Interview with Linda Cain founder/editor of Chicago Blues Guide - keep the blues alive and well in Windy City

"The blues is about universal truth, the human condition and human emotions."

Linda Cain: Blues Mission In Chi-Town 

Linda Cain is the founder/managing editor of Chicago Blues Guide. Chicago Blues Guide is a complete guide to Chicago’s current blues scene. The Guide section contains listings for Chicagoland’s blues clubs, bands, radio shows, record labels and links. The webzine features plenty of photos, news and features on what’s happening in the home of the blues, including interviews, events, DVD and CD reviews, and live blues reviews.

Chicago Blues Guide is run by contributors who volunteer their time and talent because they love the blues. Like the Blues Brothers, is on a “mission from God” to keep the blues alive and well in Sweet Home Chicago…World Capital of the Blues.

CBG goal is to promote and preserve Chicago’s blues music and culture in all of its forms, from traditional to contemporary blues, soul and R&B. CBG strive to unite Chicago’s blues community and to connect with blues fans all over the world who share our enthusiasm for the city’s great blues music and heritage. And also hope to inspire a younger listening audience for the next generation who will enjoy and carry on this worthy musical tradition that is, indeed, the root of nearly every form of music that is popular today. As the late, great Muddy Waters once said, “The blues had a baby, and they named the baby rock and roll.”

Favorite motto is: Every day is a good day for the blues! The Staff of Chicago Blues Guide are: Linda Cain (Founder/ Managing Editor), Jennifer "Lady Blues" Noble (Photography Director), Dave Ambrose (Art Director); and Contributors: Bill Dahl, Kate Moss, Liz Mandeville, George Kalamaras, Michael Kurgansky, Dave Weld, Pierre Lacocque, Steve Jones, and many others. Linda Cain, Jennifer Noble and Chicago Blues Guide; inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame in 2014.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How important was music in your life? How does music affect your mood and inspiration?

Music has always been very important in my life, as a fan. Growing up I was the stereotypical teeny bopper with a transistor radio glued to my ear. I would sneak it under the covers and listen to the AM radio at night, too. Just like in the Ramones song “Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio.”

I am always listening to music on my home stereo, radio, computer, car stereo, mobile phone or iPod. I don’t much care for TV, unless it’s a music show. My husband and I go out to hear live music once or twice weekly and sometimes more.

 I am not a musician although I play a little bit on the drums. I greatly admire the people who do create music for us to enjoy. Music is life!

What inspired you to start Chicago Blues Guide?

I have a degree in journalism and have worked as a music writer and editor and also as a publicist for music venues (mostly blues clubs) in Chicago and the suburbs. Many of the music publications and blues clubs that I worked with folded due to hard economic times.

I wanted to do something to help boost our local music scene. With the advent of the internet, I knew I could self-publish a webzine and create a site that would be international and would let the world know that Chicago is still the home of the blues. We are, in fact, the World Capital of the Blues!

Six years ago, when I created the website, it was difficult to find much information on Chicago’s blues artists, clubs, etc. I know that tourists are the lifeblood of our blues clubs and musicians. It’s hard to be a star in your hometown, but when our blues artists perform in Europe, Japan, South America and all over the world, they are treated like royalty. So I wanted to reach out to blues fans both locally and internationally and give them a complete guide to Chicago’s blues scene.

Between my journalist and publicist work, I knew many like-minded writers and photographers who came on board to help launch Chicago Blues Guide (CBG) and contribute their talents. Since I started CBG, I have made so many wonderful, new blues buddies all over the world -- nice people who love music, like you!

Jennifer Noble & Linda Cain - Photo by Connie Carroll

How do you describe CBG and what characterizes the site’s philosophy?

To quote the Blues Brothers: “We’re on a mission from God.”

Chicago Blues Guide is run by contributors who volunteer their time and talent because they love the blues. We work to keep the blues alive and well in Sweet Home Chicago…World Capital of the Blues.

Our goal is to promote and preserve Chicago’s blues music and culture in all of its forms, from traditional to contemporary blues, soul and R&B.

We strive to unite Chicago’s blues community and to connect with blues fans all over the world who share our enthusiasm for the city’s great blues music and heritage. We also hope to inspire a younger listening audience for the next generation who will enjoy and carry on this worthy musical tradition that is, indeed, the root of nearly every form of music that is popular today.

As the late, great Muddy Waters once said, “The blues had a baby, and they named the baby rock and roll.”

Chicago Blues Guide is a complete guide to Chicago’s current blues scene. The Guide section contains listings for Chicagoland’s blues clubs, bands (hundreds of them), radio shows, record labels and links. The webzine features plenty of photos, news and features on what’s happening in the home of the blues, including interviews, events, DVD and CD reviews, and live blues reviews.

