For me, Chicago is the home of the blues. Partly because I grew up near
Chicago Heights on "da Sout' side, and partly because Elmore James'
"Dust My Broom" and Muddy Waters' "Got My Mojo Workin'" are two
plugged-in classics of the Chicago style of electric blues that never
grow old. More than 22 years after I first heard Chess Records' reissue
of Who's Muddy Shoes or Johnny Winter's production of Muddy Mississippi
Waters Live, both of these signature tunes still strike a blues nerve
This month, I'd like to talk about two up and coming Chicago bands that
can play the blues with the best of them: The Steepwater Band and
Bottles of Wine. More importantly, I want to recognize them in the
screens of Cosmik Debris in the hopes that more online blues aficionados
take notice. A while back, I thanked them publicly in Midwest Beat
magazine, for which I write a monthly column on the blues under
Tom Lounges' expert editorship. Both bands are playing a significant
role in the evolution of the blues in Chicagoland. While they sound as
experienced as B.B.'s sidemen and could share the stage competently with
Chicago blues greats like Lonnie Brooks, they've got their own unique
sound and follow many blues traditions laid down by great Chicago
bluesmen (and blueswomen).
The Steepwater Band and Bottles of Wine represent the past, present and
future of the blues. That's not a contradiction in my book. Far from
it. Let me tell you why.
Just two short years ago, there wasn't a Steepwater Band. In 1998, this
talented trio cut their teeth jamming in Chicago area warehouses and
launched a career in clubs ranging from Chicago to St. Louis and back.
They've opened for Alligator recording artists The Kinsey Report and
Capricorn recording artist Tinsley Ellis, two of the finest blues acts
found anywhere. I wish a label like Alligator, Capricorn, Blind Pig or
Ruf would sit up and take notice of both the Steepwater Band and Bottles
of Wine. These guys are that good, right now.
According to Steepwater Band drummer Joseph Winters, they've caught on
in Chicago area rock clubs.
They've been playing the circuit of nightclubs that include Beat
Kitchen, Elbo Room and the Double Door, and they'll kick off the
prestigious 2000 Chicago Blues
Festival in Grant Park on Thursday, June 8, 2000, 12:00 high noon, at the
Best Buy stage. All of the other stages don't start until 1:00, so the the
Steepwater Band will officially be the first band to perform at this
Like many bands just starting out,
they play whenever and wherever they
can, hoping for the fabled "big break." For blues bands, that usually
means an A & R rep's ear at a local club or a competition like the Best
Unsigned Blues Band Contest, hosted by Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago.
While the Steepwater Band is playing
the rock club circuit pretty regularly, Winters is optimistic about
breaking into Chicago blues clubs.
"The buzz is certainly on the streets about us, and if we have to, we'll
build our reputation with the rock fans like Johnny Winter did," said
Joseph. Rock fans of a certain age will remember "Johnny Winter And.."
and his work with his brother Edgar in the early 1970's. When he shared
the stage as one of Muddy Waters' sidemen in the late 1970's, I knew he
was one of the best blues guitarists around.
"We have MUCH respect for the greats," he continued. "Like Robert
Johnson, Muddy, Son House, Freddy King. the list goes on and on."
The Steepwater Band consists of Jeff Massey on lead guitar and vocals,
Tod Bowers on bass and Joseph Winters on drums. Just one listen to
their five-song CD Goin' Back Home shows that they are a tight outfit,
and this rhythm section has been playing together for nine years.
Longer than my first marriage by quite a bit, but I'm not goin' there
with you. Michael Connelly often sits in on harmonica when not playing
in another blues band steeped in blues tradition, Bottles of Wine. I've
heard that Steepwater Band gigs run to three and four hours of high
quality original blues and cover tunes, a far cry from bands who'll take
the stage to play just a CD's worth of unfamiliar music.
The Steepwater Band's first CD features five strong cuts, including an
electrifying version of one of my favorite blues song of all time, "Dust
My Broom." Well, there's a lot to like on Goin' Back Home, but don't
take my word for it. Fire up your computer and check out full-length
versions of "House is Burnin'" or "Goin' Back Home" free via Windows
Media Player on http://www.steepwater.com.
That's definitely a link to
the future of the blues, rooted in blues traditions of Johnny Winter,
Elmore James and Willie Dixon. That's what I mean about the Steepwater
Band being part of the past, present and future of the blues.
Guitarist Gene Kilty and vocalist Michael Connolly make up the blues duo
Bottles of Wine. On their debut self titled disc, the Steepwater Band
sits in to power the band through seven original cuts that just
won't quit. The set starts with the uptempo bluesy rocker, "Blind
Side," fueled by Gene's in-your-face blues leads that wrap themselves
around Tod and Joseph's rhythm foundation. Guest "Piano Man" Dan
Gillogly contributes a fine Hammond B-3 bed for "More Than A Good
Thing." I swear I could hear Duane Allman's ghost when Jeff launched into
some great solos behind Michael's gritty vocals. I'm talking early,
early Duane here, like his fine contribution to Boz Scaggs' version of
Fenton Robinson's "Loan Me A Dime" or the Allmans' seminal "Whipping
Post." By the time Michael blows a mean boogie to open "Soulfood," I
knew I found a band that knows nearly every nuance of the blues, from
powerful, straight-ahead boogie to a pair of guitarists who know exactly
when to hand off the next lead. The opening leads of "Dirty Ol' Blues"
more than hints at Howlin' Wolf's "Spoonful" in its own way, and
provides a link to the blues of the past.
This has been my first foray into Cosmik Blues, and I'd like to thank
Tom Lounges of Midwest Beat for his encouragement and permission to use
material that's appeared on one of the Net's newest heartbeats,