Memphis to Chicago and back by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Posted on 7/27/2009 by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

(Memphis, Tennessee) I am the southern correspondent for the American Blues News and I am sincerely delighted to be able to contribute a few stories and interviews to the beloved fans of the blues worldwide. By way of introduction, let me tell you what I have been doing for the past 30 years or so.

My grandmother, Irene Parker, taught me how to pick out songs on the piano around 1964 and since then I have played by ear. After reading a little booklet by Tony Glover, I taught myself how to play harmonica listening to Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Reed and Little Walter (my favorite) ...then I saw Muddy Waters in 1976. It changed my life.

The blues is my job. When I am home in Memphis I play on Beale Street with the Eric Hughes Band and I have traveled the world with the Reba Russell Band for 19 years. During a swell Amtrak "City of New Orleans/Wolverine" train journey to the 16th Annual Kalamazoo Blues Festival on July 9, 2009, my bass-playing partner, Wayne Russell (Reba Russell's husband) and I ventured over to Lou Mitchell's in Chicago during our layover to eat trencherman-style before the Illini train departed on Saturday afternoon.

Author, drummer Russ Wilson, Jimmy Thackery
Kalamazoo Blues Festival, July 9, 2009

Sitting there amidst the resplendent Route 66 memorabilia and the sound of Mississippi Fred McDowell's "Highway 61 Blues" dancing in my head, I was reminded of what a great American city Chicago is and how it's blues heritage closely matches that of my hometown, both fertile stops along the blues migration path. After a memorable Reuben sandwich, we headed back to Union Station. Little did I realize I would soon be getting a chance to write for you, my fellow blues fans, on this world class information venue.

Rolling into Kankakee, Illinois, we were greeted by our longtime friend D'Arcy "Shuffle Shoes" Ballinger who whisked us off to the scenic River Bend Club where we met up with the rest of our band. Located on the lovely Kankakee River, we enjoyed the afternoon getting re-acquainted with old friends from the area and loading in our gear for the evening's performance. Kankakee's Friends of the Blues are doing a superb job keeping the blues alive and bringing in great acts even on weeknights.

View from the River Bend Club, Kankakee, Illinois

The outdoor atmosphere was like a backyard gathering of friends and the event was really well attended. After a successful first set I made my way to the Budweiser and ran into none other than Terry "Gatorman" Lape and during the break we shared lots of stories about some of the rough places we have survived during our lifelong pursuit of the blues. After seeing me brandishing my ever present Nikon, Terry suggested that I contact him to write for this blog, and that is how I got here.

Reba Russell and L.V. Banks at the
River Bend, Kankakee, Illinois

In the next set we were entertained by the talented L.V. Banks who sat in with the band, singing and playing guitar in the slick 1950's Memphis style. Solid gold. He mentioned that he had been introduced to the blues by B. B. King(that dynamic Gentleman of the Blues) and I replied that my mentor was a Beale Streeter named Earl Forest, B.B.'s drummer during the early 1950's. A riotous good time was had by one and all, with Reba Russell finishing out the night with some cool original songs.

As the band trudged home the following day, Wayne and I hung out with Shuffle Shoes and his WKCC radio co-host James "Sky Dobro" Walker before going for a relaxing boat ride on the Kankakee River. After a delicious supper thanks to Denise and D'Arcy at their home, we headed back down south on the "City of New Orleans" where, despite our late departure, the kind folks of Amtrak kept the dining car open long enough for me to consume a bottle of wine and a couple of lovely crab cakes. If you can, go Amtrak. It is the last bastion of civilized transportation left in these United States.

More travel adventures and interviews are coming. I hope to become your friendly tour guide of my life in the blues.

Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

**Friends of the Blues Radio Show is hosted by lifelong local blues aficionados D’Arcy Ballinger and James Walker. The show is named after a loose knit group of local Blues fans and the two helped create in 2006. D’Arcy “Shuffleshoes” Ballinger of rural St. Anne has been involved with the local blues scene since the mid 1980s. As a member of the Blues Foundation and a member of the Blues Music Awards Nominating Committee, “Shuffleshoes’” blues run deep. James “Sky Dobro” Walker of Watseka was listening to blues music before he knew it was “Blues.” The Friends of Blues Radio Show is named after a local Blues fan club the two helped create in 2006. Thursday at 7 p.m. and an extended 4 hour broadcast Saturday at 8 p.m.

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American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

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