@ Delmark Studio Gallery by Peter Hurley
Creating original drawings based on my photographs for Delmark Originals Exhibit was inspired by a desire to combine my life’s work as a classically trained artist with my dual-profession as a photographer of musicians for nationally distributed Living Blues Magazine. Since drawing has a been a staple of my skill-set as a career artist, and photography an offshoot of my trained eye, Delmark Originals expresses my dialogue between the visual arts and music.
I’ve often been struck by how stage-lit photographs of blues musician at peak performance share similar characteristics—of passion and dignity—with those reflected in the portraits by Old Masters such as Caravaggio, Hans Holbein, Rembrandt, even Van Gogh. My photography has been influenced as much by them, as it has by jazz photographers such as Herman Leonard, William Claxton, Lee Tanner and Francis Wolff.
The discs of venerable Delmark Records have been on my turntable since my discovery of Jr. Wells’ Hoodoo Man Blues back in the ‘60s. Now, with the label’s re-invigoration by Julia A. Miller and Elbio Barilari, Delmark has embraced and recorded many of the same musical artists I’ve been covering for Living Blues Magazine. My column for Chicago Blues Network’s newsletter, Blues-in-Action, best describes my approach.
Blues Musicians depicted in the Delmark Originals exhibit, all represented by the label at one time or another, are Jimmy Johnson, Deitra Farr, Johnny Iguana, Jimmy Burns, Billy Boy Arnold, Shirley Johnson, Billy Flynn, Mike Wheeler, Eddy Clearwater, Mud Morganfield, Linsey Alexander, Lurrie Bell, Bob Stroger, Willie Buck and Sharon Lewis. Whether the wisdom of age found in the facial features of Jimmy Johnson, the unbridled joy in Demetria Taylor’s smile, or the wry experience in the eyes of Jimmy Burns, a blues musician’s portrait holds the potential for exploring the inner landscape of the mind and soul.
-Peter M. Hurley / April 25, 2023
PETER M. HURLEYWRITER/PHOTOGRAPHER
LIVING BLUES MAGAZINE
PETER M. HURLEYWRITER/PHOTOGRAPHERLIVING BLUES MAGAZINESONGWRITER
Peter M. Hurley
I heard my first Chess record in the early ’60s in my hometown of Atlanta. A friend’s record collection at a 6th grade pool party included Bo Diddley’s first album, the one with Bo on the cover in a white sports coat and black bow tie with his legs firmly planted in a wide flying V. Just as compelling were the mysterious figures of a maraca player in plaid cut off by the left edge of the photo, and the drummer with his face obscured by the guitar neck. Who were these guys? I was riveted to the phonograph player for the rest of the day by the pulsating echo, the throbbing drumbeat and the image. I never made it into the pool with the rest of my classmates.
A family move to Chicago in the early ’60s positioned me for a firsthand experience with blues music later on. A lifetime of rock n’ roll listening had motivated a deeper excavation into the source. I came to discover that many of the post war blues masters I had heard on records, including the great Bo Diddley, were scratching out a living in the Chicago clubs. I would make my way to those clubs, when my age permitted, in the late ’60 and early ’70s.
By and by, I’d become an artist (a painter), and a fascination with jazz inspired a love of album cover art, mostly the Blue Note photography of Alfred Lion. The connection between Lion’s beautifully contrasted images of jazz musicians in the studio and Italian master Caravaggio’s stark and dramatic chiaroscuro had not escaped my artist’s eye.
Now I realize that for most of my career as a visualist I’ve been trying to recreate that “album cover art”. My blues photography for LIVING BLUES MAGAZINE and two books on blues is a fulfillment of that promise. Photographing the soulful expression of a blues man or blues woman in action under a spotlight in a cramped club is akin to emulating the drama of an ecstatic subject in a Caravaggio painting.
Johnny Iguana – Johnny Iguana’s Chicago Spectacular!
Delmark DE 864 (August 21 2020)
Growing up up in Philadelphia, Johnny Iguana really zeroed in on Junior Wells and Otis Spann after becoming obsessed with Chicago blues at age 15. In his later teens, armed with a fake ID and a sport coat, he played countless all-night blues gigs at Philly bars— largely songs plucked off Junior’s records. A few years later, Johnny met Junior at a NY show and was thrilled when Junior hired him after live auditions in Boston and Rhode Island. Johnny packed his bags and spent three years touring and recording with Junior. Decades later, Johnny still calls Chicago home and has emerged as one of the premier blues piano players in the United States. Since his days with Junior, he has toured or recorded with a who’s who of Chicago blues greats: Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Billy Boy Arnold, James Cotton, Lil’ Ed, Carey Bell, Eddy Clearwater, John Primer, Lurrie Bell, Billy Branch and more. He has learned from the best, a lifelong immersion and dedication.
This is Johnny’s first blues album as a leader, and it’s not your typical blues album. That’s because, as you’ll hear, Johnny is not your typical blues piano player. At a time when bold originality is less welcomed in blues than it is in other music, Johnny stands out as an artist who has reached the apex of his craft but who has not allowed a strict definition of blues to limit his expression. A feat of this album and of Johnny’s artistry is how his original compositions flow naturally and organically out of the classic Chicago blues piano repertoire. His chordal creativity is as much on display as his blues-language fluency. It all makes sense and fully delights, as vintage blues and boogie morph into something new, intoxicating, witty, wild—yet still anchored in the blues.
This is a blues album from top to bottom. It is traditional. It is contemporary and audacious. It is the story of Johnny Iguana, a one-of-a-kind piano man exalting his Chicago blues heroes while making his own mark. In the bigger picture, it’s compelling evidence that blues today is vital, and still evolving (full notes by Larry Skoller included).
A ferocious monster on the piano. A sly wizard at the drums. An absolute legend of the bass. One of the fastest-rising young stars of Chicago blues on vocals and guitar. That’s JOHNNY IGUANA’S CHICAGO SPECTACULAR! BMA-nominated pianist Johnny Iguana leads this band of dazzling musicians who mix classic Chicago blues with adventurous instrumental jams laced with blues, boogie-woogie and jazz. A fireball of blues-fusion energy and invention, this is an American roots band unlike anything else on the scene. Here they are, LIVE, in hi-def and hi-fi at the historic Delmark Records studio in Chicago (as American Blues Scene warns: “Hold onto your hats!”)