Kari Kempas, for Blues News, Finland.
An interview with blues master Willie Buck about his career and his last album: WILLIE BUCK WAY.
Willie Buck’s career as a blues singer began slowly after he arrived in the “Windy City,” Chicago, in the 1950s. He quickly got into the circles by exploring, through a relative, Muddy Waters at his standard gig venue, the renowned Sylvion Club in West Side. Singing and jamming opportunities came with many legends and he learned from most early in his career. He has been able to perform with several nominees throughout his career and has been familiar with club patterns for several decades. Muddy Waters is a name to which he has often been stylistically compared, but Willie has created his own career and song respecting traditions. Today, he is one of the last representatives of the Chicago downhome blues to have been able to rise from the shadow of legends and create and develop his own recognizable style. Over the past decade, Willie Buck has released several albums, e.g. three CDs with the famous Delmark brand. In addition to this, he has recorded in California, Arizona and Spain. He has toured in Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Finland with the Kouvola-based Titty Bar Tim Blues Band. Willie plans to release several sessions and make new songs for future recordings, as well as an autobiographical book. During the interview, Willie was in contact with his cell phone with his 3-year-old grandson, who sings and plays the harmonica and plays all his songs. The tradition can therefore be expected to continue.
How have you been? Your performance at the Chicago Blues Festival was awesome.
Thank you, I could not very well and had recently been very busy and resume their hectic festival gigs marks – Louisville Kentucky to the west coast. There have been a lot of gigs this year 2019 and in September there are plans to go to the Netherlands, Italy and Germany.
Delmark Records has also released your new CD.
It was released in February 2019 and we also organized a record release festival. After getting the release date from Delmark, I decided to make one more song for the album, and it became the album’s title track “Willie Buck Way”. Willien Buck Way is a street in Chicago named after me. Last time I checked the record was in fourth place on the blues list and on the rise. It became a really good cd.
What is your favorite song on CD?
I always try to write popular stories about life – lyrics that really mean something. One of my favorites is “I Got You And You Got Me”. It has a catchy lyrics. A man and a woman meet, they become a couple and over time they get used to it.
Did you produce the record yourself?
Yes, with Scott Dirks. I have written all the songs on the disc, some are new and some I had done in the past. I have written a disc of new songs in the last two or three years. I did the record in two or three recording sessions with different musicians. I have made many discs the record company, and every time you make a disc record company wants with different musicians in a recording along with my own band. The album features a few songs by David Waldman on harmonica and piano and Harmonica Hinds a few, but Scott Dirks plays the harmonica on most of the songs. I also use Martin Lang a lot, but when he’s not available, Scott Dirks lures. Great harmonica everyone and it was good to work with them. As guitarists, Billy Flynn and Thaddeus Krolick are also heard. Pianist Johnny Iguana and drummer Jimmi Mayes, currently living in Jackson, Mississippi, are also on the record. I used to work with Jim for a long time and we went to pick him up from Jackson for recordings. He then returned to Jackson, and works there. I haven’t seen him since the recordings, but on Facebook I noticed that he has also started singing and has made a few records there as well.
Whose idea was it to take David Waldman on the record?
That was my idea. We have been working together for a long time, since the 70s. Dave was part of my band The Aces in the 70s. The Aces, which was my band for years, was also played by Louis Myers, Dave Myers, Fred Below, and pianist Johnny “Big Moose” Walker, who was one of the best blues pianists alongside Otis Spann, Pinetop Perkins and Detroit Junior. I have played with all of them. Little Mack Simmons also played with me for a long time, also in The Aces. He was one of the best harmonists, and also performed as a one-man band at the Kingston Mines Club when the club was still located on Lincoln Avenue. Little Mack can be heard on a CD recorded at the turn of the 1970s and 1980s and re-released by Delmark under the title “I Live The Life I Love”. We had a really great time together at The Aces.
I thought Dave’s harmonica would be a great fit for “(If You) Can’t Say Something Good About Me (Don’t Say Anything At All)”, and I was right. He did a good job. He also played a bit of piano with a couple of songs.
You have now made three CDs for Delmark. What about the sequel?
