Rhythm and News Delmark

Where the Blues Were At:

A Look Back at Chicago's Blues Clubs

J.B. Hutto at Turners on a Monday Night

Throughout the past fifty years the Chicago blues scene has been a continuing flux of creativity. Some artists have risen from front porches and southside streets into fame and prosperity and others have lived a life scratching out an existence in small pubs and backyard summer parties.

Over the years as many clubs have been a haven to the blues as there have been artists to play in those clubs. Places like Turner's, The Checkerboard, and Theresa's have become legends to those blues fans too young to have been here during an era that has long passed us by.

Other clubs like Silvios, the Queen Bee, 1815 Club, Ross & Ma Bea's, the Rat Trap are rarely mentioned in articles on Chicago blues. One such is Smitty's Corner, where Bix Beiderbecke heard Bessie Smith in the `20s and tipped her his weeks' pay -- even the waiters were bluesmen such as "Dirty" Red Nelson (Decca, Aladdin) & Jack Cooley (Mercury, States/DL). Because so few fans of the blues know of these former bastions of the blues world we are presenting here a document of the late, great, and some times infamous music dens of yesterday.

The artists listed after the clubs are those that played there regularly. But on any given night you never know who may have stopped by and sat in on a set.

Most of the clubs listed here date from the early 1960's to the mid 1970's But several where around as early as the mid '50s (when Delmark Records owner Bob Koester wandered into Chicago from St. Louis) unfortunately almost all of the ones listed are now gone. Dozens of others -- perhaps hundreds of others -- came and went during that period. There are still a few genuine west side blues clubs open; check The Reader for listings.
-- Ray Harmon

Unidentified Musician at Peppers

The South Side:

Peppers (43th and Vicennes) - Jr. Wells, Buddy Guy, Earl Hooker, Robert Nighthawk. Open nightly from Mid '60s to '70s.

Queen Bees (47th) - Louis and Dave Myers, the Aces (changed its name and owner in the early 1980's to Lee's Unleaded Blues)

Florence's (55th and Shield) - Hound Dog Taylor, Magic Slim Sunday afternoons.

1125 (W. 59th) - Magic Slim weekends (w. Blues Before Sunrise host Steve Cushing on drums)

Theresa's (48th & Indiana) - Jr. Wells, Buddy Guy, Byther Smith, Sammy Longhorn. Open from the '50s to the early '80s

Turner's (39th and Indiana) - JB Hutto (on Mondays and weekends), Jimmy Reed. For 50¢ or $1 you got a ticket that let you in and got you a beer at the bar! Open from the early '50s to the late '70s

Rose and Kelly's (43rd well east of Indiana) - Owned by a retired policeman, with JB Hutto (Great food, Monday nights only)

I Spy (63rd west of the expressway) - Magic Slim, Billy Boy Arnold, Mighty Joe Young, Otis Rush.


Buddy Guy doing his thing at Theresa's

The West Side:

Avenue Lounge (Madison near California) Lonnie Brooks' hang for many years.

Castle Rock (West of Pulaski on Roosevelt) - Little Brother Montgomery

Club Alex was originally on the North side of Roosevelt Rd. at Loomis, and featured Muddy Waters. Later moved to 1815 W. Roosevelt and eventually became the 1815 Club (q.v.)

Copacabana (West Roosevelt Rd.) was a 2nd floor catering hall where such visiting artists as John Lee Hooker, Junior Parker, etc. played. Chess recorded a live album there: Folk Festival of the Blues, with Wolf, Muddy and Dixon.

Curly's (Madison & Homan) - Otis Rush, Rumored to be Mob Owned!?

Duke's Blue Flame (Madison & California) - Howlin' Wolf played when they had music, which was not always the case.

Duke's Flamingo (West of Ashland) - Jimmy Reed. Owned by T.J. McNalty - Freddy King's drummer

1815 Club, previously Alex, later Eddie Shaw's (1815 W. Roosevelt) - Eddie Shaw, Magic Sam (Part of Magic Sam Live - Delmark 645 - was recorded here.) Now a church.

Key Largo (Roosevelt & Damen) - Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Rogers, Fenton Robinson

L&A Lounge (16th and Pulaski) - Freddy King, Luther Allison, Magic Sam. Broadcast on WOPA Radio Monday nights. Sam tended bar and his lady waited tables.

Necktie Nate's was one of the last Roosevelt Rd. clubs (off Ashland). This was in the 70's or 80's and all the later-day guys showed up. Nate sold it to a guy who apparently was dealing drugs and who got blown away over the bar one night. Later a motorcycle gang HQ.

Rat Trap (Cermak & 43rd) - Guitar Red and Easy Baby

Ross & Ma Bea's (W. Madison at Sacramento) - Jimmy Dawkins, Jimmy Rogers w. Willie Kent

Silvio's (Lake and Kedzie) - Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Magic Sam (Sometimes all in one night) Open from the Late 1950's to the mid '70s

Walton's Corners (West Roosevelt Rd.) eventually was TJ's owned by T.J. McNulty, Freddy King's drummer.

Zanzibar (13th & Ashland) Muddy Waters (1950's). Now a church.

Club owner Theresa Needham behind her bar

Thank You :

Bob and Sue Koester, Doug Engel, Jimmy Burns, and Steve Cushing. All photos copyright Greg Roberts.