Friday, March 30, 2007

Today’s Chicago Blues

Today’s Chicago Blues
By Karen Hanson
Lake Claremont Press

There are two commonly held opinions on Chicago Blues. One expressed by Tracy Nelson in the Chicago Blues Reunion DVD suggests that the current Chicago blues scene is a pale remnant of exciting high water mark of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Contrarily, some like David Whiteis in his book Chicago Blues argue that there is still a vital blues scene with strong ties to the community—one simply has to know where to look. Karen Hanson expresses the optimistic view in Today’s Chicago Blues, essentially a travel guide to the contemporary Chicago Blues scene.

TCB profiles many of the blues venues in Chicago proper. While many blues enthusiasts will already be familiar with clubs like Buddy Guy’s Legends and B.L.U.E.S., there are some lesser known establishments included here. Particularly useful for blues tourists with wheels will be the section on suburban clubs. For instance, according to Hanson a club called Genesis “located, in true suburban style, at the end of a strip mall on 183rd Street just west of Cicero” features Billy Branch’s group the Sons of Blues as their regular Wednesday night act. (p. 46)

Hanson also gives the run-down on the annual Chicago Blues Festival and blues shrines like the Leland Hotel and the former Chess Records studios (now a museum operated by the Blues Heaven foundation). Unfortunately, the city’s heavy handed use of eminent domain has taken a toll on its blues heritage. The Maxwell Street Market was a real community institution that used to feature many blues musicians playing for tips. Forced out of the Maxwell Street area, the new market evidently now bears more resemblance to a professional Manhattan street fair. Gerri’s Palm Tavern was another important blues venue, which hosted blues musician Fernando Jones play I Was There When the Blues Was Red Hot! According to Hanson: “In 2001 the City of Chicago used eminent domain to close down the historic building. To date no plans have been announced for the property.” (p. 170) Thanks for nothing, city planners.

If you are going to Chicago and want to check out some music, then TCB will be useful. Hanson compiles handy profiles of clubs, musicians, radio shows, and tourist attractions all related to the blues. It looks like it should help musical tourists get a more genuine taste of the real thing.