Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reprieve for Mother-In-Law lounge

Betty Fox, daughter of the late Antoinette K-Doe and current proprietor of Ernie K-Doe's Mother-In-Law lounge, has changed her mind about closing the legendary club. Last week Fox announced she would be closing the club, but has apparently changed her mind. She plans to hold a fundraiser on July 4 with BBQ chicken, red beans & rice and live music by Guitar Lightnin' Lee. Obviously Fox has had a difficult time keeping the club going and it's future certainly depends on how effectively the community unites behind it. Unfortunately well-intentioned businesses like this that hang by a thread, constantly avoiding bankruptcy, usually end up going out of business permanently. Let's all hope this doesn't happen to Ernie K-Doe's Mother-In-Law lounge. Tonight (June 30) at 10 p.m. CST to Fox will be a guest on WWOZ during a K-Doe tribute hosted by A.J. Rodrigue.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Times Picayune backs big oil again

It really looks like the New Orleans Times Picayune editors are in bed with an oil industry that has destroyed Louisiana's fishing industry and severely damaged its tourism industry. Today's editorial supporting federal judge Martin Feldman's ruling against the six month moratorium on drilling in the Gulf is nothing but oil industry propaganda. Unless the industry immediately enacts strict and effective safety standards it should not be allowed to continue business as usual. Paying damages after the disaster occurs will not cut it. Strict oversight is imperative, but if the industry continues to deliberately ignore safety measures in standard operating procedure it should be shut down for the public good until it comes to its senses. Complaining that it costs jobs is a spurious argument. Arguing that jobs justify the continued use of unsafe practices is more than just a false premise. The oil industry has given no indication that it even recognizes the problem. Deepwater Horizon was not an accident. It was a predictable result. The irresponsible parties must be held accountable until they agree to revise their operating standards, and offer a plan to do so. They must not be allowed to pursue their criminal activities until then. Defending the oil industry under the pemise that it provides jobs is like saying that drug kingpins should be allowed to operate their present day version of Murder Inc. because they provide jobs. Murder is murder. The Times Picayune's disgraceful position is directly tied to the advertising money from the oil industry.

Here's the editorial:

In blocking President Barack Obama's broad moratorium on deepwater drilling, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman cut straight to the heart of the administration's flawed reasoning.

The blanket moratorium, the judge wrote, "seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger.''

"The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is an unprecedented, sad, ugly and inhuman disaster,'' the ruling stated. "What seems clear is that the federal government has been pressed by what happened...into an otherwise sweeping confirmation that all Gulf deepwater drilling activities put us all in a universal threat of irreparable harm.''

That is the assumption behind the six-month moratorium ordered by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. It was challenged in court by three companies that provide support services to offshore drilling.

In Judge Feldman's eyes, the federal government hasn't justified what he called a "punitive'' moratorium. Instead, he said, the plaintiffs are likely to succeed in showing that the administration "acted arbitrarily and capriciously.''

That's critical. While the judge notes case law that says the court can't substitute its judgment for that of an agency like the Interior Department, the agency must articulate a "rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.'' That hasn't happened. In fact, Judge Feldman points out that the Interior Department report made no effort to explicitly justify the six-month moratorium and doesn't discuss the irreparable harm that would warrant a suspension of operations.

The court "is unable to divine or fathom a relationship between the findings and the immense scope of the moratorium.''

The judge criticized the report for stating that its recommendations had been peer-reviewed by seven National Academy of Engineering experts. The judge pointed out that five of those experts and three of the other experts who were consulted say that they do not agree with the blanket moratorium, a fact that was first reported in The Times-Picayune.

Judge Feldman also recognizes something that the Obama administration hasn't seemed to grasp: how vital this industry is to our region's economy. The judge called it "quite simply elemental to the Gulf communities.''

"The effect on employment, jobs, loss of domestic energy supplies caused by the moratorium as the plaintiffs (and other suppliers, and the rigs themselves) lose business, and the movement of the rigs to other sites around the world will clearly ripple throughout the economy in this region,'' the judge wrote.

Judge Feldman's ruling validates what Louisianians have been arguing for weeks: that the administration's broad drilling ban isn't justified and stands to cause even greater economic harm to this state than the devastating oil spill itself.

