The first night gave the opportunity to check out Rosa's Lounge and to see one of the few remaining harp players
rooted in the Chicago blues tradition of the 50s. Rosa's is called Chicago's Friendliest Blues Lounge, and I can underline
this. Mama Rosa and her son Tony maintain the club now in its 16th year. Tony left Italy to come to Chicago and to play the
blues, really, and soon her mother followed him and opened the club. The rest is history.
More photos of Little Mack Simmons & Band
Born in 1934, Little Mack Simmons
is a tasteful singer and player, who is since the early 90s a mainstay of the club scene having a regular
gig at Rosa's. Although he did his first recording in 1960, he never got the attention he deserves. Today, his health is
shaky (because of colon cancer). But it doesn't affect his singing and blowing, both are strong and intense ("I ain't gonna
give up"). He played a mix of original songs and standards. Still he's able to play three sets of one hour each. His CD
'Come back to me baby' (Wolf, 1996) gives you a good impression of what was layed down this night. His band consisted of
younger guys who seem to be with him for quite a long time. Sorry, I forget their names, but the Asian guitarist is a
good singer, too. To sum it up, Little Mack's music is part of the Chicago blues tradition: you can't hear it elsewhere and
there are few artists who put the same amount of heartfelt and passion in their music relying on simple and basic forms.
After the first set someone asked me 'Are you the blues fan from Germany ?'. It was a guy I'd seen in Germany quite often in
the audience, and I knew him as a guitarist in a retro band. His name is Tillmann Michalke. What a coincidence! (Mama Rosa
told him that another German guy would be in the house.) We talked about the Chicago scene, the music business, his US travel
of 40+ days, and many more. I convinced him to see Jimmy Dawkins on Saturday. And it was the right decision (see below).
(Update: Mack Simmons died October 31, 2000, from colon cancer in Chicago.)
Little Mack Simmons
Friday night promised to bring Jimmy Dawkins and Bobby Radcliff to the bandstand.
Both are individual guitarists, Dawkins
is without a doubt a major part of the West Side sound, Radcliff claims to be influenced by it. The club was packed when
the Rockin' Johnny Band started. Radcliff played two sets of each one hour, Jimmy performed in all 90 minutes this night.
Special guests were Eddie C. Campbell and Eddie Taylor Jr. who showed up for each two songs. I was not the only guy with
a camera (and a large lens). Professional photographer Chuck Winans and Niles Frantz were in the audience. Jimmy was in
good shape, apparently he enjoyed the intimate atmosphere of Rosa's with all the musicians and friends around. His set list
included 'I got it', 'That's alright', 'All your love (Magic Sam)', 'Come back baby', 'Feel so bad', 'Boogie chillen',
'Sweet home Chicago', and a couple of instrumentals. He did no rehearsing or arrangement with the band, so he relayed mostly
on standards. I asked him if he would play own songs, but he said the band wouldn't be right for this. What a pity!
So I had to focus on the guitar sound, the strong and equally emotional voice. Standing in front of the amp was the best
place to catch the thrilling sound of his bending and phrasing.
More photos of Jimmy Dawkins (#1)
More photos of Rockin' Johnny Band
The backing was provided by the Rockin' Johnny Band. I went to the club early
to get a good seat. As Rockin' Johnny put his guitar on stage I looked at him and adressed him with the words "Hi Johnny, do
you remeber me? I'm the Dawkins fan from Germany." "Man, I can't believe it!" was his answer. In July I'd met him on his second
European and we'd talked about his music, the music business, and Jimmy Dawkins. Johnny is a friendly guy, he asked me what
I was doing here, gave me some piece of pizza from the band meal and introduced me to his agent Drina (I guess that's the
right name; thank you for the conversation and the poster). Johnny started the show with about three of his own songs (e.g.
'I'd like to have a girl like you'), later he played rythm and a couple of solos during all sets. Also he was the mc. His
band consisted of Sho Komiya on bass (a little Asian guy, inconspicuous but very solid) and Larry Taylor on drums, who
replaced the regular drummer Kenny Smith (son of Willie Smith). Larry is a son of Eddie Taylor (see below). Together they
layed down the right groove, at most times straight, sometimes funky (for Radcliff). Later I saw the following statement
on Johnny's web site: "Playing with Jimmy is an artistic highlight for me. I hope you can check out this groundbreaking,
Hailing from New York, Bobby Radcliff is a singer/guitarist who's blues is
a mixture of Chicago and Texas styles.
This week he was backed by the Rockin' Johnny Band performing at Legend's and the House of Blues. They were well rehearsed
and able to play both Radcliff's original songs and standards coming in a different shape (e.g. Sex Machine). You can
describe his style as straight, his singing is dedicated, but limited in range. His guitar sound is very own and was
a well contrast to the approach of Dawkins. In a tribute to Dawkins, whom he calls a source of inspiration, he did 'I wonder
why' from Dawkin's debut album 'Fast Fingers'. The songs were up-tempo and danceable, so the small dancefloor quickly filled
with folks. One word to the audience at Rosa's: it is much younger than in German blues clubs, mostly between 21 and 35.
More photos of Little Arthur Duncan
Arthur Duncan is a seasoned harp player and singer, who was very underrecorded
until Delmark released his debut album with the Rockin' Johnny Band in 1999. It's sound is strictly old fashioned Chicago blues.