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

The blues is about universal truth, the human condition and human emotions. Great art of any sort, whether you are looking at a painting or listening to music, will capture your imagination, tell a story, move you and make you feel something. Blues music does all of that for me and for millions of people since time began. If I haven’t heard a live blues band or listened to blues music for a while because I’m traveling or whatever, I really miss it. Once I hear it again, it’s like getting a blood transfusion. Sweet relief!

Linda & Billy Boy Arnold - Photo by Dianne Dunklau

Why do you think that the Chicago Blues scene continues to generate such a devoted following?

For the same reasons that I mentioned earlier. Of course, blues began in the South, but it migrated north to Chicago, where the titans like Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Koko Taylor and Bo Diddley recorded for Chess Records. Thanks to the Chess brothers’ international distribution and airplay, this music spread all over the world and influenced the legendary rock bands in England, like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Yardbirds, Animals, etc. And of course in America you had blues-based artists like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Carlos Santana, the Allman Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Canned Heat, etc.

And so generations continue to discover these rock artists and explore their roots and influences, which brings them back to the mecca of Chicago, where you can hear live blues music 365 days a year played by the sons, daughters, grandchildren and protégés of the original blues legends.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? Which memory makes you smile?

I never got to see Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf perform. They were before my time. But when I started as a publicist for the Blue Chicago clubs in the 1980s, I got to work with artists like Koko Taylor, Willie Kent, Magic Slim, Bonnie Lee, Valerie Wellington and Kanika Kress. All of them have passed on to blues heaven and left us too soon. But I have fond memories of the time I spent interviewing them, watching them perform, writing their bios, putting together their press kits and photos and getting them on TV and radio shows and in the newspapers. It was nice to see them get a bit of the celebrity treatment.

 The memory that makes me laugh goes back to New Year’s Eve at Blue Chicago when it was on State and Walton. Willie Kent’s band with Bonnie Lee performed that night. Magic Slim had given a Christmas gift to the club owner, Gino Battaglia. It was a bottle of homemade white lightnin’ that he had brought back from Mississippi. Toward the end of the night, Gino gave us and the band shots of the stuff. It was like firewater! Well Bonnie Lee didn’t make it through the last set. In the middle of a song she suddenly fell straight back and then bounced, like a tree that had been chopped down! An ambulance was called and they carried her out on a stretcher. As they passed us at the bar, I noticed she had a big smile on her face!  So I knew she would be OK. That white lightnin’ was nasty stuff!

Linda & Lonnie Brooks - Photo by Jennifer Wheeler

Are there any memories from local festivals and the famous Maxwell Street which you’d like to share with us?

I was too young for the heyday of Maxwell Street, when you could go see J. B. Hutto or Bo Diddley playing for tips on the street. I did go there once when I was in college in the late ‘70s, but there was no music happening at that point. One of our contributors, photographer Tom Smith, used to go to Maxwell Street regularly and faithfully documented everything he saw. You can see his photo essays on CBG. Click for PART 1 and PART 2 .

In recent memory, certainly Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festivals in 2007 and 2010 that were held in suburban Bridgeview (about 2 miles from where I grew up) were certainly astounding festivals. I wrote lengthy reviews of both of those 12 hour marathons for CBG. (To read them, click on the year above). If you scroll through CBG’s Live Shows Directory Archive, you will see reviews and photos by me and our staff of many amazing concerts and fests, including Chicago Blues Festival each year.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of blues?

I’m not sure what you mean by “blues of the past”? If you mean early, historical blues, then certainly the instrumentation of the blues genre has become guitar dominant, with that instrument replacing the piano. Chicago blues piano pioneers such Pinetop Perkins, Otis Spann, Roosevelt Sykes and Sunnyland Slim have left us. Thankfully their talented devotees are still carrying on the wonderful blues and boogie woogie piano styles and keeping them alive. So if you ever have a chance to see pianists like Erwin Helfer, Barrelhouse Chuck, Johnny Iguana, David Maxwell, Brother John, Henry Gray, Marty Sammon and a host of other talented players, then you will be hearing blues history in a modern setting. And we’re not even talking about New Orleans piano players, which is another whole chapter!

I hope that there will always be dedicated blues clubs and blues jams in Chicago and around the world where blues musicians can practice their art, fans can appreciate hearing them live and aspiring young musicians can learn from them.

If you could change one thing for the local blues scene and it would become a reality, what would that be?                                         (Photo: Linda & Buddy Guy)

I wish that Chicago would have a world-class blues museum. I know that attempts have been made in the past, but never came to fruition for unknown reasons. Money and politics play a part and I guess blues just isn’t on the priority list of the powers that be. Chicago is home to top, world-class museums and George Lucas is building a huge new museum here to house his vast art and film making collections. Please George, can you reserve a tiny part of your big museum for Chicago blues???  After all, St. Louis will be opening a grand blues museum in the near future; that will be worth a six hour drive south. But Chicago deserves one, too.

