I remember my first rehearsal with Percy Strother. Mike Peterson, drummer with RJ Mischo’s City Limits band had called me in to play bass on a series of shows. I didn’t own a bass at the time but Mike assured me that Percy would have a bass rig available at rehearsal.
I showed up at Percy’s South Minneapolis home on a cold January day in 1980. The band was set up in the dining room. Percy had a PV T40 bass and some random amp for me to use. Percy took one look at me and said “I know what you do, let me call a bass player."
So I switched to guitar, Percy’s bass player friend showed up, Jimi Prime Time Smith, and we proceeded to work on tunes for the shows.
The band consisted of Percy, Tommy Burns on harmonica, Mike Peterson drums, Dave Lawson guitar, Jimi Prime Time bass, Steve Killer Kilbride keys, and myself on guitar.
That was a great and unique period in my life.
That rehearsal with Percy Struther turned out to be a career event.
Tommy Burns, harp player with Percy, and the Lazy Bill Lucas band, offered the sub guitar chair with Bill’s band. Their regular guitarist, Glen Hanson, owned an art gallery and was getting too busy to make all the gigs.
I caught a Lazy Bill show a week before or after the Percy show at the original Artist Quarter bar, 26th & 1st in South Minneapolis. Glen’s playing was so damn funky, leaning a lot on the major 3rd, very influenced by Guitar Slim. The major 3rd was not something I had experimented with much. I had some woodshedding to do.
So about February 1980 I started covering dates that Glen couldn’t make. That led to holding the regular guitar chair with Lazy Bill.
I worked with Lazy Bill until his passing in 1982. At Bill’s wake, in his apartment, Mojo Buford stopped by to pay his respects. He was in town on hiatus from Muddy Water’s band.
I wasn’t at the wake but the rest of the band was. They were playing cassette tapes of live shows we had done. Mojo asked who the guitar player was and how could he get a hold of him. They gave Buford my phone number. He called a few days later and asked me to join his band.
We worked together from December 1982 through July of ‘83.
Buford left town that July, went back to Memphis. I started jobbing around with RJ Mischo, Al Harris and the Mudsharks, and others. I also started working with Baby Doo Caston and Lazy Bill’s rhythm section, Craig Solmenen on bass and Rik Serra on drums. Doo was great to work with, he played everything. If someone wasn’t getting their part he would get up from his piano, take your instrument, and show you what he wanted. It was Caston who taught me to use a diminished chord to pull the song from the IV back to the I. At one rehearsal I was struggling with what to do on a solo. He took my Peavey T60, grabbed the A on the B string, 10th fret, slid in and out from the A flat to the A. He said if you can’t think of what to play just grab the one and stand on it, something will come to you. I use that little trick to this day.
I believe it was early winter 1984, RJ was always coming up with little quips for stage banter, at this time it was “1984, year of the Olympiad”. He booked a show at the Whiskey Junction when they were first open. The stage was in the front corner. The house PA was a very large pair of terrible sounding Seeberg juke box speakers. The pickup band consisted of me, Greg Shuck - drums, and Chris Hoffman - bass. RJ printed fliers advertising the show as Blues Harmonica Deluxe Extravaganza or some such. I suggested to Bob (RJ) that by dropping the harmonica and extravaganza bits we’d have a band name and could get organized as such. So we started a band called Blues DeLuxe. Chris Hoffman wasn’t interested in being in a band so we brought in Jack Taylor on bass. We began gigging steadily, week nights at Bunker’s, weekends on the West Bank, the 400, Viking, 5 Corners, and Whiskey Junction.
I believe it was Autumn of ‘84 that Buford came back from Memphis. We became his backing band. RJ worked as booking agent, manager, MC, and opening act. Finally Bunker’s would give us weekend dates if Mojo was fronting the band.
We worked with Mojo for maybe a year or two. Then he got offered a residency at the WC Handy Blues Hall and moved back to Memphis.
Greg Shuck left at some point in that period. Marty Bryduck came in on drums. Mike “The Hook” Deutsch came in on piano for a while.
Later we added Steve “Killer” Kilbride on piano. If I recall correctly we were back and forth between piano players. The Butanes wanted Killer and sometimes he would go with them. We would bring in The Hook if he was available during those times.
Marty left to go with Lynwood Slim. Shuck came back. In 1987 Shuck left again. RJ replied to an ad in the City Pages classifieds from a drummer looking for a no BS real blues band. That drummer was Dwight Dario. He fit us like a glove. We recorded a cassette tape release at Track Records, the studio Killer engineered at. That cassette, titled Reet, Petite and Gone (after the Louis Jordan tune that was the title cut) was pretty well received. Tom Surowicz dedicated his entire column in Sweet Potato/City Pages to a glowing review of it. We were elated!
