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THE BLUES DOCTOR IS IN!

Good Guys Wear Black

Chicago Slim on guitar
photo: Debi Landry/Rockshots

by Linda Cain, CBG editor

Daniel Ivankovich is known by several names:

Chicago Slim, blues guitarist and co-leader of the Chicago Blues All-Stars

Right Reverend Dr. D, his blues DJ handle

Dr. Daniel Ivankovich (a.k.a. The Bone Doc), M.D. Orthopedic Surgeon 

Chicago blues fans who have seen the imposing, almost 7-foot tall, flashy-attired guitarist perform with his band, at clubs like Buddy Guy’s Legends, Kingston Mines or Rosa’s, most likely have no idea what Chicago Slim does for his day job. More on that later.

What they do know is that the Chicago Blues All-Stars is a band that plays funky, contemporary blues that will get your booty on that dance floor.  And that this 10-piece band lives up to its name, with a lineup that boasts members who’ve worked with the greats.

Guitarist/vocalist “Killer” Ray Allison began his blues career as a drummer, keeping the beat behind Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy & Junior Wells, James Cotton and Koko Taylor, before stepping out to the front of the stage to become a feisty frontman that lives up to his moniker. Guitarist/singer Ivankovich played in Otis Rush’s band at age 18 and shared the stage with Buddy Guy and Magic Slim (who gave him the blues handle Chicago Slim). He and Allison formed the All-Stars in 2007, although they first got together in the mid-‘80s, before Chicago Slim went on to medical school.

Killer Ray & Chicago Slim
"Killer" Ray Allison & Chicago Slim

While fine-tuning the concept of how the new millennium version of the All-Stars would sound, the two tracked down former bandmates and friends and invited them to the band’s weekly blues jams at a rehearsal space in Chicago. The sessions became, as harp player Scott Dirks put it, “The Bluesday Night Music Club.”  He recalls: “As players cycled through the lineup, musical compatibilities were discovered and explored, alliances were forged, and most importantly, laughter and good times were always in the house.”  As time went on, the core of the line-up was solidified.

            Johnny B. Gayden, the renowned, funk-ified bassist who once backed up Albert Collins was recruited, along with drummer Jerry “Bam Bam” Porter who had replaced “Killer” in Buddy Guy’s band and held down the spot for 14 years. With the perfect rhythm section intact, harp player Scott Dirks came back into the fold. But this time it was different from when he, Killer and Dan used to play basic Maxwell Street/ King Biscuit style blues in the ‘80s. The mighty “Mad Hatter” Roosevelt Purifoy, Jr., who had worked with Koko, Junior Wells and Otis Rush, was tapped to play keyboards.

Chicago Blues All-Stars horn section with Chicago Slim
Chicago Blues All-Stars/L-R:  Johnny Cotton Daniel Ivankovich, "Killer" Ray Allison, C.C. Copeland, Tony Dale (a.k.a. Bible Black)
photo: Karla Carwile

You can’t have the funk without the horns, so trombonist Johnny Cotton (who played with James Cotton and the Ohio Players) became the brass section leader. He invited trumpeter Kenny Anderson and sax man Garrick Patton to make a trio. If you were to read the credits on the back of many a Chicago blues recording, you will find these names!

To really tip the scales in favor of blues All-Star-dom, Killer brought along a sassy, young blues woman, Anji Brooks, whom he had worked with in his own band in South Side neighborhood clubs. Although she doesn’t have the mileage playing with legends like her bandmates, Anji fits in perfectly with her powerful singing and captivating presence. She is indeed a rising star in her own right.

Anji Brooks
Anji Brooks
photo: Karla Carwile

Chicago Slim explains the concept behind the band’s great big dynamic funky blues sound: “What we’re hoping is to try and uncover an audience that’s younger, that’s interested in all kinds of different music, but to get them captured into the blues.”

Indeed the CBAS play a style of the genre that is not your grandaddy’s blues. The Chicago Blues All-Stars have just released their debut disc, appropriately titled Red, Hot and Blue, on the Azure Music label. Simply scanning the song titles is like judging a book by its cover. Sure, they cover songs by Junior Wells, Phil Guy, Koko Taylor, Rufus Thomas, B.B. King, Little Walter, Buddy Guy and include one original. Just one listen to Red, Hot and Blue will dispel any notion that they are riding the same old blues mule. The band succeeds in providing a fresh and energetic sound while injecting their own musical personalities into these tried and true classics.

You can read CBG’s review of the CD HERE.