Delmark is ready to release the next CD. The new owner promised that I use the studio as soon as I’m ready to record. I have written next to a CD already 17 new songs, and we thought we’d go to the studio in December. I usually make a record in two sessions, live. Then it’s just a matter of mixing and the record is ready.
To my recollection, you sometimes said you made recordings in California a couple of years ago as well.
I guess I did three recordings there, but only one has been released so far. Others will sooner or later probably be released under my own Bar-Bare Record label. Produced on those recordings by John Atkinson and I recorded with his band. John is a very talented guy. He plays great guitar and harmonica and produces sessions in his own studio. We recorded a lot of songs over several days and we haven’t decided the fate of all the tapes yet. It is good to have extra material ready that can be used when the need arises. In the old days, I always had material ready waiting, and sometimes the release waited 15 years, but the material still sounded fresh.
We also played gigs in the San Francisco area, at places like Biscuits & Blues, a popular club in San Francisco. I spent 17 days there and we had a gig every night.
Did you make the recordings in the studio live?
We recorded old Chess-style songs in California and John made a great old school sound. John has now moved from California to Virginia and he has asked me to record there, but at the moment I don’t have time. I am going to Phoenix, Arizona Bob Corritore creates. He wants me to record there. Usually he is on their plates with guest artists and I have already been involved in a few song, Big Jon Atkinson and Bob Corritore the album “House Party at Big Jon’s” (Delta Groove) in the past. I like the way Bob plays the harmonica. I like that he gets the old Little Walter sound. Many try, but not everyone can. I was the first to hire Bob Corritore for his band in Chicago in the 70s – John Primer and Ray “Killer” Allison as well.
Do you think Chicago and California musicians are different, or are there differences in their playing style?
There are good musicians in both places. And I’ve met great musicians everywhere – even abroad. I have done tours in Spain, Brazil, Argentina, the Netherlands, Italy …
You have had a long career.
Yes, I have done in the 1970’s singles, which once sold 75 CENTS. Now they cost $ 300. In 1975, I did a song for Disco Blues for IRC when I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before: combining blues and funk / disco beat. It became a little hit in the Chicago area and brought with it performances. Later, many namesakes, e.g. Johnnie Taylor, Johnny Guitar Watson and here in Chicago Buster Benton, did the same. When I visited Finland, I was surprised to see those old singles. I hadn’t seen them anywhere before. I used to make an LP as well. They cost $ 2.50 then, now their price is $ 500. I have five or six of them left myself. I wish I had noticed then to save them at least a box.
I’m thinking of writing a book about those old times and I have in fact already been starting to write. There are so many good stories to tell and there seems to be a demand for the book. I also try to find old photos in the book. My mom liked the photos and hopefully you can find them in her collections. I have played with so many musicians, such as Little Willie Anderson, who was an excellent harpist lip. He was great as a soloist, but not as an accompanist to others. I’ve been with Junior Wells’ 1970 Indiana Avenue sijanneessa Augiliary-Club, which could accommodate 200 people. We each got $ 500, which was a lot of money at the time. The club was full and the show went well, so we got a little extra. Usually the gig fee was $ 15-20 then. It was fun to perform with Junior. I performed at that club on Fridays and Saturdays for a long time with The Aces. Dave Myers was a good friend of mine and with me I once also got to play with Little Walter in South Side about two weeks before his death. Robert’s Showroom was another place where I often performed with the band Aces in the 70s. Included were Big Moose Walker on piano and Little Mack Simmons on harmonica. Youtube has material from those gigs.
You’ve also appeared in a show on Delmark’s premises that was shown on TV, right?
Yes, it went well. Admittedly, only a few snippets of the interview and about an hour of appearances were shown. The recordings were made at Delmark’s studio. Quique Gomez, Jimmy Johnson, Breezy Radio and Linsey Alexander, whom I have known for a long time, were also included. I presented e.g. the song “King Bee”. I played a lot with Jimmy Johnson in the 1970s. We often performed together in Phoenix, Illinois, at a club called White Rose.
Your friend Mary Lane has also recently released a CD.
Yes, his new CD only has five songs – I don’t know why, but they sound good. I often perform with Mary at Rosa’s Lounge on Thursday nights. We were recently with Mary and Milwaukee Slim in interviews and filming for Big City Rhythm & Blues magazine at Millennium Park.