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CD REVIEW -- Delmark Tribute 65th Anniversary
GLT blues radio
Various Artists
Tribute Delmark's 65th Anniversary
Delmark Records
11 songs
Delmark 65th Anniversary CD

by Greg Easterling


It's not often that a record album receives its launch at a major American music festival. Not to   mention a tribute album that features contributions from artists who are contemporaries of the legendary artists being celebrated. Yet, that's exactly what happened with the newly minted Tribute album from Chicago's Delmark Records. It's a living salute to the 65th Anniversary of this seminal Chicago blues and jazz label founded by Bob Koester when he was only 20 years old.


Tribute contains eleven cuts, each one connected with a different blues artist who once recorded for Delmark Records, primarily in the ’60s and ‘70s. From the South Side of Chicago to concert stages though out the world, these artists took the sweet home blues of the Windy City to many places in Europe and Asia. They also influenced the British blues revival that inspired The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin with Jimmy Page.


Tribute begins with a bang and Omar Coleman's harp driven cover of “Train I Ride”. It's Junior Wells' thinly disguised rewrite of “Mystery Train” that graces On Tap, Junior's later Delmark release. Who can forget the original cover art -- of a painting of a full glass of beer on the front or the picture of Junior serving up a cold one on the back? It's a classic from Delmark's most important artist of all time who also waxed the label's most classic album, Hoodoo Man Blues. Coleman does a great job here of kicking off the album.


Carey Bell's family gathers ‘round next with “One Day You're Gonna Get Lucky”, an uptempo salute to their father, the legendary Chicago blues harpist who played with Muddy Waters. Current Chi blues standout Lurrie Bell sings and leads the Bell Dynasty band that includes Steve Bell on harp plus the rhythm section of Tyson Bell on bass and James Bell on drums. Carey's original recording appears on his classic Heartaches and Pain release. Lurrie and the family band just released a full scale tribute to Carey on the Delmark label but this exclusive recording for Tribute does not appear on it.


It's a slower blues approach that follows as Linsey Alexander and guitarist Billy Flynn team up for a Jimmy Dawkins' salute with “All For Business”, the title track of a past Dawkins' Delmark release. Jimmy had an international following at times acquiring the nickname “Fastfingers” in the process. Current Delmark artist Flynn was omnipresent onstage at the 2018 Chicago Blues Fest including the live Dawkins tribute. He's featured here along with vocalist Alexander who's also part of the current roster of Delmark artists.


Demetria Taylor, daughter of “Bad Boy” Eddie Taylor -- Jimmy Reed's onetime sidekick, appears next with her tribute to onetime Chicago blues club staple Big Time Sarah. It's an Albert King song that Sarah sang on her Delmark release, A Million of You. “Riverboat” is the title and it's not some kind of quaint, Stephen Foster influenced trip. Instead it's a place where compulsive gamblers blow their life savings as expressed by Demetria in the first person here as she channels Big Time Sarah.


Then it's Jimmy Burns saluting the more rural style of seminal early blues singer Big Joe Williams with “She Left Me A Mule To Ride.” Big Joe's Piney Woods Blues was only the second Delmark album ever issued, following the label's inaugural release, The Dirty Dozens by Speckled Red. Still based in St. Louis at the time, Bob Koester tracked down both Big Joe and Red who were both living there locally in relative obscurity in the 1950s. Burns does a fine job here with this popular blues that's appeared in various forms over the years as “She Caught the Katy and Left Me a Mule to Ride,” most famously covered by Taj Mahal and The Blues Brothers for their film soundtrack.


Next, Lil' Ed and Dave Weld reunite to pay tribute to their musical mentor J.B. Hutto with “Speak My Mind.” Lil' Ed is J.B.'s nephew while Dave, who also played with Hound Dog Taylor's onetime band The Houserockers, was an early member of Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials before lighting out to form his own long running Imperial Flames. “Speak My Mind” is a rockin' reminder of Hutto’s raucous uptempo slide guitar boogie; the original appears on J.B. Hutto's Hawk Squat Delmark release.



Then it's local blues legend Jimmy Johnson, supported by guitarist Dave Specter, a longtime member of the Delmark team as a producer, session ace and recording artist. They honor one of Delmark's most famous artists, Magic Sam. His West Side Soul remains one of Delmark's most historic albums of all time, containing definitive versions of “Sweet Home Chicago” and Magic Sam's “Mama Talk To Your Daughter.” Longtime musical partners, Jimmy and Dave craft a soulful version here of “Out Of Bad Luck” for Tribute. Magic Sam's version appears on the Delmark compilation Sweet Home Chicago. Jimmy's appearance at the 2018 Chicago Blues Festival made for some of the fest's most special moments including his appearance with Dave during the official Delmark tribute set on Friday night. At 89 years young, Jimmy and Buddy Guy (who just turned 82) now stand together at the pinnacle of the Chicago blues community, the ranking members of this still thriving scene.


Tribute continues with several of the brightest lights in Chicago today. Corey Dennison and Mike Wheeler are two of the best in town these days, both of them active in the clubs and recording noteworthy new albums for Delmark. Corey and his band mate Gerry Hundt take an acoustic approach to the Lemon Jefferson classic “Broke And Hungry” in tribute to Sleepy John Estes who made it the title track of his Delmark studio album. Wheeler follows with a very electric salute to the great Otis Rush, one of Chicago's finest bluesmen ever. “So Many Roads” is one of Rush's most classic numbers and Wheeler contributes one of Tribute's longest tracks for his potent Rush interpretation.


Shirley Johnson delivers a late album highlight next with “Need Your Love So Bad,” a Little Willie John ballad that Bonnie Lee covered for her Delmark release Sweetheart Of The Blues. Lee was another Chicago blues club mainstay in her day and Shirley brings a woman's touch once more to a song that has often been covered by male singers such as Gregg Allman and Peter Green (with a string supported arrangement for early Fleetwood Mac).


Tribute comes to a close with expatriate Chicago blues keyboardist Ken Saydak returning to pay tribute to cigar chomping Roosevelt Sykes on “Boot That Thing,” a rollicking number originally included on Sykes' Delmark album, Gold Mine. Saydak, onetime leader of the Chicago roots band Big Shoulders and veteran of many blues recording sessions, is in fine form here and was onstage for much of the live Chicago Blues Fest tribute.


This special Delmark 65th tribute album was produced with special care by Delmark's Steve Wagner, assisted by longtime blues producer Dick Shurman. The rhythm section of Melvin Smith on bass and drummer Willie “The Touch” Hayes propels much of the album with frequent appearances by Mike Wheeler, Billy Flynn and Roosevelt Purifoy on keyboards. Sax player Hank Ford, Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoishi on piano and guitarist Eddie Taylor, Jr. also make contributions.


It's important to keep track of Chicago's blues music history and Delmark Records is a vital link in the chain. This Tribute is also a reminder the blues still thrive in Chicago with strong performers, an active club and festival scene and creative record labels like Delmark to keep recording it. 

Greg Easterling holds down the 12 midnight – 5 a.m. shift on WDRV (97.1 FM) He also hosts American Backroads on WDCB (90.9 FM) Thursdays at 9 p.m.

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