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Late Doors

Chicago

First went to Chicago 1993 after several previous American sojourns. Every good band we seemed to hear either came from Austin Texas or Chicago so three of us went there to find out for ourselves. I fell in love with the place within seconds of getting off the EL from the airport. Certain places just breathe out energy and create expectation and I seemed to tap into Chicagoís straight away without even seeing much of it.

Since then Iíve been another six times with the same lads or women and twice by myself and Iím certain ill go again and again. This particular trip started months back in January I seem to remember while in the grips of winter blues. We were in the Zeph and I just said lets go to Chicago this summer. Two days later my mate who Iíll call blues brother 1  rings me up and says heís booked it. Fantastic I said, ill just let MrsD know shall I      

MrsD plans our holidays with military precision so it was the same meticulous attention to detail I was expecting blues bro 1 to adhere to when he said heíd pick me up for the drive to Heathrow at 5.30 am. 5.50 he turns up laughing saying he didnít wake up till 5.30 and that sort of haphazard slapdash approach was the order of the day for the next 6 days.

We got a bit of a result checking in though. Got upgraded to economy plus for no reason other than the checking girl clearly fancied a bit of the old blues brothersí action. At least thatís what we put it down to   . Big comfy seats. Leg room, premier service and all the beer we wanted, which was a lot.

Our Motel right in the center is a budget motel no frills but superbly situated on the near North side of Town. Weíve used it most of the time. Other than the fantastic location the other fine aspects of it is a superb classic American dinner annexed to it for breakfast and one of the finest bars in town the splendid Brehon Pub just across the road. This is our local in town and even the long standing owner recognizes us. We were in at least once a day and it really is a great social place, weíve met quite a few people  in there over the years and met them when they have come over here.

It masquerades as an Irish bar but it is nothing of the sort, its quintessential Chicago and the better for it. We were in sat at the bar within 20 minutes of checking in the hotel getting into the Chicago groove. It was about team time and there were still the after work crowd in.

Thereís no Budweiser in the Brehon so Codger would be disappointed and a couple of proper ales by the splendid Goose Island brewery of Chicago. We made a pact. No Taxis, No Chain burgers, no Bud/Miller/Coors. Everything local and public transports everywhere.


So we had a few ales on mahogany ridge in the Brehon and went to probably our favourite restaurant, Shawís Crab House. A fantastic place, Itís always heaving and has been improved no end lately with the addition of a more informal bar area to go along with the restaurant. We got two seats at the centrally located bar directly in front of a Blues Trio playing some pretty tasty stuff considering it was gratis background music but that is Chicago for you, the Blues are a part of its fabric as much as Textiles are/were here and err beefeaters and eels are for you lot down there   .

It is sea food heaven in Shawís. We had a dozen oysters apiece. Huge crab legs and scallops with asparagus and sea food rice. Absolutely beautiful (though not local obvioulsy), it was like tasting the ocean itself. The place was chocca full and extremely lively, the bad were rocking and yet everything was supremely organised. The bar staff were on the ball and in complete control, the waiters were zipping about expertly and the whole place a mass of relaxed but excited chatter. A great start to the weekend.

Afterwards we got on the superb EL system with our 28 dollar seven day pass a bit further North to the North Halsted District. The EL is a brilliant mainly over ground train/Tube system with about six lines all going out to the suburbs and all converging in a circular route round downtown in what is called the Loop. They run all night as well and itís our main form of transport.

Thereís a couple of blues clubs up in North Halsted and the one we have being going to for years and probably our favourite is B,L,U,E,S,. As it was getting late by then and weíd had a very long day we went straight in  and got two seats at the bar. Thursday nights is usually good and we plonked ourselves down in front of the Goose Island Honkers Ale tap.

There was a good mix of tourists and locals in already and a steady influx throughout the night as various groups came and went. The bands usually do two sets and there are usually two bands on, the support and main band. Itís not usually as straight forward as that though, there are always musicians coming and going, guesting and playing with both bands. If there is a third set sometimes the main man in the support band will head up with the backing band of the main act and so on.