The preliminary injunction doesn't erase the likelihood that oil rigs will pick up and move to other countries. Companies are unlikely to gamble that the plaintiffs will prevail. The Obama administration was quick to say that it will appeal the ruling. Considering the grave economic consequences posed by the moratorium, the appeal should be handled as expeditiously as possible.

The administration's determination to fight the preliminary injunction is disappointing. Judge Feldman's ruling offered an opportunity for the White House to reconsider its action and take a more targeted approach to ensuring safety on deepwater rigs. Instead officials are digging in their heels, and while they might ultimately lose this legal battle, thousands of Louisianians could still be left without jobs.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mother-In-Law lounge to close

Betty Fox, the daughter of Antoinette K-Doe, announced on her Facebook page that she is closing down Ernie K-Doe's Mother-In-Law Lounge for good. The colorful bar at 1500 N. Claiborne in Treme has been difficult for Fox to maintain since Antoinette died on Mardi Gras Day, 2009. Fox was hospitalized March 1 after a car crashed into the bar, damaging the front door and leaving her "physically and emotionally tired of doing this. I'm grieving, too. I'm losing weight. I've been living upstairs with no plumbing, or electricity, and mold in the room for a year and a half."

"I know a lot of people might not understand," she said. "But my mother and K-Doe been gone, and each one of us has our own memory of them. This is just a building."

Fox plans to hold the last in a series of garage sales of K-Doe and Antoinette memorabilia as well as some of the bar's fixtures on July 10. Though she is behind in the rent and the building has suffered structural and mold damage, Fox holds out hope that the Mother-In-Law could be turned into a museum, an eventuality that seems unlikely without a serious financial intervention.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Times Picayune: Drill Baby, Drill

The dreadful conundrum facing Louisiana's oil-drenched future is reflected in the following Manuel Torres editorial in The Times-Picayune. Big Oil's economic impact on the state gives it carte blanche to run roughshod over all opposition. If drilling cannot be done safely, the writer implies, it needs to be done anyway because jobs are involved. But what about all the livelihoods, and the way of life, being destroyed by this industry, which will ony exist at the most for a few decades more in the most optimistic of assessments?

Here's the column:

Louisianians understand that deepwater drilling is central to our economy; we know that the jobs provided by this industry go far beyond those on the rigs themselves -- more than twice as many people in oil-related jobs earn their livings on tugboats and supply boats and in shipyards, helipads, catering kitchens and other places on shore.

It doesn't take an economist to see what shutting down the rigs for half a year will do to all those jobs and the people who hold them.

But President Barack Obama doesn't seem to get it. His administration fails to grasp how Louisiana's economy works or what the six-month halt to exploratory drilling that the White House has ordered will do to people who earn their living from this critical activity. Either that, or his administration is determined to disregard the economic annihilation that its shutdown will cause.

The announcement this week of a $100 million compensation fund for rig workers affected by the moratorium is striking proof of this administration's myopia. In all, 18,000 to 24,000 jobs related to the 30 shuttered rigs across the Gulf are in jeopardy from the drilling moratorium. But this fund, which BP agreed to provide, targets only 6,000 to 8,000 Gulf Coast residents who work on the rigs themselves. Those workers make an average of $2,400 a week, counting benefits, which means the fund could dry up in as little as six weeks, with months left before the moratorium ends.

According to the LSU Center for Energy Studies, Louisiana residents account for 3,339 of rig workers who are likely to lose their jobs, but another 7,656 Louisianians who work in jobs related to drilling also face likely layoffs. That's 10,955 people who stand to lose their source of income, joining the fishers, shrimpers, oyster harvesters, charter boat operators, seafood processors, restaurateurs and many others whose livelihoods have already succumbed to the oil spill.

The Obama administration succeeded in persuading BP to set up a $20 billion compensation fund for economic losses caused by this unprecedented disaster, and that's a crucial step toward ensuring our recovery from this environmental nightmare. But it remains unclear whether workers left in the lurch by the moratorium will be able to get help from this fund.

Nor will the damage end when the moratorium is over. The harsh reality is that many deepwater rigs are likely to abandon the Gulf of Mexico for places like Brazil and western Africa. After spending millions to move a rig, it's unlikely that a company will rush back to the Gulf. That leaves support workers with little prospect of getting their jobs back. Over half of rig workers could keep their jobs if they are willing to endure greater separations of time and distance from their families. But the rest won't be given that choice.