The other thing I wish for is: that the complacent people in the suburbs would get off their butts and go support live blues, buy blues CDs and turn their kids onto the blues. You have the best blues in the world waiting for you at “safe” places in the city with restaurant clubs like Buddy Guy’s Legends, House of Blues and Shaw’s Crabhouse where children are welcome. And of course there’s Chicago Blues Fest which is free.

What is the best advice ever given you and what advice would you give to the new Chicago blues generation?

I don’t recall any specific words of wisdom handed to me. However my husband was very encouraging and inspiring in my quest to help the blues by starting Chicago Blues Guide. My web skills weren’t up to date so he encouraged me to take classes and learn how to build and maintain the site. And he took me shopping for a new computer and various software that I needed. My husband is the best!

For the upcoming blues artists I would say: Follow your heart, learn from your elders, do your musical homework, study the history of the genre, don’t give in to peer pressure. And practice, practice, practice.

What connects the legacy of the blues from the Southern plantation fields and juke joints to the Windy City’s sound?

Certainly the style of Delta Blues that Muddy Waters played on the plantation evolved and electrified when he moved North to Chicago. The pastoral sounds of the country are very different from the loud, urban landscape. Chicago has its own style of contemporary blues in the clubs that is continually evolving by adding soul, funk, R&B, rock and even rap into the mix. But the more historical blues styles with piano, slide guitar, steel resonator guitar, fiddle, banjo, washboard and harmonica are still being performed around town by artists both young and old.

What does it take to be a blues woman in a “Man’s World”, as James Brown sang? What is the status of women in blues?

Back when I was Blue Chicago’s publicist in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there seemed to be a revival of female blues singers. You can credit Koko Taylor with breaking down doors, inspiring and mentoring the next generation of blues women. Blue Chicago supported the new wave of ladies singing the blues and became known for having female blues singers every night. And they still do.

Many of the female blues singers who started out on the Chicago scene back then have gone on to enjoy international careers, performing at blues festivals and clubs all over the world. Like Koko Taylor, they are continuing to keep the blues alive and influence new generations of blues women. There are too many Chicago blues women to list here but if you take a look at Chicago Blues Guide’s club listings and the club schedules, you will see who they are. The blues women singers have always been my favorite performers and I know that blues fans from all over the world flock here to see them. Blues women are very popular!

Blues women instrumentalists in Chicago used to be a rare phenomenon. The late Kanika Kress was a very talented guitarist and singer who was mentored by Buddy Guy and was a regular at Blue Chicago in the 1980s. Sadly she died very young.

Joanna Connor started out at the same time. Now she is a veteran guitarist who can go toe-to-toe with any macho man blues guitarist any day. She is the queen of Kingston Mines. Liz Mandeville, who writes for CBG, is a real Renaissance woman; she sings, plays guitar, writes songs, paints and teaches. She is a journalist and DJ; and she started her own record label. We call her the Bette Midler of the blues because she is such a smart, funny show woman as well.  Joanna and Liz had obstacles to overcome because they are female and started out young. But now they are admired and seasoned veterans.

The Chicago Women in the Blues revue, headed by multi-talented keyboardist Joan Gand, features a vast array of women instrumentalists (bass, sax, guitar, harmonica, frottoir) and singers. Needless to say this is one act that almost always sells out since it debuted a few years ago.

And there are so many talented young women all over the world who are strapping on guitars, heading their own bands, writing their own songs and handling their own careers. Ana Popovic, Joanne Shaw Taylor and Samantha Fish are just a few of them. They enjoy successful careers and are continually pushing themselves for excellence.

If you were to ask any of these blues ladies what it takes to live in a Man’s World, I think they will say that you need: talent, hard work, sacrifice, perseverance, a thick skin and to believe in yourself. I think even someone as talented and successful as Shemekia Copeland (who is a daughter-of-the-blues and the new Queen of the Blues), would tell you that, too.

Let’s take a trip back in a time machine. Where would you like to go and why?

I became a rabid music fan because of The Beatles. I saw them on Ed Sullivan when I was in fourth grade and that was the big spark that lit the fire for me. I never got to see the band perform live. (I have seen Ringo and Paul).  My parents would not allow me to attend their concerts when I was a kid. But if I had gone to see them at Comiskey Park on the South Side like my girlfriends did, I would not have been able to hear or see The Beatles anyway because of all the screaming and distance from the stage.  So if I had a time machine, I’d like to go onto the set of a Hard Day’s Night and watch the Beatles perform for the film in person. And get their autographs, have my picture taken with them and give them all hugs! I still have my Beatles’ trading cards, 45s and posters.

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Photo: Linda & Candye Kane                     Photos by Linda cain's Archive - All rights reserved

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