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Sweet Home: October 2009

| September 30, 2009

Delmark Delivers Blues History

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Chicago remains a blues mecca, even in the face of distracting new-millennium antics of Chi-town musicians like Kanye West and R. Kelly. Despite this and a lengthy gospel, R&B, and jazz legacy, Chicago’s blues heritage towers over them all. It Ain’t Over (Delmark) showcases exactly why this is, a DVD packed with Chicago blues masters celebrating Delmark Records’ 55th anniversary.

Opening with Zora Young belting “Til The Fat Lady Sings” over funky thumping blues, the 79-minute film manages to display the intricate variations in the Chicago blues genre during a live celebration at Buddy Guy’s Legends. Young served up a fitting start with commanding vocals and blaze of guitar licks supplied by Lurrie Bell. “Lurrie Bell is his name – guitar, that’s his game,” she boasts.

The disc highlights the label’s notable stars including Young, Bell, Jimmy Johnson, Eddie Shaw, Shirley Johnson, JamesTail DraggerJones, and the last recorded performance by the late Little Arthur Duncan. It’s a primer of contemporary Chicago blues greats as well as a must-have for experts and novices. Eighty-year-old Jimmy Johnson serving up brooding guitar on “Cold, Cold Feeling,” closeups of Aaron Johnson gliding over piano keys and conjuring up juke-joint blues on “Wading In Deep Water,” and the harpist Duncan rocking his hips to “Pretty Girls Everywhere” are some memorable scenes.

There’s also a presentation of the mayoral proclamation declaring March 7th, 2008 “Delmark Records Day” and commentary by Bob Koester on how he founded Delmark. Show-stopping bits include Lurrie Bell wailing on his guitar in a scorching solo underscoring Shirley Johnson’s husky vocals on “As The Years Go Passing By,” and Tail Dragger resplendent in black cowboy hat, suit, and string tie, growling and pleading “My Woman Is Gone” while Billy Branch blows harder than the hawk.

The only downsides about It Ain’t Over! are that the lighting is so dark at times you can’t see the crowd’s reaction, and that Zora Young and Shirley Johnson as the only women on the DVD, and limited to one tune each while the men each get two.

Hearing Koester’s intriguing journey as a jazz and blues fan turned record producer and store owner is worth the price of the DVD alone. He grew up collecting vintage blues and jazz records, prompting him to open a small record store in St. Louis in 1953. Lured to Chicago at the prospect of collecting masters of recordings by the likes of Ma Rainey and Blind Lemon Jefferson, Koester soon opened the Jazz Record Mart and founded Delmark Records. Originally focusing on traditional blues, Delmark has developed over more than half a century to help define the contemporary Chicago blues sound.

MORE DELMARK: Another recent Delmark release is Eddie C. Campbell‘s Tear This World Up. “The king of the West Side funk blues” shows off his skill with 14 tracks of distinctive blues guitar. The CD opens with the percolating guitar riffs of “Making Popcorn,” revealing a catchy groove and lyrical wit with “If you makin’ popcorn/you gotta make it slow/If you make it fast/there ain’t no place to go.”

Campbell’s humor and masterful playing are really what makes the album. From the unusual bluesman twist (although not for a 70-year-old) of sleep conquering lust on “Big World,” to the keening lament poured through his emotional playing on the cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “My Last Affair,” he clearly demonstrates his talents. Although he knows how to turn a phrase, singing is not Campbell’s main forte and that’s obvious when he manages to communicate just as elegantly on the standout instrumental tracks, “It’s So Easy” and “All Nite.” It’s the test of a great blues guitarist that he can speak as passionately with his instrument as with his vocals and Campbell accomplishes this like no other.

Upcoming Chicago Blues Events: Suite Chicago Blues explores the musical heritage of Bronzeville and blues music featuring Spirit Wing Dance Ensemble, October 10th at 7 p.m. at DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place. Admission is $20 . . . “The Soul Of Bronzeville, The Regal, Club Delisa And The Blues,” an exhibit by the Blues Museum, displays Chicago blues legends including Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Buddy Guy, along with personal memorabilia, music, and moving footage chronicling the contributions of Bronzeville to the artistic legacy of the blues. The exhibit runs through December 15th at DuSable.

— Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

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Category: Columns, Monthly, Sweet Home

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  1. Bob Koester does it again..