Chicagoan guitarist Dave Weld talks about JB Hutto, Abb Locke and his experience on the road with the blues

"I would hope that blues would be recognized as it is with out having to commercialize it, and that all the preconceived notions about blues could be discarded"

Dave Weld: Burnin Blues Flame

Blues guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and bandleader Dave Weld born in Chicago in 1952. Dave was first influenced as a child when he found an old Victrola in the basement and wore out the blues 78's. Dave found out the West side of Chicago in the black hood was friendlier than the North side, and started sitting in at clubs and landed a gig with Hound Dog Taylor's band, Brewer Phillips, Ted Harvey, at Sweet Peas on 43rd St. Weld played with them for a year. During that first year, there were shake dancers and fistfights. The gig ended when Brewer was stabbed in the throat by his wife, but they reconciled. Weld then moved on to the 1815 Club on W. Roosevelt, which was owned and operated by Eddie Shaw who had Howlin Wolf's band.

Dave stayed there and played in the band with Chico Chism, Lafayette Gilbert, Hubert Sumlin, Detroit Junior, and Eddie Shaw. The going rate was $15 per night. Dave played with Otis Rush, Guitar Junior, Boston Blackie, Tail Dragger, Little Arthur, Johnny Littlejohn and more. The gig ended when the band was taken to the Maxwell St. lockup because of the nude dancers. Shaw bailed them out. He studied at JB's house for three years until JB introduced Dave to his nephews, Little Ed and James Young. They started the band "Little Ed and the Blues Imperials" and played every joint in the West side for ten years. Dave started "Dave Weld and the Imperial Flames" in 1988 with Little Ed's blessing and they came out with their first CD "Roughrockin' in Chicago", and Dave toured Europe, Canada and Japan with his own band. Little Ed joined Dave's band twice for two years each time and the second time they recorded for Earwig Music, "Keep on Walkin'", and this brought them overseas again, as well as local, regional, and national gigs. When Ed went back to his band he was replaced by the great Abb Locke, legendary sax man. Burnin' Love was Weld's Delmark debut (2010) and it features Lil Ed on guitar and Abb Locke on saxophone. "Slip Into A Dream" (Delmark, 2015) is a storming second album from Dave Weld and The Imperial Flames - still blues, but with some old school soul elements, kind of a blues fusion with older Memphis or southern modes at times and less the traditional Chicago blues you might expect. Part of that also comes from a larger horn section on a few numbers. The album also features Bobby Rush on guest harmonica, Greg Guy and Sax Gordon.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Photos by Dave Weld's Archive / All Rights Reserved

When was your first desire to become involved in the blues & what does Blues offered?

I was first moved by blues when I found old 78’s in my basement, when I was a child. I played teddy bear blues over and over, I still remember the melody, it was like a Dixie land. My second intro to the blues was with two records I was given, lightening Hopkins, “Black Cadillac Blues” and Ηowlin Wolf, “Big City Blues” his collection of sun studio and early chess recordings with Willie Johnson on guitar. I still love Willie Johnson’s playing. The third was when the stones first came out they were doing blues so when I looked up McΚinley Morganfield, I found it was muddy waters. Then I bought my first, BB King’ “Live at the Regal”! After that I had a haunting dream about a short blackman with a hat in a closet size box, grinning at me and playing slide guitar, and I could not stop watching him. Later I realized it was foreshadow of JB Hutto!

What do you learn about yourself from the blues culture and what does the blues mean to you?

I learned to show myself through my songs, and my music and not be afraid to be different. The real masters of the blues had something personal in their music, and styles that no one else had. You have to have your own style to play great blues. JB Hutto told me that to write a good blues, you have to squeeze it out of your soul. If you take it too far from the blues traditions, it is not really blues, but if you ONLY follow the traditions, you, and the blues will not grow.

Bob Koester calls this the "When the saints go marching in Syndrome". Trad jazz played that song so much, and did not write, create, and popularize newer, better trad jazz songs, so the art form died out. That is what is happening to the blues, even though many new songs are written, they need to get one as popular as "The thrill is gone", or along those lines.

What characterize the sound of Dave Weld? How do you describe Dave Weld’s blues?

I try things from a practical point and from a feeling which I can create, depending on the things I can play on guitar or what comes to my mind. I was very influenced by the wolf, muddy waters, but JB Hutto was my teacher and mentor. I also was influenced by Gatemouth Brown, who I visited in my early days in Nevada, New Mexico and New Orleans. I also was taken under wing by a jazz musician, Kurt Black who played with Benny Carter, and he taught me harmony, chords and so forth. JB Hutto was the one to teach me bandleading, second guitar, lead guitar and songwriting.

What were the reasons that you started the blues researches? What characterize your songbook?

