Live Blues

Delmark Records 55th anniversary celebration

Delmark 55th anniversary celebration

Byther Smith was a highlight of the night and closed the show
at Buddy Guy's Legends March 7, 2008. Lurrie Bell is shown on backing guitar.

By Steve Sharp
CHICAGO -- A frail-looking Delmark Records founder Bob Koester greeted admirers near the front of the stage throughout the evening of March 7, 2008 at Buddy Guy's Legends, enjoying his label's 55th anniversary celebration. The marathon concert featured performances by Delmark's still-impressive stable of talent, including Taildragger, Lurrie Bell, Billy Branch, Aaron Moore and Byther Smith. These and many other artists were backed by a superb rhythm section including drummer Kenny Smith and bass legend Bob Stroger.

When he wasn't seated and chatting with fans of his record label's landmark achievements in Chicago blues, Koester was up and out of his chair shooting video footage of the event, just as he has since he first arrived in Chicago. Koester has long been known for his passion as a blues photographer (having shot the cover of Jr. Wells "Hoodoo Man Blues" album and others), as well as for his love for cinematography in general.

Koester came away with more beautiful footage Friday night, with James "Taildragger" Jones relatively fresh from a recent European tour and animated as always. Lurrie Bell spent much of the night with his guitar in hand, channeling his deep blues to warm up the capacity crowd for what was arguably the night's most intense act, Byther Smith.

Smith is one of Chicago's grittiest and most talented blues guitarists and singers who can still trace his roots directly to Mississippi. Smith's ease in performing, and the strength of his playing and singing, kept the audience riveted. The party was also the occasion for Johnny B. Moore, who suffered a stroke in recent years, to make his return to the stage.

Despite being listed on the bill, one of Delmark's most revered artists, Jimmy Dawkins, did not appear as scheduled for the celebration due to illness, to the disappointment of many. Due to another engagement at B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted, Jimmy Johnson performed early, then departed. Buddy Guy could be seen spending time with patrons of his bar near the front door, but did not perform. Guy did, however, begrudgingly pose for a group photo with the Delmark artists, but curiously denied connection with the label.

Delmark promotions man Kevin Johnson said he was pleased with the way the event turned out, especially considering the large number of artists involved.

"The musical artist highlights for me were Jimmy Johnson and Dave Specter, Eddie Shaw, Tail Dragger, Arthur Duncan," Johnson said. "It was encouraging to see Johnny B. Moore performing again. Kudos to Lurrie, Kenny Smith, Stroger, and Mad Hatter for great backing for so long. Specter did a great job playing and emceeing, as well. And I think Bob and Sue (Koester) had a good time. Bob was touched with the mayor's proclamation that March 7 was Delmark Day in Chicago."

Representative of the Grammys, Neil Tesser, presented Guy and Koester with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award for their contributions to Jr. Wells' "Hoodoo Man Blues" LP.

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