Southwest Musical Arts Foundation Presents



Fri, October 16, 2015

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

$12.00 - $15.00

This event is 21 and over

Veteran singer James Yancey Jones, aka Tail Dragger, has been making his presence felt on the Chicago blues scene since the '60s. But like so many other bluesmen who specialize in electric Chicago blues and made their mark in the Windy City, Tail Dragger actually grew up in the Deep South. Tail Dragger was born on September 30, 1940 in Altheimer, AK, where he was raised by his grandparents and began listening to the blues as a kid. Although he appreciated a variety of blues when he was growing up (including acoustic Southern country blues), electric Chicago blues became his greatest interest. Tail Dragger's most obvious influence has been Howlin' Wolf, although his rugged, gritty approach was also affected by Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Willie Dixon. Tail Dragger left Arkansas for good in 1966, when he moved to the city that did the most to shape him stylistically: Chicago. Moving to the city's West Side, Tail Dragger didn't start earning his living from music right after his arrival; at first, he had a "day gig" as an auto mechanic. But Tail Dragger got a lucky break when he met his idol, Howlin' Wolf, who let him sit in during live performances. Howlin' Wolf, in fact, started calling him Tail Dragger because Jones often showed up late for gigs (before he became known as Tail Dragger, Jones was known as Crawlin' James in Chicago blues circles because he would sometimes crawl around on the floor when he performed).

Tail Dragger's association with Howlin' Wolf (who died in 1976) did a lot to increase his profile in the blues world, but in the early '70s, he became a full-time solo artist -- and Willie Kent, Hubert Sumlin, Carey Bell, Mack Simmons, Big Leon Brooks, and Eddie Shaw were among the Chicago-based bluesmen who performed in his various bands. Tail Dragger received some negative publicity in 1993, when he shot and killed fellow blues artist Bennie Joe Houston, aka Boston Blackie (b. 1943, Panola, AL). The two had just performed together at a gig, and allegedly, they got into a heated argument over payment. Tail Dragger said he acted in self-defense; nonetheless, he was convicted of manslaughter and spent 17 months in an Illinois prison. But after his release, he wasted no time resuming his musical career. Although Tail Dragger was a fixture in Chicago blues clubs throughout the '70s and '80s, and recorded some singles along the way, it wasn't until the mid-'90s that he finally had an album available. Crawlin' Kingsnake, Tail Dragger's first album, was released on the St. George label in 1996 (the year he turned 56). That disc was followed by a second album, American People, which was recorded in 1998 and released by Delmark the following year. Delmark put out his DVD, My Head Is Bald: Live at Vern's Friendly Lounge, in 2005 and released his Live at Rooster's Lounge as both a DVD an audio CD in 2009.
Henry Gray was born on January 19, 1925 in Kenner, Louisiana, an outskirt of New Orleans. Within a few years his family moved to a small farm in Alsen, Louisiana a few miles north of Baton Rouge. It was here that Gray began to demonstrate his talent on the piano at the age of eight.

He was exposed to the piano through church, the radio and records, and an elderly woman in his neighborhood, Mrs. White. She recognized Henry's interest and gave him lessons. He began playing piano and organ in the local church. Eventually, Henry's family acquired a piano in their home.

Yet, as with many families, the blues was not allowed to be played on the piano at home, so Henry had to sneak around and play the blues where he could. Fortunately, Mrs. White encouraged Henry to play the blues at her house.

At the age of sixteen, Henry was asked to play with a band at a club near his home in Alsen. He gathered the courage to tell his father. To Henry's surprise, his father agreed, but only if Henry was accompanied by his father. Henry played the gig and made some money. As Henry tells it, "When my father saw that I could make money playing the blues, he liked that all right!"

It was this event, that gave birth to Henry Gray's remarkable sixty year career in the history of the Blues.

Henry served several years in the army during World War II in the south Pacific. On a many of occasions, Henry entertained troops with a piano and his singing. He fondly recalls those moments as they were breaks from the stress of being a war-time soldier.

