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Blues veterans to join in tribute

Spirits of Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters likely to be felt when 'Crossroads Two' tour comes to the Segerstrom Center.

March 07, 2013|By Michael Miller

Ask Jody Williams about Howlin' Wolf's legacy, and he'll rattle off remarkable numbers about the old Chicago bluesman.

Not chart statistics. Measurements.

"Well, he was a pretty big man," said Williams, 78, who played guitar for Wolf (a.k.a. Chester Arthur Burnett) in the 1950s. "He wore about a size 16 shoe, I think. He was a good showman, a really commanding presence. I mean, he had about a 100-foot cord on his microphone. That meant he would walk all around the club, up and down the bar."

Wolf, who died in 1976, made a shtick out of being large and fearsome; a typical snarled lyric went, "When you come home, you can eat pork and bean / I eats more chicken any man seen." His voice, which brayed and rattled and sometimes leaped to a falsetto howl, sounded the way a real wolf might sound if it could sing in English.

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When Williams takes the stage next week to play some of Wolf's repertoire, though, there won't be a bar to climb on, and the hardscrabble juke-joint world where Wolf and others honed their personas will be out of sight, if not out of mind.

Williams and fellow headliners Bob Margolin, James Cotton, Tinsley Ellis and the Fabulous Thunderbirds will bring their "Blues at the Crossroads Two" tour to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. For a night, the elegant confines of the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall will play host to music created in some of America's bleakest circumstances.

The show, which follows the first "Blues at the Crossroads" tour that stopped by Segerstrom in 2011, pays tribute to Wolf and another blues icon, Muddy Waters. In addition to being a tribute, it's a family reunion of sorts. Nearly all the performers onstage played at some point with Waters or Wolf, and some knew them long before the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and others helped bring their songs to a wide audience.

With the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis inducting a new class every year, with preteen guitar students learning B.B. King riffs, the blues is hardly an underground art form anymore. Still, tour producer Ron Hausfeld doesn't feel the craft gets the recognition it deserves.

"I don't feel it's appreciated as much as it should be," he said Tuesday by phone from Georgia. "It's America's baby, you know?"

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Sweet home Chicago

The first time Hausfeld brought his revue to Costa Mesa, he brought a valuable — and fragile — link to that baby's past.

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