When we first came hear 16 years ago the musicians were almost exclusively black. Nowadays its 50-50 and trying not to stereotype, the black musicians are nearly always the best and I hesitate to say this, but are the real deal. A lot of the non blacks are technically good but I tell you this, in terms of capturing the crowd and rollicking out the blues I have never heard a white man in these clubs do it like a black person. Thursday night was no exception. The support guy was a fat Lesley West type fella who was good and gave it his all but within 2 minutes the main man had blown him away. I wouldnít say he was a better guitar player by any means and he didnít have a fantastic voice but he swung like a bastard. I reckon itís in the timing and phrasing. A white blues player often falls for the old trap of blasting away with no restraint or sense of dynamics. Even the most mediocre black blues player will caress the song or groove with just the right amount of virtuosity and touch. They seem to decorate the song or jam with style and elegance regardless of the technical playing aspects whereas a white player sometime seems besotted with peppering it with ostentatious licks that have no relevance to the groove. Donít get me wrong they can blast a song with a  flurry of plank slapping pyrotechnics  when its required but they instinctively know about less being more and one note will do if itís the right note in the right place. Itís like a white man has to prove he has the blues whereas a black man doesnít even have to think about it because it is so inherent in him.

Course there are exceptions to this gross generalisation. SRV, Pete Green, Roy Buchanan, Rory Gallagher for example can (could) hold their own with anybody but Iím talking in general and about musicians less gifted than those at the top of the tree. I donít know if such generalisations are politically acceptable but itís what I think so itís what Iím writing, so there   .

Anyway I canít remember the guys name but he was a giant of a man in an immaculate cream suite and pork pie hat and a good line in amenable banter. Frequently he came out into the crowd to play his licks, often directly in front of a girl before semi walking semi dancing back to the stage to sing the remainder of the song. He did a particularly memorable speeded up version of Hendrixís Little Wing in a swing jazz style (yeah I know, nice). It was brilliant and a perfect end to our first day in Chicago.
Pond Life

That is ace stuff.


Always fancied Chicago myself if i was ever going to the states. It is because of the Blues Brothers.

I've not seen that many black blues musicians play in the flesh, sure as fuck seen a lot of white dudes. Heard it once said about B.B King that people play a million notes a minute and cant touch him because he plays two but they weigh 50lb each.

Nice post LD. Thank you.
Sir Bulldog Craggwood

interesting write up LateDoors - any photos to show  us?
Cutsyke

I went to Chicago once. For eight hours. It is the coldest place in the world.
Dock

Good post LD, it's on my list as I've told you before.

Re: "Iíve been another six times with the same lads or women"

That last word is plural. From that I think we can conclude in the final analysis that you are a no-good-swashbuckling-love em n' leave em-jetset-rock n' roll animal. Have £5!  
Late Doors

Now then Dockerooney that would be some reputation to hold but unfortunately it is not the case. Ive only been with the one gal and that is MrsD back in 99.

Regarding the "no-good-swashbuckling-love em n' leave em-jetset-rock n' roll animal". Whilst been the first to appreciate a finely turned ankle and a sweet demeanor I  have to report that I have never been one to chase it round town. Aside from  two or three hectic periods of activity in my 30ís and early 20ís ive usually been a steady one woman man often shunning the unwanted approaches of unsuitable women who are clearly unable to see beyond the devilish good looks and bedroom athleticism and are only interested in  gratifying their own shallow desires. As ive said before mate, youíd love it in Chicago and youíd go down a storm as well.

That is an ace quote from BB King there PL and thatís exactly what Iím talking about

Iíve only ever been in Summer Cuts but am told it is brutal in winters from November onwards. Summer is fantastic though, every weekend there are street festivals with stalls, food, and live music stages all incredibly well organised

I have indeed got pictures Sir Craggy,  198 of them. Iíll post em up eh?    (i love that fella)

So after the first long day we had Friday Sat Sun Monday and most of Tuesday to mosey about and generally take it all in day and night. It was hectic but fantastic and we seemed to cram lots in. I could write quite a big report but I might be stretching the limits of indulgence a bit too far there so Iíll just make one more post of it, with pictures   .

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