Friday, April 9, 2010
Sweet Home Chicago
I've been caught up in a whirlwind and it finally spit me out long enough to finally blog about the trip that my family and I took to Chicago. It was wonderful. We ate great food, listened to great blues, enjoyed marvelous weather (blue skies in the high 60s)and we left nary a stone unturned. We took a train every place we ventured and that was an experience in itself.
We landed at O'Hare about 11:30 a.m., bought 7 day Chicago Transit Authority tickets for the three of us (wife Virginia, son John, and myself) and took the Blue Line to the downtown loop and luckily were able to check in to our hotel and then hit the sidewalks.
The first destination was the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) to see what the Second City looked like from the tallest building in North America. Wow! What a view. Kinda like looking over an urban Grand Canyon--have to see it for yourself.
That evening we headed to Shaw's Oyster Bar and enjoyed a fabulous meal while listening to blues harpman Morry Sochat and his Special 20 band. Nice folks those guys. Morry was blowing through an Astatic mic with a Shure CM element into a small Deluxe amp and hit on some great traditional blues licks with great tone. He knows his Little Walter. He told me that the only draw back playing at Shaw's was that they had to keep the volume low, and he'd really rather crank it up a few more notches. Shoji Naito played some really wonderful blues licks on guitar. He nailed Muddy Waters' slide style when called upon. In my conversation with the fellows, I mentioned that I knew that Shoji was quite a harmonica player in his own right, because I had a recording of him doing it pretty fine--so on the next set he and Morry swapped instruments and proved me right. I didn't know Morry had guitar chops to boot. Shoji told me to make darned sure that I attended the blues jam at Jerry's Sandwich Shop on Wednesday night. Fine evening of dining and bluesing.
On Wednesday we headed west to Oak Park where Virginia's dad grew up. We exited the Green Line on the exact street of his youth and walked just a few blocks to his house (which is in a fine neighborhood of old home that have been finely kept). As one gentleman told us that we ran across, "The home here are old and older". That was a special walk for us all.
Within an adjacent neighbor was Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio and many of his first architectural creations. Seems his first commissions were contracted in that part of the world.
Not far from there, we took a visit to the house that Ernest Hemingway grew up in and took a tour of the house and listened to some fascinating history about one of the first authors that I cared anything about reading.
Back downtown and it being that it was St. Patrick's day, we thought we'd find someplace to eat that had a little bit o' the green going on and found that Harry Carey's fit the bill. We drank a Guinness and ate Guinness battered fish and corn beef and cabbage. The neatest thing about the meal was that the hostess sat us at Harry Carey's table, where he entertained sports figures and dignitaries from all over. We also stuck our hands into the holes of his "Holy Cow".
While we were sitting in a park in Oak Park, John noticed a cab pass that advertised the Blue Man Group and mentioned that he'd really wish that he could see them. I told him that their home base was Chicago and that I saw an advertisement in one of the brochures in my pocket that said they were in town. That's all he needed to know. So, at his behest, I called their box office and they sold me three tickets for that night's show. Wow! Again. We had great seats for a show featuring the craziest entertainment that I've ever witnessed. Again. You just had to be there.
On the way to Millennium Park, John saw that the Chicago Theatre marquee was proclaiming the Experience Hendrix tour. He just had to make sure that we couldn't get tickets to that, so I called to confirm it for him. Long time sold out. We did walk past their tour bus though. Would have been nice to catch Hubert Sumlin, Joe Satriani, Derek Trucks, etc...BUT I did have the Filisko/Noden and Jim Liban tickets for this night.
Millennium Park certainly had a unique appeal. The Cloud Gate really drew our attention. It looked like a giant blob of mercury or a titanium egg or something.
I really didn't know that the Art Institute of Chicago displayed so many of the works of the masters of the art world that I had only seen in books. Goyas, van Goghs, Rubens, Cezannes, Gauguins, Monets, etc...all over the place. I think John was even quite impressed with what we saw before us. We spent quite some time in there and barely scratched the surface of what was within the compound. Third time, Wow!
From there we headed to the more commercialized themed parked attractions at the Navy Pier and then over to the Shedd Aquarium, which had quite a nice collection of aquatic life. We viewed Soldier Field from there, deciding not to venture over, and then, it was time to rest up and head to Evanston for a night of blues harp people.
