Friday, November 30, 2012

Blues Legends - Freddie King

One of the fabled "Three Kings" of the blues, Texas guitarist Freddie King only lived 42 years, but he made quite an impact during his short life, influencing such notable guitarists as Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mick Taylor, Lonnie Mack, Jerry Garcia, Peter Green, and others.  His guitar work showed the influence of Texas guitarists like T-Bone Walker and Lightnin' Hopkins as well as Chicago string-benders like Robert Lockwood, Jr., Eddie Taylor, and Jimmy Rogers....part of what made his sound so unique at the time.

Freddie King was born in September, 1934, in Gilmer, TX.  His mother and his uncle started teaching him guitar when he was six, and he learned how to play the rural acoustic country blues like Lightnin' Hopkins.  By the time, he was a teenager, he had moved with his family to Chicago and discovered the wonders of electricity, falling in love with the electric Chicago blues sounds of Taylor, Walker, Lockwood, Rogers, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, and Little Walter.  He soon formed his own band, the Every Hour Blues Boys, with guitarist Jimmie Lee Robinson and drummer Frank "Sonny" Scott.

King also worked as a sideman with the Little Sonny Cooper Band and Earl Payton's Blues Cats, recording an unreleased session with Payton for Parrot Records in 1953.  Over this span, he also worked with many other Chicago artists, like Rogers, Lockwood, Hound Dog Taylor, Memphis Slim, and Little Walter.  He finally got to make his own record in 1956, for El-Bee Records, "Country Boy," a duet with singer Margaret Whitfield, with Lockwood playing guitar.

King also tried to land with Chess Records during this time, but was rejected repeatedly because he sang too much like B.B. King, which apparently at one time must have been a bad thing.  He recorded a session with Willie Dixon at Cobra Record in the late 50's, during Dixon's period of estrangement from Chess, but nothing has ever been heard of the session.  Despite his lack of success making a record, King was making a big name for himself on Chicago's West Side, where a new style of blues was taking form.

In 1960, King signed with Federal Records, a subsidiary of Cincinnati's King Records.  At Federal, King made an immediate impact with his first single, "You've Got To Love Her With A Feeling," which made the pop charts.  The flip side of the single, "Have You Ever Loved A Woman," was also popular.

From the same session, King recorded the instrumental, "Hide Away."  Named for one of Chicago's most popular clubs, "Hide Away" was adapted by King and Magic Sam from a Hound Dog Taylor instrumental.  The track was released as the B-side of his single, "I Love The Woman," and became a major hit, charting at #5 on the R&B charts and #29 on the pop charts, which was unheard of at the time for a blues instrumental.  In the 60's, every rock and blues band worth their salt included a version of "Hide Away" in their repertoire.

Based on the success of "Hide Away," King and producer Sonny Thompson eventually recorded thirty instrumentals, which included "The Stumble," "Sen-Sa-Shun," "Side Tracked," "San-Ho-Zay," and "High Rise."  He continued to record vocal tracks as well ("Lonesome Whistle Blues," "I'm Tore Down," "(The Welfare) Turns Its Back On You") , and King eventually released an album of vocals (Freddy King Sings) and instrumentals (Let's Hide Away and Dance Away With Freddy King:  Strictly Instrumental and Freddy King Gives You A Bonanza of Instrumentals).   Yes, the spelling of King's first name during this time was different, but he eventually changed it to the "i-e" version during the latter part of his career.  These records were successful then and continue to be popular with blues and guitar fans today.

In 1968, King signed with Atlantic Records subsidiary Cotillion, and released two subsequent albums, both produced by R&B saxophone legend King Curtis.  Soon after King parted ways with Cotillion, he appeared at the 1969 Texas Pop Festival, which led to King signing with Leon Russell's Shelter Records, where he was treated very well and recorded three popular albums, including Getting Ready, which included the Don Nix-penned rock/blues standard, "Goin' Down."

King's style shifted to more of a rock-edged one during the 70's.  As a result, he was becoming popular with blues and rock audiences.  His busy schedule sometimes included nearly 300 shows a year during his peak.  He signed with RSO Records in 1974, Eric Clapton's label.  Clapton produced and played on King's initial RSO recording, Burglar.  King then launched a tour that covered America, Europe, and Australia, then released a second RSO album, Larger Than Life.

However, the relentless touring, stress, and poor diet (there was a rumor that King was prone to drink Bloody Marys instead of solid food to save time when setting up for shows) was beginning to take a toll on King.  His health began to decline and he developed stomach ulcers, which led to his death of complications from the ulcers and acute pancreatitis in December of 1976.  He was only 42 years old.

