Chicago Blues Festival/Chicago Blues: A Living History

It has been quite a summer! June hit like a tsunami. Chicago Blues A Living History headlined the Chicago Blues Festival and the following week we recorded another double album with this group of spectacular bluesmen. Between Matthew Skoller Band gigs, rehearsals and this recording (I played harmonica on it and am one of the producers) I was busier than a cat tryin’ to cover up shit on marble floor!

The Mayor and his delegation from Aulnay-sous-bois, France came to Chicago to attend the festival. They are the city (20 minutes outside Paris) that executive produced the Chicago Blues A Living History.

The Mayor, who had attended the Grammies with us was invited by the city of Chicago to attend the Chicago Blues Festival. Here they formed a partnership between the two festivals. He came with his right-hand men and there was a reception for them right next to the Petrillo Band Shell an hour-and-a-half before our show. The French consulate of Chicago was invited and speeches were given. The Mayor then addressed the entire festival from the main stage.

That same day The Matthew Skoller Band did a show at Buddy Guy’s Legends from 2-4:30pm.

Two days later we hit the studio to record. We had all the same principles as the first album: Billy Boy Arnold, Billy Branch, John Primer, Lurrie Bell, with Carlos Johnson, Mike Avery. Also 5 VERY special guests, to be announced…And of course the Living History Band: Billy Flynn, Matthew Skoller, Johnny Iguana, Felton Crews and Kenny Smith, with cameos from Billy Dickens and Roosevelt Purifoy. The record will be released in the US early next year.

Beirut, Lebanon

On July 28th Chicago Blues A Living History (CBLH) performed at the Zouk Mikael Festival in Beirut, Lebanon. It was a wonderful experience and the show received great reviews from Lebanese press. Some of us arrived on the 24th and were able to chill for several days before and after the show. Middle Eastern hospitality is no joke, they were so nice to us. And the food was fabulous.

Vin de Liban

Any one who knows me knows I’m a wine lover and I was knocked out by Lebanese wine (literally… I kid!) It was very old world wine French in style and the varietals were all French: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. And some of the grapes from the Rhone: Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan and Grenache. Bone dry Rose, just like in Provence. This is one of the few hot climate wines I don’t find too fruit forward. During the French intervention (1920), they grew some great vineyards before they withdrew all their troops and finally recognized Lebanese independence (1946). Some of those vineyards still exist.

I didn’t get a chance to sample many of them but there are also some wonderful indigenous grapes like Obaideh and Merwah (white). Many of these grapes are the ancestors the French varietals. Lebanon is one of the oldest wine-making regions in the world and has a wine tradition that predates French influence by millennia.

Beirut lived up to and surpassed its old reputation as the “Paris of the Middle East” and I can’t wait to return. We have to thank bandleader, guitarist, impresario and artistic director for the festival, Mr. Otis Grand, for bringing us to Lebanon. Otis can be seen touring all over Europe with his super tight blues band.


Lurrie Bell and I are still doing pre production work on his next CD. It will be a project he has wanted to do for years: Spirituals and Gospel tunes. Primarily acoustic. We will probably record in January. More special guests TBA!!


On Friday August 27th The Matthew Skoller Band headlined the new Buddy Guy’s Legends. Matthew had singers extraordinaire Mike Avery and Jamie Teague singing background vocals. The group did almost all originals that night. We had a lot of fun.


In November Chicago Blues A Living History will do a French tour. Starting out performing at Aulnay-sous-bois’ Aulnay All Blues Festival. We will be doing full CBLH performances at the fest as well as some duo performances. I will appear with my good friend guitarist/pianist/vocalist Bill Sims Jr. from NYC. We also will be holding a conference in association with the University of Chicago in Paris, on the history of Chicago Blues and the current scene. This part of the tour goes until the end of November. Then off to Africa…


Larry Skoller, Bill Sims Jr., Kenny Smith and I will then fly from Paris to Africa to do performances and workshops in conjunction with the American Embassy in Paris. We will play in: Tunisia, Mauritania and Mali. The lectures will be conducted in French so I will be working with my dear friend and former chairperson of the Loyola French department Anne Callahan to improve my grammar and acquire some needed vocabulary.

We are very excited about this experience! The mission statements from the different embassy posts all indicate that we are going over there to foster mutual understanding and positive attitudes towards the United States. Youth outreach and Muslim outreach. They feel music programs of this nature are highly effective vehicles for this goal. We will be performing for students, the population at large and refugees. We will be collaborating with other musicians and also performing for some of the Ambassadors and diplomats. Please look at my calendar for exact dates and venues for these tours.

That’s about it for now, please sign up on my mailing list and drop me a line sometime.