Since I no longer know where "there" is, I can't answer that question. If the length of my hair and the fogginess of my brain is any indication, 2020 was unusual for more than a million reasons, not the least of which was that it was at least four times as long as a normal year. But, 2021 is finally here and, as reluctant as I am to look back, I will do it anyway. For perspective, I looked at what I wrote last year at this time––and it did not help my mental health:
"I can't say that 2019 was as bad as 2018, but no need to repeat much of it."
Wow...I wonder what I meant by that gloomy comment. Clearly, I had no clue what the word bad really meant. Looking back at 2020, it is too clear that it can in fact always get worse. However, to hold on to the last pieces of my own mental health, I will resurrect my Pollyanna hat. Yes...we will get to hear live music again sometime this year. Yes, we will find our new normal. Will Blues Fest be held? I hope so, but I won't hold my breath. So buckle up! We are still gonna be on a wild ride for a little while longer.
OUR BEST PHOTOS
Instead of the 70 or so shows we regularly shoot in a year, last year we made it to just 15. Thankfully, at least one of those events was the 34th Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, which was even more fun than you would even have expected it to be. CHECK OUT OUR FAVORITE SHOTS
2020 was a particularly tough year for too many reasons. We lost so many members of the blues community that the memories numb me. Our 2020 Obituary page has 95 names on it–and very few of them match the list that Rolling Stone has put out listing the musicians we lost this past year. TAKE A LOOK
REST IN PEACE
Joseph "Mojo" Morganfield, 56 4.14.64–12.10.20
The tragic death last month of Joe Morganfield, Muddy's youngest son, from a heart attack shocked me to my core. Joe was on the verge of seeing his music career take off this year, had just gotten married months before and was a father to seven children and two stepchildren. Every time we saw him, he had a big smile on his face and was always charming and kind to everyone who approached him.
It was a joyous thing to watch him blossom as a singer and performer channeling his incredible father. We were there when he got on stage at Legends to sing for the first time ever in front of an audience. It was a bit of a rocky start, but he worked hard and got better with each performance. Backed by a stellar group of musicians called the Mannish Boyz (Maurice John Vaughan, Chris Alexander, Rick Kreher and Mike Flynn), he was about to release a new CD on Delmark in 2021. And, just before he died, his newly released single, Good to Be King, was getting good reviews. Such a heartbreaking loss for his family and the Chicago blues community. READ THE SUN-TIMES OBIT
****************************** Hal Yeagy, 63 8.10.57–11.19.20
Yeagy was the much-loved owner of the Slippery Noodle Inn in Indianapolis, who transformed it from a simple lunch counter with two employees to an esteemed blues music destination. He died after a two-year battle with cancer. READ THE INDIANAPOLIS STAR STORY
Helen Woods Jones 11.14.23–7.25.20
Helen Jones Woods, a trombone player for the 1940s all-female jazz band, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, died of COVID-19 on July 25 in Sarasota, FL. READ THE OBIT
Justin Townes Earle 1.4.82–8.20.20
Townes Earle was not a blues musician, but he definitely was blues-ish. He was an American singer-songwriter and musician and the son of musician Steve Earle. He had released eight full-length albums before his death by suicide at 38.
TRY TO THINK POSITIVELY
CASTING CALL.Trinity Health is looking for a 50+ male or female that is a passionate musician who is willing to participate on camera in a :15 commercial that will run in the North Dakota region for two years. According to the casting call, "It is preferred, but not required, that that person have some history dealing with a heart condition or neurological condition so that we can portray their experience in an authentic way. Perhaps their ability to participate was impacted by this health issue, but after recovering they are back to their passion." Interested musicians should send the following information to email@example.com:
• Contact Info
• Health history with heart/neuro condition
• Field of music that they are passionate about and performance pictures or videos, if available
A FEW NOTES: The filming will be done in Chicago, it is a paid gig (assume scale) and they want the information (of course) ASAP–but definitely no later than "early next week." And, yes, I wondered why a hospital in ND would want to feature Chicago musicians, but didn't get an answer that made any sense to me. Probably why I am not in advertising.
DON'T START ME TALKIN'.I don't have much info right now, but director Kevin Mukherji and writer John McNaughton are supposedly in post-production with a documentary film about Chicago's own Tail Dragger. If I still had a subscription to IMDbPro, I might know more. The poster is kinda fun–and you know that Tail Dragger has more than a few stories to tell from his long career in the blues.