It spoke to me in a way that rick did not, and I was always somewhat counter culture, so I would seek out things that were not in the mainstream.  I love Wolf, Muddy, Jimmy Reed, Elmore, BB the most.

Which is the most interesting period in your life? What experiences in your life make you a good bluesman?

Right now is a very interesting part of my life, because I see more than I used to and realize how precious life is. What makes me a bluesman is a choice that I have only one life, and I have dedicated it to the blues, and I have more past than future, so it is deep in my spirit. My true to life events, relating to people without money, desperate people, and the marginal element of society, as well as personal failure in my life or the life of my family, how the pain of your mother’s is your own pain, how your father’s bitterness is your bitterness, and how love saved us all from these feelings, makes me a blues man. Being drunk and getting thrown in the Maxwell St. drunk tank, and countless other adventures like this, also contributes to being a bluesman.

Mostly after that, just doing the work of being a bluesman makes me one. Sacrificing my life to that goal.

What do you miss most nowadays from the “OLD DAYS OF CHICAGO BLUES”?

The community of blues players, because they’re not so many gigs now and so many guys from the old days to school you, or just hang out.

"JB Hutto told me that to write a good blues, you have to squeeze it out of your soul. If you take it too far from the blues traditions, it is not really blues, but if you ONLY follow the traditions, you, and the blues will not grow." (PHOTO: JB Hutto & The New Hawks by Emily Goodfader)

What advice J.B. Hutto has given to you, what was your relationship & which memory from him makes you smile? 

He said “write a song like you are a full grown man”, and most important he said, “don’t ever, EVER, let someone tell you that you can’t make it! Not your girlfriend, not your mother, not your wife, not your boss, not your friends, ANYONE. You can make it! This makes me smile.

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from Brewer Philips and Ted Harvey?

Brewer letting me plays his guitar because he had hit a robber in the head with his hand, broken his hand, and was having trouble trying to play his gig. Brewer teaching me parts on the guitar that Memphis Minnie had taught him!  Brewer in the hospital after his wife stabbed him in the throat, and we stopped playing at Sweet Peas after this, but he recovered and went back with his wife and they stayed together the rest of their life! Ted Harvey squeezed in the back of my Camaro when we were going to Madison from Chicago. Ted during a recording session, dropped his sticks by mistake and kept playing the song with his hands on the drums and we did not know even in the mix until he told us later!

What are some of the most memorable tales with the Blues Imperials?

Little Ed is one of the most wonderful friends I have ever had. His brother Pookie as well. When we were stuck in the cold in Wisconsin, all the other guys said, “Dave you got us here, now get us back”, I had to buy tickets for them on the bus and I asked ed if he wanted one and Ed said “hell no, I am going to stay right here with you”, and he spent the next three or four hours under that van in the cold, he fixed it and we drove home together, with his wife Pam there as well! So many memories with Ed. He is clean off drugs now and does not drink, as I do not as well, and we both have families now. He is the very best!

"I am afraid of the 'When the Saints go marching in' syndrome, not that great song are not being written, but that the public will not have big mainstream hits, such as 'the Thrill is gone', by BB King. From the new scene I feel like a seasoned old timer, who was there when the masters graced the stage." (PHOTO: Dave Weld and the bluesman/sax player, Abb Locke on stage, Chicago, Il)

What are some of the memorable stories from Abb Locke? What are the secrets of Abb Locke’s sound?

Abb is old school with the deep sound of his teachers, and one of them was the guy from BB Kings original band who played the solo on woke up this morning. He also was in the school bands, as well as picked cotton, and he learned much from Bill Doggets sax man who did “Honky Tonk”. He also did not smoke or drink or use drugs so he was healthy enough to make gigs with the Wolf, Magic Sam, Earl Hooker, and BB King (Abb was on the radio show in Memphis with BB King when BB was coming of age).

What's been their experience from “studies” from the 1815 Club on W. Roosevelt? 

I was arrested there for being in the band when we played behind a woman who was dancing and smoking a cigarette and blowing smoke from her vagina, we were taken down to the Maxwell street lockup, and Eddie Shaw went our bail.  When we went to court the judge laughed and threw it out.  We played in the band for a year every weekend there, with Hubert Sumlin,  Lafayette "Shorty" Gilbert on bass, Chico Chism, Detroit Junior, and Eddie Shaw.

You have played with many bluesmen. It must be hard, but which gigs have been the biggest experiences for you? 

The year gig at the 1815 club where all those people you mentioned came in on a regular basis, and the year gig at sweet peas with the Houserockers, and all the gigs I did with little ed on the west side for ten dollars a night!

Are there any memories from Eddie Shaw’s band, the Wolf Pack, which you’d like to share with us?

Just the night we were put in jail and that Bob Corritore released some of the music that we recorded during that time under bob’s label featuring Chico Chism.

