Because the blues hasn’t dominated the airwaves or been at the top of the charts for some time, could the genre also be declining in Chicago, the city known as the Blues Capital?
The music that was born in the rural South and raised in the urban North is disappearing from Chicago as its fan base ages, national interest in the music has declined and blues clubs have been shut down.
There were about three dozen spots to hear blues in the 1970s, but the town where “The Blues Brothers” was filmed now has only about seven or eight as some venues have been razed and others don’t play the genre anymore.
For the clubs that remain, there’s a big difference between the North and South Side.
“Most of the tourists do go downtown because it’s more convenient,” said Ronnie Baker Brooks, the son of blues singer and guitarist Lonnie Brooks. “They’re closer to their hotels. They want to hear ‘Mustang Sally’ or ‘Sweet Home Chicago,’ the standards. Whereas on the South Side it’s more gut-bucket to me; it’s got a direct vein to Mississippi but it’s got the Chicago vibe to it.”
Marie Dixon, the widow of the late Willie Dixon, the blues bassist, singer-songwriter and record producer who founded the Blues Heaven Foundation, said blues is “slowly dying at this point.”
“I have no answer about what can be done about [its future]. I really have no answer,” Dixon said.
Isabelle Libmann of Buddy Guy Management at the 400-capacity Buddy Guy’s Legends club had far from such a grim outlook and told Pollstar, “No one can disagree that the Blues scene in Chicago is not as vibrant as it used to be – blame the extreme lack of airplay – but I don’t think it’s fair at all to say the blues has grown tired here.
“It is undeniable that there is still a major interest in the Chicago Blues. Buddy Guy recently narrated a Chicago Blues walking tour [in association with the City of Chicago], which has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times.
People from all over the world – as well as a lot of locals – pack Buddy Guy’s Legends every night; 4,000-plus people crowded Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion last Sunday to see Buddy accept the first ever Great Performer of Illinois award.
“The blues isn’t dying and it certainly isn’t tired,” Libmann said.
Ronnie Baker Brooks also had a more hopeful attitude for the future of the genre.
“I think there’s definitely a lot of talent in our generation that’s coming up,” Brooks said. “It is hard when you’re young, because a lot of people figure you haven’t been through enough to sing about the blues. I think that’s all irrelevant. If you can express it, you can make an impression with the people.”