STREAM IT. There's a new streaming radio station online called ROCKIN 247 RADIO. According to its vision statement, it "will cover all all genres of music"...including rockabilly, rock ’n’ roll, R&B, doo wop, hillbilly, western swing, rockin’ blues, early surf and more. MUSICIANS: Note that the CONTACT US page has information on how to send your music to stream. FANS: Send (blues) song requests using the (duh) Song Request link at the top of the website. LEARN MORE
THINK POSITIVE. At press time, drummer Brian (BJ) Jones (most recently with Frank Bang and the Cook County Kings), was in the ICU at Advocate Christ Hospital. Jones is a highly respected drummer who has recorded with Junior Wells, James Cotton and Otis Rush, and was also the drummer in Magic Slim and The Teardrops.
DO WE CARE?The 63rd Annual Grammy Awards have been rescheduled from JAN 31 to SUNDAY, MAR 14. The statement released said in part, "After thoughtful conversations with health experts, our host and artists scheduled to appear, we are rescheduling the 63rd Annual GRAMMY Awards to be broadcast Sunday, March 14, 2021. The deteriorating COVID situation in Los Angeles"...yada yada yada. MY ANNUAL SNARKY GRAMMY COMMENT: It appears that the organizers of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards might dispute the "thoughtful conversations part" because the Grammy show is now on the same day as the SAG Awards. You would think that when they were thinking, they would have made sure their new date did not conflict with another awards show. Or does anyone really care?
FESTIVAL ALERT. Although I have not yet done a deep search to see what fests are scheduled yet, I did randomly come across dates for three great festivals in 2021, if they don't get rescheduled: APR 9–11Tampa Bay Blues Festival (St. Petersburg, FL)
And, at least this minute, the 2021 Chicago Blues Festival will be June 4–6. Send me a note if you know of other 2021 blues festivals coming up.
WALL ART. Our photog buddy Peter Hurley has a 2021 calendar featuring Chicago blues artists that is available through the Chicago Blues Network for $33 (including tax). There's also individual prints you can buy. Proceeds go directly to the performing artists and to the Firehouse Community Arts Center of Chicago in Lawndale.
WATCH AND LISTEN NOTHING MORE NEEDS TO BE SAID...EXCEPT MAYBE GOOD RIDDANCE How Low Can One Man Go?
Yes, this Dave Specter song from his new album, Blues From the Inside Out, is talking about that pathetic (excuse for a) man. It made me laugh just when I needed something to make me smile. And...it features Jorma Kaukonen!
BLAST FROM THE PAST International Sweethearts of Rhythm
What a band this was! I learned about them when I read about Helen Woods Jones, a trumpet player for the band who died this past summer at 96.
VIDEO Dream Land: Little Rock's West 9th Street
In the 1930s, Dreamland was a main stop on the "Chitlin Circuit," showcasing regional and national African-American bands in addition to local musicians, dances, socials, concerts and sporting events. Parts of this documentary are really hard to watch, but it is history that must be told. It shows that what happened in Tulsa's Greenwood District was horrifyingly not an aberration.
In the meantime, listen to blues online. A quick spin on Facebook will find a lot of options to get your blues fix.
NEW (AND NOT SO NEW) MUSIC
New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers | Volume 1 RELEASE DATE: 9.4.20 | Stony Plain Records
I will admit that at first I just liked the name–and then I was all in when I saw who was on this recording, which was made back in January 2008: Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, Jim Dickinson, Luther Dickinson and Cody Dickinson. This is the music I want to listen to 24/7. Sadly, Jim Dickinson (father of Luther and Cody) passed in the summer of 2009. BIG NEWS: Vol. 2 is coming in the spring with 11 more songs!
Dave Alvin | From an Old Guitar: Rare and Unreleased Recordings RELEASE DATE: 11.20.20 | Yep Roc Records
Sixteen songs (mostly covers) that range from acoustic folk rock to hard rockers from one of my all-time blues-ish favorites
John Lee Hooker | Live at Montreux 1983 & 1990 RELEASE DATE: 11.6.20 | Eagle Rock
A double LP (yes, vinyl) of John Lee's performances (with the Coast to Coast Blues Band) at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1983 and 1990.
