The Tale Dragger

The Tale Dragger

Several years back I attended a performance by the late Jimmy "Fast Fingers" Dawkins, who died in 2013.  Performing with Dawkins was a fellow named Tail Dragger.  His performance was as electrifying as Dawkins' guitar playing was, which is saying something.  

Long ago, James Yancy Jones was dubbed the Tail Dragger by one Howlin' Wolf, apparently because Yancy was late to gigs.  It is worth noting that the Wolf wrote a song entitled Tail Dragger, which seems to be about a man who was good with the ladies.

Born in Altheimer, Arkansas, the 76-year old Dragger has become a journeyman Chicago Blues vocalist.  The snowflakes probably wouldn't like his stick, which involves warning the fellas that if they don't treat their women right, the Tail Dragger will.  He also claims to be nice to the ladies because he doesn't know how to cook or wash his clothes.  In today's world, those are viewed by many as anachronistic thoughts.  Yet, it is fun to go back in time with this 76-year old, who has a beautiful voice with a little rasp to it, but not too much.  

When I heard that the Tail Dragger was opening the third day of the 2017 Chicago Bluesfest, I knew I would be there for the start of his 11:15AM show.  I wanted to hear him again, and I wanted to photograph him.  Despite the third day of 90+ degree heat and humidity, I made it.  In the photographs that follow, all 76 years of accumulated experience can be seen on his face.  

As he works the audience, it is quite apparent that he is nice person, which may come as surprise given that the Chicago Tribune reports that he was convicted of second-degree murder for shooting Boston Blackie following the 1993 Bluesfest.  The dispute was over money, and Tail Dragger claimed that he shot Blackie in self-defense when Blackie came after him with a knife.  It cost Dragger 17 months in a minimum security facility in downstate Lincoln, according to Andy Downing's 2006 Tribune article entitled Tail Dagger Had Paid Dues to Sing the Blues.

Whatever.  Today, with towel in hand, Tail Dragger gave a mesmerizing performance.  On the surface, it was rooted deep in Chicago blues traditions that many others have successfully mined over the years.  Yet, Tail Dragger is the real deal.  There are not too many veterans like him around any more.  I am glad I dragged myself out of bed into the heat.

All photographs shot with a Fuji GFX 50S medium format camera, together with a 120mm fixed focal length Fuji lens.

Tail Dragger Makes A Point

All Smiles

Every Performer I Saw Today Had a Towel to Wipe the Sweat That Came From the Intense Heat

"Here's Looking At You Kid"

Testifying

In the Sunday Morning Audience

Ellis

Ellis

Chicago Blues Festival

Chicago Blues Festival