|red night at the bucket of blood|
You can party late in Chicago, but there were only a handful of blues clubs that had a four oíclock license (five a.m. on Saturday nights). Some come to mind are Peyton Place, at Pershing and Indiana; the Majestic M at 14th and Pulaski (formerly the L&A and home to Magic Sam); and the Flying Fox at 69th and Halsted Avenue. These were always the most fun and probably the most dangerous to go to. Most musicians were ready to kick back, relax and maybe sit in for a few numbers at an after-hours joint, so you never knew who would show up after the regular bars closed.
When they first started having music at the Flying Fox I used to work there a lot with different bands, mostly Little Bobby Neeley and his band, with Jimmy Johnson or Smiley Tillman on guitars. After getting off my regular house gig with Jr. Wells at Theresaís Lounge one night, a bunch of us were heading over to the Flying Fox. I asked Jr. if he was going to join us. His answer was simply, "Man, that place ainít nothiní but a bucket of blood." He wasnít far off the mark.
Former Ricky Allen bassist Ernest Johnson had taken me under his wing at this time, and he would escort me to all the music clubs on the South and West sides and introduce me to the musicians there. I really think he was just doing it to get the free ride so he could go chase the ladies, but I didnít care ó it really helped me a lot at the time, and he and I became best of friends.
After our Theresaís gig that night, Ernest and I hopped into my car and ran over to the Fox to catch the late set. When we arrived the club was packed, as usual; there were lots of people crammed into a pretty small space. I glanced up towards the stage to see who was playing. Usually everyone pretty much knows everyone else but I had never seen these guys before. I asked a young lady at a table if she knew who the band was, and she replied that it was the "Red Band."
Red is right! Everyone on the stage was dressed in red. They had painted all the microphones and stands red, all the amps were painted red; every damn thing on the stage was red except the musicians. They were black. It was a blues band, wasnít it?
The place was so packed there was literally nowhere to stand. I looked up toward the door and there was Wayne Bennett. Loretta, the owner, was arguing with him at the door. Musicians donít have to pay a cover charge in Chicago, and Wayne was trying to convince her he was a guitarist. Loretta wasnít buying it. If he was a musician, she wondered, why hadnít she seen him before?
I went over to try and help, but no luck. I couldnít convince her that this was really Bobby Blandís guitarist. Wayne left in disgust.
I headed back to the spot I had found right behind a table full of rather big-legged women and began digging the music. The band played in a small area in the window and there was a dance floor up front. The dance floor was getting a good workout this evening. Lots of people on the floor.
The ladies in front of me appeared to be having a good time. Then all of a sudden I heard one of them yell. An older man in a long trench coat had bumped the table and sent the drinks a-wobbling all over, nearly spilling them.
"You bump into my table again Iím gonna kill you, you motherfucker," the woman shouted. The man wandered away, and all remained calm. About five minutes later the man in the overcoat appeared again. He was dancing dangerously close to the ladiesí table, and soon the inevitable happened: He bumped the table again. More words were exchanged and the man moved on, heeding their warning.
I had forgotten the whole incident when the man reappeared. He bumped into the table again, and this time several drinks went crashing. All the while the man was still dancing as though nothing had happened. I suspect he was too drunk to realize he had even hit the table. As far as he knew he was just having a good time.
Then it happened. More yelling. "I told you, you bump into my table and Iím gonna kill your ass." The woman who was yelling was only about a foot in front of me. I saw her grab her purse and assumed she was going for a gun. Instead, she pulls out a kitchen knife about a foot long.
As she was yelling I saw her stick it through his coat directly into his back. Damn, it must have gone in about six inches! I thought the guy would fall dead right there. But no, he never even flinched but just kept on dancing as if nothing had happened. He danced out the door and disappeared into the darkness.
I thought for sure there would be EMS cars outside. I looked around when we left, but there was nothing. He had vanished. The woman who had stabbed him just smiled to her friends, stuck the knife back in her purse and ordered another round of drinks. By the time we left it was light out.
On the way home we watched ladies dressed for church heading to their cars. Just another night in the life of a bluesman, South Side Chicago style. Business as usual.