John Németh | Stronger Than Strong RELEASE DATE: 8.14.20 | Nola Blue
Twelve tracks (10 originals) from this energetic singer/harp player
Lucky Losers | Godless Land RELEASE DATE: 7.14.20 | Vizz Tone
It's the fourth recording for this hot San Francisco band, led by Cathy Lemons and Phil Berkowitz. From the bawdy, jazzy blues of the 1920s through the R&B/soul of the early 1970s, there is something for everyone on this recording, which has nine original tracks out of 12.
COMING SOON Selwyn Birchwood | Living In A Burning House RELEASE DATE: 1.29.20 | Alligator
It's Birchwood's third release on Alligator and showcases this singer/songwriter and lap steel player at his best. It's produced by Grammy Winner Tom Hambridge and includes 13 originals.
Curtis Salgado | Damage Control RELEASE DATE: 2.26.21 | Alligator
Salgado puts out the kind of soul-tinged blues that I love...and it sounds like you can expect more of the same in this perfect stew of old school rock, R&B, soul and gospel.
I am having a hard time right now thinking about planning for the future, BUT...the folks at Hey Nonny in Arlington Heights apparently have more faith than I do and have announced that they will reopen in March (yes, in just a couple of months!):
Two shows a night (7 and 9pm)
MARCH 18 Joanna Connor
APRIL 1 The Kinsey Report
APRIL 15 Smiley Tillmon Band
APRIL 29 Duke Tumatoe
MAY 19 Jason Narducy and Dag Juhlin
Celebrating Pete Townsend's birthday (The listing says blues rock, but I am not sure about that.)
Jan 8 Shirley Bassey
Jan 10 Marcelo Zaine Jimmy Vivino
Jan 12 Mark Maddox Johnny Laws
Jan 13 Kid Ramos
Jan 14 Clarence Carter
Jan 16 Barbara Lynn Jennifer Littleton (B.L.U.E.S.)
Jan 17 Carlos Johnson E.G. Kight
Jan 18 Luther Dickinson Miles Minor Katherine Davis
Jan 19 Christone "Kingfish" Ingram Charlie Love
Jan 21 Kenny Kinsey Zora Young
Jan 22 Janine Judge
(Blues Heaven Foundation)
Jan 23 Ronnie Baker Brooks
Jan 24 Aaron Neville Johnny Belle Moore
Jan 26 Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton Huey “Piano” Smith
Jan 27 Kevin Johnson
Jan 28 Lori Lewis Bob “O” Walesa Arnell Powell
Jan 29 Louis Pérez Jr. Tom Crivellone
Jan 30 Rebecca Anne Lovell Samantha Fish Karen Carroll
Jan 31 Charlie Musselwhite
Feb 1 Sonny Landdreth Jeff Dale
Feb 2 Terry “Sonny Lee” Tritt
Feb 3 Brandon Santini
Feb 4 Curtis Salgado Jeremy Powell Frank Falduto Jason Ricci
Jan 8 Tampa Red Elvis Presley
Jan 9 Ishmon Bracey
Jan 10 Buddy Johnson Sam Chatmon Eddy Clearwater
Jan 11 Katie Webster Slim Harpo
Jan 12 Ruth Brown Mississippi Fred McDowell Jay McShann Long John Baldry
Jan 14 Allen Toussaint Paul "Lil' Buck" Alton Sinegal
Jan 15 Earl Zebedee Hooker Robert Wilkins
Jan 16 Lester "Mad Dog" Davenport
Jan 19 Henry Gray
Jan 20 Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter Luther Tucker John Campbell
Jan 21 Snooks Eaglin
Jan 22 Robert "Big Mojo" Elem Hammie Nixon Sam Cooke
Jan 25 Little Mack Simmons Sleepy John Estes Blind Willie Johnson Etta James
Jan 26 Guitar Shorty (aka John Henry Fortescue)
Jan 27 Andrew "Smokey" Hogg Elmore James Bobby "Blue" Bland
Jan 28 Cash McCall
Jan 29 Bobby King Eddie Taylor
Jan 31 Roosevelt Sykes Chuck Willis Paul deLay
Feb 1 Leroy Foster James P. Johnson Finis Tasby
BELATED BIRTHDAY WISHES
Dec 14 Linda Hopkins
Jan 1 Mama Yancey
TENTATIVE 2021 SCHEDULE (All newsletters mail on Thursday, the day before the issue date) JAN 8–FEB 4
FEB 5–MAR 4
MAR 5–APR 8
APR 9–MAY 6
MAY 7–JUNE 3
and more TBD
Alway subject to change in our crazy world.