I just got back from Argentina, where I was on a whirlwind three-day tour with Koko Taylor and Kenny Neal. They performed in a giant basketball arena in Buenos Aires at what was billed as the first annual Alligator Blues Festival. Along with two Argentine bands, they drew wildly enthusiastic crowds of 4000 people a night for two nights! It’s amazing to me that in a country so far from the birthplace of the blues, 4000 people will pay $25 each to listen to a music sung in a language foreign to them, performed, by musicians with such a different cultural background. It sure speaks for the communicative power of the blues. Of course, it makes a difference that one of the biggest rock stations in the country plays two hours a night of blues six nights a week. We’re all media babies, even the Argentines. I wonder what would happen if radio in the USA had the same policy? I hope the fine new Eric Clapton blues album may again open the door for blues on rock radio, but I’m always dubious.
Unfortunately, the last few weeks have brought the Chicago blues aammunity more deaths. Louis Myers, the groundbreaking guitarist who virtually wrote the bock on how guitar should accompany amplified harp, died after a long battle with a series of strokes. Louis, a fine harp player himself, began playing in the 50’s, first with Junior Wells and then of course with Little Walter’s Jukes. With his brother Dave and drummer Fred Below, (The Aces) Louis almost singlehandedly brought swing to Chicago blues, and set the mold for literally hundreds of players who followed.
Louis’ sophistication and subtlety have never been surpassed. Although I rarely had a chance to work with Louis, he did play for Alligator on Johnny “Big Moose’* Walker’s session on the LIVING CHICAGO BLUES series.
A few weeks earlier, bassman Cornelius ’’Mule” Boyson left us, a victim of TB. Mile was never a groundbreaking musician, just a wonderfully solid accompanist who toured and recorded with Mighty Joe Young and Jimmy Dawkins among others. He was one of those sweet, gentle guys who is always there for you, and his playing was like his personality — never obtrusive but always solid and supportive. Mile played on Koko Taylor’s first three Alligator releases and also on Fenton Robinson’s “Somebody Loan Me A Dime.” It’s players like Mule who put the soul in Chicago Blues.
One of the albums that Mile played on was our third Koko Taylor album, ’’From The Heart Of A Woman.” It was cut back in 1981, my first recording done at Streeterville Studios, where I’ve worked so often since. Curtis Mayfield had closed Curtom Studios, where I had worked exclusively for about six years, and my trusty engineer and friend Fred Breitberg found a new job down at Streeterville just north of the Chicago loop. It was a much fancier studio than Curtom, with high ceilings that allowed us to ”fly” mics above the drums for a more ambient sound, and wood floors that let the sound bounce around more like it did in the clubs. Although the studio was more expensive, I found out quickly that I could make better sounding records there than I had in the past. Of course, a huge reason that “Heart” was such a good album, besides that Koko was ever more confident in the studio, was her ’’discovery” of a masterful young gospel guitarist named Criss Johnson.
More about him next time.