Blues Access Winter 2001
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Struggle to Save Maxwell Street Continues

The Maxwell Street Historic Preservation Coalitionís petition to place the historic blues gathering place on the National Register of Historic Places was denied by the National Park Service on the grounds that, since only a subset of the entire set of buildings remains, the area does not have full physical integrity and therefore does not deserve to be given official recognition nor any protection from demolition.

During the first week of September, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) fenced off the north side of Maxwell Street and destroyed Frank "Little Sonny" Scottís folk-art Juketown Community Blues Bandstand and the adjoining handcrafted plea-for-deliverance prayer altar.

However, despite continued demolition activity, there are still 37 historic whole buildings remaining in the area awaiting the wrecking ball ó nine on Maxwell Street itself. The Maxwell Street community wants all 37 buildings to be saved, businesses to be allowed to remain, affordable housing to be built in the area for the very poor, and the Community Bandstand to be restored

The National Park Service ruling by Carol Shull, Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, has been appealed to Katherine Stevenson, Associate Director of Cultural Resource Stewardship and Partnerships at the National Park. Ms. Shullís ruling was issued despite a unanimous June vote of the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council, made up of professionals, architects, historians, and preservationists, that Maxwell Street be placed on the National Register.

"There is so little of it remaining that we canít afford it lose it," stated Steve Balkin, Roosevelt University professor and Vice-President of the Maxwell Street Historic Preservation Coalition. "We canít know who we are unless we know where weíve been. This National Park Service decision steals our identity, consigns our history to the trash heap, and pushes us farther into living in an homogenous white-bread world ruled by white-bread people."

Chicago blues guitarist, singer and composer Jimmie Lee Robinson, who has been on a hunger fast since August 18 in protest of the demolition, has long been an eloquent spokesman for the preservation effort.

"People from all over the world have dreamed dreams of the greatness of Maxwell Street. I know no way and no words to express its greatness. Maxwell Street was a poor peoplesí place. It gave the world and Chicago its blues.

"There are lots of blues musicians who played there and created their music styles. Some became famous, but most are forgotten. I must not let their memory be destroyed. Rev. Uncle Guitar Johnny William, 95 years old; James Williamson, guitar, known as Homesick James, over 95 years old; also "Honey Boy" Edwards, 85 years old, the greatest true blues player of our time; Rev. Snooky Pryor, on his way to the 80s; Rev. "Sugar" Hampton, up in his 90s, from the old days, The Man of the Bible ó these are some of the old-time Maxwell Street blues boys thatís still around.

"There are those who was born to destroy the remembrance of the past, and there are those who was born to preserve. Those buildings are very historic and important to me. They tell what happened there for those who could not speak. I was there in the 1930s and 1940s. I saw it.

"I ask all those of good will to plead with Mayor Daley to stop the demolitions in the Maxwell Street area. I ask kind and thoughtful people to plead with the University of Illinois to compromise and save the remaining nine whole buildings on Maxwell Street and the 28 on Halsted ó and save the hot dog stands and the blues record shop and let the merchants stay who want to stay, and let the blues musicians have their community bandstand. They ainít hurting no one.

"This is a moral struggle for me. I must be purified. I will give my life if need be."

Doctor Ross Music Scholarship Established in Michigan

Mott Community College (MCC) in Flint, Michigan, has established a new music scholarship in memory of local blues legend Isaiah "Doctor" Ross. The initial $10,000 endowment check was presented August 18th to the Foundation for Mott Community College, which is responsible for administering the scholarship. The endowment is funded through gifts from local businesses, organizations and individuals, and from sales of the concert video, Doctor Isaiah Ross: The Harmonica Boss ó The Last Concert, recorded at the Flint Public Library in January 1993.

Isaiah "Doctor" Ross was born in Tunica, Mississippi, in 1925, and began playing the harmonica at an early age. He made his debut at 11 with a group called "The Silver Kings" and, by age 13, was playing at house parties for $2.50 a night. At 16, Ross borrowed a guitar and taught himself to play.

Two years later, Ross enlisted in the U.S. Army and soon earned the nickname "Doc" from the other enlistees for carrying his harmonica in a black bag, similar to the kind carried by doctors. He turned professional in the late í40s and signed with Sam Phillips at Sun Records, where he cut "Come Back Baby" b/w "Chicago Breakdown" for Sun and "Country Clown" b/w "Doctor Ross Boogie," which Phillips leased to Chess.

Ross and his wife were honeymooning in Flint, Michigan, in 1954 when Ross found a job at the General Motors Truck and Bus Metal Fabricating Plant. He continued to pursue his music career after working hours and toured Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival in 1965. His song "Chicago Breakdown" was awarded a Grammy for Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording in 1981.

Ross died May 28, 1993 and was buried in Flint. "Doc was world famous," said David Boyd, a friend and advisor to Doctor Ross and coordinator of the scholarship fund. "However, he was virtually unknown in his own hometown. I felt that a music scholarship in his name would help keep his memory alive and help other people learn about the music that he loved so much."

To make a contribution to the scholarship fund or to purchase a copy of The Last Concert, call the Foundation for Mott Community College at (810) 762-0425.

Ray Charles Gets Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award

The Blues Foundation presented this yearís Lifetime Achievement Award to the "Father of Soul," Ray Charles, at an October award ceremony at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. Past recipients include B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Ahmet Ertegun, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Koko Taylor, Etta James and Ruth Brown. Ray, who celebrated his 70th birthday September 23rd, adds the Blues Foundation award to his 12 Grammies, the Kennedy Center Award, the National Endowment of the Arts Award, and inductions into the Rhythm & Blues, Jazz, Rock & Roll and Georgia Music Hall of Fames.

