David Myers, one of the last of the generation of pioneering
post-war Chicago bluesmen, passed away on Monday, September 3rd,
2001, after a long illness. Dave was born in Byhalia, Mississippi on
October 30th, 1927, and picked up the basics of country blues guitar
from his father Amos Myers at a young age. By the time the family
relocated to Chicago in 1941, Dave and his younger brother Louis were
already skilled guitarists, and were developing a two guitar attack
that bordered on telepathic in its precision. In Chicago they were
influenced by big swing bands, urban blues, even pop standards and
country, and worked out tight two-guitar arrangements for anything
that caught their ears. Dave soon became known as "Thumper" for his
percussive use of the electric guitar to play bass lines that in
earlier blues had only been heard played on a stand up bass, normally
next to inaudible in clubs. Dave's role was to hold down the
foundation and add chordal accents while Louis riffed and played
melody lines on the top end. In itself this was not particularly
unusual or unique, but the perfection they achieved at interweaving
their parts was, thanks to the fact that they'd played together
literally all of their lives.
Dave and Louis were there in the middle of it all when the music that became known as Chicago Blues was born. By the late 1940s the brothers had been recruited by the much older Arthur "Big Boy" Spires to back him at local house parties; thanks to their dad's influence, they were perfectly at ease with the down home stylings of Spires, but really got the crowds going--and sometimes left Spires in the dust--when they'd launch into an up-tempo boogie woogie or two guitar arrangement of a current swing hit. It was while playing with Spires in the late '40s that they hooked up with a young harmonica player named Junior Wells, and then drummer Fred Below, and their now-legendary band The Aces were born.
This was the band that changed the way blues was played in Chicago. Until that time, most Chicago Blues was essentially an electrified, hopped- up version of the same music that had been played down south before WWII. The Aces turned the Chicago blues scene on its ear, playing swinging, modern and urbane ensemble music. Their music wasn't just louder than their rural predecessors, it was different. In Dave's hands, the guitar not only wove in traditional blues guitar licks, it also filled the roles of the left hand of a boogie woogie pianist, the trombones in a big band, and a second percussionist behind the drummer--and all of it now blasting through a still relatively new-fangled guitar amplifier. Dave's playing formed the backbone and supplied the drive that propelled The Aces and made them unique among blues bands of their era.
When harmonica pioneer Little Walter had outgrown his place as a sideman in Muddy Waters' band in 1952, he came home and immediately recruited The Aces as his new band (although in later years Dave would always insist that it was The Aces who had hired Walter as their new harp player), and they supported Walter on record and in the clubs during his most explosively creative and successful years in the early to mid 1950s. Their swinging drive and sensitive ensemble work meshed perfectly with the brash young harp genius's innovative flights of fancy. With their seamless two-guitar interplay, Dave and Louis created the blueprint for the way modern day blues harmonica is supported.
Following his brother Louis, Dave left Walter in the mid '50s, and his band The Aces (and for all practical purposes, it WAS Dave's band, since he booked the gigs, attended to the money matters, and acted as MC onstage) continued to be blues band of choice in the studio and on the bandstand, for both musicians and audiences. Ask anyone who was there in the 1950s, and you'll hear the same story: There was Muddy's band, there were The Aces, and then there was everyone else. After attending a blues show a couple of years ago, Dave and I ended up grabbing a bite at an all-night restaurant in Chicago's Chinatown. Throughout our meal I kept noticing an older black gentleman eyeing us from a table across the room. When we got up to pay the check, he finally, shyly, approached Dave. "Aren't you David Myers? Last time I saw you was at the 708 Club in 1954, with Otis Rush. Man, that was something! It's a pleasure to finally meet you." The memory of The Aces in their prime had erased the intervening 40 years, and left a distinguished elderly gentleman pumping Dave's hand like an enthusiastic teenage fan.
With the advent of the electric bass in the mid '50s, Dave eventually put his guitar under the bed and bought a brand new 1958 Fender Precision, placing him among the first blues players in Chicago to play an electric bass. Over the years Dave became known as Chicago's premier blues bass player, playing and/or recording with a Who's Who of Chicago blues - it's almost impossible to name any blues player on the Chicago scene from the '50s onward whom he did not support at one time or another. But the popularity of the music was waning by the late '50s, and unlike many of his contemporaries, Dave worked a steady day job for many years. Through the '60s and '70s he worked the Chicago clubs mainly on weekends, periodically taking time off from his day job at Keebler Cone Co. to tour and record (mainly overseas) in support of Robert Jr. Lockwood, Jimmy Rogers, Willie Mabon, Junior Wells and others through the '60s and '70s.
After his retirement from Keebler and the death of his brother Louis in 1994, Dave began playing guitar more frequently. His re-emergence on the scene as a guitarist was welcomed by fans of earlier styles of Chicago blues, and thanks to his steady musical activities over the years his skills were still near their peak. He played a regular Monday matinee show at the Checkerboard Lounge for a time, singing and playing music from the heyday of Chicago blues to unfortunately small but always rapt audiences of blues fans.
Over the years he had been featured as a singer on a few scattered releases with The Aces, but his only full length release as a front man was "You Can't Do That" on Blacktop in 1998. Around this time his diabetic condition began to worsen, although he continued to sit in with peers, friends, and fans on both bass and guitar at club gigs around Chicago, with occasional club and festival work as leader. After several lengthy hospitalizations (during which he was also treated for heart disease), he lost his left leg to diabetes in early 2000. Still, he was able to recover enough to play a very well-received gig at the Chicago Blues Festival in June of that year, and continued to sit in at local Chicago clubs when he was able.
He was scheduled to play the Chicago Blues Festival again this year, but a week before his appearance he was hospitalized again, and never regained his health enough to return home. He passed away at Waterfront Terrace Nursing Home shortly after having his remaining leg amputated.
As someone remarked at his funeral on September 7th, this really does mark the end of an era. Dave was one of the last direct links back to the glory years of Chicago Blues of the 1950s. He left behind a son and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, along with an impressive body of recorded work, ensuring his place in music history as the man who laid down the foundation of Chicago Blues.