Over Fifty Years of Behind The Scenes Blues Adventures
181 pages Available in paperback or Kindle edition
For more than five decades, drummer Twist Turner – Steve Patterson – has been one of a cadre of blues musicians who devoted their lives to the music, their contributions often unrecognized by all but the most knowledgeable fans. In addition to backing a veritable who’s-who list of blues artists, the drummer also made a mark as a producer and songwriter. This autobiography finds him sharing his story, flavored with telling stories from his extensive personal experiences.
Originally from Seattle, Turner admits to having a love for music at a young age, beating on pots and pans to relieve his “drum crazy” feelings. Hearing a neighborhood band play “Wipeout” cemented his desire to pick up the sticks, culminating in his parents arranging for lessons on a rented drum set. He encountered the blues through records in his father’s collection, with Big Joe Turner, Louis Jordan, and Pinetop Smith among his favorites. But it was an appearance by Albert Collins at a local high school that firmly solidified Turner’s desire to be a blues drummer.
Eventually he ends up in the Issac Scott Trio. One of the few African-American blues artists in the Seattle area, Scott is described as a good singer and a “guitar playin’ fool” who was a big hit with the white audiences. There are several remembrances of Scott’s live shows, particularly the time the big man and his guitar ended up stuck in a phone booth. In 1975, Turner finally gave in to the siren call of Chicago, a move that require total immersion in a thriving blues scene. On his first night in town, producer Dick Shurman takes him down to Louise’s South Park Lounge where the Aces, with legendary drummer Fred Below, were holding court. The small club was full of people drinking, dancing, and celebrating life in a manner rarely seen in Seattle clubs.
Turner wastes no time in heading out to shows and jams at more than 200 clubs that featured live blues bands in those days. He ends up meeting artists like John Brim and Hound Dog Taylor, attending the regular Monday jams at venues like Eddie Shaw’s 1815 club and Buddy Guy’s Checkerboard Lounge. His efforts pay off when he gets a coveted spot in Junior Well’s band.
The drummer does an outstanding job of describing life on the road, where freezing temperatures coupled with broken heaters in broken-down cars are the norm. The scant pay is offset by the camaraderie of friendships with musicians like Hip Linkchan (Linkchain), Sunnyland Slim, and Byther Smith, who once shot dead a rat running across his living room floor. Chapters on Maxwell Street, the Delta Fish Market, and Florence’s club give readers a vivid picture of a bygone era. An 1,800 mile road trip with George “Wild Child” Butler nets the drummer a whopping $50 in pay for three gigs. Finances and apartments in buildings one step away from being condemned eventually prompt one of several returns to Seattle, where Turner regroups before the lure of the Chicago scene prompts a return, giving him another chance to experience the “social club” experience, where a loosely organized group of African-American women meet an assigned blues club to let their hair down.
Throughout the book, Turner highlights the extensive number of blues musicians he associated with over his lengthy career, names like L.V. Banks, Scotty & the Bad Boys, Johnny Dollar, Little Johnny Christian, and Porkchop, who played washboard on a number of early J.B. Hutto records. He also includes a chapter on the many Howlin’ Wolf imitators that frequented the clubs, including Necktie Nat, Taildragger, and the Highway Man. His journey includes a stop in New Orleans before finally settling down in the Oakland area, where he remains living off the proceeds from some real estate transactions.
If you have ever wondered what life is like for a working blues musician, this book will definitely set your mind straight. Turner’s book also celebrates his career as he brings to life the many characters and mentors he encountered along the way. It is a story well told, definitely recommended for anyone with an interest in blues music, especially in the history of the Chicago community.