Last Thursday (16 August) my Blues Brother Jake and I met up in Chicago for a blues pilgrimage weekend. (Jake and I are old Blues Brothers partners, brothers since 1980, though we're now separated by about 1300 miles and only see each other maybe once a year.) The plan was simple, hit as many blues clubs as we could in our 4-night stay. And the more local talent we saw, the better.
Thursday night was easy, as we'd picked a hotel only two blocks away from Buddy Guy's Legends. (We stayed at the TraveLodge on E. Harrison.) Jimi "Primetime" Smith was playing there that night, and he put on a great show, playing guitar and a little harp with a full band and one of the best keyboardists we'd seen.
As luck would have it we were there on a night when Buddy himself came in and hung out at the bar, and we were able to chat with him for 10-15 minutes before other folks noticed he was there too. We'd seen Buddy play with Junior Wells several times in the Boston area back in the 80s, and he seemed to enjoy reminiscing about one of the blues clubs that used to be there (Nightstage in Cambridge) with us.
We also were blessed when he got up on stage and did a song with the band (singing, no guitar) before he left for the night. Even the band seemed pretty blown away by that!
(Buddy Guy on stage at Legends... Sorry for the crappy picture, just had the cellphone with me in the clubs.)
Friday afternoon we had a great lunch at the (original) Pizzeria Uno... something I never miss when in town, so much better than the chain (which we love too)! After that we were able to get together with ChiTown John, whom we'd hooked up with through an online forum... the man told us to stay put in front of Uno, and he'd pick us up. We saw him coming from a block away as that beautiful, low-slung beat-to-stuff black and white sedan rumbled towards us! I'm sure there were a few looks of envy as we hopped into his '74 Dodge Bluesmobile. We spent a couple of great hours cruising around Chicago, taking some photos at Legends and at the House of Blues, then spending some time at the Navy Pier (where they had some good beer and another blues band was playing), and then had a cruise up and down (well, down and up actually) on Lower Wacker Drive.
(Jake, me and Chitown John in front of Legends with his Bluesmobile.)
After John dropped us off so we could peruse the Jazz Mart record shop, Friday night we went to Blue Chicago where we saw John Primer playing with his "Real Deal" blues band. Primer had played with Muddy Waters and was true old school, and we had a blast again! He also had a female blues singer with them for parts of their set, "Peaches", and she really knew how to work a crowd and belt some blues. We had a chance to chat with both Peaches and Primer during the evening.
(John Primer, far left; Peaches center stage at Blue Chicago.)
A great egoboost for me was, after hearing me quietly blowing my harp along to a juke box tune between sets, Primer came over and asked if I was a musician. I said no, really just amateur... he said, "But you do play, right?" I admitted as much and he said I should come back Monday night for his open jam session! (We were leaving on Monday but I thought that was pretty cool coming from one of Muddy's guys.)
Saturday it was up north to Kingston Mines, one of the better-known clubs with a 4am liquor license. We got there at 8:30pm, and left at about 4:45am... sweet! Eddy Clearwater was the main stage entertainment (alternating with Linsey Alexander on the back stage), another very high-powered band that kept the place hopping throughout the night. We made some friends there and had another great time. Earlier Saturday we'd found a brewpub we really liked (and would revisit on Sunday), the Rock Bottom Brewery, and it turns out there's a couple here in Massachusetts as well if I can ever get 'round to tracking them down! We also found time to share some sake in a small Asian lounge, and then took a stroll around the Grant Park fountain. Best known from the opening f "Married: With Children", it was also the location for a car chase scene in the original Blues Brothers movie that was filmed but never included.
Sunday night it was B.L.U.E.S... a surprisingly small club considering its reputation but another great spot. It was pouring rain that night, so we decided we would be smarted to just walk back over to Legends rather than go all the way up to B.L.U.E.S... a lengthy train ride followed by a 6 block or so walk at the other end. Yup, that's what we decided as we just marched right back onto the train anyway! We arrived at the club soaking wet but delighted to see a new (to us) club. They waved cover for us going in, just 'cause, "You guys are cool." We also scored a couple of free whiskey shots from the waitress.
Note, we were in street clothes all weekend... well, club clothes, jeans and button-down patterned shirts, but of course we always had the shades on the entire weekend. So I guess two Hawaiian shirt-wearing, shades-wearing guys in pouring rain at 9pm was "cool".
We were, incidentally, identified at pretty much every place we went all weekend as the Blues Brothers... John Primus was especially into it, and indeed they closed their gig with The MG's "Time is Tight"... the bass and organ lines used in the "I Can't Turn You Loose" Brothers intro. We certainly got a lot of dancing in! The other interesting part of that is at Kingston Mines, a college-area club that was filled with, to use the Aykroyd term, "foxes", the ladies were all very intent on borrowing our shades all night. Now there ain't much on me I'm not gonna let an attractive lady in a blues club touch... but the shades gotta stay on MY face!
Monday morning it was time to check out, though we both had fairly late flights that day. So we went back over to Legends for lunch, and hung out there for a couple of hours as they had a live solo guitarist entertaining. I never got the guy's name but he played a variety of styles and was very good, and it was a nice, low-key way to end the weekend as we were definitely feeling the blues about leaving by that point.
(More photos available at my Flickr site.)