I remember it well--October 20, 1971. The San Francisco band It's a Beautiful Day headlined a concert in the red-velvet Milwaukee Performing Art's Center, which was home to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Florentine Opera, and other bastions of high brow art. I saw my first concert in this hall back in 1969--B.B. King.
To put it bluntly, It's a Beautiful Day was a huge dissappointment. David and Linda LaFlamme had divorced, so she was no longer in the band. Turned out, Linda was irreplaceable. Like the Sixties that spawned the band, it was over. No point.
The saving grace that night, however, was some relatively unknown band out of Boston named J. Geils Band. They blew the roof off the staid PAC. Straight ahead blues and rhythm played at lightning speed. No Freeze Frame or Centerfold. The Top 40 hits were a decade off. Just straight ahead blues from the band's first and what would be their second albums: The Contours' Lookin' for a Love, John Lee Hooker's Serves You Right to Suffer, Smokey Robinson's, First I look at the Purse, and Whammer Jammer. There were others, but I don't recall them after 37 years.
Interestingly, the PBS affiliate in Milwaukee filmed the concert. I still don't why they picked that one, but I am thankful that they did. We had the opportunity to experience J. Geils all over again. I can only wonder where that priceless film is today.
Peter Wolf was the charismatic lead singer, who would end up married to Faye Dunaway three years later, and the band's namesake, J. Geils, certainly knew his way around the lead guitar. But the most memorable performer that evening was Magic Dick (born Richard Salwitz), dubbed the Lord of the Licking Stick.
Tonight, at age 73, Magic Dick took the stage in Chicago, as the Chicago Blues Festival paid tribute to the master of the blues harpist, Little Walter Jacobs. As the night's emcee, Tom Marker, asked, "How many blues harpists does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is six: One to change the bulb and the other five to argue over how Little Walter would do it." Maybe a bad joke, but there is a lot of truth to it.
Tonight, Bluesfest brought together five of the best: Billy Branch, Corky Siegel, Rick Estrin, Sugar Blue, and Magic Dick. The sixth one didn't make it to the stage. He was changing a light bulb in the backstage men's room.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Magic Dick. The last time I saw him perform was at Summerfest in 1972 when the J. Geils Band opened for B.B. King. I had the good fortune to have a backstage view behind King's drummer. Wish I had been a photographer in those days. Somewhere around 75,000 people were in the audience, which would have made for a great photograph.
Magic Dick did not disappoint tonight. He still has power in his breath, and he did a pretty nice job with the vocals during his three song set. Age has mellowed him a bit. He didn't seem to be as arrogant as he once had been. And his hair had more than a touch of gray, but he still looked hip in his sunglasses and leather jacket.
As Cool as in 1971
Master of the Mississippi Saxophone
Photographer's Notes: These photographs were made using the Fuji GFX 50s, with the new GF 250 mm lens and a 1.4X extender. This kit performed well. At the end of the day, I don't think this is the best low-light kit, but necessity required it tonight.