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FEATURES -- Dave Weld remembers J.B. Hutto

Dave Weld remembers J.B. Hutto

Blues guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and bandleader Dave Weld got his start on Chicago's West Side in the late ‘70s. At the 1815 Club on Roosevelt Road, Dave was in the house band with Chico Chism, Shorty Gilbert, Hubert Sumlin, Detroit Junior and Eddie Shaw. Dave played there with Otis Rush, Guitar Junior, Tail Dragger, Little Arthur, Johnny Littlejohn and more. Weld was under the tutelage of Grammy winning slide guitarist J.B. Hutto.  J.B introduced Dave to his nephew, Lil’ Ed. They started the band Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials and played every joint on the West Side for ten years. Burnin' Love is Weld's Delmark debut and it features Li’l Ed on guitar and the legendary Abb Locke on saxophone.

J.B. Hutto by Bob Koester
J.B. Hutto plays guitar in a Chicago club
photo: Bob Koester

By Dave Weld

The first time I met J.B. Hutto was in a dream!  I was in high school, in a north suburb, and one night in a restless sleep, I found myself face to face with a short black man, in a suit with a broad infectious smile playing guitar in a style I had never seen before.  He was featured American Bandstand style in an enclosure that provided lighting, and he was working incessantly at the frets of his guitar with a piece of metal, playing and all the while smiling directly at me!

I thought about that haunting dream all the next day at school.  I had been in the process of trading my John Mayall records for Lightnin’ Hopkins’ "Black Cadillac Blues" and Howlin' Wolf's "Big City Blues".  But I never forgot that dream, until the day I found McKinley Morganfield's name on the back of a Rolling Stones album, and learned that he was called Muddy Waters, and that piece of metal was called a slide, like in my dream, and that's what made Muddy's sound so different!

Years later in 1975, I walked into the Wise Fools Pub on north Lincoln in Chicago, and there was a short guy, in a suit with a broad infectious smile, onstage playing the sweetest slide I had ever heard, with a booming voice and a style different from Hound Dog's, both clean and dirty at the same time. I was touched inside, where joy meets harmony, as in the dream I’d had years earlier, and on the break I walked up to introduce myself.  The band members, Lee Jackson on guitar and Bombay Carter on bass, sidled up to the bar to get a drink. 

J.B. Hutto Stompin' at Mother BluesJ.B. did not drink anymore, because of diabetes.  He was a humble, perceptive and receptive man, and I was surprised at how friendly and open he was, but then I did not know about the other kinds of people he had to deal with; I must have been a nice change of pace for him.

J.B. had been arrested once by Chicago police for drunk driving, but it was really the blood sugar raging out of control that made him weave.  I ran into one person, years later, who said, "Yeah, J.B. smokes a little weed", but I never saw it all those years I was with him, and at his home.

I hung out with J.B. that night and he extended a hand, helping as a mentor and friend, teaching me guitar, both lead and backup. I spent years at his home in Harvey IL, and he introduced me to my first band, Hound Dog Taylor’s Houserockers, Ted Harvey and Brewer Phillips. They had ended up with J.B. after Hound Dog’s death in 1975.  We played for a year at Sweet Pea's on 47th and Ingleside, while J.B. was on the road based out of Boston, where he moved in the late ‘70s.

Dave Weld & the Houserockers
Dave Weld (right) and the Houserockers

Ted and Harvey had been touring with J.B. out East but he fired them after a big fight. Guitarist Jimmy Thackery, then with the Nighthawks, told me the story about the fight.  It happened in the dawn’s light, in a calm, white neighborhood with J.B. wearing his sequined Shriners hat and African outfit. He was struggling with Brewer, guns drawn but not used, and the police were called.  This left Ted and Brewer free so I could join them for my first pro gig for a year at Sweet Pea's, a South Side club where I could get beat up, or married, in the same night for being white.

