This Friday and Saturday night, the Windy City will be paying a welcome visit to the Motor City for what promises to be one hell of an old-school blues extravaganza featuring some of the best names in Chicago and Detroit blues. For the ninth straight year, the Antifreeze Blues Festival, a fundraiser for the Detroit Blues Society, will be held at the Magic Bag in Ferndale.
Thanks to Chicago-based legendary blues pioneers such as Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters, the Windy City has long been recognized as the blues capital of America, at least when it comes to electric blues. In fact, the city has become home to so many major blues talents that it is hard to keep track of them all.
Considering the quality of entertainment lined up for this event, this may well be the best live music bargain in the city. In addition to our own Thornetta Davis, Calvin Cooke, and Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones, Friday evening will feature Chicago’s Hubert Sumlin, Carey Bell, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Bob Margolin.
Anyone who knows their blues history knows this ain’t a lineup to be missed. Dig this: Hubert Sumlin is a walking, talking blues history lesson all by himself. Born in Greenwood, Miss., Sumlin toured the South as a teenager with harmonica player James Cotton, another Chicago-based living blues legend. He later became Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar player, rocking houses with him for 22 years until Wolf died in 1976. Then Sumlin joined up with Muddy Waters until Waters died seven years later. Sumlin is one of those originals who put “real” into “real deal.”
Carey Bell is not as celebrated as fellow Chicago harpists Junior Wells and Little Walter — not to mention Cotton. But he nevertheless is a serious force in the music. Bell has toured with Willie Dixon, Robert Nighthawk, Eddie Taylor, Lowell Fulsom and Jimmy Dawkins. He also toured and recorded with Muddy Waters from the early 1970s until Waters’ death. Since then, Bell has performed as a solo act and as part of the Chicago Blues Allstars, a group of former Waters band members. Carey’s 1997 release, Good Luck Man, won W.C. Handy Awards for Album of the Year and Artist of the Year.
Speaking of Muddy Waters — who seems to be the glue binding all of these musicians together — Willie “Big Eyes” Smith served as the drummer for Waters for a total of 15 years. In 1957, Waters asked Smith to join his band as an understudy to drummer “Mojo” Buford. Smith replaced Buford in the studio within a year and toured with the band until 1960. Dropping out of the music scene for several years, Smith eventually rediscovered his passion and rejoined Waters for another 12 years.
After performing with Waters, Smith co-founded the Legendary Blues Band with Pinetop Perkins, Louis Meyers, Calvin Jones, and Jerry Portnoy. The group won six Grammy Awards and recorded four critically acclaimed albums.
Last but not least, there’s Bob Margolin. Schooled on guitar by Waters — with whom he toured for seven years — Margolin has worked with nearly every big blues name on the scene in one capacity or another. Since his days of working with Waters, Margolin has established himself as a solid songwriter and bandleader in his own right and has led his own band for nearly 20 years.
Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers headline night two of the festival. Look for some unyielding blues from Thackery, who is one of the best blues guitarists currently drawing a breath. Also on the bill are the stellar Motor City R&B Pioneers (Kenny Martin, Stanley Mitchell and Joe Weaver), The Reefermen, Mark Pazman’s Super Sessions and the always-worthy Alligators.
In short, you have two successive nights of heady blues that go lengths to support the Detroit Blues Society. So, what on God’s green earth are you waiting for?
The Ninth Annual Antifreeze Blues Festival will be held Friday-Saturday, Jan. 3-4 at the Magic Bag (22920 Woodward, Ferndale). Doors are at 7 p.m. each night. For more information call,Keith A Owens is a Detroit-area freelance writer and musician. E-mail [email protected]