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Blues Memories - Les Forgue Chicago Illinois, USA

From the late 1960s thru late-1970s 

I saw Howlin' Wolf perform twice in person, the second time was at the 1815 Club on Chicago's Westside (that building is now a church) but then I did not try to talk to him, but just being in the same room seeing and hearing him is a cherished memory. That was toward the end of his earthly journey and he spent the whole time sitting down for all the sets. The first time was at the Colonial Tavern on Yonge Street in Toronto. That time my wife and I did get to speak briefly with the Wolf, He was very cordial despite seeming rather tired, yet he gave lively performances with a generous portion of the stage antics he was known for especially with "This is it, Look what you get". My wife requested Smokestack Lightning and he graciously complied.

On Maxwell Street lived a man named Eddie Hines, known as Porkchop, he used to be a drummer for Louis Jordan.  Porkchop was about in his 80s I guess when I knew him in the 1970s. He used to let the street musicians use his electricity by hanging a string of extension chords out his 2 or 3rd storey apartment window.  He used to sit in on drums with John Henry Davis, when he did he always sang Caldonia. He woke me up one evening after I fell asleep on the door stoop, that may well have saved me from great harm. This Porkchop was a beloved fixture at the old Maxwell Street market.  In the 1940s he was a tap dancer there, but by the time I met him (1970s) he had quit dancing and was a drummer. He claimed to have played for Louis Jordan. Anyway one Sunday evening I got sloppy drunk and fell asleep sitting in Porkchop's door stoop at Maxwell and Newbury. Now Maxwell Street was a wonderful place to hang out on Sunday mornings and afternoons, but when the sun went down it became a totally different environment characterized by violent predatory behavior among other things. Anyway Porkchop forced me to wake up and he saw me on my way, explaining that I would not likely survive the night had I stayed there on his door stoop. (He lived on the 2nd or 3rd floor of an apartment building.) A lot has been said to romanticize and glorify that old Maxwell Street neighborhood, but it did have its negative aspects. Many of my friends that I used to enjoy the music with and maybe share a pint of wine, seemed like every time you see them they have a different scar that they did not have last time you saw them. Another time Big Walter Horton (who in the 70s was a rare sight there) he overheard this dude inviting me into the building in front of which Walter was playing, inviting me to hear some records, and Big Walter told me in strong terms not to set foot in that building. And this other building, only yards from the police station, contained what turned out to be a rural Mississippi type sporting house, with gambling, etc..  I went inside there with one of my wine drinking pals who lived in the area, and her uncle was up in there but they did not speak to each other. Then I noticed she had a long cut mark on her neck, and when I asked her about it she said her uncle cut her. I asked her why he cut her, and she said, "we were playing cards". So Maxwell Street was not the heavenly place it is sometimes made out to be and I might very well owe my survival to dear old Porkchop. I had many friends there but some of them definitely had some very rough edges on them.  

One summer day on Maxwell Street, I filled in for John Henry Davis's regular basket passer named Page. This was sort of a volunteer basis job. In addition to constantly pacing along the front perimeter of the crowd of listeners with a box to collect tips, there was the task of maintaining an empty zone between the crowd and the musicians and their equipment. On Sundays the legitimate liquor stores would open at noon. There was one a short block away on Maxwell and Halsted and another a quarter mile away by the police station at Morgan Street. Most of us fruit of the vine connoisseurs would walk the extra eighth mile to save 5 cents on a pint of White Port. (19%, when funds were available then lemon Kool-Aid powder was added to the wine, i.e. shake and bake.) Anyway by 1 PM enough alcohol had affected enough people's nervous systems to make the job of keeping back the crowd very interesting. One thing I witnessed was how the boyfriend of one of my female drinking buddies stood behind someone holding a boombox and punched his shoulder and stepped back, and in the ensuing confusion the guy put down his boombox to deal with whom he thought might have hit him while the secret offender snatched up the boombox and disappeared into the market hustle and bustle. This same guy had once offered to sell me a pistol for $20, but I thought Right, you have a pistol and I am going to let on that I have $20 on me in the privacy of the alley? Don't think so.
Most of the crowd was no trouble for me at all that day, just a few drunks who wanted to dance in the spotlight, there was no spotlight, I mean in the empty space by the musicians. And somebody tripped over and disconnected the electric cord extending across the ground and down from Porkchop Hines's upper story apartment window. And one old lady was ready to fight because somebody refused to give her a rolling paper and some tobacco. But the people weren't bad at all, it was the hot sun. And when that sun starting to going down and John Henry took down his stuff, he most generously gave me the amazing sum of 2 dollars out of the tip box for helping him out that day.
 

Big Walter Horton he hated that nickname "Shakey". I had the honor of being in a photo of Big Walter, the photo was taken as Walter played in front of a house on Peoria St I think well no probably it was Newberry, in the old Maxwell Market, the photographer's inclusion of me was quite unintentional I'm sure, I was sitting on the porch steps. That picture was published in a very early if not the first issue of Living Blues. I used to have a copy of the mag but I lost it somehow. Big Walter was actually kind of friendly for such a reticent, reserved acting dude.
He sometimes had quite a sharp edge to his 'conversation', and was perceived as mean hearted by some, but he really had a kind heart down in there, it just did not show too often. Playboy Venson,  He used to drum for Big John Wrencher a lot (Big John lived on 14th Street for a long time too) and Playboy Venson also drummed sometimes for Big John Henry when Porkchop Hines did not be there. By the time I started hanging at Maxwell, hearing Big Walter was a rare treat, same for Carey Bell. Ah, the memories, so sweet.  