Getting back to Chicago Slim’s day job -- Dr. Daniel Ivankovich is an orthopedic surgeon who operates several not-for-profit clinics that serve Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. He also has been known to volunteer for humanitarian work outside of the country, such as in 2010 after Haiti’s devastating earthquake when he was airlifted and lowered into the hardest hit area to see what broken bodies he could repair. But he wasn’t always a man of heroic proportions.

How the good doctor got to where he is today is a blues song in itself; Ivankovich’s story is the tale of a talented athlete with great promise and big dreams that were dashed in a moment of career-ending pain.

            As a star athlete at Northwestern University who could no longer play basketball, Ivankovich went from hero to zero. He needed to reinvent himself and learn how to overcome this shattering defeat. And blues music helped it happen.

While wandering the campus, pondering his future, the 17-year-old happened upon the school radio station, WNUR 89.3 FM www.wnur.org . As it so happened, the music director was looking for a host for the overnight blues show. And Ivankovich was a blues fan, who had just began to play blues guitar.

“Basketball was taken away, and the blues slowly became available. That blues show was a saving grace for me. I found a crutch called music.”  And The Right Reverend, Doctor D. was born. His 12 midnight – 8 a.m. WNUR show, Out of the Blue, was so successful, it went on to become syndicated in more than 60 markets across the country. His career in radio, and the blues, was launched.

After six years as a radio broadcaster and producer, both here and in New York, (not to mention evenings spent performing in blues clubs and jamming with legends like Otis Rush, Magic Slim, and Buddy Guy), Ivankovich enrolled in NU’s Feinberg School of Medicine. After an internship at Cook County Hospital, the med student knew what he wanted to do – serve the poor. In 2010, he and partner Karla Carwile launched OnePatient Global Health Initiative. And the college kid who was once a zero went back to being a hero.

Dr. Dan Blues Butterfly
Metamorphosis complete!
photo: Karla Carwile

Dr. Ivankovich continues to combine his passion for music, medicine and serving the poor and to make the most of his hectic schedule. In 2014, he and the Chicago Blues All-Stars will perform at festivals and venues all over the world. The doctor/bandleader plans to coordinate every tour stop with a medical visit to orphanages and homeless shelters and to lecture at universities about healthcare needs of the poor.

You can read more about the fascinating man known by many names in the following story by Barbara Mahany.


BIGGER THAN LIFE:

Orthopedic surgeon Dan Ivankovich mends the bones of Chicago’s most underserved patients by day and plays blues guitar by night.

Dr. Dan in scrubs

by Barbara Mahany

If you happen to be counting floor tiles when Dan Ivankovich walks into the examining room, you might miss the way he has to duck to get through the doorway.

That’s the way it is, though, when the hairs on your head are nearly 7 feet off the ground. And that’s how it is for Dr. Dan, aka The Right Reverend, Doctor D, as the iconoclastic bone doc is called when he puts down his spine- or knee- or hip- reconstruction tools and picks up his six-string, fire-breathing Rodriguez Baritone Strat blues guitar.

Fact is, once you see the doctor’s supersize shadow spill across the floor, you’ll pay attention, all right.

Start with the boots — size 17, if you’re measuring. They’re heavy, black leather and studded with enough silver to set off the nearest metal detector. Then go up the legs, way up. He’s decked out this day — and most every day — in black surgical scrubs, with Maltese crosses stitched into the thigh and across the right hip pocket. Beneath the black leather vest, you can read the words “Bone Squad” spelled out just above where his big heart thumps.

Then there’s all the bling: Skull and crossbones on the middle finger. Hoop earrings. Maybe a chain, or two, depending on the day. And a black leather biker’s cap, pulled on backward, with the bill behind him and riding down his neck.

It’s not hard to be distracted by the getup.

It’s not hard to think this is just some bad-ass bone fixer who knows a thing or two about how to turn heads and take a star turn on the nightly TV news, say, when he air-dropped into Haiti after the earthquake of 2010 to see what miracles of mending he could pull from all the rubble.

Don’t miss the point here: Ivankovich, who graduated from Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine in 1995, might not look the part of the polished orthopedic surgeon. Nor might he practice out of some spiffy Gold Coast suite.

But this good doctor, who knows through and through the agony of defeat and the thrill of uncharted triumph, has carried his surgeon’s tools to the front lines of urban poverty and violence, and he’s hell-bent on serving the most underserved.

Dr. Dan with young patient
photo: Thomas Rosen

That might be the little kid with the shattered elbow who never got a simple plaster cast and had to suffer through the pain. Or the old woman whose odd-angled knees buckle beneath her with cruel regularity, leaving her to whimper on the bathroom floor for one whole morning recently, before she found her way to Dr. Dan.

