turf."
To my delight, the first set which was described as Kelly's "test set," lasted for ninety
minutes, opening with The Backstreet Blues Band (sans Kelly) and featuring guitarist
J. Parker, John Walls on keyboards and saxman Ed Williams. Vocals for the first part of the set were shared by ""Master of Ceremonies," Manuel Arrington, John Walls and special guest singer, a gentleman known only as "Mister Mean." Opening with two instrumentals, "I Love You More Today Than Yesterday" and "The World Is A Ghetto," the band was very tight, providing a number of great solos by Parker, Walls and Williams. All three vocalists were great too, beginning with Arrington performing "Messin' With The Kid," Walls on "Down Home Blues" and Mister Mean pumping out an extended version if "I'm A Bluesman."
Once the preliminaries ended, it was time for Vance "Guitar" Kelly to take charge.
Decked out in a red jacket with white fringe and multicolored sequins, white slacks and red shoes, Kelly's guitar burned through his "test" set. Kelly opened with "Without Your Love, I Can't See," a very funky number featuring Kelly's blazing guitar. Every song Kelly played was a gem, including "Making Love With The Garbage Man" and "Boogie Only Woman." Kelly's charismatic stage presence shined as he closed with an audience participation tune called "Get On Up." Before the song started, Kelly split the audience into three groups, eventually getting everyone on their feet to shake their "moneymakers." It was great fun and got everyone out of their seat, even the most reluctant patrons.
As the proud owner of three Vance Kelly recordings (now autographed); What Three Old Ladies Can Do, Joy Riding In The Subway and Call Me, I am pleased to report that seeing Vance "Guitar" Kelly live is even better than his great recordings. Kelly plays all over Chicagoland weekly, so if you are in The Windy City, check him out. You will love him!!!
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.