Chico Chism – West Side Chicago Blues Party

Juke Joint Soul (May 15, 2009)

Blues as a macrocosm of music has an over-reaching arch that has influenced every American musical art form in some shape or another since its birth from the South. After spending time in the hands of the Delta Blues masters, it migrated north like many of its masters did after WWII in search of better pay and better work. Most of these masters came to Chicago. Chicago is the home of the blues. Blues as a microcosm on the South and West Sides has existed as a way of life since those early post war days. With many musicians coming and going either in or not written in the pages of history, the late 70s era was a very vibrant time for blues and blues musicians. Maxwell Street was still very alive and well, along with its many characters.

One of its many characters was Chico Chism. Chism is widely known as Howlin’ Wolf’s last drummer. However, there was much more to him than that. Shortly after Wolf’s death, Chism along with his fellow band mates sax man Eddie Shaw, guitar legend Hubert Sumlin, blues legend Detroit Junior, and Shorty Gilbert became the first incarnation of Eddie & the Wolf Gang. Probably recorded about a few months after Howlin’ Wolf’s death in 1976, the Gang recorded on Eddie Shaw’s Simmons label Have Blues Will Travel. It would be the only original recording the group would make. Forty years later, the album would make it out of the dusty alleys of the now vacant Maxwell Street and from the back corners to CD for the first time here. To call this a piece of recorded blues history is an understatement. Hearing a young Eddie Shaw blasting away on vocals and sax, with the unmatched guitar prowess of Sumlin strumming away in the background, as Junior holds the underbelly rhythm with his piano is simply majestic.

The remaining eight tracks also have been unearthed too. Many of the 45s and LPs of the remaining recordings were sold of Chico Chism’s briefcase and from bandstands at local gigs on the South & West Sides of Chicago; some of these tracks have probably never been heard out of that area. Chism started his own label shortly after the disbanding of the original Wolf Gang and called it Cher-Kee after his mother’s Native American heritage. A virtual go-to guy for many of the unheralded musicians on Chicago’s blues scene, Chism recorded the remaining slices and time capsules of what the blues clubs were playing in the late 70s. Guys like Highway Man, Johnny Christian (who’s not included here), Eddie Burks, Willie Davis, and even Chism himself were what we would today consider regional musicians. Due to their location and their music, this recording is without a doubt essential for understanding blues at that time. Chism, like those who captured the godfathers of the Delta, is due some rightful respect for his efforts to record musicians we would otherwise not have heard.

Traditional blues specialist Bob Corritore, who supervised the production of this album, does a fine job in preserving the ambience of the recordings themselves. This CD is a great time capsule and a diamond in the rough of some of the late 70s blues CDs out there. For those new to the blues, these are artists you will probably have never heard of before. That’s okay. Make yourself familiar. Some of the guys playing on here are some names you’ll get to know. In other words, welcome back in time to Chicago. Listen and follow along. These under recorded players are going to give you a lesson on what it was like. Trust me, you’ll enjoy this history lesson.

-Ben the Harpman


ABS Magazine (France)

Chico Chism n’est peut-être pas une des figures les plus connues du grand public, mais tout amateur de Chicago blues digne de ce nom doit connaître ce personage attachant. Originaire de Louisiane où il est né en 1927, ce batteur-chanteur a traversé les décennies avec plus ou moins de discrétion, commençant derrière TV Slim, travaillant avec Rosco Gordon et des tonnes d’autres, venant en Europe avec l’American Blues Legends tour en 79 après avoir été batteur au sein d’une des dernières formations de Howlin’ Wolf. Au décès de celui-ci, Chico Chism lancera le label Cher-Kee sur lequel sortira une série 45 tours de différents artistes avec des formations dont le dénominateur commun était souvent la rhythmique assurée par lui-même à la batterie et Lafayette Gilbert à la basse. Comme pas mal de labels de Chicago de l’epoque, ces faces de blues, soul ou gospel n’auront pas de retentissement majeur, mais contribueront indéniablement à l’histoire du Chicago blues. On ne peut donc que saleur l’initiative de Bob Corritore de rassembler quelques-unes des faces blues parues en single sur Cher-Kee (il manque celui de Johnny Christian aussi paru sur Leric, le label de Jimmy Dawkins) qui présentent des musiciens jouant à l’époque peu en dehors du West Side, un des deux ghettos noirs de Chicago. On retrouve le talentueux et trop sous-estimé guitariste-chanteur Willie Davis (pour qui les choses n’ont pas beaucoup changé malgré son passage au sein des Gents de Willie Kent), le regretté Eddie Burks, connu sur Maxwell street sous le nom “Jewtown Burks”, l’énigmatique chanteur Highway Man très bien accompagné par Billy Branch, Eddie Shaw et consorts, sans oublier, naturellement, Chico Chism en personne avec son Coo-Fanny Coo enregistré en 1978. Pour compléter le CD, Bob Corritore a eu la bonne idée de proposer sept morceaux de l’album Simmon (ES-1815) d’Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang, l’un de ses meilleurs, sorti initialement sous le titre “Have Blues Will Travel”, album enregistré peu de temps après le décès du Wolf, avec Hubert Sumlin, Chico Chism, Detroit Junior, Lafayette “Shorty” Gilbert et, naturellement, Eddie Shaw.Il va sans dire que le résultat est une belle illustration de ce qu’était le Chicago blues au cours de la seconde partie des années, 70, période qu’on a un peu trop souvent tendance à oublier.

-Jean-Pierre Urbain


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