"Blues spoke to me in a way that rick did not, and I was always somewhat counter culture, so I would seek out things that were not in the mainstream.  I love Wolf, Muddy, Jimmy Reed, Elmore, BB the most."

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES

Blues is authentic, and of it’s own culture, and can be used as the basis for many styles, so it will be, because it is the blend of Africa and western civilization that took place in America. I wish the blues would first find another big name, such as Stevie Ray was, or the blues brothers were, and this name would revitalize the blues scene so we could all work more and for more money. Second and more important, I would hope that blues would be recognized as it is with out having to commercialize it, and that all the preconceived notions about blues could be discarded, and we could just concentrate on good music and work.

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

Now it is business, back then more fun but less gigs! That is just it, it is a business now! Back then it was a lifestyle and a hobby and only the big guys like BB King or Muddy were into the business, or Ike Turner. But I was too young to be so serious except when I wanted to sound good. Now it is mostly business and sometimes practice and writing and rehearsal. It is good and bad, at least if you make it, you will be rich, but Magic Sam or Jimmy Reed or Lightning Hopkins were never rich, but if they were around now they would have mansions, but they did deserve them.

Of all the bluesmen you’ve meeting with, who do you admire the most?

The ones I admire most are the ones I worked with, Little Ed, James "Pookie" Young, Abb Locke, Herman Applewhite, Jeff Taylor, Monica Garcia, Dave Kaye, Mike Scharf, Harry Yaseen! These are my most admired  and of course my mentor JB Hutto, and a mention of Eddie Shaw, and the after that it is Albert Collins, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Elmore James, BB King, and Eric Clapton and the Stones.

Are there any memories from the road with the blues, which you’d like to share with us?

I love to go on the road for a gig, but if it can pay for the van and the guys and myself as well, it is better.

"Little Ed is one of the most wonderful friends I have ever had." 

Are there any memories from Maxwell Str. which you’d like to share?

The time I was taken to the Maxwell Str. lockup.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

No best moment but a high point was when we set up in Delmark for an audition and they loved it!!! The worst moment I still live by talking to a cheap bottom feeding club owner who makes his money by taking advantage of poor black people, and try’s to take advantage of us, when we need a gig!

Are there any memories from Slip Into A Dream studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Certain songs we played over and over, and we choose the best one, but two were both called finished after the producer, Steve Wagner heard the first take. "Take me back" and "Tremble", Steve yelled out, "it's great, you don't need another one"! At one point I could actually feel the presence, or spirit of JB Hutto, because somebody said something Jb said, and we were recording his song at the time!  It was spooky!

Why did you think that Delmark label continues to generate such a devoted following?

They have an ear for authentic blues. It is just like a club where you go to hear music, if there is a band there you don't know, but all the other bands there are great, you go see the new band because you know they will be good too. After Magic Sam, JB Hutto, Junior Wells, you know the stuff will be good!

"Blues saved a whole lot of white boys from boring music, and the strength and quality, and richness of character, of blues musicians, gave hope and direction to those that did not know where to go or how to start expressing themselves." (PHOTO: Dave Weld and The Imperial Flames)

What are th difference between the several local blues clubs in Chicago (Necktie Nates, The Garfield, Kingstone Mines, Rosa’s, Sweet Pea, 1815 Club, Boss Joe's Lounge and more)? 

The Mines and Rosas are geared toward white people, and the others are where black people go in the black neighborhood. Those are the ones that faded out.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of blues? What touched (emotionally) you from the new scene?

I am afraid of the "When the Saints go marching in" syndrome, not that great song are not being written, but that the public will not have big mainstream hits, such as "the Thrill is gone", by BB King. From the new scene I feel like a seasoned old timer, who was there when the masters graced the stage.

What has made you laugh from your meeting with Albert Collins, Muddy, Wolf, and Elmore James?

When I met Albert Collins, he was a little sad the album I mentioned was "Snow Cone", because he was hoping his new stuff was as good and he was a grateful, gracious human being. I played in the Wolf Pack, Wolf's band and they were kind to me, because it was the West side of Chicago, in the 70's and I was the only white there.  They taught me much.

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications?

Blues saved a whole lot of white boys from boring music, and the strength and quality, and richness of character, of blues musicians, gave hope and direction to those that did not know where to go or how to start expressing themselves. The Stones, Beatles, Fogerty, Zeplin, Yardbirds, and on and on.

What is the best advice ever gave you?

Learn second guitar, and learn to sing, write your own music, and book gigs!

Let’s take a trip with a timme machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I want to go to a fish fry on a Saturday in Mississippi juke joint where there are many entertainers, all day including Robert Johnson, Young Wolf, Hooker, Muddy, Sonny Boy, Charlie Patton, Memphis Minnie, Bukka White, and I just happen to have a tape recorder on me, and a case of whiskey. Of course this is pure imagination but why not dream of the best!

Dave Weld's official website

 

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