Sadly, Freddie King sometimes falls between the cracks when the discussion of great blues guitarists gets started.  This is in part because of his untimely death in the mid 70's, at a time when the blues was at a low point, popularity-wise.  His influence is still widely felt though.  Anyone who has listened to Clapton or Stevie Ray or Jimmie Vaughan can hear the influence of King and since they continue to influence new guitarists, it's a guarantee that Freddie King's influence will continue.

Recommended Listening:

Hide Away:  The Best of Freddy King (Rhino):  King was at his best during his time with Federal Records and this Rhino set captures the best of King's stint with the label.  All the essential instrumentals (including the fantastic title track) are here and so are all of King's standout vocal performances as well.  There are three tracks from his later work with Cotillion and Shelter, but the primary focus is on the early  recordings.  If this is all the Freddy King that you ever have in your collection, you're not doing too bad, but I would recommend at least one of the Federal instrumental albums plus the vocal set that was mentioned above for a more complete look.

Ultimate Collection (Hip-O):  This 18-track set covers King's entire career from his Federal recordings through the Cotillion, Shelter, and RSO recordings.  If you want a comprehensive look at this great guitarist, this is the place to go, but the results are a bit uneven because the latter recordings lack the consistency, and sometimes the quality, of the Federal material.  Still, it's a solid, well-rounded set that won't disappoint.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Ten Questions with......Dick Shurman

Robert Cray and Dick Shurman (photo courtesy

Dick Shurman has been involved in the Chicago blues scene for five decades, serving in various roles.  He's served as producer on an extensive list of albums by artists ranging from Otis Rush to Magic Slim to Johnny Winter to Eddie C. Campbell.  He's penned liner notes for many other albums, as well as numerous articles and essays for various blues periodicals and books.  Most importantly, he's served as an invaluable and selfless friend to many of the Windy City's blues artists, doing his best to help promote and advance their careers.  Over the years, he's also done a regular report on the Chicago Blues scene that currently appears in Juke Blues magazine, and he's an indispensable source of information on all things related to Chicago Blues.

Friday Blues Fix is excited to report that Mr. Shurman was gracious enough to sit down and answer Ten Questions from us this week to discuss a few things, including his role as a producer.  Hopefully, we'll have him back soon for more questions, but we really appreciate him sharing his time with us today.  We hope you enjoy this brief conversation with a Chicago Blues icon.

When and how did you first get bitten by the blues bug?

When I was a kid my parents had a small number of blues albums.  The local Top 40 station in Seattle where I grew up occasionally played blues; “Boom Boom” by John Lee Hooker was even Number One.  Then the Folk Boom, British Invasion and rise of bands like Paul Butterfield’s all motivated me to go back and check out their sources.

Who were some of the earliest artists and some of the earliest blues albums you listened to?

Big Bill Broonzy’s Feeling Lowdown (my parents had it), The Blues Roll On on Atlantic… and one day a good friend and I found a record store which had some blues LPs for $1.98 including five early B.B. King ones, the Howlin’ Wolf LP originally on Crown, Otis Spann and more.

When did you come to Chicago and what was your first impression of the Chicago blues scene?

Like my friend Elvin Bishop had done eight years earlier, I wanted to go to the “University Of The Blues.”  I got accepted to the U. of Chicago and started there in September 1968 (shortly after the riots).  I’d seen Jr. Wells with Louis Myers on guitar live in Seattle; they’d encouraged me to contact them when I got to Chicago.  I also made some other very valuable connections quickly.  I only stayed for a year of school, but got to be pretty good friends with Louis Myers, Jr. Wells, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Shines, Willie Dixon and Earl Hooker, plus some really helpful collectors, record biz people and White Blues Mafia members.

My first impression was that I was in heaven and that my world had exploded, for the good.   No other year expanded my life nearly as much.  The ghetto club scene was still happening (it was still pretty much all there was on a regular basis) and some of the best clubs were just a couple miles away from my dorm; it was the last year to hear Magic Sam, Earl Hooker and Otis Spann… it was beyond fantastic and I knew I’d found my destiny, even though I still wasn’t sure what form my involvement would take.

Magic Sam
Magic Sam was one of the first Chicago-based blues artists that seemed to have an opportunity to break out beyond the blues scene….How good do you think he would have been and what would he have sounded like had he lived beyond 1969?

