Chicago harp legend Billy Branch visited B1 last night - it was a packed house and we had a great time getting to know him!
Billy was born in Chicago, but lived in California from age 4 to age 17, when he moved back this way to attend UIC. Despite carrying a harp around since he was 10, he intended to become a lawyer and did get his undergraduate degree in political science, but the blues world lured him away.
He is able to pinpoint two specific dates that were the most important in his development:
- August 30, 1969 - This is the date Billy first heard live blues, thanks to the first Chicago Blues Fest. Produced by Willie Dixon, the fest lineup was stellar, including folks like Walter Horton, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Johnny Shines and more.
- January 15, 1974 - Harp player Little Mac Simmons had issued a challenge to harmonica players to come down to the Green Bunny Lounge and try to best him on this night, and Billy Branch took the stage. Though Little Mac may disagree, it sounds like Billy held his own in the harp battle and the crowd was certainly behind him. The room was full of label reps and blues press, and word soon spread about Billy Branch. It wasn't long before he was playing in Willie Dixon's band, The Chicago Blues All Stars, replacing Carey Bell.
Knowing he'd spent plenty of time around Walter Horton, Joe pushed Billy to give us a Horton story. Billy recalled a big gig in Mexico City in the late 70's or early 80's. He was up first with Horton and Jimmy Rogers headlining. Billy admits to overplaying trying to impress Horton and the audience and when he walked off stage past Horton, Walter grumbled something along the lines of "watch this". As Billy puts it, Horton proceeded to absolutely mesmerize that Mexican audience with La Cucaracha!
Thanks for the fun story, Billy, and thanks for stopping by. As Billy described his time coming up and all the legends he played with and hung around:
"...I was inundated, saturated, baptized by all these great players."
Well, that is how we feel regularly in B1 when a guy like Billy Branch shares his time, experiences and playing with us - Thanks, Billy!
Corky Siegel and Howard Levy!!!
Corky and Howard are performing and doing a workshop together, Thursday, April 11, 2013:
Focus on the Arts at Highland Park High School
433 Vine Avenue - Highland Park, IL 60035
Ticket Price: - Information: 224-765-2000
- The Chicago Blues Harp Bash is being discussed now. There will be changes this year. It will likely be shorter overall and Shoji has agreed to be music director, hiring the band, arranging rehearsals and generally seeing to a professional level show. If you have constructive comments to share with Joe about making the Bash better than ever, now is the time to speak up.