Shortly before the war was over, Henry was given a medical discharge from the army. He returned to his family's home in Alsen for a short period before leaving to go to Chicago where he had relatives.

Soon after arriving in Chicago in 1946, Henry began frequenting the clubs and joints checking out the piano players and measuring his skills and talents with theirs. At times, he would sit in a play in some of the places.

While doing this, Henry caught the eyes and ears of Big Maceo Merriwether, who is considered one of the best blues and barrel house piano players in history. Maceo was born in Detroit but had moved to Chicago to make money playing the piano. Merriwether mentored Henry and showed him the ropes in the blues scene in Chicago.

It wasn't long before Henry was being sought after for his abilities. For the next twenty-two years, Henry played and/or recorded with many notable players and innovators of the blues.

In 1956, Howlin' Wolf asked Henry to join his band. Henry did and remained Wolf's main piano player until 1968. This is evidenced on many of Wolf's recording during this time. During the fifties and sixties, Chess records employed Henry many times as side man on their recordings. Also, he can be heard on many of J. D. Miller's Louisiana Excello blues recordings in the fifties and sixties.

The following is a list of blues artists that Henry has worked and/or recorded with in his career: Robert Lockwood Jr., Billy Boy Arnold, Morris Pejoe, Muddy Waters, Johnny Shines, Abe Locke, Hubert Sumlin, Lazy Lester, "Little" Walter Jacobs, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), "Homesick" James, Jimmy Reed ( including a Carnegie Hall concert), Jimmy Rogers, Elmore James (with him the night he died), "Snooky" Pryor, Koko Taylor, Otis Rush, "Little" Milton, James Cotton, Buddy Guy, Raful Neal, Kenny Neal, Taj Mahal, BB King, Tabby Thomas, Larry Garner, Moses "Whisperin" Smith, Silas Hogan, Guitar Kelly, Washboard Sam, and Guitar Slim. This list in not complete but it gives one the idea of the prolific and vital history of Henry's accomplishments.

Henry left Wolf's band and Chicago in 1968 to return to Alsen, due to the death of his father and to assist his mother with a family fish market business.

Since 1968, many have wondered what Henry has been doing. He worked with the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board as roofer for nearly fifteen years before retiring, helped raise a family with his wife Rivers Gray for the last thirty years, and remained active as a musician in a number of ways.

During the last thirty years, Henry has been performed at virtually all New Orleans Jazz Festivals, two Chicago Blues festivals (1987 & (1989), the Montreal Jazz Fest (1988), nearly every Baton Rouge Blues Festival since its inception, the San Francisco Blues Festival, Memphis's W.C. Handy Blues Festival Blues Festival, several Festival Internationals (Lafayette, Louisiana), the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, the King Biscuit festival (Helena, Arkansas), and many other festivals around the United States.

Also, Henry has travelled to Europe to play festivals and concerts regularly during this time. He is on several European releases with several bands. Henry can be found playing occassionally at Blind Willies in Atlanta, Georgia, the Rhythm Room in Phoenix, Arizona, Tabby's Thomas' Blues Box and Abe's Barbecue in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In 1988, Blind Pig Records released Henry's first stateside feature LP entitled "Lucky Man."

More recently, Henry received a Grammy nomination for his work on TelArc Records' 1998 release "A Tribute to Howlin' Wolf". Also, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones paid homage to Henry by having him play at Jagger's 55th birthday bash in Paris in '98 along with a few other blues legends. In the summer of '99, Henry joined Marva Wright and her band for a 30-day Louisiana music European tour produced by Blue House Records. Finally, Henry Gray and the Cats will continue "keepin' the blues alive" according to God's plan. Support the blues! Peace.
The Rockin' Johnny Band has been one of Chicago's most loved blues bands since 1995. Their music has been played on WXRT's "Local Anaesthetic" and "Blues Breakers" radio shows, the band has often been featured at The Chicago Blues Festival, and they regularly work in Chicagoland's best blues clubs such as Buddy Guy's Legends. Their CDs and live performances have drawn great reviews in Living Blues, The Chicago Sun Times, Pioneer Press, and National Public Radio's "848".

