Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Billy Branch's Birthday party was last night. I'm posting two previous articles about the experience of attending Artis' lounge on a Monday night. All I can say is "BLUES ME OR LOSE ME" and last night I closed the place.


Billy Branch

It was a Monday night, and some people arrived dressed as if they were going to or coming from church. Anytime I spend in a “Blues Club” is figuratively my church. You see, my church is filled with music and laughter and happiness. There is a certain camaraderie amongst Blues people that transcends religion, race, economic status, or intellectual level. Anyone who goes to Artis’ for the music becomes part of a family, and after all isn’t that what church is - just one big happy family?

When in town on a Monday, “Billy Branch and The Sons Of The Blues Band” call Artis Lounge home, as do various Blues fans. On most Monday nights it is standing room only because on Monday nights Blues royalty hold court there.

I met Billy Branch and Rosa just as they were unloading their car trunk. Billy yelled over something about taking a minute to move his car because he was taking up two parking spots. We exchanged pleasantries and proceeded through the side door. As far as Blues clubs go, the place is not much. But, that does not matter! It is the people and the music, the drinks and the laughter that make Artis’ something special.

At first glance, it just seemed like any other corner bar with which Chicago prides itself. I found a seat located along the back wall and started to peel back the layers of the club. A floor to ceiling front window was decorated with engraved musical notes that seemed to dance with reflective neon lights. Outside this window, a Chicago Transit Authority bus squealed to a stop with a familiar whoosh sound of its air brakes. As the front and back doors swung wide open, out would pop another patron of the Blues.

 Red, blue, and green neon lights reflected off that front plate glass window which reminded me of yesteryear. These lights were located high above the bar and were situated smack dab in the center of the club. Bottles of soon to be consumed liquor glowed white from strategically placed lights under their very own glass shelf.  Recessed multi-colored bulbs hung high above, and their 200 watt shine illuminated those who were sitting at the bar. Above and to the side hung a sign that read, “You must have a drink sitting or standing.”

Ball caps, fedoras, berets, and newspaper boy hats started bopping when the first S.O.B. notes landed on anxious ears. Women started that “slow sway-rocking” from their chrome and black vinyl bar stools. Three piece suits mingled amongst the younger blue jean crowd. The Monday night “services” had begun.

Clarence and Artis have a very hip, a very cool, and a very Blue place. You can call it a lounge, a bar, a club, a tap room, or even a “church,” but I’m just going to call it my “Home Sweet Home, Away from Home.”

Artis Lounge is located at;
1249 East 87th Street
Chicago, Illinois

Artis Lounge and Billy Branch

I know I have written about this before and by now you may be sick of reading about it, but I’m going to write it over and over again.  Artis Lounge on a Monday night is the place to be in Chicago, period. Billy Branch without a doubt is the world’s best blues harmonica player performing today. He and his band, the Sons of Blues take the genre to a level that few performers will ever achieve.  

Billy jokes about the band being classically trained musicians and after that statement Dan, the guitar player, kicks that John Lee Hooker riff ala “Boom Boom” as the crowd leaps to its feet. Their version is pure nostalgia blues musicality. I for one could not contain myself. I am not much of a dancer and I do feel like a dork doing so, but I did not care. I think it is because age gives us an excuse to act stupid or is it youth.  I could never figure that one out and the older I become the less I care what people think.  I did it anyway.  No matter.  People did not pay attention to me because all eyes and ears were fixated on the north end of Artis’.

In attendance last night was Sharon Lewis. Sharon is a blues vocalist beyond compare. She and the SOB band dominated a version of “Ernestine” and it was superb. 

Also “In The House” was Eddie Shaw. Eddie is one of the few remaining members of the wolf pack. He was Howlin’ Wolf’s sax man. Eddie is old school and this author absolutely loves old school blues.  Eddie’s voice is as smooth as silk and brings one back to a different era, time and place.  He is truly a master of the blues and truly a real live connection to the golden era.

Ronnie Baker Brooks was there too.  I have seen Ronnie on many occasions and he, like Billy, is an ultimate showman. He played the song “Stuck on Stupid” and then broke into “Hand me down my Walking cane”.  If you have not seen Ronnie Baker Brooks you must. He is old school/new school and I pure joy to see and hear. He can blues you, then rock you and all within the framework of the three chord environment.  I have met a lot of people in the blues community and Ronnie is one of the greats and a true gentleman. I also might add that we had a very nice conversation about staying on the 1. You musicians know what I’m talking about. 

Electro Glide records recording artist Jimmy Warren was also there, but did not stay long enough to play as he had a very early recording session Tuesday morning.  His next performance will be September 11, 2020 at Governor State University.   This is an all star night of the blues which includes Ronnie’s dad, Lonnie Brooks.   

Paris (vocalist) was there and had just returned from an eight month tour with Melvin Taylor.  She did not get a chance to sing, but I hope she returns next Monday and does.

The legendary Twist Turner was in attendance. Twist is the blues go to guy if anyone needs an in the pocket solid drummer.  I tell you this man has played with all the greats. I do not have enough space here to list them all. The list of who he did not play with would be much easier to produce. It would be a very short list indeed. I might add that Twist is a  prolific songwriter that has  many a tune. Just go to youtube and put in his name and listen . 

Billy branch is one super entertainer and I might add one extraordinary gentleman. It is a pure privilege to be accepted into Blues Ville by all these great artists.  I am humbled by the artists that are in this great city of Chicago. Billy calls it the blues capital of the planet. I have to say he is correct.

Terry Lape AKA  “Gatorman”  
Artis Lounge is located at 1249 east 87th Street Chicago, Illinois