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LIVE REVIEW -- Little Arthur Duncan Memorial Show

Little Arthur Duncan Memorial/Benefit

Rosa’s Blues Lounge

Chicago, IL

September 19, 2008

By Linda Cain


Tail Dragger: photo by Jennifer Wheeler

(To view more photos, click on above photo)

It was a fitting tribute to the late blues musician and former blues club owner, Little Arthur Duncan. What better way to remember this remarkable blues harp player and performer than to take a cozy blues club on the West Side and fill with his fans, friends, family and fellow musicians -- all drinking, dancing and groovin’ on a night of nonstop performances by some of the best blues players in town.

            Holding the event in the same club where Duncan filmed his dynamic performance for the Delmark DVD Little Arthur Duncan: Live At Rosa’s Blues Lounge served to complete the cycle of the artist’s life and career. Duncan’s DVD performance took place on August 18, 2007. Duncan passed away nearly a year to the date of that career highlight, on August 20, 2008. He was 74 years old.

Rosa’s was filled with the beloved harp player’s fellow musicians and fans, including a bevy of writers, photographers and DJs. Also in the house were Delmark’s Koester clan (Bob, Sue and Tom), Kevin Johnson and other movers and shakers from Chicago’s blues scene. It seemed like every other person in the bar was sporting either a harmonica, a guitar, a camera, or a cowboy hat.

Little Arthur’s ace backup band, The Backscratchers, anchored the event as the house band, which constantly rotated personnel throughout the evening, as more and more of the musical guests took a turn on stage.

The Backscratchers – Illinois Slim and Rick Kreher on guitars, Michael Azzi on bass and drummer Twist Turner -- kicked things off with some tasty blues jams, before calling Vernon Harrington on stage.  Eddy Clearwater’s cousin, who shares the family trait of playing left-handed guitar, performed moving covers of tunes by Magic Sam, Bobby Blue Bland and Albert King.

The next set featured another stellar backup band: Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums, bassist Bob Stroger and the “Green Bay Picker” Billy Flynn on guitar, while guitarist Kreher remained on stage. Dreadlocked vocalist/harp player Russ Green turned in a performance that pulled out all the stops, proving that he is in a league with players like Sugar Blue and Billy Branch.

Mud Morganfield, a.k.a. Muddy Waters, Jr., sang a tribute to his late, legendary father, and covered “I’m Going Out Walking,” “Honeybee,” and “Hoochie Coochie Man.” The very animated singer employed all of his dad’s mannerisms and facial expressions and was a lot of fun to watch.

The ageless and sassy vocalist Mary Lane was next, singing about not wanting the men folks bossing her around. She segued into a bit of “Kansas City” and closed with “Dust My Broom,” while accompanied by Billy Flynn sliding away like Elmore James.

Eddie C. Campbell then commanded the stage with his powerful vocals and versatile guitar stylings. He performed a captivating and lengthy set that ranged in style from funky blues to upbeat R&B.  Band personnel continued to play musical chairs as the night continued.

Cowboy-hatted singer Little Al Thomas, who appears on Little Arthur’s DVD as a guest vocalist, treated the crowd to a soulful set with his soaring tenor voice.

Zora Young gave an energetic performance of her self-penned tune, “Tore Up From the Floor Up,” that really rocked the house.  She followed with an emotion-packed slow, sad blues number (another fine original) about love gone wrong.

Tail Dragger’s performance can best be described as a cross between Nappy Brown and Howlin’ Wolf (may they both rest in peace). With a Wolf-like voice that sounds like a rusty gate dragging across a gravel road, Tail Dragger’s unique performances always mesmerize the audience. He was especially inspired this night in giving tribute to his late friend. As usual, he chose to perform in front of the stage, rather than stand on it.

 Whether wiggling his skinny frame like a snake or kneeling and bowing on the floor, his face to the ground, Dragger’s acting out the songs’ lyrics was a sight to behold. Everyone who had a camera or cell phone moved up front to join in the shooting frenzy.  Dragger knew precisely how to play to the camera or the crowd, striking poses and using his dark, piercing eyes to stare like he could see into your soul. Some director, somewhere, should cast this man in a movie!  Morgan Freeman, watch out.

Singer Willie Buck ended the evening, much the way it began, with a tribute to Muddy Waters.  His upbeat covers of “I’m A Man,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” and “Baby Please Don’t Go” sent the crowd home feeling satisfied.  Little Arthur surely would have approved.

To view photos of the event, click on Tail Dragger's photo at the top of the page

Copyright: Chicago Blues Guide, 2008


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