Henrietta Musselwhite Attacked by Shark in Hawaii

Henrietta (Henri) Musselwhite, wife and manager of bluesman Charlie Musselwhite, is recuperating well after being attacked and bitten on the lower back and thigh by a shark while snorkeling off Olowalu in Hawaii last October. Officials believed the attack was caused by a tiger shark between six and eight feet long.

"It was this big gray thing, coming up out of the water," kayak instructor Ron Bass told reporter Valerie Monson. "I saw it go up three times and come back down with a big thrashing. It was a shark. And the woman was yelling." Bass pulled Henri to shore and treated her wounds until she could be taken to Maui Memorial Medical Center.

"Henri was snorkeling, looking at turtles," Charlie Musselwhite explains. "She says she got hit twice before she could turn around and face the shark. At that point, she says, they were eye to eye and she was ready to fight when the shark turned and swam away. Then Henri took off her mask and yelled, ĎHelp! Iíve been hit!í There was a lot of blood in the water, and she suffered lacerations that were as much as four and five inches deep. She also has one broken rib."

On a lighter note, Charlie joked, "Well, I tell you, I have seen that look and it is not for the weak of heart. She could go to the Middle East with the Mississippi National Guard and a flat-bed truck and stop all that nonsense in about 15 minutes."

Slide Guitar Festival Award Goes to Robert Johnson, Scott Ainslie

The National Slide Guitar Festival, staged in the hills outside Johnson City in Gray, Tennessee, presented its annual "Living Heritage" award for Acoustic Blues to the late Robert Johnson and his transcriber, guitarist Scott Ainslie of Durham, North Carolina. Johnsonís only known direct heir, Claude Johnson, was scheduled to be on hand to receive the award on behalf of his father.

The National Slide Guitar Festival, held in September, is a celebration of slide guitar music and the musicians who make it. Festival organizer Taylor Mackey also has plans in the works for a Slide Guitar Museum and Hall of Fame.

Ainslie is a blues performer, recording artist, author and teacher who transcribed Johnsonís recorded work for his book, Robert Johnson/At The Crossroads (Hal Leonard Corp., 1992). Ainslie has also created a teaching video, Robert Johnsonís Guitar Techniques (Starlicks Master Sessions, 1997), and has released two acoustic blues CDs of his own music: Jealous of the Moon (1995) and Terraplane (1998).

For more information, visit the National Slide Guitar Festival site at

Blue Flame Records Aids Amazonian People

Italyís Blue Flame Records has released a compilation of new blues recordings, Blue Flame Project, Volume 1: In aid of the Amazonian People, with a portion of the proceeds going to missionary associations working in the Amazon rain forests in Brazil and to the more than 100 tribes of nearly Stone-Age people who call this endangered area home. The CD is packaged with a full-color brochure showing the missionaries working with the tribes as well as photos of the participating artists, including Bugs Henderson, Honey Davis and many more.

Otis Spann "Career Discography" Available

The Half Ainít Been Told, Bill Roweís "Career Discography" of pianist Otis Spann, has been published in Amsterdam by Micrography Discographical Publications in a new edition revised and updated by Chris Smith and Howard Rye. Listed are all of Spannís releases on 78 and 45 rpm records, as well as (re)releases on EP, LP and CD. A 3,000-word foreword which evaluates and comments upon key periods in Spannís life and musical career, indices of record labels, LP/CD (re)issues and accompanying artists, and a selective bibliography of major writings on Spann accompany the discographical listings.

Otis Spann played a major role in the Muddy Waters band between 1953 and 1968 and accompanied many Chess artists on their recordings, including Howliní Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) and Little Walter. Spannís short yet prolific career can be said to mirror the changes that took place in the blues as it moved from the rural South to the urban North and eventually to the concert halls and festivals of Europe. This discography supports that view and gives complete chronological details of Spannís recording activities from September 24, 1953 in Chicago through April 4, 1970 in Boston, just days before his untimely death at the age of 40.

The Half Ainít Been Told is available from Micrography Discographical Publications, Woestduinstraat 84, NL-1058 TJ Amsterdam, The Netherlands,

Bluesman Chris Thomas King Co-stars in Major Motion Picture

Young New Orleans bluesman Chris Thomas King, son of Baton Rouge blues ace Tabby Thomas, makes his acting debut in the Coen Brothers movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? now in release. The story, based on Homerís The Odyssey, takes place in Mississippi in the 1930s. George Clooney, John Turtorro and Tim Nelson play escaped chain-gang convicts on the run from the law. King co-stars as the character named Tommy Johnson, a real-life Delta guitarist who recorded for Victor in the late í20s and boasted that heíd sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for musical brilliance. King is also featured on the Mercury Records soundtrack.

Sam Carr Survives Cancer Scare

Jef Jaisun reports that friends and fans of popular Delta blues drummer Sam Carr got a bad scare in October when Carr was mistakenly diagnosed with lung cancer at a Memphis hospital when x-rays apparently picked up old scar tissue on one of his lungs. A biopsy proved negative, and Sam returned home to Dundee, Mississippi to "get his legs back" and prepare for his November performance in the Netherlands with Fred James. Carr had recently recovered from a bout with pneumonia and learned that a recurrent blood pressure problem was the result of low potassium and the wrong medication. As a result, Sam is now alert, chipper and ready to play.


©2001 Blues Access, Boulder, Colorado, USA