We were friends; in fact, some fellow student carved “Dick – Magic Sam Called” into the door of my dorm room in six inch letters when we were playing phone tag about a dance for which I’d booked him.  The day before he died, I booked him some gigs in the Pacific Northwest.  Sam was a fantastic artist; he had tremendous drive and his voice soared, floated, and filled the room.  If he had lived and kept it together, he could have at least been Luther Allison or Albert Collins.  Like those two or Freddie King, his energy would have connected well with a white, rock-raised audience.  But he did have his foibles, bad luck, and a bad heart, so it’s possible he wouldn’t have fulfilled all of everyone’s hopes, or he may have turned out to be Otis Rush, a genius with a superb legacy but also an enigma.  It’s just a crying shame that we’ll never know.

How did you get into the production business?  Was it something you always wanted to do, or something you just happened to fall into?

I fell into it.  Most blues producers learned by the seat of our pants.  My first released material with production credits didn’t really involve being a producer: some live Earl Hooker tapes I made in September 1969 came out on Arhoolie, and I ran the tape recorder when George Paulus recorded Big John Wrencher in his basement a couple days later.  After I moved to Chicago to stay in 1974 (after I’d finished school, which I wanted to get out of the way without the distractions of the music scene), my friend Wes Race (who was on very good terms with Delmark and just about everyone else) encouraged the label to involve me in Otis Rush’s Cold Day In Hell project because I got along well with Otis and knew his repertoire in pretty extensive detail.  Then I helped Frank Scott with the Chicago Blues At Home album on Advent (which amazed me with a Grammy nomination); helped my good friend Steve Wisner and his Mr. Blues label with Good Rockin’ Charles, Eddie C. Campbell and later Mojo Buford; Bruce Iglauer started asking my opinion about projects, bless his heart, and after I brought him Albert Collins in ’78 we started collaborating); the Dutch label Black Cat (which soon became Black Magic) had me do some projects for them… and the rest is hysteria.

What are your primary duties as a producer?

To do whatever needs to be done to see the project through to successful fruition.  That involves organizing, planning, running a session, making necessary decisions, mixing and editing…  In some ways I like it more the less I have to do, because that means the artist has a solid plan.  But it can involve making up a budget and pitching the artist to a label; working on material (cover tunes, polishing up originals); helping to figure out the personnel;  scheduling the studio time and acquiring the necessities; getting dubs and itineraries out to the band; rehearsing; doing the sessions; mixing; editing; and maybe helping to master.  It also means trying to bring the best out of an artist while keeping their vision as the focus, and taking care of the logistical concerns so they can focus on the creative part.

Of all your production efforts, of which ones are you the proudest?

I can’t single one out, but I’m proud that Showdown! won the Grammy it deserved; have always loved Third Degree and the other six CDs I did with Johnny Winter, and the other six I did with Albert Collins; Roy Buchanan was phenomenal, the best technical guitarist with whom I got to work; Johnny Heartsman was a long-time dream and maybe my favorite all-around blues musician; Fenton Robinson was a gentleman and one of my most favorite artists and people ; it was a thrill to help Jody Williams with his comeback; I’m happy about Eddie C. Campbell’s two Delmark CDs and my role in King Of The Jungle; Larry Garner was a real treat; so was Big Bill Morganfield; I’m proud of the two CDs I did with Magic Slim, especially Black Tornado; the Lee “Shot” Williams CD I did for Black Magic got us some nice awards and is a personal favorite; so are the two I did with Andrew Brown, whose faith and trust were among the greatest gifts anyone ever gave me; but I don’t want to slight anyone.  I can’t think of a project that didn’t offer real joys.  I’m also proud of the long essay I did about B.B. King’s recording career for the recently released ten CD set Ladies And Gentlemen… Mr. B.B. King.  Now THAT was an honor and a pleasure.  And I’m proud of the reissues I’ve compiled.

There are some talented young musicians emerging from the Windy City.  Where do you think the Chicago blues scene will be ten years from now?

Probably still a scene left but a lot more change ahead in ways we can’t even imagine yet.  And sadly, still more of the attrition that has ravaged the ranks of historical traditional blues artists.  There are already just a handful of remaining first-hand witnesses to the Glory Days of the early 1950s scene.

Have you ever considered sitting down and writing a book about your experiences?

A friend of mine in Seattle made me a nice rocking chair.  If/when I retire out there, maybe…  Meanwhile, I focus on being active and my writing consists mostly of annotating CDs and doing my news column.