On this night he was invited by Johnny to play three songs, the most remarkable "Singing with the sun", the title track of the
mentioned CD. His singing and playing is not outstanding in technique, but powerful. He is a humourous guy, too. At age 66 he's
part of the same remaining group of harp players like Little Mack Simmons. Let's hope we can enjoy his music on more
More photos of Eddie C. Campbell
The West Side sound is not only linked to the big names of Magic Sam or Buddy Guy, but also to the likes of Jimmy Dawkins,
Luther Allison and others. One of the artists who didn't reach the wider audience is
Eddie C. Campbell , who's ground breaking debut 'King of the jungle' (1977) received
good responses both by critics and listeners. He lived a few years in
Germany (in the 80s I guess). This night he showed up to bring two songs into the tribute. Drummer Robert "Huckleberry Hound"
Wright joined him, he can be heard on Magic Sam's "Live at Ann Arbor & In Chicago" album. I knew him only from a Hip Linkchain
recording and was surprised by his huge appearance. Eddie's performance was worthwile and very traditional. I had expected
more of his so called jungle style including different patterns. He was concentrated, did no gimmicks and the band got during
"All your love" in the right Magic Sam groove.
(Update: Robert Wright died March 18, 2001, from cardiac arrest in Chicago. He was three days away from his 64th birthday.)
Eddie C. Campbell
Eddie Taylor Jr.
More photos of Eddie Taylor Jr.
Another guest was Eddie Taylor Jr.. The name says it, Eddie is a son of the
late Eddie Taylor, long-time guitarist for Jimmy Reed and originator of the Reed sound
heared in many classic songs of the Chicago Blues. Also he is brother of drummer Larry. The Taylor family is detailled described
in Living Blues magazine No. 151 (May/June 2000). Eddie is just 28 years old and on his way to step out of the shadow of his
Johnny Burgin, Sho Komiya, Bobby Radcliff, Jimmy Dawkins
On the 2nd tribute night I got into the club late at 11:45 p.m. knowing that Jimmy Dawkins
would begin around this time. His set list was similar, adding two dance numbers
'Rock me' and 'If you're ready' (one of his favorites). The highlight for
me was a tough instrumental of about 8 minutes where he really reached higher ground, closing his eyes and leaving the band
and audience behind. He finished at 3 a.m. Later I gave him my e-mail address. Through this contact I heared about the Leric
Music Inc. web site. There you can find a business profile, Jimmy's address (also e-mail) and a rough overlook of upcoming
The URL is
More photos of Jimmy Dawkins (#2)
More photos of Lurrie Bell
As I got into the club it was very packed so I went to the right side of the stage, where I quickly recognized
Lurrie Bell standing in front of it playing on his (not amplified)
harp along with the band. He did it the whole night and seemed to
have fun. During the second set Jimmy called him to play guitar for one song. He spread some of his aggressive licks around.
More photos of Tail Dragger
James Yancey Jones is the Tail Dragger. Born 1940 he moved at age 16 to Chicago, where he
got into the blues scene, while his day job was truck driver (still it is). His earliest recordings were a few singles on Leric in 1982
(the label of Jimmy Dawkins). When a young guy called Johnny Burgin saw a Tail Dragger gig on the West Side he deciced to
became a blues musician. Since then Johnny and his band backed Tail Dragger, together they had a regular
Monday gig at the 5105 Club for 10 years. Tail Dragger is a powerful singer and fascinating entertainer, his songs are humorous and
his stage presence is dominant. At this night he performed two songs with Rockin' Johnny and another by special request
of and together with Dawkins. It was originally released on Leric (the title deals with his hair). The two had a
lot of fun doing this.
North side club B.L.U.E.S. is a small and intimate place where local community folks and also musicians show up to
have a drink and meet collegues, this night I recognized drummer Twist Turner and guitarist Michael Dotson in the house.
The schedule said Bonnie Lee, but it was much more. Willie Kent & The Gents did the
backing. They got James Wheeler as lead singer and Jake Dawson as leading guitarist. Willie Kent is a bass player,
singer and songwriter.
A 1987 heart bypass operation forced him to abandon his day job as a truck driver; from then on, music has been his
full-time vocation. His band works like a clock mechanism. Groovy and never out of style or too loud. The songs were a
good mixture of fast and
slow, nearly all tunes were originals or less heared titles. The Gents are definetly the most experienced band in town.
More photos of Willie Kent & The Gents
(Update: Mr. Kent died on March 2, 2006 in Chicago.)
Bonnie Lee is on the scene since the 60s. Her signature song is 'I'm good', which started her show. Each set she sang a
couple of songs. Her voice is strong and not too loud. Like on her debut album 'Sweetheart of the blues' (Delmark, 1995)
she can add taste and dedication even to standards. She's one of these performers who play consequent for the people, and
the Gents did a great job. I remember the folks on the dancefloor. Amazing.
When one man and woman, both wearing a red hat, a black suite and red shoes, entered the bar, I recognized the smile of
Sammy Fender. He's the former guitarist of A.C. Reed & The
Sparkplugs and I'd seen him three times with Reed (also at Kingston Mines). Now he's on his own. His self-produced CD
is called 'Transformating Love' and provides funky soul tracks with horns and background vocals.
Fender's girl friend Sugar Baby plays bass on it. Four years ago I saw her together with the late Willie James right at
B.L.U.E.S., as I told her about it she was very surprised. Kent invited Sammy to join the band. He played 'You're going
to miss me' (his explosive trademark song) and 'Feel So Bad' (with right-to-the-bone guitar).
More photos of Sammy Fender