Chicago Piano

A couple of weeks ago I was in Chicago for the Eclipse Board meeting. Afterward i went with one of my friends to see Barrelhouse Chuck “and friends” at Rosa’s Lounge. It was great. Rosa herself was behind the bar, and Barrelhouse’s friends included Pete Crawford, Katherine Davis, and Eiko, who took over on piano while Chuck sang a couple of songs.
Barrellhouse Chuck with Pete Crawford at Rosa’s Lounge June 28
Barrellhouse is a student of Chicago piano. He spent 9 years studying with Sunnyland Slim before he passed away, and he can play just like him. He can actually sing a little better than Sunnyland, although maybe that’s not saying much. Chuck is playing Wednesday’s through July at Rosa’s. If you’re out that way you should definitely check it out.
Here’s a picture of Chuck with my friend Tom. Tom says that the caption is wrong, though, and it was actually Christmas 1991 at Chuck’s place. Tom studied with Chuck a while back and used to fill in for Chuck sometimes when Chuck’s band took breaks. Today Tom spends more time playing the ukelele, but his real job (when he decides he wants one) is as a graphic artist. He used to paint pinball machine and other arcade game panels. Tom designed the logo for Barrelhouse, which appears on his website and lapel button.
Barrelhouse Chuck’s Logo
Rosa’s has a great atmosphere. My wife and I moved to Chicago right out of college and our first apartment was over the North Branch Saloon, which turned out to be one of about 6 blues bars within walking distance where you could see world-class blues artists almost any night of the week for cheap.
Single File, which was about four blocks away, was where we saw Sunnyland for the first time. Big Time Sarah was with him and I bought an LP from her on Sunnyland’s Airways label (since reissued) that the two of them were on. That started me on buying the music of the musicians I went to see, and keeping up the tradition I bought two CDs from Barrelhouse that night.
Chuck came over and talked with us during the break between sets. He knew Tom, of course, but he also went around and talked with everyone else.
One thing that was different though was the appearance of a tourist with a camera. You would never have seen that 25 years ago. I had decided not to get my camera out because I didn’t want to break the mood, but after the Dutch guy went right up to the stage with his Nikon with the big flash, I figured what the heck and took a few shots from my seat at the bar.
Eiko Gallwas and Katherine Davis
The Dutch Tourist with the Camera
The day before I’d gone over to the Jazz Record Mart and bought a bunch of CDs, including, by sheer coincidence, Sunnyland’s “Patriarch of the Blues” that I found in the used bin. The guy at the counter told me all the old North Side clubs had either closed down or become tourist joints where they “played the same 12 songs over and over…”
At the end of the last set Chuck asked if anyone had any requests. I mentioned “Johnson Machine Gun,” one of Sunnyland’s better known tunes, and before I could even say “if you know it” Chuck had launched into a thunderous version. The Blues is alive and well in Chicago, you just have to go a little farther West than you used to.


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