Or, more often than not, it’s one of the shattered ones from what Ivankovich calls “The Knife and Gun Club.” That, he explains, is when the knife blade or the bullet “doesn’t hit a vital organ” and leave the victim dead, but rather “it eventually penetrates a bone” that’s going to need the armament of plates and screws and pins and rods that is the everyday medicine of Dr. Dan.

One recent morning, in his red-walled clinic in Chicago’s rough-and-tumble West Side Austin neighborhood, where in just one ugly summer’s weekend a record-setting 75 felonies — that’s murders, rapes, gunpoint robberies and carjackings — were committed in a mere three-block radius, Ivankovich wasted no time in telling his story.

 “I went from being all-everything to all-nothing in the blink of an eye,” says the former high school basketball star, who was admitted to Northwestern’s six-year Honors Program in Medical Education back in 1981. “I went from being the lead dog to having nothing. I was the underdog.”

It’s that lead-dog-to-underdog theme that is his leitmotif.

This long, tall dude, an All-American center at Glenbrook South High School who could once “shoot the lights out,” on any basketball court, anywhere, knows what it is to taste defeat. And he lives and breathes to upturn the bitter equation.

“It’s about pulling for the underdog,” says the 49-year-old surgeon, who reconstructs two to three spines a week, sees some 5,000 patients a year and still makes time for a handful of house calls every week. “Everybody wants a winner. The people who have no monetary means, no anything, who are just in the shadows, I wanna be their champion. I can take them from despair to functionality.

“That’s the journey: To take people to a place they can’t conceive of. This is the front line. This is the combat zone. We’re at war.”

Here’s the back story: Ivankovich, the Croatian-born son of immigrant physicians, had his dream scheme all etched out, back before he stepped into the bright lights at Boston University’s Walter Brown Arena for the Boston Shootout, a high-stakes streetball invitational, that long-ago summer of ’81.

Team Chicago basketball: Boston Shootout 1981
Team Chicago: Boston Shootout 1981 with Walter Downing at Avalon Park, Chicago, IL

“My life was set,” he begins. “It was all determined. I was on the golden path. I was gonna be in the NBA, then be a team doctor, play on the Yugoslav Olympic team. It was all very simple.” And very clear.

Until, as Ivankovich recalls, “I collided with somebody” at center court, midway through the tournament in the last week of June 1981. “I heard a huge pop. I fell on the ground. We were playing against Patrick Ewing’s Boston streetball team,” he interjects, for emphasis, perhaps.

“My knee just blew up like a balloon. Back then, there was no MRI, no doctor was able to look at me and see what exactly it was. I was a 17-year-old kid. I took the plane back home on crutches. It took four doctors and one long month to figure out it was my ACL,” a ruptured and crucial ligament in his right knee. “Back then, a career-ending injury.”

Again, the doctor interjects: “Now, I would’ve been back on the court in four to six months.”

But not then. His dream scheme shattered, along with his ACL, there on the hardwood. “That’s what hurt the most,” he says, the pain still tingeing every syllable.

The 6-foot-11 kid with the 30-inch vertical jump, the kid whose right leg shriveled in the brace “that felt like being under house arrest,” his career, his shot at being a part of the turnaround basketball team at Northwestern, it was over before it even started.

Thirteen surgeries would follow. Ivankovich suffered setback after setback through that fall of ’81, when he was supposed to be the star.

Lost, he wandered into Northwestern University’s Annie May Swift Hall, searching for some now-forgotten class; when he looked up, he saw an “On Air” sign, all lit up.

What’s that, he asked, intrigued by his first brush with radio. Turned out, it was the studio of WNUR, Northwestern’s legendary FM radio station. And, turned out, the music director had an all-night blues show but no host.

Well, Ivankovich, who’d been playing classical violin since he was a little kid, had just started fooling around with a guitar, specifically a blues guitar. He leapt into the station’s midnight-till-8 a.m. slot. He’d been exposed to the blues while playing basketball on Chicago’s South Side, his high school years peppered with summer leagues and all-star teams that drew him far from white-on-white suburbia.

From the start, he says, “the blues impacted me. The poverty. The black culture. I loved it all.”

Wasn’t long until the would-be doctor was shopping for red velvet suits and green alligator shoes at Smokey Joe’s, a haberdashery on Maxwell Street; chowing down on greens and grits and black-eyed peas; and jamming with blues legends: Magic Slim, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, among the many.

“Basketball was taken away, and the blues slowly became available. That blues show was a saving grace for me. I found a crutch called music.”


