It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
Yesterday, Sunday afternoon, February 24, a whole lot of Atlanta blues fans and musicians came together at Blind Willie’s to share great music and show love and financial and emotional support for Mr. Chick Willis, our own “Stoop Down” man, who is undergoing treatment for lung cancer.
The coming week marks Blind Willie’s 27th anniversary, and what a legacy they have built in the Atlanta area for their constant support of blues music and particularly of our own blues legends. Chick Willis is one of those legends. To honor him, some of the finest blues musicians around came out and played and sang.
My emotional cup was running way over before we got past the first three acts. I mean, they opend with Francine Reed! Ms. Reed is so important in my eyes that I included her in my book, T’ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do, so it is a thrill to me every time I get to see her. She was in fine voice and form yesterday. She was followed by Ms.Sandra Hall, another powerful woman who knows how to get a crowd up on their feet and moving! Carlos Capote of The Breeze Kings said that they just recently toured France with Sandra Hall, and “that thing she does” – let’s call it a shimmy- literally froze a French audience. It’s a sexy and amazing thing all right, to watch Ms. Hall perform “I’m a Woman.” It makes every female feel proud to be one!
The afternoon then continued with Sweet Betty. (Forgive me if I got the order wrong there; I was sort of stunned and mesmerized for the entire first hour.) This woman is just a phenomenal force. She is mobility challenged and performs sitting and yet just the power and emotion of her voice and the expressiveness of her face and hands holds an audience firmly in her hands. Sweet indeed.
After the ladies, The Breeze Kings took the stage, first as a duo with Carlos Capote and Jim Ransome and then with their drummer and bass player to do a few songs. I recently wrote an article in which I called The Breeze Kings the masters of Atlanta blues. I stand behind that statement. They are solid, professional, and Carlos is one of the finest harmonica players I have ever heard, backed by solid bass, guitar and drums from as professional and dynamic a group as you will hear anywhere.
The Breeze Kings backed up Roy Lee Johnson, who began his career at the same time as Chick Willis. In fact, the tale was told of a talent show in 1956, in which Chick Willis came in first and Roy Lee Johnson came in second. He plays amazing, stunning guitar still and his voice is true and strong,
After Mr. Johnson, Chicago Joe brought his band to the stage. There is not enough that can be said about the impact Chicago Joe Jones is having on the future of blues in this state and even beyond. He and Red Sargent and the rest of the staff of Chicago Joe’s Rock and Blues Camp are training the stars of tomorrow. The youngsters he had with him on vocal, bass, guitar and drums were probably none of them into their teens yet and yet they blew the audience away with their talent and ability. They were all really good, but Ben Wulkan on guitar deserves special notice, I think. And when Chicago Joe himself sang and played with his students and with Red Sargent, it was easy to see that he can not only teach the blues, but “do” the blues as well as anyone around.
We had to leave before the last three acts. We had covered AnachroCon and were just exhausted. But we were there for four hours, and I guarantee you that that was sufficient amount of time to reaffirm that we are blessed not only with great blues musician but with a blues community of great heart and caring for one another. Blessings indeed.
And Happy Anniversary, Blind Willie’s. Here’s hoping for many, many more.