John Brim, Billy Boy Arnold, Jimmy Burns, Big Wheeler
Blues Before Sunrise Live, Vol. One
Delmark 699
This captures highlights from a benefit held at Chicago's B.L.U.E.S nightclub on October 20, 1996, in support of Steve Cushing's radio show, Blues Before Sunrise. Cushing's "Blues Heritage Showcase" was a fixture on Chicago public radio's WBEZ-FM (91.5) for 17 years, and was syndicated nationally for six years before going independent, and the benefit was an attempt to raise money to purchase satellite time for the show, which can now be found on selected public stations around the country.

Cushing's radio premise is to explore the "deep roots" of the blues, concentrating on the first 50 years of the genre. The artists drawn from the benefit and appearing on Volume One represent the raw vitality of the post-war Chicago sound. These players aren't revivalists mining the traditional Chicago-style, urban, electrified vein; they are part of the generation which created the music.

Leading off is Big Wheeler, whose sound is rooted in the schooling of Muddy Waters and Little Walter, and his contributions include crackling covers of Willie Dixon's "I'm Ready," and Little Walter's "I Gotta Go." Next up is the legendary John Brim and some of the original Ice Cream Men performing several of the original tunes that were classic releases for Chess Records. Radio DJ Cushing also happens to be an experienced drummer who lends his talents to the backing bands for Wheeler and Brim.

Billy Boy Arnold's medley of "Stormy Monday," "Broken Hearted Blues" and "Sonny Boy's Jump" is the high point, with his revved-up take on "Stormy Monday" leading into a feisty tribute to one of his influences, Sonny Boy Williamson I.

Rounding out this meaty, deep-dish slice of Chicago Blues Fest-on-disc is some fine work by Jimmy Burns. Both Burns and Arnold perform "out front" of sharp ensemble work by Johnny Burgin and the La-Z Boys (a band which appears weekly with Burns at Chicago's Smoke Daddy venue).

You can get more information about the Blues Before Sunrise radio program online at or by writing to Box 272, Forest Park, IL 60130. This excellent program is still in search of ongoing listener contributions, corporate sponsors and local NPR affiliates interested in carrying the syndicated show.

-- B.J. Huchtemann

This page and all contents are © 1998 by Blues Access,
Boulder, CO, USA.