Studebaker John at The Park Theatre
Friday, July 20th, 2018
Doors 7 pm | Show 8 pm
Tickets $20 adv | $25 doors
Studebaker John was born in Chicago in 1952, and has lived his whole life there. An avid music fan as a youngster, he learned to play several instruments, including first the harmonica, then the drums, and in his late teens, the guitar. He came of age in the ‘60s, so was part of the rock ‘n’ roll/rock generation. It was a time when musical boundaries and barriers were being broken down, and elements of different styles were combined into something new and vibrant that filled the airwaves of AM radio. John liked a lot of different music, but as a young teenager he’d occasionally hear songs that especially captured his attention and imagination. “At the time, I had no idea that this music was called blues, but listening to the radio, you’d hear Jimmy Reed, Freddy King, Slim Harpo, and things like that, all mixed in with other music I listened to.” A few years later, that included the music of the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, and Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac in England, and in the USA, Bob Dylan, Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Johnny Winter, the Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, and countless others, all of whom took their inspiration from Chicago’s electric blues, and added a hard rocking edge to it.
Also during the ‘60s, John was traveling the city; working in his family’s plumbing business, which sometimes took him to the Maxwell Street open air market, where he heard street musicians playing a raw electrified blues for tips. “I got to see Big John Wrencher, the one-armed harp player who was a Maxwell Street regular and played with just a guitarist and drummer. I was spellbound. His music was simple yet so powerful.” The music he heard on Maxwell Street drew him in, and he started hanging out at clubs on the South and West Side to catch live acts. One memorable night he saw a performance by Hound Dog Taylor that resulted in a personal epiphany: “I had to play slide guitar.”
Over the next couple of decades, John played every chance he got, sometimes sitting in with the cream of Chicago blues players, such as Big Walter, Jimmy Johnson, Buddy and Phil Guy, James Cotton, Jr. Wells and Hound Dog Taylor. He built a reputation as a performer with an exciting, propulsive guitar style, and also developed into a fine blues harpist and vocalist. He became a sought-after sideman and session musician. For example, when the remnants of The Yardbirds and the Pretty Things came to Chicago in the early ‘90s looking to make a blues album, they tapped John to provide guitar and harp backing. Shortly thereafter, he was asked to join the reformed Yardbirds, an offer John tuned down in order to record his own music. He realized that he wanted to stop playing cover versions of others’ music, and to develop his own voice as a songwriter. “Writing songs is the most satisfying part of my job. I write a song to make myself feel better, and I hope it makes others feel better, too.” Since then he has put out more than a dozen albums of all original music, recording on the Blind Pig, Evidence, and his own Avanti labels. It is fitting that Studebaker John is now with Delmark, the oldest existing Chicago-based blues label. He is a Chicago blues original, who plays from the heart and always takes his own distinctive approach to contemporary blues