Tribute – Delmark’s 65th Anniversary
Delmark Records has two milestones this year- they are celebrating their 65th Anniversary in Jazz and Blues record recording and production and the transition and sale of ownership from founder and owner Bob Koester to new President and CEO Julia Miller and Vice President and Artistic Director Elbio Barilari. Steve Wagner remains aboard as Label & Studio Manager.
Bob Koeseter turns 86 in October and thought it was time that the business move on without him. “I’m getting old. When we quit the store downtown, I thought maybe I’d retire, and then somebody offered me a nice jazz LP collection.” Bob closed up shop in February, 2016, but then opened up a much smaller store. He transitioned from Jazz Record Mart downtown to Bob’s Blues & Jazz Mart on West Irving Park Road. I suspect that as long as he has a breath Bob will be at his record store, listening to records and enjoying himself and others who enjoy music.
Even though his departure from the retail business was only a temporary blip, Koester did privately shop around the studio and record production business as he left his retail downtown home. Miller and Barilari were both members of the band Volcano Radar and are big into the Chicago music scene. They have a 5 year plan as to how to advance the record recording business and build on Koester’s 65 year legacy that began in St, Louis as Delmar Records. He hawked records at the jazz clubs there and named the business after a street that was home to many a jazz club. The name changed to include his initial at the end of the business name and he shoved off to Chicago in 1958.
Koester helped launch many a career in Chicago’s jazz scene, and was most instrumental in making Chicago Blues into, well, Chicago Blues. Junior Wells, Magic Sam and so many other greats were recorded and grace his label. Other record labels were created by former Delmark associates. Everyone who knows about Alligator Records knows Bruce Iglauer emerged from working at Delmark in the 1960’s to form Alligator and knows of their great success. We also have Michael Frank’s Earwig Music label, Chuck Nessa’s Nessa Records, Jim O’Neal’s Rooster Records and Living Blues magazine that all also sprang out of working for Delmark and Bob Koester. The blues world would be significantly different without Mr. Koester.
Miller and Barilari acquired the rights to Delmark and all the labels they purchased over the years plus a huge inventory of CDs and even some records. Koester wanted to make sure the entire label remained as a package and the new owners, who both play and teach music in Chicago, looked at the opportunity to link to a known entity rather than start fresh with an indie label of their own. One of their first releases is titled Tribute: Delmark’s 65th Anniversary. Rather than produce another 5 year anniversary “greatest hits” format CD, the recordings are new tributes to the artists that quintessentially released music that achieved fame. This was planned prior to the sale as was the Chicago Blues fest event entitled, “65th Anniversary of Delmark Records Celebration” which was the highlight of opening night of this year’s Chicago Blues Fest.
The CD and Blues Fest Event both featured current blues stars paying tribute to stars past. The album opens with Omar Coleman and “Train I Ride,” a tribute to the late, great Junior Wells. Coleman shouts and howls the vocal lead. He reprised the cut nicely at the blues fest and was the last performer prior to the All Star get together at the end of the show. Both the CD and performance were priceless. Carey Bell is next to be remembered on the CD with “One Day You’re Gonna Get Lucky.” This featured sons Lurrie and Steve Bell on guitar and harp, a gritty and dirty cut that was a beautiful homage to Carey. Linsey Alexander and Billy Flynn then do “All for Business,” a tribute to Jimmy Dawkins. Dawkins was mentor to many a man and I had the pleasure to see him and Billy together at a post Blues Fest Chicago gig a few years ago that was just masterful. Here Alexander and Flynn sing and play as the listener is bathed in the warmth of Dawkin’s music. “Riverboat” is Demetria Taylors tribute to Big Time Sarah, and at the fest another legacy to the heyday of Chicago Blues joined her on stage at the fest. Tomiko Dixon, granddaughter of Willie Dixon joined Taylor on stage and both gave their all. Jimmy Burns pays respects to the great Big Joe Williams on “She Left Me a Mule to Ride” and it is and was another winner to listen to. Burns is a sublime performer deeply steeped in the history and sound of Chicago Blues himself. “Speak My Mind” is J.B. Hutto, the West Side Chicago shouter’s nephew Lil Ed and his teenage best friend Dave Weld who both learned from Hutto. They do a great job giving props to the slide master.
“Out of Bad Luck” is next, featuring 89 year young Jimmy Johnson on vocals and guitar and the great Dave Specter also on guitar. The youthfulness of Johnson’s vocals and the tone of both guitarists endure the legacy of Magic Sam not only remains intact but is broadcast superbly for new listeners to enjoy. It’s one of my faves from the album and the show! Corey Dennison and Gerry Hundt opened the show with Sleepy John Estes’ “Broke and Hungry.” They played as a duo with Dennison on vocals and guitar and Hundt on mandolin and harp. It was intense- so well done. Mike Wheeler’s “So Many Roads” Otis Rush tribute was another of my favorites. Wheeler has become a stalwart of the Chicago Blues scene. “Need Your Love So Bad” is Shirley Johnson’s tribute to Bonnie Lee, another fine effort. Ken Saydak’s “Boot That Thing” is the final cut, giving accolades to pianist Roosevelt Sykes. Saydak is out on the West Coast so any chance to hear and then see him is a treat.
The festival had a few additions to the set that were not on the album. Guy King did a great tribute to Willie Kent and later on the Tribute ended with an added treat- the Delmark artists flooded the stage for a final song and continued the ending tribute to Junior Wells. Guitarist Billy Flynn shed his guitar and played some wicked harp licks to open “Hoodoo Man Blues” and also did some more later along with a verse on the vocals. Billy is the ultimate musician and this tone and harp blowing were just spectacular on top of his outstanding guitar work. Other artists from earlier in the day joined the finale artists including Pierre Lacoque from Mississippi Heat; he really added to the fun. It was a spectacular finale to a great ending to the day.
The album is a wonderful accompaniment to the 65th anniversary of this landmark record label. I would recommend it to any blues music fan. Today’s Chicago Blues artists would not be here if it was not for Delmark Records and it was fitting to see such a great assemblage pay tribute to them in such an exemplary manner. Here is to Bob Koester and his wife Sue for their 65 years of creating and honing the sound of urban Chicago Blues and producing so many fine blues and jazz records. We hope the next 65 go as well as the new owners and their staff continue to make fine music for all of us to savor!