Great players have been moving from band to band for decades. So it came as little surprise when, in early '97, after 15 years in the band and with a successful solo CD on the market, Weathersby announced that he was leaving the SOBs.

Life as an ex-SOB - Carl Weathersby, Part 2

by Steven Sharp

Carl Weathersby
(Photo by James Fraher)

Weathersby recalls that his stint as a state policeman did not last long. He was discharged from the Army in December, 1977 and worked from that time only until March, 1978.

"I didn't last because I was too violent," he says. I never got my probation period in. I was a bad actor a little bit. A little forceful sometimes, you know. Out on the highway, you get people tellin' you that you can't give 'em a ticket, and basically it was because I was black, and I'd say, 'Wait a minute. I'll give you a ticket. Matter of fact, I'll give you a ticket and some place to live tonight, you know what I mean?' And it got a little rough."

Weatherby was transferred to a job in the Lousiana state prison system, but disliked that line of work as much as his job with the state police.

"That (prison) job was like one of those things where, when you leave home, you gotta go in and be the world's worst prick at all times," he says. "For awhile, it was O.K., but then I just decided, these cats got enough trouble. Because the area I was workin' in, there wasn't a guy in there that had under 50 years, you know. These cats got enough problems without me heapin' shit on top of 'em. So I told Ms. Everson, the lady's name was Linda Everson, I said, 'I'll give you three of my suits now and Wednesday mornin', when you guys pay me, I'll give you that last suit, 'cause I'm quittin'. I ain't comin' back.' I was there about eight months, but you gotta go a whole year to get that probation in. It was just time for me to move on."

Weathersby moved back to Meadeville, where he was offered a job by the local sheriff, but he turned that position down, opting instead to return to Indiana.

"I had a little girl," he says. "She was probably about two years old at the time and I had to come back up, and I worked in the steel mills, which is probably what I would have been doin' now if Reaganomics hadn't taken over and made jobs so unstable, because they cut my department at the mill by about 60 percent and I was in that percentage that was let go. Two or three more guys and I would have made the cut and I would have still been there. But I got a chance to play music, which is what I always wanted to do."

Walking away from the factory, uncertain of his future, Weathersby had his first jam with the scrapping young Sons of Blues in the early 1980s.

"At the time I auditioned for the (Sons of Blues), it wasn't really a formal audition," he says. "I just come down to sit in and played. At the time it was just like, O.K., I'll do this until my job calls me back. I came in and did it and Billy was goin' to California. So, basically, what they wanted was some guy to take his place. So I just sat in and played a couple songs. I sat in and took his place and (Sons of Blues) had this other guy, Carlos Johnson playin' the guitar. And in those days, Carlos was a pretty shaky guy, you know. He could show up just as easy as he couldn't show up and I was just a safety valve. So when Billy came back, they said, 'This guy showed up on time. He played. He don't play overpoweringly loud and all that stuff. He don't get in the way and he accompanies real good.' And they said "We think you should hire him.'"

Carlos Johnson was released from the SOBs to make room for Weathersby and the new lineup began gigging around Chicago. But it took Weathersby awhile to get used to playing with Branch.

"I had to do all this guitar stuff by myself, you know, and it was a little different playing with a harmonica than it is a regular band and that's one thing that I had never done before -- actually play with a harmonica," he says. "I had been in bands that could play just about everything, at least anything that was out before '82, even some bands that did that early mild rap. I played in bands that did rap, you know. So playin' with a harmonica was kinda different and a lot of guitar players don't like to play with harmonicas because you got to give up all the flash and all the icing and stuff, you know, and just play lumps, which is probably some of the first stuff that blues guys learn. So, it's like, you don't grow any. So a lot of guys aren't willing to do that."

"We met at Mother's Lounge, which was at 2600 E. 79th," Branch recalls. "I used to live over there. What we used to do in those days was convert non-blues clubs into blues clubs. These were black clubs. So he came down and played and we said O.K. He could play and he was a good singer and he's evolved, like we all have over the years. He's much better, much stronger, as we all, I hope, have become. And he was reliable." Weathersby says he feels he brought musical variety to the SOBs.

