Playing the blues in black AND white

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"But I think it's important that the blues keeps in touch with its roots."

Right now, though, it's the tourists who keep the major rooms humming.

"If you took the out-of-towners from all the clubs, we'd all be in trouble," says Blue Chicago owner Gino Battaglia.

Artistically, though, the trouble already is here. The recycled repertoire deadens the art form. The repetition of the same bands as weekly attractions freezes out young musicians, further calcifying the blues in Chicago.

"I'm not sure where the good young artists are going to come from," says Iglauer.

They're out there, but they've got their own challenges navigating the clubs.

For whites, it's one thing.

"There's a stigma, a bad idea about how a bluesman must speak a certain way, sing a certain way, smoke a certain way, drink a certain way," says Guy King, a 34-year-old musician who was born and raised in Israel and migrated to Chicago.

"That stigma is not correct. It's not fair to the people who play this music and sing it well. I've tried to perfect my craft. … Let people enjoy it for what it is."

For blacks, it's another.

"When you're a younger musician, a lot of older people don't take you seriously in the blues," says Chicago guitarist Eric Davis, 39. "There's a stereotype that's placed on younger musicians … and it affects how you'll be accepted by the club owners and the audience.

"I don't really have as much of a problem with it now, but five or six years ago I sure did."

In the end, it's not only the musicians who suffer; it's the blues, as well.


The consequences


So what happens when an indigenous music languishes in the community that created it and gets repackaged for sale somewhere else?

An art form starts to die.

"We're losing our audience," says veteran Chicago bluesman Johnny Drummer.

"What we lose is the talent, because the talent has lost the opportunity to expose itself, to improve and to find relevance," says Tony Mangiullo, owner of Rosa's Lounge, on West Armitage Avenue.

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