We had been moving away from a somewhat Blues Rock approach to a more traditional style. I sold my Peavey T60 and bought a Stratocaster. I sold my PV Renown and bought a Fender Super Reverb. Dan Neale came around off and on, on guitar. Shorty Lenoir came in when Dan left to start his own Blues band, The Persuaders if I recall correctly. Shorty had gotten married to a St. Paul woman and left Sue Foley’s road band. He stayed with Blues DeLuxe for about a year then moved to Austin TX to join Gary Primich’s band.
The two guitar approach was fun.
Pat Dawson started Blue Moon Records around 1989 or ‘90. He released a single from Sonny “Cat Daddy” Rogers, the band he played bass with. In 1990 that 45 won single of the year, a WC Handy award, from the Blues Foundation. Pat’s little label was suddenly kind of a big deal.
Sadly Sonny passed later that year.
Dwight left, Shuck came back.
Around 1991 Blues DeLuxe recorded another cassette this time on the Blue Moon label. It was titled I Can’t Stop It, after the Jimmy Liggins song, which was the title track.
Blue Moon became Blue Loon after another label laid claim to the Blue Moon name. Myself, Jimi Prime Time, Jon Gunvoldson, and John Wickstrom were all pretty much staff guitarists for the label. There never was much money for session work there but I got to play on several records. I did sessions with Sonny Rogers, Little Bobby Johnson, Percy Struther, Lady Blue Johnson, Texas Red, and others.
Mojo Buford came back to town from time to time. When he did, Blue Loon would organize a session and we’d record with Mojo. The first couple sessions were three harmonica affairs with RJ and Curtis Blake. Guitarists besides myself were Teddy Morgan and Jeremy Johnson.
Lynwood Slim had moved to Finland, then Chicago, then back to his hometown LA. His band continued under the name The Senders. The Senders were Dave “Cool Breeze” Brown - guitar and vocals, Billy Black - upright bass, Marty Bryduck - drums, Mark Asche - piano. I don’t remember the horn players. Charmin Michelle sang on their first CD.
Blue Loon released a CD from Mojo with Blues DeLuxe as the backing band. A year later they released one with Senders backing him. A third was released with material that wasn’t chosen for the first two. So Blues DeLuxe and The Senders both played on two Mojo Buford records even though there were only three.
In 1987 Blues DeLuxe started hosting the Monday Night Blues Jam at the Whiskey Junction. That was an interesting experience. We played the first hour ourselves then started getting jammers up. We had a lot of players from the Minneapolis Guitar Institute. Most of them had no idea how to play the Blues. We had some really cool pro guests now and then. Dave Gonzales of The Paladins hung out one night. We got him up to play and all he wanted to do was play bass. He played an entire set. Sugar Blue (of Rolling Stones Miss You fame) came by and played several jaw dropping numbers. James Harmon hung out one night. He wouldn’t get up to play but he put a lot of time into trying to convince me to join his band. Cool Breeze regularly stopped by and played. The great Mic McCormick hung out but rarely played. Reverend Raven sat in a few times. At some point we decided we needed to screen jammers in order to hold a crowd. Bad players were driving away the listening audience.
Raven once reminded me that I quizzed him in order to allow him to get up. I asked him either to name three Muddy Waters songs or name T Bone Walker’s favorite chord for soloing (a diminished 7th of the I chord). Each member of the band was responsible for screening for their instrument. It worked and it didn’t.
I built a lot of chops in the five years I was a part of that mess. A weekly residency can do wonders for your playing. Pianist Jimmy Valentine often subbed for RJ on that gig.
In ‘92 RJ left Blues DeLuxe in order to pursue a solo career. Jack, Greg, and I, brought in Texas Red - rhythm guitar, and vocals, and Steve Grosshans - harmonica and vocals. I left the Whiskey Junction jam in ‘93.
In 1993 Lynwood came back to town. I did a couple gigs with him, and one recording session. The best gig with him was at the Whiskey Junction for a live recording. The great Richard Innes (often referred to as the world’s greatest Blues drummer flew in from LA to play that gig). Slim had a three night stand, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. I played Thursday. The legendary Kid Ramos played Friday and Saturday. Slim didn’t like the recording so nothing ever came of it. He had an album 2/3 recorded at Track Records, eventually to be released on Cold Wind Records, but needed a half dozen tunes to fill it out. Julia Schroder lobbied to get me and Dario on that session. We did that session with Billy Black on bass and Cornbread Harris on piano. Slim chose one song of the many we recorded, Detroit Junior’s Too Poor, for the album. The other songs were re-recorded with Phil Schmid on guitar, Mark Asche - keys, Rob Stupka - drums, and Billy Black - upright bass. That album, Soul Feet, was released in 1996.