Friday, September 25, 2009

CHICAGO BLUES: Dude My Blues Dues are Paid in Full

For two years I chopped away on an Red Ibanez Roadster guitar. My amplifier was a Galien-Kruger 250 ML. It was quite a nice little amp that was rated at 100 watts. I think the thing weighed in at about 15 pounds. I mounted it on an old tripod that folded up. The whole rig was great for quick getaways.  I could grab the guitar and amp and be out the door in about 60 seconds. It came in handy on a couple of occasions. The first was at a club on 53rd and Ashland in Chicago. I think the name of the joint was “People’s Choice”.  I remember the incident very well.

The place was really a very nice middle of the block shotgun bar. We called it a shotgun bar, because if you fired a shotgun through the front door the buckshot would go out the back door. I could have used that shotgun, this one particular night.

It was late summer 1980. I was now playing off and on with Smiling Bobby on a regular basis. I would call Bob ahead of time to find out if it was safe to play at the club he was performing at.  Back in the day there were areas of the city that I just could not go into. Today is very different and that’s for the better. Bob knew the good clubs and the bad ones.  This particular night Bob told me it was a pretty cool club and he would make sure to save me a parking spot right in front of the front door. I was driving a 1979(?)  Chevette. That car was great. Good gas mileage and if I put the back of the back seat down I could fit my upright bass in it perfectly.  When I arrived Bob and Kenny (Bass Player) were standing outside the front door.  Kenny pulled his car forward and Bob drove his car backwards to open up a spot. I slipped in and parked. I retrieved my amp and guitar and walked into the club.  Once again I was the only white person in the place. No matter, I was there to play the blues and nothing else. Anytime I could play the blues was time well spent.

Kenny, the bass player, had an Uncle who shall remain unnamed by me. This uncle was and still is a very famous comedian.  Kenny had a tendency to drink too much and so did I.  I cannot tell you how many times I drove home from gigs drunk.  I really do not know how I got through that period in my life, but here I am. DO NOT drink and drive. The preceding has been a public service announcement.

The beers in the club were $2 each and Kenny had bought at the corner liquor store  a six-pack for $3.  I gave him$ 2 and he chipped in the rest.  We sat in my car and started drinking that six-pack. We each had two beers. I noticed a shady looking character lurking about 200 feet away from the front of the car. He kept looking at us. Kenny said to pay no attention to him, because he looked  like a local guy that was drunk.  Kenny exited the car and went back into the club. I finished what was left in my second beer can and exited also.

By that time, the shady guy was standing right next to my car. I thought nothing of it and walked towards the front door. The guy pulled out a 38 pistol and shouted up against the wall. I backed into the wall right on the side of the front door. My back was against the wall and my hands were up.

I said, “Man I’m just here to play the blues and I just spent my last two dollars on a six pack of beer. I’ll have some more money after the gig.”                

He shoved the gun into my right lower ribcage and said, “I don’t want no money! I want to know whats you doing my neighborhood. This GD territory.”                                                                                                         

I knew immediately that he was a member of one of the most notorious street gangs in Chicago namely Gangsters Disciples.  When I realized who this guy was I started to think about what the hell they were going to put on my tombstone.  Right then Bobby walked around the corner and saw what was going on.

He said, “Hey you leave my brother alone. He’s with the band.”                                                              

The guy yells back at him, “I don’t care who he’s with. He’s a dead man.”

When Smiling Bobby saw the gun he froze for half a second and then calmly walked into the club. I knew at that moment I was on my own.  The guy intimidated and taunted me for a couple of more minutes. Those minutes seemed like hours.

Then, from about a block away, I guy yelled, “Hey Tyrone get over here, man.”

Tyrone turned to look at the guy and when he did he took the gun out of my ribs and pointed it towards the yeller.  I took advantage of the situation and just rolled along the wall and into the club. I knew that the owner would not allow those guys in.

Jeff the drummer said, “Hey we gotta get you out of here”.

I replied, “How?”

The owner and ten guys walked towards me and then out the door. The owner, after a beat, came back in. He looked at me and told me to get my stuff and follow him. I grabbed my guitar and amp and towards the door we went.  He stopped me at the front of the door, walked out and then  motioned for me to get in the car and go.  I stepped out the door to be met by ten guys who formed a line from the door of the club to the door of my car. Five men on a side and each one was my personal bullet blocker. I opened the door waved thank you and off I went.

The next Monday I asked Bob what happened. Bob said the same old same old. What about the gun guy? Bob asked me what gun guy? That’s when it dawned on me that he drank just as much as Kenny and I.

I drove by that club last week after almost thirty years. The area has not changed that much, but the club is long gone and all that’s left is a vacant lot. The building right next door to it is a store front church. I wonder if the congregation knows about that club and the people who used to hang out in it. I wonder if they know about the shake dancer that frequented that club. I wonder if they know that right next door the devil's music played.


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