Dan Ivankovich found a crutch in music after a serious knee injury ended his promising basketball career. Ivankovich, aka The Right Reverend, Doctor D, plays a Carparelli 2B1 double-neck baritone guitar as a founding member, vocalist and guitarist for the Chicago Blues All-Stars.

Fast forward: Ivankovich ditched the tongue-twisting Croatian surname and took the on-air tag of The Right Reverend, Doctor D. His all-night WNUR show, Out of the Blue, was eventually syndicated in more than 60 markets. That led to a gig at a Chicago radio station and, eventually, a six-year stint as a radio producer in New York City.

Jack Snarr, then Feinberg’s associate dean for student affairs, saw himself as something of “a mother hen” to the roughly 700 Northwestern medical students. And he never flinched at Ivankovich’s zigzag path through med school, even if his particular hyphenations — playing at big-city blues clubs and radio stations — made him an iconoclast of the first order. “Eventually, Danny realized, medicine is where he belonged,” recalls Snarr.

Indeed, back at Feinberg after a six-year hiatus, Ivankovich threw himself into the toughest curriculum he could cobble together. He begged for an internship at the old Cook County Hospital, where in the first 30 minutes, he recalls, he’d “cracked open someone’s chest.”

It was in the halls of “County,” the nickname for that great gray stone edifice that was the temple of healing to the poorest of Chicago’s poor, that Ivankovich found the heart of what would be his rare brand of medicine.

He knew, right off, that his would be a surgical practice targeted at those who live on society’s margins, too often falling through every conceivable crack.

 “I remember walking the halls of County, seeing all these throngs of people waiting in the halls. The question I heard myself ask is, ‘Wow, who’s gonna take care of all these people?’ And then I answered, ‘I will.’

“We’re covering some serious real estate,” says Ivankovich, ticking through the numbers: 1.4 million people in Chicago without medical insurance. Five- to six-year waiting lists in Cook County to see an orthopedic surgeon. Neighborhood after neighborhood where he’s the only orthopedist, for a combined total of nearly 300,000 residents to one storefront surgeon.

That’s why, in 2010, Ivankovich and his partner, Karla Carwile, launched OnePatient Global Health Initiative, a not-for-profit string of four freestanding clinics (three are up and running on Chicago’s West, South and North sides, with one more to open on the Southwest Side within the year), working with 14 inner-city hospitals in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. The organization also sends out teams into the communities, all of whom refer patients back to the clinics or the hospitals served by the OnePatient Global Health Initiative. The mission is to serve everyone who hobbles through the door, regardless of ability to pay.

“We take everyone. Period. Our staff is instructed: We take everyone who walks in,” says Carwile, a health psychologist, who joined forces with Ivankovich after helping him airlift spinal cord patients out of Haiti and realizing they were both set on bringing the best medicine to the poorest corners of the globe — be it a couple miles from downtown Chicago or the caved-in slums of the Third World.

“I don’t care if you bring me a plastic cup filled with pennies,” says Carwile, rushing a patient’s chart into an examining room. “I don’t care if you send me a dollar a month for the next 10 years.”

As Carwile puts it, “It’s not-for-profit, and there’s no profit in it.” Right now, they get reimbursed a mere $18 to $24 per patient visit from Medicaid if the patient happens to have Medicaid, though many do not. Although it’s a fledgling not-for-profit, angel investors (and big-time grantmakers) are already opening up their checkbooks.

Ivankovich is leaning against a counter, clicking through his smartphone to glance at an old man’s latest MRI. “I’m the equalizer,” he says. “I’m not a socialist. I’m not right wing, or left wing. I’m a populist. The issues here are global.

“Poor doesn’t mean you’re irrational, it doesn’t always mean you’re uneducated, and it doesn’t mean you lack basic understanding. It means you lack resources.”

He doesn’t pretend to be a saint. Or some almighty savior, albeit one who’s head to toe in black.

It’s simple math, according to The Right Reverend, Doctor D.

“It’s part of our debt to society. I just wanna be sure it’s paid.”

And with that, he darted down the hall and ducked beneath a doorway to see what he could do to get an old, teary-eyed grandma up and walking again.

Barbara Mahany, a former pediatric oncology nurse, was a staff writer at the Chicago Tribune for nearly 30 years. She is now a freelance writer and author of the forthcoming collection of her essays, Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside your Kitchen Door (Abingdon Press, 2014). 

The original version of Barbara Mahany's story on Dr. Dan, "Bigger than Life," appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of Northwestern Magazine. Chicago Blues Guide thanks NU Magazine and Barbara for permission to publish this story.

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