(b. July 30, 1936 in Lettsworth, Louisiana)
Born the son of a sharecropper, George “Buddy” Guy came to Chicago in 1957 and by 1958 was recording for the Cobra label along with the great Otis Rush. He quickly established himself, along with Rush and Magic Sam, as a major force on the scene. His unique slashing guitar style was in stark contrast to Otis Rush, whose guitar style was more lyrical and voice-like. Guy’s sound was driven by frenetic bursts of lightning-charged notes. His tormented vocal style was equally intense and flamboyant, and his dazzling on-stage energy made for a fireworks blues show. After Cobra folded, Guy signed with Chess records where he cut some of his greatest sides including “Let Me Love You Baby,” “My Time After Awhile,” and “Stone Crazy,” which went to #12 on the Billboard R&B charts. During this time Guy became Chess Records’ house guitarist, recording with many of the greatest names in blues including Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson #2, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Koko Taylor, to name a few. In 1966 Guy accompanied his good friend and long-time partner Junior Wells on Delmark’s Hoodoo Man Blues; he was not initially credited for the recording as he was still under contract with Chess. Guy left Chess in 1967 and moved to the Vanguard label. He released the powerhouse A Man and the Blues in 1968. The 70s saw Guy releasing just a few inconsistent records that garnered little attention. One exception was Stone Crazy, released in 1971. This Paris session found Buddy Guy in exceptional form. The bare-bones accompaniment provided by J. W. Williams on bass, Ray Allison on drums and Buddy’s younger brother Phil Guy (a formidable guitarist and singer in his own right) on rhythm guitar, allowed Buddy the freedom to stretch out naturally; the result is a great modern blues guitar recording. Although already a legend among blues fans and the rock guitar heroes including Hendrix, Clapton (who called Guy “the greatest guitar player alive”) and Stevie Ray Vaughn, Guy released no domestic recordings for nearly ten years. It wasn’t until the release of Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues that things changed for Buddy Guy. With the release of this album, Guy started appearing on national television and his career took off into another dimension. He has since taken the world stage by storm and, although he is still behind only B. B. King as the blues’ greatest star, he remains the king of Chicago Blues.
(b. July 1, 1935 in Tunica, Mississippi)
Cotton first learned the harmonica from Sonny Boy Williamson #2 with whom he lived for several years starting at age nine. As a teenager, Cotton gigged with Joe Willie Wilkins and Willie Nix, two of the most prominent bluesmen in the West Memphis region. His first recording break came from Sam Phillips at Sun Records where in 1953 he recorded “Straighten Up Baby” and then in 1954 “Cotton Crop Blues.” Later that year Muddy Waters saw Cotton in Memphis and invited him to Chicago to replace Junior Wells, but Chess Records insisted that Little Walter play on most of Muddy’s studio recordings until 1958. The shadow that Little Walter cast over all harp players of that time was daunting. In spite of this, Cotton created one of the most powerful and unique harp styles of all time. The sheer size of his tone has never been matched and, combined with a drummer’s acute sense of time and rhythm, he was a force to be reckoned with.
By the mid-60s Cotton was ready to go out on his own. He recorded, most notably, for Vanguard and Prestige. In 1967 he made his first full-length recording for the Verve label. In 1974, Cotton signed with Buddah Records and recorded the seminal Chicago Blues album 100% Cotton. This recording ushered in the funk and rock-oriented, crossover music that led to the contemporary Chicago Blues sound; the mixture of this raw, driving sound with crisp, tight funk rhythms and a heavier rock-flavored attack created a blistering, high-energy soulful stew that drew on the popular music styles of the time. These contemporary sounds were especially attractive to the younger musicians in Chicago who were less interested in playing traditional blues and more excited about what they were hearing on the radio: mainly funk, rock and rock-jazz. Cotton’s band managed to flawlessly integrate these influences on a level that has not been seen since. Made up most notably of Matt “Guitar” Murphy on guitar, Charles Calmese on bass, and Kennard Johnson on drums, the group cooked with a super-charged precision, mixing all of the best qualities of blues, rock, funk and jazz that perfectly complemented Cotton’s relentless energy and powerful harp playing. The group created a legitimate crossover that changed the sound of Chicago Blues and set the stage for the new generation of Chicago players. Of all the great Chicago harmonica players, James “Super Harp” Cotton’s sheer breadth of work and endurance in the business for over six decades stands out above the rest.
Magic Slim & the Teardrops proudly uphold the tradition of what a Chicago blues band should sound like. Their emphasis on ensemble playing and a humongous repertoire that allegedly ranges upwards of a few hundred songs give the towering guitarist's live performances an endearing off-the-cuff quality: you never know what obscurity he'll pull out of his oversized hat next. Born Morris Holt on August 7, 1937, the Mississippi native was forced to give up playing the piano when he lost his little finger in a cotton gin mishap. Boyhood pal Magic Sam bestowed his magical moniker on the budding guitarist (and times change as Slim's no longer slim). Holt first came to Chicago in 1955, but found that breaking into the competitive local blues circuit was a tough proposition. Although he managed to secure a steady gig for a while with Robert Perkins' band (Mr. Pitiful & the Teardrops), Slim wasn't good enough to progress into the upper ranks of Chicago bluesdom.
