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Blues on the North Shore Review 2010 - Showcasing Five Generations of Blues

By Jonathan Rayfield

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Backstage at SPACE, many of the artists and host Bill Wax pose for a group photo. Photo by Dylan Rice

A burgeoning musical institution rings strong and bluesy as Blues on the North Shore 2010 presents its third annual concert series at Evanston's SPACE. The series bookends the Chicago Blues Fest, with concerts held on Thursday evening and on Sunday evening. Sunday’s line up promised 3 Generations of Blues: From Mississippi to Chicago, and in addition to over-delivering on their promise, the evening served as a birthday celebration for 95-year-old David “Honeyboy” Edwards, widely considered a living blues legend.

David "Honeyboy" Edwards

Blues on the North Shore  is a concert series produced and founded by Lynn Orman Weiss. This year's event, hosted by Bill Wax, host of XM radio’s B.B. King’s Bluesville Show. Beneficiaries of the event include  A Safe Haven, and the Grammy's Musicares Program, organizations that support musicians in need of health care, housing, and rehabilitation services. SPACE, housed behind Evanston’s Union Pizza, is a musician lovers venue, a raw space with state-of-the-art acoustics and sound equipment, designed by musicians for musicians. It was sure to be an evening filled with great music.

Backstage at SPACE with Charlie Musselwhite and Grady Champion. Photo by Alex Kluft

The evening started off with Grady Champion, a singer and harmonica player who recently led his group to win the 26th Annual Memphis International Blues Competition. Sporting a utility belt equipped with several different harps, Grady was more than ready to rock the mostly seated audience. He was ready to party. The band began the evening with high energy and kept on swinging through two numbers, what Grady referred to as “a taste”.  Even though Grady seemed frustrated with the feedback from the crowd (at many points wandering the crowd mid-solo to drum up the energy level), he continued pounding the crowd with shuffle and swagger. Grady possesses powerful talent, and could easily have commanded a crowd 100 times the capacity of the venue.

Allstar Birthday Jam featuring; Sugar Blue (Harp), Chris James (guitar), Johnny Drummer (drums), Patrick Rynn (bass), Charlie Musselwhite (Harp) perform with the birthday boy, David 'Honeyboy' Edwards for his 95th. Photo by Lynn ORman Weiss

The next group of the evening was the astonishing Homemade Jamz Blues Band, a family band hailing from Tupelo, Mississippi. The band was astonishing for multiple reasons. First, the oldest member, guitarist Ryan Perry, is 18-years-old with a voice like he just divorced his third wife. Second, their drummer and little sister, 11-year-old Taya, had rock-solid timing and great feeling. Third, bassist Kyle (16) and elder Ryan sported hand built instruments constructed from repurposed auto mufflers, and both knew how to handle their beautiful axes.  Finally, the group successfully disproved the assumption that young players can’t feel the blues. You couldn’t tell from looking at them, but these kids have gobs of soul.

John Primer solos while Grady Champion looks on. Photo by Lynn Orman Weiss

Next up was Chicago slide master and vocalist John Primer. Primer, boasting a career backing Muddy Waters, Magic Slim, and serving as house guitarist for the famous Theresa’s Lounge on Chicago’s south side, is the walking epitome of the blues. Delivering meaty, heavily distorted slide solos, a throaty and strong yet melodic voice, and no nonsense yet light hearted stage presence, Primer quickly asserted his position as the veteran on stage. Perhaps most outstanding about Primer was his ability to play the side man during his own set, allowing Grady and his band to take long solos, and even playfully engaging in a glass-shattering guitar solo duel with Champion guitarist Caleb Armstrong.

John Primer with Caleb Armstrong, guitarist for Grady Champion, and Marquise Champion on bass. Photo by Lynn Orman Weiss

A highlight of the evening was the performance of living blues legend, David “Honeyboy” Edwards. In an evening filled with youthful exuberance and electrified blues, the relative calm of Edwards’ silky vocals and ambling slide solos were a pleasant contrast. Edwards had no reason to get excited. Receiving a Grammy at the age of 93, Honeyboy has absolutely nothing to prove. And yet even though the solos were simpler, the tone cleaner and quieter, the groove slightly slowed and even choppy in some spots, the blues was still strong in him. Special guest harpists Sugar Blue (of the Rolling Stones) and Charlie Musselwhite were honored to be on stage with Edwards, who they clearly revered as a living testament to a rich American tradition. Birthday cupcakes were presented to Honeyboy as he concluded his set. 

(from left to right) Sugar Blue on harp, Chris James on guitar, Honeyboy Edwards, and special guest Charlie Musselwhite. Photo by Stephen Bass

Blues is deeply rooted in Chicago’s rich history, and while Chicago’s Blues Festival is the largest free celebration of blues in the world, Blues on the North Shore has begun a great tradition with their 3rd annual concert series. Seeing artists ranging an eighty year span, all in one room, paying homage to one of the few distinctly American musical styles, is a true treat, and hopefully will carry on for years to come.

Published on Dec 31, 1969

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