I was born and raised in Chicago and one of the few guys who are into the blues who come from Chicago, most come from somewhere else, and I started listening to blues in the sixties. I remember going down to Maxwell Street when I was a young kid. My parents were factory workers so we didn’t have a lot of money so they used to buy stuff at Maxwell Street and I remember specifically going down there when my parents bought lamps there and I remember coming out of this store carrying the lamp, I must have been five or six years old, and seeing these guys with harmonicas and stuff jumping around outside of the store. It made an impression on me.
Being from Chicago you knew that blues was around because you would put the radio on at night and you’d flip the stations and come across Big Bill Hill, and that stuff sounded kinda nice and then, as I got a little older, I started getting into music when I was in high school. This was in the late sixties and a bunch of friends of mine, we would go to these hippy places. There was a place called the Electric Theatre and the Aragon, called The Cheater at the time, and they would have Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead and stuff and the opening acts used to be like B.B. King and Muddy Waters. The first blues band I ever saw was Muddy Waters and this was the late sixties. I remember all the psychedelic lights going on in the background and it all sounded so great. There was a weekly paper that used to come out called The Seed, an underground thing, and on the back page they used to have a listing of clubs and what was happening and one of the clubs they listed was Muddy Waters at Peppers, so I thought we should go there.
So we took the El down there and first of all I didn’t realize what type of neighborhood it was, it was pretty rough down there. We didn’t realize it was a bar until we got down there but they let us in anyway and we could buy beer, so that opened up a whole new world for us. So after that I started going to other clubs. You would hear about one club from another club and you would realize that Muddy was playing all over the place. Some of the clubs were Theresa’s and there were bigger places like the Burning Spear and High Chaparral, which was where the likes of B.B. King would play, The Golden Checkmate, and there were a million little places like that on the West side, places like Ma Bea’s and Walton’s Corner. So we started running around and I discovered there were like minded people like myself out there, like Bruce Iglauer (Alligator Records) and the Koesters (Delmark Records), so I got to meet them and became running buddies with them and with Jim and Amy O’Neal. (Founders of Living Blues Magazine and The Blues Foundation)
I was always a closet player. I would watch these guys play and go home and try to play like them, which I wasn’t able to do. I would sit in as well but I was always shy about that stuff, but the guys figured if you went to these black clubs there were chances you were a musician, which most of the guys like me were. So once in a while they would force you to come up and play, so I started to play a little bit and then got to know some of the musicians better and I then started to play with a band here and a band there.
Back then I was mixing with Son Seals, James Cotton, Fenton Robinson and others. I used to go out every night, and even during the weekdays there was fifteen or so clubs to go to. This was the late sixties and seventies through to the eighties. I saw so many musicians like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Freddy King, Earl Hooker, Easy Baby, Big Bad Ben Murphy and some other more obscure guys, Highway Man, Tail Dragger and the other Howlin’ Wolf imitators. You could keep going all night long, going from one club to another, there was so much music then.
Then I hooked up with another like minded guy named Studebaker John and back then he played harmonica, although he plays slide now. We started a little band and started playing some of the North side clubs when they first started opening. As a matter of fact we were one of the first bands to play the Kingston Mines and there was a place called Biddy Mulligan’s and the Wise Fools and all those kind of places. After that I played some gigs with Mojo Buford, who played with Muddy Waters off and on, and it was Mojo who told me that Muddy needed a band and a couple of days later we went to Muddy’s house and he asked me if I would join his band and I was newly married at the time so I had to get the OK, but my wife was pretty understanding. I was in my late twenties at the time and this was in 1980.
I was with Muddy from 1980 through to 1983. The first thing Muddy said to me is do I have a passport and I didn’t at the time but he wanted us to fly out the following Monday. This was before all the terrorist stuff and he told me to go to the office and tell them I was working with Muddy Waters and I would get a passport. So I went to the office and told them this and I got a passport the same day. The first gig I played with Muddy was in Jersey in the UK. The first couple of weeks in the band I was the road manager as Muddy had hired Jimmy Rogers to play for a couple of weeks in the interim while he got his band together.
At that time Muddy had in his band John Primer, Lovie Lee, Earnest Johnson, Jessie Clay the drummer. He wrote ‘Mom’s Apple Pie’ later, but he wasn’t the right fit on drums so Muddy then got Ray Allison and that was pretty much the band until Muddy died. This was a full time thing for me although Muddy would take a few weeks off when he got back into town, so I would go and do some rehabbing and stuff around town just to keep money coming in. I was fixing up buildings and things, which a lot of my friends were doing, and it’s an easy thing to do.
After Muddy passed on I then rejoined Studebaker John and he was doing pretty well for himself, but at the time I was working a day job and was in the process of adopting a couple of kids, so there was a lot going on, so when John started to travel I split off as I had other stuff going on at home. After that I played with a lot of guys around town, whoever would call for a gig, such as Fenton Robinson when he was living in Springfield, Illinois. I played with Bill Warren, Tail Dragger and then I met Rockin’ Johnny in the early nineties and we kind of got along and we did Tail Dragger’s first full CD and he needed a sideman one night at Smoke Daddy’s and he asked if I would do it again, and some years later we still worked together often.
When Rockin’ Johnny was off the scene for a while, I did the Chicago Harmonica Project thing and toured off of that for a while and then I did some stuff for the late George Paulus and I played with Little Arthur Duncan, because I knew Little Arthur through Johnny, and he was doing really well until he passed away. I’ve been doing some work with Mud Morganfield. B.L.U.E.S on Halsted had a Christmas party at a little restaurant during the day so a lot of musicians turned up and this big guy sits next to me and he introduced himself as Muddy Water’s son and that’s when he first came on the scene and he has since done well for himself and I play with him when he calls me.
Over the years I’ve recorded with Muddy Waters, Rockin’ Johnny, Studebaker John, Mud Morganfield, the Blues Harmonica Projects, Little Mack Simmons, Big Mojo Elem, Tail Dragger, Easy Baby, Classie Ballou, Ronnie Hawkins, Maxwell Street Kings for Delmark, Harmonica Hinds, John Primer and a whole load of others.
My guitar style is more of a rhythm player; backing up people that’s what I like to do and what I have always done. Not a lot of people play like this anymore. Some of my favorite guys from music are the likes of Sammy Lawhorn, Louis Myers and Eddie Taylor.