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TRUE BLUE from Ellis Kell
April 1999

A TRUE BLUES LEGEND COMES HOME…

Wes ‘Big Daddy’ Cooper knows Barbecue and Blues, and both with a capital ‘B’! Mr. Cooper has been one of the Quad Cities’ best known chefs for many years, and been designated as one of the ‘honorary contest judges’ for the first annual River Rockin’ Ribfest in LeClaire Park, August 27, 28 and 29. In a recent conversation at his home in Rock Island, Mr. Cooper and I talked about the ‘good old days’ at the Morocco Club in the West End of Rock Island. I can still remember my father riding down 9th street, and stopping to visit for a while with Mr. Roy Morrison, who ran the Morocco for years. I can still remember the smell of sweet, smoked ribs in the night air… and Mr. Morrison bringing bottles of Pepsi out for us on the front steps of the Morocco Club. They are just early ‘blue tattoos’ on my memory, I guess.

The Blues and Jazz jam sessions at the Morocco Club ‘went all night long,’ according to Mr. Cooper, who also blew a little sax at some of those sessions. These were the nights in the 1940’s and 50’s when you might see anyone there from the great Nat King Cole and his trio, sitting in with drummer and local bandleader Moe Payton, world-renowned entertainers such as Pat Patrick, Cab Calloway, actor Tim Moore (of early TV’s ‘Amos & Andy’ fame), to members of the legendary Muddy Waters Band, including blues harp master James Cotton, Pat Hare and most notably Rock Island’s own Francis ‘Francie’ Clay. Clay was an integral part of the signature Muddy Waters sound that evolved and was recorded for posterity at Chicago famed Chess Records, in the period from 1957 - 1967. This essential Blues trademark sound is showcased on "Muddy Waters: His Best, 1956 to 1964," from MCA/Chess Records, part of the Chess 50th Anniversary series from MCA.

A few years ago I had the distinct pleasure of meeting and talking with Francis Clay’s sister, Ms. Rosalie (Clay) Smith, who still lives here in Rock Island, and she provided me with a couple classic photos of Mr. Clay along with some very proud memories of her brother and his career in music. I remember how she smiled big when we talked about how great it would be if Francis could return for one of our annual blues festivals in July. Now Francis Clay, 74 years old, will return home to the area from California for this year’s Mississippi Valley Blues Festival. There he will FINALLY be acknowledged and honored here in the place of his birth. It is an acknowledgment and tribute that is long, long overdue - but thank God, its better late than never.

Born in Rock Island in 1923, he began performing at the age five on guitar, and by ten he was a work on a homemade practice pad with a pair of drumsticks he himself carved. By 1938 he was performing jazz with Pat Patrick’s band which, at the time, featured Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. 1940 saw the formation of Francis Clay and His Syncopated Rhythm, and Clay went on to perform on riverboats, the vaudeville scene and the Austin Brothers Circus. It was in 1957 that Clay would team up with Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Pat Hare, James Cotton, and sometimes the late Jimmy Rogers, in what many would argue was the greatest Blues band of all times. Their 1960 live album from the Newport Jazz Festival is a world classic, and showcases Clay’s signature percussion technique, which has always been rooted in jazz.

Francis Clay went on to perform with Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, Big Mama Thornton, Otis Spann, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers, Earl Hooker, Victoria Spivey, James Cotton, Joni Mitchell and Clifton Chenier. 1967 he co-founded the James Cotton Band. He continues to play on occasion to this day, in and around the San Francisco area where he resides. In 1995 he was honored on the west coast at a benefit concert that featured Lowell Fulson, Lady Bianca, Elvin Bishop, Nick Gravenites, Boz Scaggs, Tommy Castro and Alvin Youngblood Hart.

This month’s True Blue salutes the musical contribution of Francis ‘Francie’ Clay, a true-blue Rock Island original and universal Blues and jazz treasure. His technique and syncopated stylings have no doubt influenced and inspired a multitude of up-and-coming young drummers, and the landmark recordings which feature his drumming will forever remain some of the most prized works in the halls of the Blues archives. For more on Francis Clay on the web, visit: http://www.bluespower.com/a-fc.htm, or http://home.earthlink.net/~americanlg/francis_clay.html

(Black & white photo of Francis Clay, Pat Hare, Muddy Waters and James Cotton courtesy of Mr. Clay’s sister, Rosalie (Clay) Smith of Rock Island.)

