There was a time when you couldn't hear the blues in nice comfy
(even if crowded) North Side clubs. Blues were black music for black
folks and you had to go to little clubs on the west or south side to
hear them. You usually started with Muddy Waters at Smitty's Corner
or Pepper's on the south side or Howlin' Wolf at the Alex or Sylvio's
on the west side -- depending on when you first started looking. A
grapevine came into being and eventually there was a chart at the
Jazz Record Mart with whatever information we had about who was
playing where --- until the Reader quickly became a more
reliable source. There's an article about some of those old clubs in
the Blues Fest 2000 Issue of Rhythm and News (#983).
Among the folks who would form up at JRM (or La Posada Del Rey, our favorite Mexican restaurant) for blues trips was a poet and fellow Wichitan named Wesley Race. But there were a lot of others and soon Wes referred to us collectively as The Blues Amalgamated.
Where are they now? Left to right: Wesley Race: Poet/DJ; Dick
Shurman: record producer;
Michael Frank: founded Earwig Records; Dave Whiteis: writer;
Steve Cushing: hosts Blues Before Sunrise; Bruce Iglauer: founded Alligator Records
Blues Amalgamated never had business meetings - the business
consisted of listening to blues, drinking, and, often, picking up a
Polish Sausage sandwich at Jim's on Maxwell Street on the way home.
When Wolf played his last gig at the 1815 Club in early November `75,
the Blues Amalgamated was in full attendance. There were no dues
other than those paid in the clubs. The annual meeting consisted of a
picnic on Labor Day.
Wes moved away; George Marx did too and we're not sure where. Rick Kreher joined Muddy Waters' band. I got serious about JRM and Delmark. Bruce Iglauer started Alligator. Dick Shurman moved to the western suburbs and got busy producing blues albums. Michael Frank started Earwig. Steve Tomashefsky found out where the money in the music business is and went to law school, eventually joining Jenner & Block. Andre Soufront opened a used record store near Belmont & Broadway. Photgrapher Diane Allmen started a postcard collecting magazine and business. Jim O'Neal published Living Blues (with a lot of help from other BA unmembers) and Rooster Blues and moved to Mississippi, then on to Kansas City. Atomic Mama aka Amy Van Singel moved to Memphis, then Alaska., continuing her radio show. Wes moved back to Wichita and eventually escaped to Fort Worth, Texas. Pete Crawford started Red Beans records, helped start Blues Etc. and moved on to Steeplechase. The late Bruce Kaplan of Flying Fish was also a member.
Wes recites as Loretta & Dick look on.
a curious poster in my office that looks like Hound Dog Taylor and
Junior Wells played in a blues joint. But the address is on Astor
Street, where Steve and Becca Tomashefsky live -- and if you know
Astor Street you know the real estate is too valuable for a blues
joint. It subtly announces a 30+ year reunion of the Blue
Amalgamated, Nov.11th `00; "It's a low down 30 shame!"
Virtually the whole Blues Amalgamated showed up plus a few other logical honored guests: Steve Cushing (who would have been a B.A, but he was busy playing drums with Magic Slim -- that was before his wonderful show, Blues Before Sunrise.), Delmark's Steve Wagner, Dave Ungerleider (former owner of Wise Fools, first Northside blues bar), Masa Nakai (formerly of Trio Records), photographer Mark Pokempner whose book, Down At Theresa's, was published this year. Dave Whiteis of the Reader (who knows where the blues are hidden on our old turf today.), Jim DeJong (the man in black who managed JRM for ages, now manages a goodly portion of a Tower store), Ted Harvey (Hound Dog's drummer), his wife and son.
We watched rare videos by J.B. Lenore and Hound Dog, talked about the good old "blues" days, looked at recent photos of bluesclub sites on the West side (too many vacant lots!), ate south-side ribs and Maxwell Street Polish sausage, celebrated Steve T.'s 50th (Can that be right? gasp!) birthday, and eventually parted with a sizable contingent going out to hear live music in the wee hours of the morning - there still is a blues scene in Chicago. - Bob Koester
Participants included: former Delmark manager Steve Tomashefsky left, photographer Mark PoKempner center rear, current Delmark manager Steve Wagner right.