Blues survivors: It started, like so many good things to do with the blues, in Chicago. Leland Rucker and I were in town for the 1999 Chicago Blues Festival and Michael James of AmericanLegends Music Organization had invited us to come by the Hothouse for a performance of what he was billing as "Legends of the Delta Blues." As it happened, the Hothouse — a stylish jazz club in ordinary, non-bluesfest times — was practically around the corner from our hotel.
As we walked in Jon MacDonald was warming up the crowd. Checking the place out we walked into a back room and voila, there were the "legends" themselves — Honeyboy, Homesick, Robert Jr. and Henry — posed in front of a photographer’s backdrop. (See "Catfish Whitey’s Pond," BA #39.) Honeyboy, replete with Hamburg, was looking particularly natty, but they were all smiling and cooperative. We, meanwhile, were pinching ourselves, wondering if we’d accidentally stumbled into Blues Heaven.
Later that year Sinclair and I crossed paths with Michael James again at the Long Beach Blues Festival. We speculated on what it would be like to be a fly on the wall when this four-headed repository of blues lore was just hanging out and relaxing. Michael said he thought he could make that happen and, after a few false starts, Bill Taylor and John (along with photographer Joe Rosen) caught up with the ageless foursome in New York.
What starts off as a "Q&A" interview soon settles down to the old guys swapping tales back and forth. We’ve often lamented in this space that the first couple generations of true blues players has been passing away before our eyes, yet here in the year 2001 we are able to tap into this wealth of blues history dating back to the early part of the 20th century. I feel truly blessed at the thought.
As for the four musicians who make up what is now known as the Delta Blues Cartel, I’m as much amazed at their obvious affection for each other as I am at their recall. (Although I guess it’s possible that those trains that Honeyboy was hoboing on were loaded with ginkgo biloba.)
While I’d never argue that the blues should be anything but a living, evolving music, this kind of unique window into the culture that it originally developed from is something invaluable. That the men providing this look back are still active and performing at such a high level makes it all the more precious.
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