Do you have any future production projects in the works?

I’m working on a Lurrie Bell project with Delmark; another project with a new name may be coming together but it’s too early to say.  I’m also helping Black Magic put together a live 1984 Fenton Robinson CD, which I’ll annotate.

Friday, November 16, 2012

New Blues For You (Thanksgiving 2012 Edition)

Blues lovers....let us give thanks, because it's time for a look at some new and upcoming releases that deserve to be heard.  Today, FBF will be looking at four sizzling new CDs that cover a broad range of blues styles.  As always, expanded reviews of these discs will be available in an upcoming issue of Blues Bytes.

Memphis Gold - Pickin' in High Cotton (Stackhouse Records):  Memphis Gold (a.k.a. Chester Chandler) learned to play guitar in Memphis from the legendary Rev. Robert Wilkins.  He ended up playing guitar in one of the Bluff City's most revered bands, the Fieldstones, for a number of years before settling in Washington, D.C., where he teamed up with harmonica player Charlie Sayles.  After a stint with Deborah Coleman, he launched a solo career.  Pickin' in High Cotton is his fourth release, and like the rest, it's a mix of old school traditional blues, mixed with greasy Memphis soul, and the funkiest back-up band heard in a while.  Memphis Gold is a gifted writer with a unique and personal style.  Many of these songs are autobiographical in feel.  Check out this clip from one of the highlights of the disc, "Biscuit Boogie."

Tom Feldmann - Lone Wolf Blues (Magnolia Recording Company):  Guitarist Feldmann is a favorite of mine with his wonderful interpretations of classic pre-war blues and gospel tunes on several previous releases.  This set features tunes from Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Willie Johnson, Bukka White, Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, and others, along with several Feldmann originals, mostly gospel-based, that fit seamlessly with the standards.  Feldmann is an excellent guitarist (and is currently a featured performer on several of Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop DVD series) and also has a warm tenor vocal style that's perfect with the material.  If you like acoustic blues guitar, this CD definitely won't disappoint and will probably be a favorite of yours.

Maria Muldaur & Friends - ....First Came Memphis Minnie (Stony Plain):  Muldaur has been busy this year.  Earlier in the year, she released the excellent New Orleans-flavored Steady Love, and has followed it with this tribute to one of her biggest influences, Memphis Minnie.  Muldaur ably handles eight of the thirteen tracks...her voice is as sweet as ever, but with a touch of added grit that's especially appropriate to the material.  There are also tracks by Bonnie Raitt (teaming with Steve Freund on acoustic guitar), Ruthie Foster, and Rory Block.  Additional tracks borrowed from earlier recordings feature the late Phoebe Snow and the late Koko Taylor.  Other performers include Alvin Youngblood Hart, Roy Rogers, Bob Margolin, David Bromberg, and Steve James.  This is a great, rootsy set showcasing a highly underrated early talent who paved the way for many of the great blues women that are making their presence known in a big way today.

Mighty Sam McClain - Too Much Jesus (not Enough Whisky) (Mighty Music):  After charting a few regional soul hits in the 60's, Mighty Sam McClain dropped off the music scene for about fifteen years until resurfacing on Hubert Sumlin's first Black Top release.  Since then, he's released fourteen albums for various labels.  This latest release is another fine set of deep southern soul classics, with a few nods to 70's-era funk this time around.  McClain is a gifted singer in the tradition of Solomon Burke and Little Milton, but he's developed into a talented songwriter, too.  The title track recounts how some of McClain's friends stopped coming around after he stopped drinking and started trying to share his faith with them.  If you're into old school soul and R&B, you should give this one a spin.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue #8

Welcome once again to one of Friday Blues Fix's most popular topics, it's hard to believe that this is our eighth edition.  I always enjoy doing these mini-bio/info posts.  As always, we will look at a blues artists from any time between the 30's and the 50's (Something Old), a relative newcomer to the scene who you really need to check out (Something New), a blues artist performing a rock tune or vice versa (Something Borrowed), and finally, someone who epitomizes the very essence of the blues (Something Blue).  Here we go.....

For Something Old, let's go back to the late 1920's and one of the subjects of a recent post, Tommy Johnson.  Johnson was born in Terry, MS, a few miles south of Jackson, and lived in Crystal Springs most of his life and learned to play guitar there, but he moved to the delta after marrying.  He ended up around Drew, MS, close to Dockery's Plantation, where he met Charley Patton and Willie Brown.