President Obama said that he stressed the plight of Gulf Coast families in a private conversation with BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg.

"A lot of these folks don't have a cushion,'' the president said he told the chairman. "They were coming off Rita and Katrina, coming off the worst economy that this country has seen since the Great Depression, and this season was going to be the season where they were going to be bouncing back.''

Understanding the human face of those affected by the oil spill is vital, and President Obama was right to make that point in his meeting with BP officials. But Louisiana and other Gulf Coast residents whose jobs are now imperiled by their own government's action deserve no less from the president. They, too, lived through the storms of 2005. They, too, have struggled through a tough economy. Moreover, workers in jobs that support drilling make less money than those who work on the rigs. Now they face the prospect of joblessness, and so far, all that most of them can count on when the pink slips arrive is an unemployment check from the state.

President Obama has not heeded the voices urging him to reconsider the scope of the moratorium. Those include engineering and oil industry experts consulted by the administration, who are calling the broad moratorium a mistake that could cause more harm to the economy than the spill itself. They had endorsed different steps such as a moratorium on new drilling permits. They suggested a briefer halt at existing rigs, so that safety tests could be conducted.

That's still a viable strategy. A more nuanced approach would be far wiser and more compassionate than the punishing shutdown that the White House has ordered.

President Obama also needs to show that he's willing to learn about Louisiana's economic underpinnings. He missed an opportunity when he failed to appoint someone with that kind of knowledge to the commission that is investigating the BP spill.

Louisianians also need clarity on whether the $20 billion compensation fund will encompass losses caused by the moratorium. The White House has said that it expects BP to pay all claims for lost wages related to the moratorium.

At the very least, Gulf Coast oil industry workers who are worried about how they will pay their bills without jobs should have the assurance that their losses will be treated no differently than those of their neighbors.

La.'s oil addiction leads to call for gov't takeover

The following is an article by Providence Journal columnist Froma Harrop. Perhaps the most unsettling thing about the story is that it is not written by a right wing pundit paid off by corporate cynics but a thoughtful liberal voice. The bottom line of this debate is a contradiction that lies at the center of Louisiana culture. The state's economy is inextricably bound up with the oil industry. Even as the disaster that has destroyed the state's fishing industry continues unabated, very few people in the state are willing to contemplate a future without Big Oil calling the shots. It's an addiction that leads directly to the alarming conclusion this columnist makes.

Here's the column:

A modest proposal: The federal government should take over Louisiana. Might as well, at this point.

"We will do whatever is necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy," President Obama said this week from the Oval Office.

Louisiana has had more than its share of tragedies in recent years, and some, such as Hurricane Katrina, could be deemed acts of nature. But whatever the cause, every calamity that befalls Louisiana is made worse by its corrupt civic culture. A protectorate could provide the structure of governance its people need.

It's hardly news that Louisiana's political class is not all it could be. But there comes a time when the U.S. taxpayer can no longer write blank checks to cover its dysfunction.

Louisiana should be a rich state. It has the climate, location, waterfront and all-around beauty that any director of economic development would die for. But Louisiana doesn't seem able to move beyond its dependence on oil.

Texas did it. Today, it is a major force in high-tech research, medical services, trade and manufacturing. Even its energy business is modernized. The West Texas plains are home to an enormous wind-power corridor, as entrepreneurs seek clever ways to make natural gas and wind work together. Thus, the Texas economy is one-sixth as sensitive to changes in the oil price as it was 30 years ago.

But in Louisiana, it's oil all the time. Mix a wealthy extractive industry with easily corrupted politicians, and you have makings for a Third World economy. (New Orleans has been called the best-run city in the Caribbean.)

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal appears fairly competent and smart. But look at the self-contradicting ideology he's tangled in.

A year ago, Jindal provided the Republican response to Obama's fiscal stimulus plan. "Democratic leaders in Washington," he said, "they place their hope in the federal government." (Never mind that as a congressman, Jindal ranked 14th in requests for federal pork.)

