On March 15, at Legend's Bar and Grill in St. Cloud, Minnesota, I was fortunate enough to see former Howlin' Wolf bandleader Eddie Shaw and his current version of the Wolf Gang. I was even more fortunate in this case because it was the band's final show before returning to Chicago after seven weeks on the road. Shaw has been at the heart of the Chicago music scene since 1957. With a musical resume that includes work with such blues luminaries as Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Magic Sam, Earl Hooker and Otis Rush, Shaw's greatest claim to fame has been the seventeen years he spent with the immortal Howlin' Wolf. When Wolf died in 1976, Shaw kept the band together as a tribute to the departed leader. The current version of the band has been together for some time now and includes Lafayette "Shorty" Gilbert on bass (25 years with Shaw); Tim Taylor on drums; and Eddie's son, Vaan Shaw on guitar.
The band opened with three instrumental numbers, each showcasing the talents of Eddie Shaw on saxophone and Vaan Shaw's lightning fast guitar. If you have never seen Vaan Shaw perform, you have missed out on one of the finest guitarists that I have ever seen in any musical form. Eddie Shaw then opened the vocal portion of the show with a nice rendition of Joe Hunter's "Since I Met You Baby," from their latest CD on Wolf Records, "Too Many Highways" (120.892 CD).
Throughout the evening, it was very apparent that Eddie Shaw can still blow a mean, mean saxophone, despite over 40 years on the road. His talents as a sax player and vocalist were evident on each song, especially those that he performed with Wolf and continues to play today, such as "Little Red Rooster" and "Ain't Superstitious." Even with the lightning fast, more modern guitar work by Vaan Shaw, the band's sound is still rooted in more traditional Chicago blues. During the evening the band also performed several tunes that were made popular by blues guitarist Albert King, allowing Vaan Shaw to take the solos performed by King to new levels of skill and complexity. He was particularly brilliant on the band's versions of "Crosscut Saw" and Elmore James', "The Sky is Cryin'." The intensity of Vaan Shaw could be seen in his level of concentration as he played, a pipe planted firmly in his mouth as his fingers raced up and down the fingerboard of his guitar.
The band played two long sets on Wednesday evening (typically bands seem to play three shorter sets) of what the elder Shaw referred to as "weekend music on Wednesday night." As the evening pressed on, the band got better and the crowd became more animated with lots of people rocking in their seats and filling the dance floor during the evening.
The second set started with Eddie Shaw sitting in the audience (at my table no less) and the band featuring first "Shorty" Gilbert and then Vaan Shaw on vocals. Given the fact that the band continued to pound out some great blues, it was clear that they do not rely on Eddie to carry the show. Highlights during the first part of Set II included a very nice rendition of Brook Benton's classic, "Rainy Night In Georgia," sung by Gilbert and incredible versions of "I'll Play The Blues For You" and "Feel So Bad" with vocals and incredible guitar by Vaan Shaw.
Eddie extended his talents during the evening to include several songs on the harp and a couple where he provided vocals only. Songs in this genre included Muddy Water's "I Got My Mojo Workin'," ""Help Me Spend My Dough," and "Sweet Home Chicago." There was very little, if any, talk between songs and so the time went very fast with lots of songs packed into the two sets.
The evening ended with Shaw indicating an interest in returning to St. Cloud again in the future and offering a big thanks to the show's promoter Joel Johnson, who has been instrumental in getting some great acts up to St. Cloud in addition to his work on Twin Cities radio at KFAI and regular gigs at Big Daddy's BBQ in St. Paul. Eddie Shaw and the Wolfgang definitely had a good time performing for the appreciative crowd at Legend's and the enjoyment was evident in the audience's appreciation of the band.
This review is copyright © 2000 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.