            It was that same extended helping hand that introduced me to his nephews, Lil’ Ed and James “Pookie” Young, so we could start the Blues Imperials.  It was that same helping hand in 1983 that played imaginary notes, fingering them in the air, in his cancer ward death bed, while I played guitar next to him.  We both agreed that I missed a few notes, and when I told him that I had bought a new car, he looked me dead in the eye and said "but it’s not for the band right?"  Later that week he died.

J.B. Hutto SlidewinderSome of J.B.'s best stuff came out in 1954 on 78s from Chance Records, and they were some rough, raw cuts with slide guitar and gutbucket blues that groove to this day: "Pet Cream Man," "Lovin’ You,"  "Now She's Gone," and "Combination Boogie" with Joe Custom on second guitar, “Earring” George Mayweather on raucous harp, and Eddie “Porkchop” Hines on washboard and drums.  Elmore James’ piano man, Johnny Jones, recorded with them for five more cuts including "Things Are So Slow" (which we just covered for our new Delmark CD Burnin’ Love).  J.B. is best known for his records with Delmark: Hawk Squat, Slidewinder and Stompin’ at Mother Blues.  He also recorded for the Vanguard, Testament and Varrick labels.

J.B. could sing!  He came up in the church. Born Joseph Benjamin Hutto in 1926 in Blackville, S.C., his father Calvin was a preacher who moved the family to Augusta, GA when J.B. was three. He and his three brothers and three sisters formed a gospel group, The Golden Crowns, who were popular in local churches.  Back then he was singin' high, because his guitar was tuned to open E, but later Lee Jackson showed him how to tune down to D, so J.B. could play open tuning  or "spanish" and sing lower, which is easier to do as you age,  or have to sing all night.  This is what got me started playing in D.

So when J.B. beckoned, "ride with me" for a gig on the West Side, I said “sure”. It was to a party held in a banquet hall hosted by Hound Dog Taylor’s widow’s social club, and J.B. wanted to show me the ropes. I sat in the car with the band (different guys from the Wise Fools and NOT the Houserockers) and while J.B. took care of business, they passed a pint around.  I noticed the bass man gave the drummer a pill, but I did not think anything of it.  They loaded in and hit the stage, sounding pretty good, opening the show for J.B., all the while playing a tight, professional set with the black crowd clapping, dancing and calling out!

J.B. came up after about four songs, and things started to change.  J.B. was always so intense with his music, sliding and singing, but he started to notice the beat changing and looking back to see what was wrong; he changed songs thinking it would go better, but it was worse.  By now everyone was looking at the drummer, who was missing time and disoriented.  Soon vomit billowed out of the drummer’s mouth onto the snare drum in a puddle, but instead of falling off the throne, he passed out with his face in the puddle, his arms hanging loosely down from the snare, with dinner more than just a recent memory.  After a short while the guys stopped playing.

J.B. did clean it up and, amazingly, found another drummer to make the night.  I could tell by the way he was talking to Hound Dog’s widow, how bad he felt, and later that night, after the gig, J.B. pointed out some band leader facts.  "See how good they sounded, until I got up there", and sure enough, they soon left J.B. as a unit, taking their cheap little gigs with them, leaving behind a decent and intelligent future Blues Hall of Famer and international bluesman to clean up the mess, find another band, move to Boston, win a Grammy, and tour the globe.

J.B. Hutto & the New Hawks

That's one reason J.B. said, "you'll always struggle, you got to leave this town", and so I put  his advice in my song "Ramblin'" the second cut of our Delmark CD Burnin' Love.  Delmark was good to J.B., and J.B. was loved by Delmark, Bob Koester and his wife Sue, who have been running the label with great success for over 55 years.  I’m the guy Koester calls "J.B.'s bastard son". That's me, and yes J.B., I got the guys a van!

Dave Weld & The Imperial Flames will appear at the Chicago Blues Festival, on Friday June 11th, at the Gibson Crossroads stage at high noon, and at Buddy Guy’s Legends, for their CD release party on Tuesday, July 20th.

For more info: www.daveweld.com or buy his CDs at:

http://www.cdbaby.com/Search/RGF2ZSBXZWxk/0

 

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