Jindal wants more than 100 miles of sand berms to supposedly protect his coastline. But the sand piles probably won't work and could actually make matters worse, according to The Wall Street Journal. Most of the oil would hit shore, anyway. The dredging could cause more erosion and kill fish by changing the water's salt content.

Though probably ineffective, the project is big and expensive. Jindal, meanwhile, is asking Obama to end the moratorium on the kind of new deep-water drilling that caused all this pain.

Much of southern Louisiana is under sea level and periodically floods. No sane person would build in these low-lying areas were it not for the federal taxpayer, who subsidizes flood coverage where private insurers would never tread.

The Mississippi Delta wetlands used to provide a buffer against storms. They've been largely destroyed by river-moving projects, levees and canals cut by oil companies.

Five years ago, U.S. taxpayers were asked to restore the Delta at an estimated cost of $15 billion. A lot of money, yes, but the region is a national treasure representing 40 percent of the coastal wetlands in the contiguous United States.

As the proposal progressed, Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, worked at gutting a law that empowered the Army Corps of Engineers to protect wetlands in navigable waters. It seems some timber companies wanted to make a fast buck cutting down cypress trees and turning them into ... garden mulch!

Louisiana need not remain a permanent ward of the federal government. As in the case of General Motors, Washington could help change management, then set Louisiana free to run its own affairs. But something must be done.

Providence Journal columnist Froma Harrop's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Vanishing oysters

Adolfo's, the great restaurant upstairs from the Apple Barrel on Frenchmen Street, is serving its last oysters. When the current supply is gone they're off the menu. Just one more reminder of the way the George W. Bush administration ruined life in Louisiana in exchange for windfall oil profits. Those who are blaming Obama are either disingenuous or just plain stupid. Bush VP Dick Cheney allowed BP and the rest of the oil cartel to write the rules on oversight of their reckless practices. That means you too, Dutch East Ind... I mean Shell Oil. Thanks for sponsoring Jazz Fest, but why don't you just jump in the river while you're at it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Gulf Aid Art at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery

GULF AID ART: ARTISTS IN ACTION, A Fundraising Exhibition of Louisiana Artists Responding to the Gulf Oil Spill.
June 17-19, 2010 at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery

Jonathan Ferrara Gallery is proud to announce GULF AID ART: ARTISTS IN ACTION, A Fundraising Exhibition of Louisiana Artists Responding to the Gulf Oil Spill.

The benefit exhibition will take place from June 17-19th at the gallery located in the New Orleans Arts District. The exhibition will feature new works by over 25 well-known Louisiana artists reacting to the greatest environmental disaster in US history. Gallery owner Jonathan Ferrara and artist Dan Tague, both arts activists , conceived of the exhibition as a way for the visual arts community of New Orleans to respond to the disaster.

The exhibition will open on Thursday June 17th at 11am, with an artist reception from 6-9pm that night and will run for through Saturday June 19th at 5pm and continue online throughout the summer.

As this crisis has unfolded, citizens across the state have felt helpless in being able to respond the disaster.

What action can I take?
What can I do?
What is happening?
What is our future?
How can we help our fellow Louisianans who are being directly affected right now?

Inspired by actions taken by the musical community in organizing the recent Gulf Aid concert that featured musicians like Lenny Kravitz and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, visual artists are banding together to offer their creative talents in response to this disaster.

"Musicians have done their part and now visual artists are going to do their part as well to respond to this terrible disaster. We all are terrified, upset, anxious and damn mad about what has transpired and we have to use our creativity to speak up, comment, criticize and make our voices heard. We are all in this together and artists must take action!" - Jonathan Ferrara

Both Tague and Ferrara have a history of responding to disasters via artistic endeavors. In 2006, after Hurricane Katrina, Ferrara created New Orleans Artists In Exile, a travelling exhibition of artists affected by the hurricane. In 2006-7, Ferrara was instrumental in distributing over $40,000 in direct grants to artists in need recovering from Katrina. And in 2010, artist Dan Tague created a limited edition print (100), United For Haiti, which sold out in a week and immediately raised over $7500 for victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Those funds were donated to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

For GULF AID ART, each artist was challenged to create a new print edition with the only criteria that they respond / react to the current crisis affecting their home, health, happiness and economic futures. Each artist has created a limited edition print of 10 that will be sold both in the gallery during the limited run exhibition and online via the gallery's website. In an effort to make the work accessible to the general public and raise as much money as possible, the prices of the works will range between $100 and $500 with the potential to raise $80,000.

