Illinois Blues concert, Chicago, Sept. 7
Illinois blues, primarily of the non-Chicago variety, takes the spotlight in Chicago's Millenium Park on Thursday, Sept. 7, from 6:30 to 9:45 p.m., as part of the Great Performers of Illinois series Sept. 6-9. Chicago’s Queen of the Blues, Koko Taylor, and her daughter Cookie (Joyce Threatt), who runs the Koko Taylor Celebrity Aid Foundation, will co-host the program with curator Jim O’Neal of Living Blues Magazine.
Schedule (Jay Pritzker Pavilion):
6:30 p.m. Introductions
6:40 p.m. Black Magic Johnson (Springfield)
7:15 p.m. Jimmy Binkley with Preston Jackson (Peoria)
7:55 p.m. David Dee (East St. Louis)
8:45 p.m. Koko Taylor (Chicago)
Black Magic Johnson is a Springfield blues unit featuring vocalist, drummer and harmonica player Reggie Britton, who also writes most of the group’s material. Britton, who came to Springfield from East St. Louis in 1988, was voted the city’s Best Blues Artist in an Illinois Times entertainment poll. Britton played with the legendary blues pianist Eddie Snow (who recorded for Sun Records in Memphis) for several years and has worked with other blues, rock, country, and folk groups, including the Tom Irwin Band. “It was Eddie Snow who told me to take the torch,” Britton says. “He said he was giving it to me to run with, and it was Tom Irwin who helped me carry that torch to the next level.” Britton formed Black Magic Johnson to perform what he describes as “the plain old blues” -- but plain the music is not, thanks to Britton’s zest and originality. B.M.J. has worked as a duo and a trio and, on occasion, with additional members. The current lineup features Britton, guitarist Scott Neese, and bassist Chris Warren.
Jimmy Binkley was born and raised on Chicago’s West Side, where he learned blues and jazz piano well enough to form his own quintet and record for the legendary Checker, Chance, Dot, and Aladdin labels in the 1950s. His band traveled with such stars as the Flamingos and Della Reese, and on one tour in 1960 he ended up in Peoria. “I came here to play two weeks and I’ve been here ever since,” he says. Longstanding gigs at local nightclubs, restaurants and piano bars have kept Binkley occupied for the past 46 years. The MC at some of his early Peoria shows was comedian Richard Pryor, and Pryor later called his old friend Binkley to Hollywood to perform in the movie Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling. Preston Jackson, noted Peoria visual artist who is also a veteran guitarist, is another longtime Binkley associate. While some of Binkley’s 1950s recordings have been reissued on CDs overseas, none of his songs were big hits in the ‘50s and he says he rarely, if ever, even performed them on his shows. But he has been relearning them and honing his blues repertoire to play at the Millenium Park concert, which he says will be his first performance in Chicago since he moved to Peoria.
Singer-guitarist David Dee is best known for his 1980s blues hit Going Fishing, which took him from the local clubs of East St. Louis to the national soul-blues “chitlin circuit.” Dee, a native of Greenwood, Mississippi, moved to East St. Louis as a youngster and except for a stay in Chicago and a stint in the army, he has lived there ever since. Dee started as a spiritual singer and later formed his own group, David and the Temptations. A booking agent in Springfield, Illinois, suggested the name David Dee to him (his real name is David Eckford), and that’s the name he has used on all of his recordings – five albums so far, along with several singles. Dee has been called the St. Louis area’s premier contemporary bluesman. His other moniker is ‘Workin’ Man,” and a hardworking man indeed he is. Recently retired from a construction job, he now works for the East St. Louis Police Department and still performs regularly with his Hot Tracks band, augmented on special occasions by his three daughters who also sing.
Koko Taylor has lived in the Chicago area ever since took the bus from Memphis to the Windy City in 1953. She recorded her biggest hit, Wang Dang Doodle, for Chess Records in 1965, and for the past 31 years she has been with Alligator Records. Koko has won more Blues Music or Handy awards than any other blues artist, male or female. Koko’s life has been a success story of the kind that’s rare in the blues, but she has always wanted to reach out and share, not just with her audiences but with other blues artists. To provide help for the blues community, Koko and her daughter Cookie started the Koko Taylor Celebrity Aid Foundation. Cookie, an Illinois native, born in Chicago, has contributed years of work to Koko’s career and to the foundation, which assists musicians with legal and medical issues.