"I was the musical director -- so a lot of the changes and some of the little things that we added to the songs, I brought 'em, and I'm the one that was always correctin' the mistakes on the stage. I'm the one that knew why things went wrong. I'm the one that kinda implemented the little breaks, changes or whatever we had in the music. I'm the one that put it there. Billy just played harmonica...If I had never been here, I think they would be a pretty much a straight ahead blues band with not as much variation in what they do. You know,when I joined the band, they gave me a tape to learn and it was kinda weird because I was just leavin' a Top 40 band, so we was learnin' songs and actually makin' knew songs of 'em and I come in here and they give me this tape and I said 'What the hell they give me a tape for? We're just playin' blues.' I mean once they started off, it didn't change, you know, nothin' happened. And I said, 'Well, we gotta change that. We gotta do somethin' here.' The only song on that tape that had a break in the pattern was 'Son of Juke.' I mean this is some of the same stuff that Billy's singin' now -- 'Don't Start Me Talkin' and 'Hootchie Coochie Man,' some of the same stuff he's doin' now. Billy's got the (solo) album "The Blues Keep Following Me Around" on Verve, but I just about had to hit him over the head with a board to make him start singin' the stuff off of it," he says.

Weathersby wrote the title track for Branch's first solo disc. Branch has since released a second disc on Verve, entitled "Satisfy Me." Weathersby had no involvement in that effort, however.

"'The Blues Keep Following Me Around' was basically a song I wrote for myself," says Weathersby. "I been makin' up songs ever since I been in bands, so I guess I am a songwriter. It still sounds kinda funny sayin' that. We was in the session for his album and he wasn't ready and it was like 'Well, damn, what can we do?' And the producer was comin' up with some way off-the-wall stuff. He had him singin' a lot of stuff, man, that people that know him -- he would never convince people with it. And I said 'Hey man, why don't you sing this? This is in the area that you work in.' The guy works good in his areas, but when you start takin' him over there and makin' him sing Bill Withers songs and gettin' all this other stuff, you're takin' him away from what he do good. That's what Lefty Dizz said. Lefty Dizz told me when I first came to Chicago and started playin', he said 'Look man, you're up there and you got to sing, you might as well sing something that you like, because if you don't, you ain't going to enjoy it and it's not gonna come across to the audience and a truer statement has never been said...Billy really likes the blues that was made before 1951. That's the stuff he likes -- Little Walter's heyday. That's what he likes and when you start makin' him sing stuff like this Lucky Peterson song right here 'Love Is Amazing,' he'll do it but he won't really feel it. And in the end it'll just come off as lip service and that ain't what the blues is about. The blues is real man."

Great players have been moving from band to band for decades. So it came as little surprise when, in early '97, after 15 years in the band and with a successful solo CD on the market, Weathersby announced that he was leaving the SOBs.

"This band is not a democracy," Weathersby stated in the weeks before his departure. "It's not like that. It's Billy's band. We have no say on anything. It's not like The Monkeys or the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, where everybody's got a say. It ain't like that...But we get along pretty good. We're friends. But I'm a little bit more of an intense guy than the average one in the band. I can't hang around 'em very long, but we're all friends...But, you know, the most aggravatin' thing about it is, everywhere we go, it is Bill, 'Billy Branch.' 'Sons of Blues.' Sometimes it's 'Sons of Blues,' but most of the time it's just 'Billy Branch.' We go on the stage and, you know, wham, the drummer do one song, then I sing almost to the end of the show and then Billy do two. Then I come off the stage and people say to me, 'Hey Billy,' and it's 'No, no, no. Billy's the little guy.' You know, that's why I didn't have a beard for years. I was only one in the band who didn't have a beard. 'Hey, Billy's one of them guys with the beard. I got a clean shaven chin.' But that was really aggravatin'. That's just the way it is...There's somethin' wrong if I'm, doin' that much in that band that's billed under somebody else that they confuse me with that guy."

"I was where I was for a long time and I did my job," says Weathersby. "Now the solo work is not that much more than what I was doin' with Billy and the money's better. I'm just goin out..Man, I got a family. And it's time for me to stop waitin' for my ticket to the promised land."

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