By the time he was in his mid 20's, he was back in Crystal Springs as a home base, but traveled all over the south, usually with Papa Charlie McCoy, with whom he recorded his first sessions in Memphis in 1928.  Those sessions included this song, "Canned Heat Blues," a harrowing account of Johnson's complete addiction to alcohol and the lengths he would go to get it (in this case, drinking methanol from the cooking fuel Sterno, also called "Canned Heat").  The blues rockers Canned Heat took their name from this song much later.

Tommy Johnson ranks with Patton and Son House as major influences in the development of Robert Johnson.  Johnson also crafted the "Devil at the Crossroads" story years before it was used in the Robert Johnson legend.  Vocally, Tommy Johnson possessed an amazing range, able to move from an eerie falsetto to a feral growl.  His guitar playing was very advanced and intricate compared to other blues guitarist of the era.  Sadly, his last recordings were in 1930 and he descended deep into alcoholism and remained mostly in the Jackson area, playing at jukes and local parties until he died in 1956.

For Something New, let's check out John Lee Hooker, Jr.  Yes, he's the son of John Lee Hooker and he spent most of his teen years in the mid to late 60's traveling with his dad and even appearing on a live recording with him at Soledad Prison in the late 60's.  Unfortunately, he fell into the world of drug addiction for nearly 25 years before cleaning up and resuming his career.  While the younger Hooker can duplicate his father's relentless boogie sound somewhat, his own music also incorporates urban blues, jazz, and R&B.  He has released several CDs, his 2004 debut actually netted him a Grammy Award.  His latest disc is All Hooked Up and is his best so far.  If you haven't experience the younger John Lee Hooker, you're missing out.  He's a gifted singer and one of the better composers of new blues material out there.  All of his recordings are worth a listen.  Check out this tune from a couple of years ago.

For Something Borrowed, here's Bernard Allison, son of the legendary Luther Allison....yet another youngster following proudly in the footsteps of his blues-playing dad (I sense a future blog post).  Bernard has been around for a long time, spending time in his dad's band before launching his own solo career about twenty years ago.  Since his dad's untimely death from cancer in 1997, Bernard has recorded rather prolifically and has a nice catalog of studio and live recording.  2000's Across the Water mixes blues, rock, and funk in equal doses.  While it's not his best release (a bit too rock-oriented in some places), it has some nice moments, such as Allison's torrid version of Michael Lunn's "The River's Rising," first recorded by Joe Cocker back in the mid 80's.  While Cocker's version was great, Allison's version tops it pretty easily to me.

For Something Blue, let's keep it in the family this time around with John Lee Hooker Jr.'s dad in the spotlight.  For many blues fans, John Lee Hooker was one of the entrance-ways to our love affair with the blues.  Many of us heard him on commercials, old movies, maybe one of his 60's albums or his sides for Chess, VeeJay, or dozens of other labels, or we heard his songs interpreted by scores of rock musicians.  However we were introduced to him, when we heard him, we knew that John Lee Hooker was the blues, in its purest and simplest form.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Aging Gracefully

The Rolling Stones recently celebrated their 50th anniversary as a rock and roll band.  It's sort of being done in a low-key manner, hardly the way the group has conducted itself over the years, with a tentative concert schedule and several books being released to coincide with the big event.  Given how the world usually goes nuts celebrating any little anniversary as a "big event," this one has been relatively quiet, but has picked up steam now that the group has done a couple of performances and there's been no need for paramedics so far.

Keith Richards
Part of this is due to the fact that in the rock and roll world, becoming an "Elder Statesmen" is not considered to be too cool (except to the older fans that still follow them).  Everyone remembers the line, "I hope I die before I get too old," from The Who's "My Generation," in the 60's.  Of course, The Who still do the occasional performance, too, but in rock and roll, while it's pretty neat to see these old pioneers out there making music, at the same time it's sort of sad, too, because try as they might, they really can't duplicate the magic that they had forty (or fifty) years ago for the most part.  In the case of bands like the Stones, with 68 year old Keith Richards, looking not a day over ninety, doing his guitar-slinger thing, and 69 year old Mick Jagger bouncing all over the stage, it's sort of wince-inducing.

That being said, they're still leaps and bounds above most of the up and coming rock talent, musically speaking....try as I might, I can't picture my daughters putting a Mick Jagger poster up in their rooms.......which is one reason why people still shell out triple digits for their tickets.  Please keep in mind, that I am by no means degrading what these guys do.  Frankly, it's good to see them performing at a pretty high standard and still making new music...not content to rest on their laurels and just conduct an "oldies" tour.  What amuses me is the fact that probably none of them ever imagined they would still be doing it when they were the same age their grandparents were when they got their start.