As a prelude to the Thursday night show, two additional blues acts, Bobbye’ King and The Lady’s Choice Band from Peoria and one-man band Nuwki Nu from Seneca, will open the Sept. 7 blues festivities at the Prairie State Stage (Wrigley Square) from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
11:30 am. Nuwki Nu
12:15 p.m. Bobbye’ King & The Lady’s Choice Band
Bobbye' King & The Lady's Choice Band have emerged as one of central Illinois' leading blues acts over the past decade. Bobbye' King was born in Birmingham, Alabama, but her family moved to Peoria when she was a baby. She always wanted to be a singer, and leading her own band has been a dream come true for the husky-voiced vocalist who is well regarded both for her performances and her gracious personality. Although she has sung at Blue Chicago and played at various festivals in the Midwest and South, the Great Performers of Illinois show marks her first major Chicago festival appearance.
Nuwki Nu is a former resident of Chicago and Detroit now living in Seneca, Illinois, and performing as a one-man band. He represents a generation of African American culture in which, as he says, "I was programmed not to play the blues." But the Georgia-born keyboard and harmonica player has followed his own instincts to renew what he views as an honored and still relevant artistic and cultural form. Among his three self-produced CDs is Nuwki Nu ABC Blues Jam, a musical learning tool designed to teach a baby the ABC's. Nuwki Nu's performing territory of late has been the area north and west of Chicago. The Great Performers of Illinois concert is his first-ever appearance at a major festival.
Curator of the Illinois Blues concerts is blues historian/producer Jim O'Neal, a founding editor of Living Blues: The Magazine of the African-American Blues Tradition. Living Blues was founded in Chicago in 1970, when O'Neal was a journalism student at Northwestern University. Living Blues has always devoted extensive coverage to the traditional bases of blues such as Chicago, Mississippi and Memphis, but the magazine has also documented activity in many areas not generally known for blues. Plans are underway to expand the research undertaken to find blues performers for Great Performers of Illinois into a special issue of Living Blues devoted the various local African-American blues traditions of downstate and western Illinois. Blues performers from Carbondale, Champaign, East St. Louis, Springfield, Rockford, Galesburg, Bloomington, Cairo, Rock Island, and Peoria will be featured in the magazine and hopefully on future Great Performers of Illinois programs. Anyone with information on blues from these or other towns around Illinois is encouraged to contact O'Neal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Among the many other acts booked for the Great Performers of Illinois concerts (including folk, rock, jazz, hip hop, and square dance performers), the following should also be of interest to many blues aficionados:
Thursday, Sept. 7, 4:30 p.m., Brownie Stage (Base of BP Bridge): Ellis Kell & Detroit Larry Davison (Quad Cities)
Thursday, Sept. 7, 5:30 p.m., Brownie Stage (Base of BP Bridge): Ray Buckner (Champaign)
Saturday, Sept. 10, 3:00 p.m., White Tailed Deer Stage: Sharon Clark (Carbondale)
For a complete schedule, see http://egov.cityofchicago.org/webportal/COCWebPortal/COC_EDITORIAL/GPILschedule2.pdf.
Great Performers of Illinois is sponsored by the Illinois Arts Council, the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, the Illinois Bureau of Tourism, the Illinois Department of Economic Opportunity, and the Chicago Office of Tourism, with participation by local agencies throughout the state.
Great Performers of Illinois information is available at http://www.877chicago.com/ , http://www.enjoyilllinois.com/ , or by calling toll free 1.877.Chicago (1.877.244.2246). For further media inquiries, contact Elizabeth Walasin Lulla of the Chicago Office of Tourism at 312.742.2036 or email@example.com.
For help in locating, researching and recommending blues artists in Illinois, thanks to:
Steve Truesdale and Judy Burgess of the Illinois Central Blues Club in Springfield, Dave Beardsley of STLBlues.net, the Central Illinois Jazz Society and PeoriaJazz.com, John May of B.B.’s Jazz, Blues & Soups in St. Louis, Bob Keiser of the River City Blues Society in Peoria, Brenda Haskins and Lou Dare in Kansas City, Mitch Haskins at Meridian High School in Pulaski County, Lois Clark in Bloomington, Evan Jones in Belleville, James Davis in Cairo, Delta Frank Black in Clinton, the legendary Snooky Pryor and his family from Ullin, Illinois, and a special thanks to Barry Dolins of the Chicago Blues Festival for helping us plan this event. Thanks also to all the folks at the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Office of Tourism who have worked so hard to make all this happen, including Claire Sutton, Marisa Wallen, Dayna Calderon, Dylan Rice, and Jason Moy.
-- Jim O’Neal