Like so many blues musicians before him, Casey Jones migrated to Chicago from Mississippi while still in his teens. Born July 26, 1939 in Nitta Yuma, Mississippi and raised in Greenville where he played snare drums in the school marching band, Casey moved to Chicago in 1956 to live with his sister. His sister and her husband Adlean and Prentice Luk proceeded to buy him his first drum set and he fondly recalls his first paying gig in 1956 where he earned $5. He said, "I was glad to get that, oh man."
Photo © 1999 Tom Asp. All rights reserved
While growing up, Casey idolized Little Richard and other R&B singers of that era like Louis Jordan, Fats Domino, Lloyd Price and Junior Parker as well as Sam Cooke. Even though the drums were his first love he quickly discovered that he could sing and was able to mimic just about any song he heard on the radio. When he found out he could howl like Little Richard "there was no turning back then, I just kept on doing it," he laughed. The first band he played in was with his brother in-law, Otis Luk and the Rhythm Mama's. This was in 1956 and he went on to play drums with a host of Chicago blues veterans including Magic Sam, Freddie King, Otis Rush, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Johnson, Lonnie Brooks and many others. He even recorded with Johnny Winter and Lou Rawls. It was his association with an Alligator Record's recording with Lonnie Brooks that led to his playing on the 1978 Ice Pickin' album with Albert Collins. This led to a six and a half year stint as Albert's drummer and back up singer during the late '70 and early 80's.
That first band with Albert Collins was made up of Aron and Larry Burton on bass and guitar, Alan Batts on keyboards, A.C. Reed on sax and Casey on drums. Later it was good friend Johnny B. Gayton on bass. Casey said they were called the dynamic duo because their playing together was so tight. He said they just clicked and always knew what the other was going to play. "Once you get the drums and a good bass player who can understand each other and play together it's hared to beat it," he said about his association with Gayton.
It was during this period that Casey also met and became good friends with Big Walter Smith (who has called the Twin Cities home the past two decades) who was Albert's road manager and occasional singer.
Shirley & Big Walter Smith w/Casey|
Photo © 1999 Tom Asp
All rights reserved
At his recent Blues Saloon show the band started off the night by getting right into a shuffle groove with the Albert Collins instrumental "Back Stroke." This was followed by "Little Red Rooster" and "Every Day I Have the Blues" and featured some excellent lead guitar playing by Jon McDonald. Introduced as the Chi Town Boogie Man, Casey Jones took the stage with a Supremes song that set the tone for what was to come -- an evening of outstanding entertainment featuring rhythm and blues, Motown and hard driving Chicago blues. Casey's band was made up of seasoned Chicago drummer Vernon Rodgers, Stan Mixon on bass and Jon McDonald (former guitarist with The Kinsey Report and Mississippi Heat). These guys were very good.
It wasn't a large crowd this night but everyone there stayed all night long and really enjoyed themselves. Casey Jones has that ability to bring out the best in his audience; he easily gets the crowd involved in the show with his warm personality and friendly stage presence. He also had his funky little dance steps going on, and I have to say he is a much better singer and performer than he is a dancer. During the second set, long time friend Big Walter Smith and his wife Shirley showed up to enjoy the show. It was at this point that Casey displayed more of his wisecracks that kept me laughing the entire night. As he was encouraging the audience to buy his CD he said, "if you like my music you can buy my CD "I 94 On My Way To Chicago." Then after a moments thought he added, "even if you don't like my music, what the hell, buy it for my picture."
Casey Jones has one of those versatile voices that allows him to sing just about any style of music and do it well, especially R&B and blues. He said, depending on what his audience wants to hear, "I like to mix my music up, I don't like to do just one category of music. I like some of all music, but not all of any." And he sure has the right voice to carry off singing many of the familiar R&B covers, like "My Girl" with aplomb. He was right on the money, even able to hit those high parts. After transitioning right into "I Wish It Would Rain," he had his band take a long instrumental break while he went out in the audience and danced with his girl friend, again demonstrating his natural ability to entertain and allow his audience to really enjoy his show. In addition to his original songs, the rest of the night featured material by Sam and Dave, The Temptations, Jimmy Reed, Hank Ballard, Elmore James, Eddie Floyd and he even sang one of my favorite songs, "Bring It On Home To Me," by Sam Cooke. Actually I had requested the song. When one of my daughters and I were at the Chicago Blues Festival a few years ago we caught part of Casey's show at the House Of Blues and happened to walk in when he was singing that Sam Cooke song. We both looked at each other and said, "boy, we like this guy's voice."
He closed out the evening with "Please, Please" by James Brown that had him down on his knees; then a medley that started out with "Stand By Me" and transitioned into "Cupid" and "Chain Gang" before ending with a rousing "Sweet Home Chicago." When the lights went up after 1AM the crowd was still there not wanting him to quit. If you enjoy great R&B, be sure to go see Casey Jones the next time he plays near you.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Ray Stiles, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.