Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
MIKE WHEELER BAND
With special guests
October 4, 2016
FitzGerald’s, Berwyn, IL
Mike Wheeler Pulls Out All Stops at FitzGerald’s on “Bluesday Tuesday”
By Robin Zimmerman
photos: Roman Sobus
photos: Roman Sobus
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Mike Wheeler was the latest to join a roster that has included everyone from Sugar Blue and Toronzo Cannon to Lurrie Bell, the Kinsey Report and many others. But while the previous artists had the crowd’s undivided attention, Wheeler had to contend with other events taking place elsewhere in the club on October 4th.
This seasoned performer and his ultra-tight band proved to be more than up to the task of cutting through the clutter of the Vice Presidential Debate, the American League Wild Card playoffs and the bluegrass group playing in FitzGerald’s Side Bar. Wheeler took the stage promptly at 7 p.m. and the club was already packed with paying customers. The tables were all taken and even a spot at the bar was a hot commodity.
The tables turned quickly when Wheeler launched into “Turn Up!” the title track from his latest Delmark release. This opening number had many jumping up from their staked out spaces and hitting the dance floor with a vengeance.
Wheeler, a 2014 inductee into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame, certainly has the affability factor to match his musical chops and showmanship. He regaled the crowd with several stories that ran the gamut from the band being in Paris during the 2015 attacks to a tale leading into a song about a “big mistake” when a woman did him wrong.
Both songs “Sad State of Affairs” and “You Won’t Do Right” were penned by Wheeler and available on his 2016 release. The backing band, which includes the always-animated Larry Williams on bass, Cleo Cole on drums and keyboardist Brian James played on both the CD and on-stage at FitzGerald’s.
Harp player, Billy Prewitt, joined the band on “Sad State of Affairs” and was the first of Wheeler’s special guests who were invited on stage throughout the course of the evening. Marty Sammon and Al Spears came on later on to play keyboard and guitar respectively.
wrote all but one song on Turn Up,
he also performed some masterful cover versions during his star turn at
FitzGerald’s. Asking if there were any Allman Brothers’ fans in the
house, he made a few jokes about not playing their music before ripping
into a crowd-pleasing rendition of the band’s “You Don’t Love Me.”
Wheeler also showed his chops on Buddy Guy’s “Damn Right, I Got the Blues.” Wheeler cited Marty Sammon’s “perfect timing” as the keyboard player came into the club right before the song’s start. Sammon, who has toured with Otis Clay and both Phil and Buddy Guy, looked on approvingly as Wheeler tore into this classic number.
Wheeler took another page from Buddy Guy’s playbook when he came out among the crowd to play guitar on “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” a track from his first Delmark release. With Prewitt doing double-duty as flashlight holder, Wheeler walked around and wailed on his guitar for over 8 minutes before taking a well-deserved break.
There was no letting up on the second set. Wheeler came on with “Sweet Girl,” which is the opening track on his Turn Up CD. After the crowd was back on the dance floor, Wheeler kept them in motion until the show wrapped up at 10 pm.
Second set highlights included a nod to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s birthday prefacing a pitch-perfect version of “Pride and Joy” as well as a great take on “Have You Ever Loved a Woman.” Here, Wheeler displayed the vocal chops that have been likened to the late Sam Cooke. He then segued back into high-energy mode with “Sweet Home Chicago.”
DJ Marker has said that musicians really seem to enjoy playing the iconic roadhouse in Berwyn. Last year, he noted that, “FitzGerald’s books blues regularly but it tends to be touring musicians from other towns. So far, “Bluesday Tuesday” has only featured local blues artists. It has a nice stage, with good sound and the crowds have been very good. Appreciative and enthusiastic.”
Wheeler’s performance certainly registered with the many enthusiastic blues lovers on board for the October edition of “Bluesday Tuesday.” Marker will be switching gears a bit for the next event on Tuesday, November 1st -- that’s when former Detroit auto worker, Larry McCray, will take the stage and bring his brand of Motor-City based blues to Berwyn.