For this fundraiser, Ferrara will take down his current exhibition and install the 25+ works in the galley for a three-day fundraising exhibition. A to Z Framing of New Orleans, who is generously donating the framing, will frame the works in the exhibition.

In addition to the works in the gallery , British photojournalist Charlie Varley will exhibit a slide show of his photographs taken since the April 20th explosion documenting the spill and its aftermath. Varley's photos are regularly published around the world in Time magazine, Newsweek, The Times, The Wall Street Journal among others.

The exhibition will open on Thursday June 17th at 11am, with an artist reception from 6-9pm that night and it will run for through Saturday June 19th at 5pm. Louisiana's own Abita Beer is also a sponsor of the event.

100% of the proceeds will be donated to Gulf Aid. Gulf Aid is a 501(c3) nonprofit corporation established in response to the biggest oil spill in US history just 50 miles off of the Louisiana Coast.

The mission of the Gulf Relief Foundation is to provide relief to the fishing community of the Gulf Coast and their families, and to address the long-term challenge of restoring and protecting America's coastal wetlands.

The fund will ensure all proceeds are distributed to organizations focused on supporting wetlands/coastal environmental issues & the well being of fishermen, and the regional seafood industry.

Exhibition Sponsors

Jonathan Ferrara Gallery (special thanks to Gallery Director Jessica Inman)
A to Z Framing of New Orleans
Abita Beer
Express Signs


The featured artists for GULF AID ART are:

Christopher Saucedo, Professor of Sculpture, University of New Orleans
Dan Rule, Professor of Imaging, University of New Orleans, represented by Jonathan Ferrara Gallery
Krista Jurisich, Art Teacher represented by Jonathan Ferrara Gallery
Dan Tague, Prospect.2 Biennial Artist represented by Jonathan Ferrara Gallery
Skylar Fein, Prospect.1 Biennial Artist represented by Jonathan Ferrara Gallery
Brian Guidry, Artist and Curator of Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette, LA
Robert Tannen, Prospect.2 Biennial Artist, and Founder of New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center
Sandy Chism, Professor of Painting, Tulane University, represented by Jonathan Ferrara Gallery
Teresa Cole, Professor of Art, Tulane University, represented by Gallery Bienvenu,
Sally Heller, artist represented by Gallery Bienvenu, New Orleans
Ron Bechet, Professor of Art, Xavier University
Tina Girouard, Prospect.2 Biennial artist and Internationally known interdisciplinary artist since the 1970s, known for her art and activism in Haiti since 1980s.
David Bradshaw, artist, activist and collaborator with William S. Burroughs and Robert Rauschenberg
British Photojournalist Charlie Varley represented by news photo agency SIPA Press in New York and Paris and Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in New Orleans.
Douglas Bourgeois represented by Arthur Roger Gallery
Dawn Dedeaux, Prospect.2 Biennial artist represented by Arthur Roger Gallery
Kyle Bravo, printmaker and founder of The Front artist cooperative in St Claude Arts District, represented by Jonathan Ferrara Gallery
Jennifer Odem, art faculty, New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA)represented by 511 Gallery in NY
David Sullivan
Rajko Radovanovic
Photographer Bob Compton
Daphne Loney
Cynthia Scott
Brian Borrello
Stephen Collier, one of the founders of Good Children Gallery
Michael Greathouse, Kelman Visser Gallery, Brussels
Matt Vis and Tony Campbell (Generic Art Solutions), Good Children Gallery

Jonathan Ferrara Gallery

Jonathan Ferrara Gallery is a collective environment of creative visions. A commercial gallery with a public conscience. Artist, activist, and entrepreneur Jonathan Ferrara opened the gallery in 1998 to give artists a greater voice. Since its inception, the gallery has focused on cutting edge works by local, national and international artists with a sense of purpose, mission, and message.

For more information about Gulf Aid, the charity, please visit

Thursday, June 10, 2010

100 years of Howlin' Wolf

"Always stop at the top"
-- Howlin' Wolf's advice to Eric Clapton on how to play the blues.

