Tail Dragger Redux
The first time I remember seeing Michelangelo's ceiling frescos for the Sistine Chapel was not on a visit to the Vatican or in some art book. Nope, it was on the cover of a 1969 Muddy Waters album entitled Fathers and Sons, where I first heard Got My Mojo Working. The idea behind the album was quite simple: Bring Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, and Sam Lay (the "fathers") together with Paul Butterfield, Elvin Bishop, Michael Bloomfield, Phil Upchurch, and Donald "Duck" Dunn (the "sons"). Adam, much to my surprise when I finally made it to the Vatican, was not wearing sunglasses when God reaches out to touch his finger. Oh, and God was not Black.
We are now 50 years beyond the release of that seminal album. Since then, several generations of blues players have passed through Chicago's blues clubs. Nobody on the album was actually related to anyone else on the album (at least as far I know), but as time has passed, the newer players often are the sons, daughters, cousins, and nephews and nieces of the original Chicago bluesmen. While many of those who inherited the blues are talented musicians and performers in their own right, inheritance and legacy has resulted in the blues remaining a largely static, but still enjoyable art form.
For the most part, the fathers are long gone. Yet, one or two do hang in there. James Yancey Jones is one of them. Known as the Tail Dragger--a moniker given him by Howlin' Wolf--the 77-year old Jones still works the clubs and plays the festivals. His bands have included Hurbert Sumlin, Leon Brooks, Carey Bell, Willie Kent, and Eddie Shaw, so Dragger has worked with and nurtured some of the best in the business.
Today, Tail Dragger performed on the Wrigley stage, late in the day. It was a classic show, with the Dragger heading into the audience, sitting on the stage, gesticulating wildly with his hands as he sang. At times, he holds the microphone so close to his face that he looks like a blues harp player.
Tail Dragger's world is fairly straightforward, but laden with heartache. He loses a woman because he didn't pay enough attention to her; he finds a woman because someone else didn't pay enough attention to her; and he leaves a woman because she didn't pay enough attention to him. At the end of the day, that pretty much summarizes the subject matter of most blues songs: lost and found love. Tail Dragger doesn't need much, just a warm bed, which means a woman in it.
While all of this may be typical fare, Tail Dragger is anything but ordinary. Once you've heard that raspy voice and talkin' blues, you never forget Tail Dragger. He is the real deal.
Gritting His Teeth
Telling It Straight
Bright Lights, Big City