CHICAGO BLUES REUNION
Buried Alive In The Blues
Out The Box Records (exclusively distributed by Eagle Vision)
by Tim Holek
Buried Alive In The Blues is a celebration of the first generation of white musicians who openly embraced the blues. They were accepted and included to the point of performing with their black heroes and they established one of the first integrated Chicago groups, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the ‘60s. This generation is now approaching or has already entered their senior years. Like your favorite grandparents, they have a valuable history that deserves to be told and heard. Chicago Blues Reunion’s members have led interconnected professional lives for the past five decades. Nick Gravenites (vocals/guitar) wrote Buried Alive In The Blues for Janis Joplin and Born In Chicago – the signature song of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band featuring Sam Lay (vocals/drums). Butterfield’s guitarist, Mike Bloomfield later joined The Electric Flag, which included Barry Goldberg (keyboards) and Gravenites. Tracy Nelson (vocals) was a fixture on Chicago’s 1960s folk and blues scenes before she founded Mother Earth. Harvey Mandel (guitar), a Bloomfield protégé, was part of Canned Heat and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Corky Siegel (harmonica/vocals) has been a Chicago fixture from his years with the Siegel-Schwall Blues Band. Joining them are Gary Mallabar (drums), Rick Reed (bass), and Zach Wagner (guitar).
Appearing aged and not well preserved, Gravenites states, “We have a history”, while the youthful looking, gray-haired Siegel adds, “We are part of each other’s lives”. In a nutshell, they took black blues out of the black Chicago clubs and introduced it to the world beginning in the city’s north side. This stylishly packaged DVD/CD combo includes a bountiful 32 page booklet loaded with archival photos. The 80-minute DVD presents six live performances (these plus eight more are included on the hour-long CD), but it also exposes interviews with band members, and Buddy Guy, as well as archival video, and a photo gallery with many never before seen photographs. Especially memorable is the footage of Electric Flag at Newport Folk Fest and film clips from an early ’70s Soundstage PBS-TV show featuring Muddy Waters, Jr. Wells, and Gravenites. The praise-filled interviews have been visually edited to have a retro look. Overall, the DVD unfolds like a well-written special feature in your favorite blues magazine.
Recorded in stereo on October 15, 2004, at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn, Illinois, Gravenites performs while seated throughout. On Born In Chicago Mandel’s guitar screeches in the background. The title track contains a relaxed groove that is welcoming and familiar. At times, as on this song, the tiny stage makes it a challenge for the camera operators to maintain a non-obstructed view. Walk Away exhibits the warbling vibrato vocals of Nelson. During the song, you can tell Siegel loves the performance. This image echoes his interview exclamation, “We love the blues”. The deepest blues emerges on Left Handed Soul. Here, the electric piano is audacious, while the organ is haunting. The keyboards punch out and make Slim Harpo’s Miss You Like The Devil a rock’n shuffle while Nelson’s vocals command enthusiasm. Drinkin’ Wine is an out right fun song that jumps and rocks at the same time. Delbert McClinton’s I Need All The Help I Can Get contains the best rhythm and a dose of funk. Death Of Muddy Waters is traditional electric blues performed in honor of its ultimate purveyor. Mandel’s wicked guitar is showcased on Snake while Lay kicks out incomparable vocals on a medley of classic rock ‘n’ roll. Additionally, you’ll hear boogie rock and psychedelic blues-rock.
Gravenites’ vocals aren’t strong; Mandel’s heavy guitar is outlandish, while Goldberg’s keys are scintillating. The title of the virtuous group is a bit misleading since Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf are the golden era artists that come to mind when you think of Chicago Blues. It is doubtful the artists who comprise this super group would land near the top of an exhaustive Chicago Blues listing. The fact remains; they were actively part of the Chicago Blues scene and were mentored by its golden era prophets. After watching the DVD, you walk away with nothing but respect and admiration for these artists. They achieved what no one had done before them and, thankfully, some of them have persevered so a new generation can enjoy them and hear their worthy story.