‘Everybody knows everybody’ – what the blues has given Chicago

Harmonica player Billy Branch, who’s played with Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and BB King, hails the Windy City’s sense of community, its parks and its food

I was born in Chicago. It’s an amazing city. It feels alive, it has an identity, and I feel connected here. I started playing blues professionally in 1974, with an old boogie-woogie piano player, Jimmy Walker. By the following year I was in the band of the great Willie Dixon, who wrote classics such as Hoochie Coochie Man, I Just Want to Make Love to You and Little Red Rooster. He was an important mentor for me. As a city, Chicago is probably unique for musicians in that you could just work within it and make a living playing blues.

Blues is on the tourist trail now, but that doesn’t mean the money always trickles down to the musicians. For a taste of the old South Side, check out the Odyssey Lounge East at 99th Street and Torrence Avenue. It used to belong to the husband of the “queen of the blues”, Koko Taylor. It has a jam session on Sundays with a house band, a group who play solid Chicago R&B, including Sidney Joe Qualls, a great singer in the Al Green mould.

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