Working with a label like Delmark can be awe-inspiring as you reflect back on their incredible catalog of blues and jazz, going back to it’s founding in 1958. With so much history, the challenge is to keep producing beautiful albums of genuinely soulful sounds, and in that goal, Delmark excelled this year. We’ve all had challenges in the pandemic, but they continued their work and released some very stellar albums from folks like Jimmy Johnson, Dave Specter, Johnny Burgin, Johnny Iguana and Mojo Morganfield.
Let’s start with Jimmy Johnson! He is surviving and thriving at 92, with weekly online performances and a fantastic new album. Jimmy came to Chicago during the great migration and is one of the last of the big wave of blues musicians from the era who is still here to tell the tale. The Wall Street Journal caught wind of his story and published a delightful piece, definitely a must read and an inspiration to keep growing creatively as we get older.
Jimmy is a breath of fresh air in these times.
Speaking of breathing fresh air, the blues is constantly evolving, and some may not know the unsung players of Japan, who’ve helped keep the scene alive, from bringing artists from America on tour to creating their own micro-scenes to perform together. Chicago’s Johnny Burgin, a master of the west side stylings, has spent a lot of time there over the years, and forged solid friendships, so he decided to make No Border Blues, a new album collaborating with producer Stephanie Tice and a cavalcade of great Japanese players. The album received great acclaim, and this Vintage Guitar piece captures it well, calling it, “No Border Blues” is no hybrid, East meets West fusion. This is gloriously loose, earthy, and immediate Chicago blues, straight out of a West side tavern, with Burgin’s stellar fretwork being ubiquitous but benevolent.” Read it: https://cloud.3dissue.com/196659/197012/230687/VGMOCT2020pe9cub6f3D/index.html?page=82
Dave Specter, longtime Chicago blues guitarist stepped out this year with a few protest songs that were a real reflection of the times we are living in, from ridiculing the President to Mavis Staples-inspired messages of hope. But he also stepped out in a musical direction, singing his songs himself for the first time. Roots music magazine Glide called it “The strongest, most expressive of his 35 year career…” He got loads of airplay and also started his own podcast, while supporting other artists he loves. https://glidemagazine.com/236093/chicago-blues-guitarist-dave-specter-joins-up-with-jorma-kaukonen-on-blues-from-the-inside-out-album-review/
Monster pianist Johnny Iguana took a break from his critically acclaimed band The Claudettes to record his Chicago Blues Spectacular, which was met by huge enthusiasm from fans and critics alike. AllMusic captured the vibe perfectly in their review, saying “Johnny Iguana finds a sweet spot between jumping piano R&B and gutbucket blues, placing the rhythm in the forefront and keeping things lively and swinging throughout. The result is a blast, an album that celebrates Chicago traditions while tweaking them with a big grin.” https://www.allmusic.com/album/chicago-spectacular%21-mw0003418534
2020 was triumphant, then tragic for Joseph “Mojo” Morganfield. The son of Muddy Waters broke out with his first single, “It’s Good to be a King”, showcasing his powerful vocals and backed by, among others, Ronnie Baker Brooks, son of the blues legend Lonnie Brooks. The Chicago Sun Times ran a wonderful story about him, describing it as “…irrepressible, quintessentially Chicago-style blues track”. https://chicago.suntimes.com/2020/12/8/22163203/joseph-mojo-morganfield-muddy-waters-son-music-album-chicago-delmark-records
Morganfield planned to record and release his debut in 2021, but tragedy struck on December 10th, when he passed away suddenly of a heart attack. The Sun Times published a wonderful obituary to follow up their profile. https://chicago.suntimes.com/entertainment-and-culture/2020/12/10/22168310/joseph-mojo-morganfield-dead-muddy-waters-son-blues-obituary
It’s been my honor to work with these great artists, and I have high hopes for Delmark in 2021, stay tuned!