WILSON: I like the Blues

Published 8:46 am Thursday, June 13, 2019

like the Blues. Chicago Blues, St. Louis Blues, Memphis Blues, Kansas City Blues, Delta Blues — I like the Blues.

I am a borderline Blues junkie, in that I appreciate listening to the music, as well as learning about the history and legends of its origins. I enjoy mundane things like studying the accomplishments of W.C. Handy, the Father of the Blues — an educated musician, who was the first to publish a style of music that came to distinction in the Mississippi Delta region.

I have read varying accounts about Robert Johnson, who (according to legend) as a mediocre musician (at best), went down to the crossroads and made a deal with the devil in order gain power and mastery as a Blues guitarist. Later this summer, I have a pilgrimage planned to Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee — the Mecca of the Blues. I like the Blues.

A good friend of mine is also a bit of a Blues nerd — in a past life, he worked sound and lights for some heavy hitters in the Chicago Blues branch of the musical family tree. These acts included folks like Son Seals, Luther Allison and Koko Taylor. The other night, he showed me a flyer for a band coming to a local Blues venue and asked me if I wanted to check them out. On the flyer was a picture of a good-looking blonde. I am a fan of the Blues and good-looking blondes, so I readily agreed.

The venue was Martha’s Midway Tavern on Fourth Street in Mishawaka, where they have been “Keeping the Blues Alive” since the depths of Prohibition in 1924. A black and white photo of Al Capone, seated at the bar, is prominently displayed — and I am guessing that nothing has changed at Martha’s Midway Tavern since the repeal of Prohibition made it legal to drink in an intimate hall that seats about a hundred people.

At the appointed hour, a group of four people took the stage — they were the Low Society Band, from Memphis (and Belgium). A gentleman (Bart De Brueker) with a powerful chest and walnut-cracking biceps settled onto his throne behind the drum kit. Another gentleman (Jacky Verstraeten) picked up a bass guitar and subtly thumped the four strings, as if channeling the memories of John Entwistle, Donald Dunn, and Jack Bruce. A third gentleman (Sturgis Nikides) bent over his six-string, nonchalantly ran a finger slide up and down the neck of his guitar, and teased the audience with a slight glimpse of what was to come. A diminutive and incredibly good-looking blonde (Mandy Lemons — remember my second main reason for being there?) walked slowly around the miniscule stage, like a panther on the prowl. What came next was amazing!

Sturgis Nikides is a master craftsman of Blues guitar. His fingers chased after the music, up and down the neck of his guitar — leaping, sliding, and sometimes sneaking from fret to fret. Although his influences are many, his sound is uniquely his own. Sturgis’ encyclopedic knowledge of the blues is fascinating and he has a passion for sharing the Blues with the next generation interested in listening. He was kind enough to share some of that passion and knowledge as we sat and talked after the show.

However, Mandy (remember her…the good-looking blonde…my second-most primary reason for going that night?)…words cannot describe the raw power of her voice and the enthusiasm of her performance — think Janice Joplin, only so much better. She sang with fervor and passion as she threw her head back, seemingly levitated to the tips of her toes, and unleashed a voice that sounded like she was rising to heaven while kicking down the doors to hell.

I really do like the Blues — it can make you stop and think…and make you stop thinking.


Larry Wilson is a mostly lifelong resident of Niles. His essays stem from experiences, compilations and recollections from friends and family. He can be reached at wflw@hotmail.com