Little Pat Rushing and John Henry Davis were musicians I met in the old Maxwell Street market.  Every Sunday morning for many years John Henry Davis had a monopoly on the vacant lot northeast corner of Maxwell and Newberry. He played electric slide guitar and he sang, with I must admit unremarkable talent. He was blessed to usually have Eddie Porkchop Hines (who claimed to have played with Louis Jordan and often sang Caldonia) on drums. Porkchop lived right upstairs in the adjacent building, and he supplied the electrical power. The John Henry also usually had a harp blower named Tom, I never knew his last name. A tall thin Caucasian gentleman, yes I said and meant gentleman. Besides Porkchop a frequent drummer was Playboy Venson who lived in the Maxwell market area, on 14th street. One day this drummer/singer named Winehead Willie Williams took over the show solo for an hour or so (by invitation). Now he IS recorded. He was a regular at Turner's, the famous little matchbox sized club on Indiana Avenue under the L tracks, many many 'blues legends' have rocked the stage at Turner's.   One very hot summer day when John Henry's official announcer and tip box passer, named Page, did not show up, I passed the tip box for John Henry and company for many hours in the hot sun, when the day was over John Henry gave me the most generous sum of 2 dollars and seemed like it nearly about broke his poor heart to part with that 2 dollars.
About Little Pat Rushing, he played most every Sunday at the Maxwell Street market too, sometimes partnering with John Henry Davis at Maxwell and Newberry, but usually on his own on 14th street or either a vacant lot on Maxwell between Peoria and Morgan, or then in a big vacant lot under the "blues tree" about centered between Maxwell, 14th, Newberry, and Peoria Streets. Pat's son Rico usually played bass, his other son usually played drums, while Pat sang and played electric lead/rhythm guitar, What was Little Pat's sound? If you can imagine, some John Lee Hooker and Bo Diddley blended into some Freddie King? Little Pat Rushing made at least one recording, his take on "Stoop Down, Mama, Let Your Daddy See" which I think Sleepy John Estes originated. another recording if any may have been Pat's version of "Mockingbird". Little Pat also played at Herb's Ellis Lounge on 63rd street and Ellis. I went alone to see him play there and I got embarrassed when I danced with a lady and I forgot I had a big old knife in a sheath tucked in my belt at the small of my back and when dancing the lady she felt the knife handle thru my jacket so I was embarrassed. Little Pat Rushing also shared the stage with Homesick James Williamson (and yours truly) at Iberus Hacker's coffeehouse on Lincoln Avenue. And Little Pat invited me to a private after hours club called the Black Spider on 39th and Michigan It was run by Bombay Carter and I got to play and meet and hear some great blues players. Some of the greatest will never be known, as Bob Koester or maybe it was Bruce Iglauer or maybe it was Michael Franks I don't know, One of those Chicago record publishers was asked how they search out and find the talent, the reply was, Finding the talent (for blues playing/singing) is NOT an issue, there is talent on every block (in the Black ghetto). Sorry I ramble and gab so much, Man, how will it be when I get reeeeally old? 

HoneyBoy Edwards, (this memory was written down a couple years before his death) He's a great guy and quite a character. I've seen him in person 3 times. Last time was a year or 2 ago at a birthday celebration for him, that time I did not get close enough to speak to him but I felt lucky to even be in the same room, not only with him, but Robert Junior and Pinetop too. The first 2 times were long ago. See Honeyboy lived just a block from my in-laws. He was well known and beloved in the neighborhood. His celebrity and world renown never changed his humble friendliness with the folks in the neighborhood, and they appreciated that. The first time I met him, Kansas City Red invited me to jam at Honeyboy's house, even though he knew I am strictly an amateur. It was supposed to be just Red and Michael Frank and Honeyboy, and I felt awkward, because Michael had planned it as a 'work' session and I did not fit into that plan. Anyhow there were no drums there for Red to play. But it was fun to be there hearing the talk between those three. The next time I met Honeyboy was also at his house, my wife and this other gal Laura were interviewing Honeyboy for a small weekly mag, and I went along. Laura was trying to conduct her interview in a professional manner but Honeyboy kept cracking jokes, and then a cute teenaged-looking girl walked in the door and went to some other room. Laura asked Honeyboy, Oh is that your grand-daughter?. and Honeyboy answered "That is my girlfriend" and Laura yelled "Shame on you!" and we all cracked up laughing.  

Homesick James gave me an 8 by 11 photo of himself and his alleged parents, and a young girl relative, it was to be the cover of his 'acoustic' LP "going Back Home. I was well acquainted with Homesick James Williamson, visited him at 2 of his Chicago residences, met a daughter of his, met 2 of his girlfriends and one wife, spent one night sitting up with him and harp player Snooky Prior listening to a pile of open reel tapes, mostly of Elmo James, I played my guitar there too and he gave me some advice about my playing, wanting me to make it more aggressively percussive and driving than it was at the time. I also had the honor of sharing a coffee house stage with Homesick and Little Pat Rushing.

Others with whom I had the privilege of acquaintance were:
Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis
Little Pat Rushing
Tony Mangiullo (whatever else he is, he is also a drummer)
John Henry Davis
Playboy Venson
Big John Wrencher
Bombay Carter
Floyd Jones
Kansas City Red
Honeyboy David Edwards
Eddie Taylor
Big Walter Horton
Erwin Helfer
Thomas "Mot" MacDougall
Guitar Red
Billy Branch
Harmonica Hinds

And some others I can say I met and have conversations with but maybe not repeatedly enough to call it an aquaintance are:
Sunnyland Slim
Big Time Sara
John and "Queen" Sylvia Embry
John Brim
Carey Bell
S P Leary
Michael Franks (whatever else he is, he is also a harp player)

Blues Memories by Les Forgue, Chicago Illinois, USA 2014

If you have any thoughts or comments, you can email me at alan.white@earlyblues.com

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