Eric Clapton
There are numerous reasons that these guys (and ladies) continue to plug away at this business well into their Golden, of's the only thing they've ever done.....they love what they're doing......etc.....  But what a lot of people may not realize about why these rockers (and others, like 67 year old Eric Clapton and 68 year olds Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page) continue to work could be because their idols and influences continued to work into their 70's and 80's (and sometimes 90's).  The musicians that influenced a lot of these older rockers were blues musicians like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Albert King, Otis Rush, Sonny Boy Williamson, Honeyboy Edwards, John Lee Hooker, B. B. King, and Buddy Guy.

Unlike their adoring musical followers, most blues artists over the years haven't really had the luxury of retiring with their millions to large, palatial mansions with classic car collections and multiple houses on multiple continents.  While most of them loved what they were doing, many continued and still continue to work because they need to in order to survive.  For blues fans though, the fact that their favorites are in their 70's or 80's doesn't bother them in the least, and newcomers to the blues don't seem to mind either, because these old dudes can still bring it.

Blues Legends - 2001 (From Blues Access Magazine.  Clockwise from top left, Honeyboy Edwards (86 years old), Robert Lockwood, Jr. (86 years old), Henry Townsend (92 years old), Homesick James (94 years old)

If you think about it, most of the older blues artists that come to mind maintained a high standard of making music and many continue to do so.  Artists like Robert Lockwood Jr., Honeyboy Edwards, Pinetop Perkins, Henry Townsend, and Homesick James continued well into their late 80's or 90's while maintaining a pretty high standard.  Today, FBF will take a look at an impressive list of artists, all 75 or older, who continue to make some mighty music with no signs of letting up anytime soon.

Buddy Guy - Guy turned 76 earlier this year (July 30).  To me, he's playing as well as he did over twenty years ago, when he began his resurgence.  He still has the youthful energy and enthusiasm and, man, can he make that guitar talk!  Despite looking and performing like he's thirty years younger, he's, amazingly, joined the ranks of Blues' Elder Statesmen.  May we all be doing so well when we reach his age.

Magic Slim - The Magic Man, 75 years of age in August, has lately taken to sitting down while performing, but that's his only concession to age.  He's still a whirling dervish of traditional Chicago blues and boasts a nearly endless repertoire of blues songs.  He just released another phenomenal set of his usual fantastic blues, Bad Boy.  Plus, he fronts one of the best bands in the business, the Teardrops.

James Cotton - The 77-year-old Cotton has played with just about everybody who was anybody since the early 1950's, including Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Otis Spann, as well as leading his own group since the 60's, recording several acclaimed albums during that time.  He's also battled throat cancer in the mid 90's and has not recorded a vocal since around 2000.  That hasn't slowed him down very much though.  He can still blow the back off the harmonica.  Check him out below at the 2010 Chicago Blues Festival with another Elder Statesman, 84-year-old Matt "Guitar" Murphy, during his return to performing after a lengthy recovery from a stroke.

Henry Gray - At 87 years of age, the legendary piano man had been active since the mid 40's, playing with artists like Robert Lockwood, Jr., Billy Boy Arnold, Morris Pejoe, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Rogers, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Elmore James (he played with him the night James died), and Koko Taylor.  He's also recorded solo over the same time span, on labels like Chess, Excello, Blind Pig, and Hightone.  He continues to tour and record with his band, the Cats, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Lonnie Brooks - The amazing Brooks will soon be 79 years old.  He was one of the first blues artists that I ever heard and his hybrid of blues mixed with rock & roll, down-home country (he appeared on Hee Haw once), and the sounds of the Louisiana swamp is a potent mix.  Though he hasn't recorded in over a decade, he still tours with his band and occasionally performs with his two sons, Ronnie Baker Brooks and Wayne Baker Brooks, and is well-known for his live shows and his great band.

B. B. King - King just turned 87 in September, but he works a schedule that would wear out a person forty years younger, with relentless touring and performing.  His vocals are grittier than in his heyday, but he still delivers, and his guitar playing....forget about it.  In his hands, Lucille is a force of nature, powerful as a hurricane.  It will be a sad day for all when Mr. King decides to retire, but something tells me that he will be going strong until the Great Bandleader upstairs comes calling and there's nothing wrong with that.  Something tells me all the artists we've looked at today will want to go out the same way.