Guitarist Johnny Burgin came to Chicago from South Carolina to attend the University of Chicago, and earned the name "Rockin' Johnny" as a DJ at the college radio station WHPK. Rockin' Johnny began playing in the ghetto clubs of Chicago's West Side with blues singer Taildragger, and then began touring nationally as a sideman with former Howlin' Wolf drummer Sam Lay and blues piano legend Pinetop Perkins.

After learning from the masters, he put his own band together. Things started happening for the Rockin' Johnny Band after they took a Monday night residency at The Smoke Daddy in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. Their original, energetic approach soon made them a strong local draw week after week and year after year, bringing in blues aficionados, every musician in town, and a younger crowd that normally didn't go to hear blues bands. The atmosphere the band generated was so electric, that Delmark Records offered them a contract after hearing just one set. This was especially exciting because the prestigious Chicago label is revered by blues aficionados as the home of Junior Wells and Johnny's idol, Magic Sam!

Since those days, they've regularly toured Europe, played festivals and headlined clubs all over the Midwest. The Rockin' Johnny Band has recorded five CDs including "Grim Reaper", released in April of 2012. A true "musician's musician",Rockin' Johnny has been one of Chicago's most in-demand blues session men since the 90s, contributing his incisive playing to over a dozen CDs by artists such as Billy Boy Arnold, Jimmy Burns, Tail Dragger, Little Arthur Duncan, Paul DeLay and many more.

The Rockin' Johnny Band plays vintage Chicago blues, but also is known for a wide repertoire which ventures into Stax style soul, swing, and lots of originals that are harder to classify. On stage, the band performs with spontaneity and fun, always showcasing fantastic guitar playing. Living Blues states: "top notch ensemble work, with power, drive, and a keen sense of dynamics". The band consists of true veterans: Rick Kreher (rhythm guitar) played rhythm guitar with Muddy Waters for four years; John Sefner (bass) was formerly with Studebaker John and Eddie Kirkland; and Steve Bass (drums) also plays with Chicago blues legend Eddy Clearwater.

Here's what some of Chicago's most in the know critics and music business figures have to say about Rockin' Johnny and The Rockin Johnny Band:

Bruce Iglauer, Alligator Records: "Rockin Johnny delivers the raw, rough-edged spirit of real Chicago blues".

Dick Shurman, writer for Living Blues, blues producer: "Rockin' Johnny has brought a refreshing jolt of talent, feeling and affirmation of the Windy City's guitar tradition. Johnny has always been known as a crowd pleaser with rawness, drive, a tight band and a scholarly and musical mastery of the local blues repertoire and vocabulary. He's extra interesting and distinctive because, instead of the overdone warhorses sometimes called "the set list from hell," Johnny mines more obscure building blocks like Little Smokey Smothers, Hip Linkchain or Willie James Lyons, adding to his appeal to hard core purists as well as more casual lovers of powerful Chicago blues. It adds up to a winning combination of depth, a bite like the winter wind, tradition and an up-to-the minute wallop, and offers a guaranteed winner for all who see or book the band."


"Rockin' Johnny plays great guitar in the style of Earl Hooker or a young Buddy Guy" Bruce Stovall, The Yardbird Suite, Edmonton, CA

"His take on early 60's Chicago blues is in the pocket." James Porter, Time Out Chicago

"Rockin Johnny shows a sixth sense for building irresistable tension in his leads.", Jack Oudiz, Blues Access

Rockin' Johnny has that "West Side" Chicago sound down cold and fronts one of the hottest young blues bands anywhere! Hawaii Blues Society

“The great thing about Rockin' Johnny is that his sound is fully rooted in the old style Chicago Blues sound, but his approach is original and contemporary.” Karen Hansen, Today's Chicago Blues blog.

“I'm knocked out! I already liked what you were doing, but you've really moved WAY up. What did you do, go to the crossroads or something?” -- Charlie Musselwhite
Venue Information:
The Rhythm Room
1019 E. Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ, 85014