100 years ago today Chester Arthur Burnett aka Howlin' Wolf was born. Right now I'm listening to J. Monque D DJ a tribute to the Wolf on WWOZ. I've also been working on an article about the Black Keys for Relix magazine. It's really difficult to describe Patrick Carney's drum sound but when I heard "Moanin' at Midnight" again it clicked. It's the same kind of attack. It's blues, and it's old school, but it's not retro. That's because it's in the moment, just as these Howlin' Wolf tracks sound contemporary. Check that, they sound eternal, outside of time, in a continuum of their own design. I'm realizing that's the only kind of music I really care about. "I'm Ready."

Nice piece by Jeff Johnson on Wolf in the Chicago Sun Times:,howlin-wolf-blues-fest-060610.article

BY JEFF JOHNSON Staff Reporter
He looked like a member of the Rams’ Fearsome Foursome, sang in a voice so gritty it could cut diamonds and worked Chicago’s blues stages with the passion of a man grappling for possession of his soul.

Yes, the man born Chester Arthur Burnett — after our 21st president — 100 years ago this Thursday outside West Point, Miss., and known to the world as Howlin’ Wolf left an impression bigger than his size 16 extra-wides. Friends, family and his musicians still speak of his dominating physical presence, but ask the about the Wolf and they’ll first mention his complex personality, his street smarts and his dedication to his craft.

This week, when the 27th annual Chicago Blues Festival takes over Grant Park for three days starting Friday, the Wolf will be ubiquitous. And that’s likely the way he would have wanted it.

“I remember my mom [Lillie] telling me, ‘There aren’t a lot of things he needed or wanted, but one thing he asked: ‘Don’t forget me,’” his daughter Bettye Kelly recalled during a recent “Speaking of the Blues” program at the Harold Washington Library Center devoted to the 1991 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, who died in 1976.

Or, as his longtime guitarist Jody Williams puts it, “The Wolf deserves to be remembered.”

* * *

Howlin’ Wolf’s story is the Chicago blues in microcosm, the ultimate triumph of the African-American dirt farmer transplanted to the postwar industrial North. Wolf wasn’t among the early wave of bluesmen to join the Great Migration. As a teenager, he learned the blues at the feet of the great Delta blues guitarist Charley Patton, and built a recording and performing career while DJ’ing at KWEM-AM in West Memphis, Ark.

Sun Records founder Sam Phillips couldn’t believe what he heard when Wolf cut several sides at his studio in Memphis, Tenn., for the Bihari brothers’ Modern label and Chicago’s Chess Records. “I can say to this day there is nobody I loved recording more,” Phillips told Wolf’s biographers James Segrest and Mark Hoffman, who penned Moanin’ at Midnight in 2004. This from the man who recorded Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and a host of other greats.

By September 1951, both Modern and Chess thought they had “exclusive” deals with the Wolf, and Leonard and Phil Chess eventually prevailed. Wolf was off to Chicago.

“I’m the only one who drove out of the South like a gentleman,” Wolf later told Chicago music producer and blues historian Dick Shurman.

And that scene in 2008’s highly fanciful Chess biopic “Cadillac Records” where Wolf pulls up to the offices in an old pickup truck? That was probably a two-tone DeSoto, his daughters say. Still, the movie presented Wolf in a favorable light when it came to seeing through the plantation mentality he walked away from down South. Instead of taking Chess’ flashy Cadillacs in payment for royalties, Wolf insisted on keeping correct books.

“That’s how they did business with the artists, but my dad did not play that,” daughter Barbra Marks explained. “Our dad was depicted very well,” including a scene when he peeled bills from his bankroll to pay for harmonica superstar Little Walter Jacobs’ burial.

Williams took exception to Wolf’s portrayal as “a thug” in the movie. But another guitarist, Hubert Sumlin, who probably had the most longevity of any member of Wolf’s bands, said his boss was not above ruling by intimidation when the situation warranted. Wolf’s ballyhooed feud with fellow Chicago blues great Muddy Waters, which started from the time Wolf began taking club dates from the more established Waters, came to a head when Wolf fired Sumlin onstage and Waters quickly hired him. “The Wolf scared me so bad over this,” Sumlin recalled in a phone interview from his home in northern New Jersey.

