Finally, here is the report from . . .

The four Norwegians at the 1995 Sunflower Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi . . . The Great Norwegian US Blues Trip '95! For those of you who don't know the story, once upon a time there were four Norwegian friends and blues fanatics dreaming about the ultimate blues holiday in the US.... and in the summer of '95, it all came true! After a year of planning, including some good advice from blues-l'ers, we decided upon a four-week schedule which took us from Houston, Texas to Austin, Texas, then by plane to New Orleans, Louisiana, followed by two weeks all over Mississippi -- also including Memphis, Tennessee -- in a hired Mazda van (with The Sunflower Festival in Clarksdale being the only "pre-scheduled" stop), then finally a long drive up to Chicago for our final stop.


PART 4: Chicago

August 14: Leaving Mississippi -- the place where we felt most in tune with the blues on the whole trip -- felt sad, but Chicago was waiting for us! We managed to reach the tiny and sleepy community of RANTOUL, Illinois (where everything seems to close at 9 pm!) on this "transport" day, which also included being stopped by the police for driving at 77 mph in a 65 zone.... and being let off the hook with only a warning!

August 15: Checking in at our downtown hotel on West Ohio Street, we immediately felt comfortable in Chicago, which felt much nicer and safer than Memphis had done (although I suppose this does NOT hold for the South and West sides...?). The first thing we did was visit Delmark boss Robert Koester's famed JAZZ RECORD MART ("The world's largest jazz and blues store") just 3 or 4 blocks away -- 8000 square feet of jazz and blues records!!! It was an expensive visit, but worth it...

In the evening we wanted to see ROBERT CRAY at The NAVY PIER, but the show was sold out. Instead we started out at BLUE CHICAGO with probably the worst music of the whole trip -- THE GLORIA HARDIMAN BLUES BAND. What a disappointment -- no voice, no blues feeling, nothing! We moved quickly on to the sister club some blocks away (covered by the same ticket), BLUE CHICAGO ON CLARK, where Earwig recording artist ARON BURTON held court, along with a young white guest singer, LIZ MANDVILLE GREESON. Although Aron clearly held back, complaining about the heat (which to Mississippi-tuned bodies wasn't really that bad), it was a quite nice show of mainly additional Chicago blues, especially on the songs that allowed Liz's powerful voice (somewhat Janis Joplin-like) to really soar.

August 16: Unfortunately for our wallets, we found our way to TOWER RECORDS, where the CDs turned out to be plentiful, cheap -- and way too tempting to resist! The blues section was extremely impressive, especially considering that this is a "nonspecialist" shop.

In the evening, we ventured out of the "established" downtown clubs, to catch harmonica virtuoso SUGAR BLUE and his band at his regular gig at ROSA'S. Although we had heard in advance that the club was situated in a neighborhood where "even the rats wear armor", we found it to be very nice, friendly, and atmospheric. Sugar Blue put on an amazingly energetic and virtuosic show, only marred by the too loud sound system, and a distinct tendency to overplay -- to fill every possible air pocket with the sound of his lightning-fast harmonica arpeggios. That said, his technique, imagination, and stamina was a wonder to behold -- as he did both original numbers and quite re-arranged/modernized versions of classic blues songs such as "Back Door Man". His band was good, especially the left lead guitarist MOTOAKI MAKINO -- and there were nice guest spots by impressive singer/guitarist SAMMY FENDER, veteran bass player BOB STROGER (looking fit and relaxed), last seen in Norway with JIMMY ROGERS some years ago -- and vocalist KATHRYN DAVIS.

August 17: This night we finally got to meet our old acquaintance JOHN STURM (whom we first met in Mississippi) again. John met up with us at BLUES ETC to see MAGIC SLIM & THE TEARDROPS. There was disagreement in the group about the quality of this show -- some felt it to be very boring and monotonous, while others were won over by the rolling, hypnotic shuffle rhythms, gruff vocals and raw guitar playing. Guitarist JOHN PRIMER and the band played without Slim for about 1 1/2 hour before the big man came on -- which definitely was too long. Powerful vocalist BIG TIME SARAH guested on an intense "Hoochie Coochie (Wo)man" -- while ROOSEVELT "BOOBA" BARNES, whose burning (really!) eyes could be seen in the audience, unfortunately never got to play with the band. He got, fittingly enough, a Howlin' Wolf tune dedicated to him though. We left, on John's recommendation, after the first set by Slim, to catch the last of WILLIE KENT & THE GENTS featuring BONNIE LEE at BLUE CHICAGO. What we heard was fine soulful West Side-styled blues, with especially impressive vocals by Bonnie. However, the ambience of, say, Rosa's, simply isn't there at places like Blue Chicago.

August 18: Having agreed the night before to meet up once again with John and his friend "DISCO" DAVE MARKOVITS on this, our final night in the US, we had some nice beers in an ale house and at a German-American restaurant downtown, before going to Dave's apartment to listen to some blues records... and have some more beers. Dave played an extremely impressive CD by MAXWELL STREET JIMMY DAVIS on Wolf (which prompted two of us to go buy it at Jazz Record Mart the next day!). We then set off to BUDDY GUY'S LEGENDS to catch what we hoped was to be the musical highlight of our stay in Chicago: JUNIOR WELLS. The place was packed already, as we arrived quite late -- and our view and chances of hearing properly were small because of this. Junior, dapperly dressed and thin as a rake, presented a show with heavy leanings towards funk, with a fine horn section but, sadly, not too much harp. He seemed in good shape but there was a bit of a shallow "show" feeling to it all, more than a blues feeling -- even a fine, sloooow version of his classic "Hoodoo Man Blues" couldn't disguise that fact. This may have something to do with the actual venue, which isn't exactly intimate. After the first set we had had enough of standing in the midst of the tightly packed crowd, and we went down, once again, to BLUE CHICAGO, to see the final minutes of "THE CHIEF" EDDY CLEARWATER's set, which unfortunately seemed empty (as did the club) and boring at this point. Oh well, you can't be right EVERY time...

August 19: Time to GO HOME!!! Sad, but inevitable....

To sum up, our trip was, if anything, even more successful -- fun, exciting, educational, music-filled, and blues-approved -- than we had any reason to expect. We wholeheartedly recommend similar trips to all of you out there who REALLY love the blues and the culture from which it springs! And that's everybody, right? Thanks for your attention and patience!

Greetings from PER ARNE (per.hansen@nbl.sintef.no), ROLAND (roland.kruse@efi.sintef.no), TOR ARNE (tor.a.reinen@delab.sintef.no), and GEIR (oien@hsr.no -- main author of the above report).

P.S. To finish off, here is our private "Top 5" out of all the record stores we visited in the US:

1) Waterloo Records, Austin
2) Jazz Record Mart, Chicago
3) Tower Records, Chicago
4) Bubba's Blues Corner, Helena
5) Antone's Records, Austin

Honorable mentions: Tower Records, New Orleans and Uncle Buck's Records, Oxford. All in all, the average number of CDs bought by each of us was about 45...

Btw, the whole trip, including airplane tickets, accommodation, car rental, food and drink, concert tickets, CD shopping and so on, cost us about 5000 USD per person... and it was worth it!


For Part 1, click here.



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