S.P.A.C.E in Evanston is situation in the back part of an Italian/Pizza restuarant, so we ate some good pizza before the show. The venue is not very large and we had a table very close to the stage and it was packed with harmonica players. Joe Filisko and Eric Noden played a great set of country blues. Joe's a master at the pre-war style of harmonica playing, such as that played by Jaybird Coleman, Will Shade, Gwen Foster,etc... and he absolutely torches Sonny Boy Williamson I (John Lee) type stuff. His intonation and harp licks were just so spot on and I've never witness someone tongue block around the harp as well as he does. He could rapid fire licks with the best of them when he wanted. Of course he plays on the best customized harmonicas on the planet (his own). He started things rolling with his train licks on I.C. Special, the title tune for their latest release. Nobody can out chug Filisko's train. Most of their tunes came from this album with Noden singing most of the songs in a nicely gruffed up bluesy timbre. Loved his tale of Too Much Whiskey. Damn fine guitar player. Filisko did jump in on some of the vocals, such as his tale about his Angry Woman. If so much time hadn't passed since I was there, I could tell you on which songs Filisko broke on the harp mic and amped up his tone, but I can only tell you that he's got that down too.
Of course, Jim Liban brought the amped up show to the stage for his set with his trio. Filisko praised him as being THE BEST harmonica player ever and his all time favorite. I haven't seen many blues trios employing bass, drums, and blues harp, without a guitar in the mix--but then it would be a quartet, wouldn't it? Liban's all about tone with minimal note choices. When he pulls on a note, it is for all he's worth and he sucks everything that hole can produce from it. Again, almost a month has passed since watching this tone master at work, but he put the Super Reverb he was blowing through its paces and occasionally hit a pedal (delay, I figure, but couldn't tell a difference)to get his brand of blues across. My wife compared the two acts as Filisko and Noden being downhome boys and Liban as more of a Sinatra. By golly, she may be right--especially when one thinks of the phrasing that Liban uses in his licks and vocals. A special treat was when Liban invited his old pardner Steve Cohen up to blow a tune and Cohen ripped up a jacked up version of Parchmen Farm with Liban taking over on bass guitar. Wow! #Four. If I'd been alone, I might have hung around and chatted a bit, but my companions were heading for the "L" train back to the downtown loop. I was a bit leery myself at catching the train at night, so we fled the scene. I did meet Kirk Manley, who helps write the you missed monday blog, which clued me into this show in the first place. I wanted son John to be impressed with the show, but his comparison was with the previous night's Blue Man Group and that is tough competition--BUT I loved every minute of it. The photos came from my phone, because we left the camera at the room. So the photos are crap, but they are what they are.
On Friday, we decided that a trip to Wrigley Field was in order, so we headed that direction. I saw the back of Buddy Guy's Legends on the way over, so I knew where it was located and planned on stopping by on the way back. Wrigley Field was Wrigley Field and well worth the visit. They were constructing some bleachers on top of adjacent buildings, which I would assume would command top dollar from whoever rented those.
We'd had plans to eat some Chicago Deep Dish Pizza for lunch, but I pointed out that it was Friday during lent, so I said let's see what Buddy Guy's had on the menu that was fishy. This turned out to be the BIGGEST surprise of the trip. We walked into the bar about 2pm and Lurrie Bell was playing an acoustic set to about five people present. I sat mesmerized as he worked that flattop ferociosly and sang as if he were playing for 500. Esteemed Chicago harmonica player, Matthew Skoller, threw down fills and added some fine solo runs. As the waitress came over to take our orders for shrimp po' boys, I looked over and saw someone that I only wished that I could run into again at some point in my life. Eddie C. Campbell occupied one of the tables. Now, I've blogged about Eddie C. before and remarked how he called me up to play Blues With A Feeling on a stage in Bryan, Texas--which was the first time that I had ever played on a stage. And here he was, sitting in Buddy Guy's Legends. I approached him and said, "You know, you sure do look like Eddie C. Campbell" and he said "For certain" and invited me to sit down. I reminded him of that night and said that it must have been 15 years ago or so. He said, "Man, Ricky, that was over 20 years ago, because I haven't been down in Texas in that long." We had a nice chat and he told me how Lurrie was his God Son. About that time, Lurrie snapped a string, but finished the song he was playing without missing a beat. I got a chance to meet him and Matthew and had a short, but nice conversation. I told Lurrie how special it was to meet his dad, Carey, several years back when I took my oldest daughter to see him at Blind Willies in Atlanta. Wow! For the umpteenth time.
Friday night, snow moved in and began to blanket the city by Saturday morning--our departure day. Virginia ventured out in the a.m. to visit the Cultural Center around the block from our hotel for one more impressive site and then we hit the Blue Line to O'Hare and caught the plane back to Houston with lots of fine memories of a might fine American City. Excuse any editing mistakes-I forewent proofreading to just get this down. 'Nuff for now.