Returning from a monthlong tour with Waters’ band, Sumlin hit Chicago feeling tired, sick and alienated by Muddy’s comparatively lax rules. “I called Wolf from a pay phone in front of the 708 Club. Muddy was with me, and he was drunk, man. Wolf came on in the door, pointed his finger at Muddy and told him , ‘Hey, man, I come to get my son.’ Muddy started to cry [out of fear he’d angered Wolf]. To tell you the truth, that made me feel a little important [having the blues giants fighting over him]. I learned a lot when I was with those guys.”

Sumlin admits the firing was warranted because he was “running over” the vocals with his heavy guitar picking.

“He said, ‘Don’t come back till you start using your fingers cause you’re a finger man, anyway.’ It didn’t take me long to learn. It made me a better player and a better musician. I had my tone, my sound, everything I needed.”

Now Sumlin regularly lands on lists of the greatest rock guitarists ever, and Eric Clapton cites him as one of his biggest influences. He owes it mostly to Wolf, he says.

* * *

Wolf left a great legend and an even greater musical legacy. Using his own band members and the finest Chess session men, he cranked out signature tunes such as “Smokestack Lightnin’,” “Evil,” “I Ain’t Superstitious,” “Killing Floor” and “Goin’ Down Slow.” Never a prolific songwriter, Wolf recorded many songs by blues poet laureate Willie Dixon, a Chess writer-arranger-producer who joined in on upright bass.

And while Muddy was top dog when Wolf arrived in Chicago, Wolf had the advantage of living in the South more recently. Thus when his devoted fans arrived in droves to Chicago, many feeling homesick, they showed up at clubs such as Silvio’s, the Zanzibar and the 708 Club to hear Wolf sing and play the sounds they knew best. He turned other blues fans into Wolf fanatics with his smoking-hot band and an animated stage presence that was said to have inspired James Brown and Little Richard.

In explaining his appeal, non-related namesake Peter Wolf, former J. Geils Band frontman, explained, “He was unique. He had a deep emotional impact, his style was totally recognizable as his own and he seemed to have a direct link to Charley Patton. I just found him to be like a great expressionist painter — unique and encompassing an amazing style. His performances were always unpredictable because he was always unpredictable. He got lost in the music and he always had a showmanship aspect to him, whereas Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker didn’t, although all three had a great intensity when they sang.”

Peter Wolf and Howlin’ Wolf, who both were singers, harmonica players and DJs, found themselves in Harvard Square after a late night, and when the Bostonian opted for an early breakfast, his Chicago visitor delayed them when he became engaged in an intense discussion with a group of Harvard students.

Shurman, too, found Wolf to have an uncanny native intelligence, given his lack of formal education. He arrived in Chicago barely able to read and write, and with some help from wife Lillie, he was eventually able to do the payroll for his band, deducting taxes and even offering health insurance.

“I always said Wolf had quite a bit of street smarts, but I didn’t look at him like I did B.B. King,” said Shurman, who theorizes that given the opportunity, King would have made a great U.S. representative to the United Nations.

Shurman gives the Wolf his due, citing his childhood of extreme poverty, when he was banished from his mother’s home, brought up by an abusive uncle who beat him with a strap and a possible nervous breakdown and electroshock therapy in the military. Shurman poses this interesting hypothetical: If you could do away with the spirit-crushing poverty of the period, knowing that you’d lose the great music produced as a result of these social ills, would you do it?

“From a humanitarian standpoint, you’d have to,” I replied.

“Yes, but as a music lover, think of what you’d be losing.”

Fortunately, we agreed, it’s not a choice we’re forced to make.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Grammy Award winning roots-rock band Los Lobos has decided to cancel their scheduled performance at The Talking Stick Resort on June 10th, 2010. The band has made this decision based on the current call to boycott Arizona in response to SB 1070.

Through their management, Los Lobos issued the following statement: “We support the boycott of Arizona. The new law will inevitably lead to unfair racial profiling and possible abuse of people who just happen to look Latino. As a result, in good conscience, we could not see ourselves performing in Arizona. We regret the inconvenience this may have caused the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, Casino Arizona, Talking Stick Resort and our fans, but we feel strongly that it is the right thing to do.”

The members of Los Lobos are Steve Berlin, David Hidalgo, Conrad Lozano, Cesar Rosas and Louie Perez.