Quad Cities Blues fans will soon see two new faces in the line-up for area favorites the Blue Fins. Former The Tourists and The Sides keyboard and saxman Brian Schou has hired on, along with former Pink Cadillac and Bad Apple bassman and vocalist Mike Frank. Both musicians will no doubt stir in new seasonings and fresh stock to this already popular QC Blues stew. Blue Fins alumni returning in this reincarnation include Todd Vermeulen on guitar, Ric Burris on harmonica and vocals, and Mark Terrell on drums. Watch for ‘em soon at your favorite nightspot, and don’t forget to get out and support live Blues in the clubs!

True Blues Kudos.
"Fish Tree Water Blues" is a very special CD to benefit Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund's Fish-Trees-Water Campaign, and is available on the Bullseye Blues and Jazz label. This compilation features various artists on killer tracks, including J. J. Cale, Ani DiFranco, Keb' Mo', Branford Marsalis & Joe Louis Walker, John Lee Hooker and John Hammond, Tracy Nelson, Roomful of Blues, Mavis Staples, Loudon Wainright III, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Robert Cray Band, Ruth Brown, Ratdog with Charlie Musselwhite, and Etta James. James smoldering rendition of the Eagles "Take It to the Limit" is alone worth the price of admission, and Roomful of Blues "Blue Blue World" is a true-blue classic. The CD also includes a special CD-ROM multi-media presentation of Earthjustice Defense Fund's 'efforts to save wild salmon, protect ancient forests and ensure clean, viable waterways.' For more about Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund's work, visit their web site at: http://www.earthjustice.org

Hot New Blues You Can Use…

  1. "The Big Score," Howard & The White Boys (Evidence Music) Have Mercy! H&TWB is back with a hot and juicy mix of their own road-tested brand of Blues ‘n boogie. Get yours today, while the boss is out to lunch! H&TWB pal Buddy Guy says "these guys deserve whatever they get and more."

  2. "Change in My Pocket," Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets, Featuring Sam Myers (Bullseye) The drive of Texas blues guitar mixed in with funky Delta harp stylings - that’s the combination that has always been the core of Mr. Funderburgh and Co.’s long standing kinship with Mr. Sam Myers. Sure you can ’t beat witnessing it live, but with this collection you can lay back …close your eyes…and almost smell the juke joint.

  3. "A Good Day for the Blues," Ruth Brown (Bullseye Blues) A true-blue Queen of the Blues, Ruth Brown brings it all back home together in this new release for the Bullseye label. With backing from an ensemble of her regular band members and top New Orleans session players, this new collection smolders.

  4. "Busted!," Blues Busters (HMG/Highwater) A rare glimpse at a classic Memphis Blues ensemble that performed as a band for a short time in 1982-84. Earl Banks, Lee Roy Martin, George Walker, Thomas Cornes and James Price short but vital stint together culminates in this, their only recording project. Earlier members of the band also included "Funky" John Cole and William "Boogie Man" Hubbard. This is real deal, get down Blues, from a group of bluesmen unique to Memphis.
Don’t forget what told ‘ya before - get out an support live Blues (and whatever live music is your brand) in the clubs and venues of the QC’s and surrounding area. Whether it’s Pointman’s Blues Series at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds, a lunch time concert in LeClaire Park, the weekly jam at O’Meara’s Pub, or the Q.C. Symphony at the Adler Theatre, it’s just like them good folks at WQPT Public Television will tell you during pledge drive, "If we don’t do it…who will?" A life without live music wouldn’t have much life at all. You’ve got your mission, and now don’t let me down! Until we meet again at this crossroads…

This just in...
True Blue is proud to announce that the 'Father of British Blues' John Mayall, along with special guests Smokin' Joe Kubek and B'nois King, will be coming to the Col Ballroom on Friday, June 25th for one show only! Mayall, Kubek and King will be coming to the Quad Cities direct from their June 24th show at the Val Air Ballroom in Des Moines. Tickets for the Des Moines or Davenport show are $22.50 per person on sale now from the Central Iowa Blues Society (phone 515-225-6638), or from Ticketmaster on sale May 1st for $22.50, plus Ticketmaster handling fee. Best of all... True Blue will be giving away two sets of tickets for the Davenport show! E-mail your entry to trueblue@qconline.com, with 'John Mayall Concert' typed in the subject box. Please include your name, age, address, and phone number. Deadline for entries is June 21st, 1999 at noon, and winners will be notified by phone or e-mail. One entry per e-mail address, please; multiple entries will automatically be discarded.

Blues to ‘ya!


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