So he retreated to Mississippi for a spell to hone his chops. When he returned to Chicago in 1965 (with brothers Nick and Lee Baby as his new rhythm section), Slim's detractors were quickly forced to change their tune. Utilizing the Teardrops name and holding onto his Magic Slim handle, the big man cut a couple of 45s for Ja-Wes and established himself as a formidable force on the South side. His guitar work dripped vibrato-enriched nastiness and his roaring vocals were as gruff and uncompromising as anyone's on the scene. All of a sudden, the recording floodgates opened up for the Teardrops in 1979 after they cut four tunes for Alligator's Living Chicago Blues anthology series. Since then, a series of nails-tough albums for Rooster Blues, Alligator, and a slew for the Austrian Wolf logo have fattened Slim's discography considerably.
The Teardrops weathered a potentially devastating change when longtime second guitarist John Primer cut his own major-label debut for Code Blue, but with Slim and bass-wielding brother Nick Holt still on board, it's doubtful the quartet's overall sound will change dramatically in Primer's absence. In 1996, Slim signed with Blind Pig and has cut some of the most-celebrated albums of his career, including Scufflin' in 1996, Black Tornado in 1998, Snakebite in 2000, and Blue Magic in 2002. A live recording taped in 2005 at the Sierra Nevada Brewery was released that same year on both DVD and CD as Anything Can Happen. Tin Pan Alley, a set of recordings made between 1992 and 1998 in Chicago and Europe, was released in 2006 by Austria's Wolf Records. Midnight Blues appeared in 2008.
Despite the prominent presence of celebrated blues artist Howlin' Wolf in her family tree, singer Zora Young grew up singing not blues, but gospel. Even when the Mississippi native shook off her roots at the age of seven to relocate with her family to Chicago, she attended the Greater Harvest Baptist Church and continued to sing gospel. It wasn't until later that she switched over to R&B, and evolved into a powerhouse blues vocalist with three decades of experience behind her. She has performed with a long list of artists, including Junior Wells, Jimmy Dawkins, Bobby Rush, Buddy Guy, Professor Eddie Lusk, Albert King, and B.B. King. Her recording credits include collaborations with Willie Dixon, Sunnyland Slim, Mississippi Heat, Paul deLay, and Maurice John Vaughn, among others.
Her own recordings as a solo artist include releases from the labels Deluge, Black Lightning, and Delmark. Young has also performed on both stage and television. She is a veteran of more than 30 tours of Europe, and has been a featured performer three times at the Chicago Blues Festival. She has performed throughout North America, and on stages in Italy, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, France, Switzerland, Greece, Austria, Tai Pei, and Turkey. Her albums include 1991's Travelin' Light from Deluge Records and two releases from Delmark Records, Learned My Lesson in 2000 and Tore Up from the Floor Up in 2005.
When your mother plays nothing but the Blues in the house, your cousin is Blues titan Magic Sam, and you grow up in the same building with him on the west side of Chicago, you have little choice but to be firmly rooted in the Blues.
As a teenager, Mike remembers all the backyard barbecue parties that Sam hosted. ‘’Man, he loved to barbecue. He used to have them all the time. And I remember all kind of Blues musicians and singers like Otis Clay, Tyrone Davis, Betty Wright used to come around. Sam would cook and play Blues on the back porch every chance he could. You could smell the barbecue clear down the street and all way at the end of the alley…’’ Already a singer in his teens, Mike soaked up as much as he could from his cousin, Magic Sam. In the middle seventies, Mike started singing at the Majestic Lounge on 14th and Pulaski with house Blues bands, Scotty And the Rib Tips and Johnny B. Moore. He remembers, “It was something, man, back then The Majestic was the after-gig joint. A lot of musicians would go there after their shows and just hang out. People like Lee Shot Williams, Mac Thompson, Johnny Dollar, Mary Lane. It was like a big family.” It is easy to understand how growing up so close to such R&B and soul singers as Otis Clay and Tyrone Davis could lead Mike down the path to R&B and soul music where he has focused much of his career. “I’m not on the Blues circuit, but that’s where my roots are. I couldn’t deny it if I wanted to. Giving me a good Blues tune to sing is like taking me back home.”
Ronnie Baker Brooks
When he debuted with Golddigger in 1998, much of the blues world was already familiar with Ronnie Baker Brooks via his long apprenticeship as bandleader for living legend patriarch, Lonnie Brooks. His primal effort helped him earn a WC Handy Award nomination for ''Best New Blues Artist'' and enough encouragement from fans and media to light the runway for takeoff of a successful solo career.
Ronnie's second cd, Take Me Witcha, was released in 2001. By now, he was creating a major stir among the music community as a new kind of blues songsmith. He was writing scintillatingly youthful and urban compositions framed with pyrotechnic guitar work and the unbridled energy of a band more akin to rock and roll than anything else.
His career since has successfully navigated a path through the heaving landscape of independent music marketing, revealing how todayâ€™s talented artist can achieve unprecedented self-determination in their careers with hard work, intelligent marketing and grass roots loyalty. The four years spent carefully cultivating his latest recordings have paid great dividends with The Torch, the epitome of a courageous and genre-bending release. Heart and soul are laid bare on track after track as bridges are built between more traditional concepts of blues music and modern freedoms of expression.
An apt analogy, ''The Torch'' symbolizes Ronnie Baker Brook's role in the evolution of contemporary blues. A legacy steeped in the Chicago music tradition, he is ignited by passion for the family craft and fueled by the responsibility of being crowned steward of the form by some of its most venerable masters. Ronnie bears the flame of a generations-old muse to an ever-widening modern audience.