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BLUES ACCORDING TO MIKE AND SHERYL

  I hope that in our long line of features on soul music you now allow a small digression simply because Chicago’s Delmark Records celebrated its 70th anniversary last year and, in the afterglow, they now have released two more blues singles by Mike Wheeler and Sheryl Youngblood. These two singles have one link in common, one unifying person, a renowned blues guitarist and singer named Jimmy Johnson, who passed away in Harvey Illinois in January 2022 at the age of 93. He was Syl Johnson’s brother. Mike’s song is a tribute to Jimmy, and Cheryl’s song was composed by Jimmy.

MIKE WHEELER

  The 62-year-old Mike Wheeler (https://www.mikewheelerband.com) is a guitarist/singer/songwriter out of Chicago and during his close to 40-year career he has played and performed with Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Nellie Tiger Travis, Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, Shemekia Copeland and, of course, Jimmy Johnson - just to name a few. So far, he has released three albums, and two of them – Self Made Man (2012) and Turn Up!! (2016) – have come out on Delmark. Mike was inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame in 2014.

  Mike’s recording of Serves Me Right to Suffer is a speeded-up and vigorous version of a song that Percy Mayfield originally recorded in 1953 – but was released only eleven years later on Tangerine – under the title of Memory Pain, and among those many artists that have since covered it there are John Lee Hooker in 1965 and, of course, Jimmy Johnson in 1978. Mike’s dynamic interpretation was recorded during Delmark’s 70th anniversary celebration at the Evanston Space in Illinois, in September 2023.

  With the running time close to 7 minutes, this fast-paced jam includes lengthy guitar and piano solos. In addition to Mike, Dave Specter is on guitar, Roosevelt Purifoy on keys, Larry Williams on bass and Cleo Cole on drums. Although the players here are called the Delmark All-Star Band, both Larry and Cleo are long-standing members of the Mike Wheeler Band.

SHERYL YOUNGBLOOD

  Similarly, the singer/songwriter/drummer & keyboardist Sheryl Youngblood (https://sherylyoungbloodband.com/home)  has worked with her own Blues Band for over ten years now, and she was inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame in 2015. Starting out in gospel in Joliet, Illinois, her first childhood and teenage inspirational bands included the Sunbeam Choir and the all-girls group called Sisters. In 1990 in Chicago she joined the Thompson Community Singers – a Gospel Grammy Award winning group in 1995 - and on the secular front in the mid-1990s she formed an all-female band named as SAYYES!. Her other, more inspirational band on the side was called Ultimately Blessed. Sheryl has shared the stage with almost every notable Chicago artist, not to mention numerous visitors. She has released two CDs – Stranger in My Bed (2011) and Live at House of Blues (2014) – and soon on Delmark we can enjoy her next album consisting mostly of her own songs.

  Over four years ago Delmark released Jimmy Johnson’s CD Every Day of Your Life, and Sheryl’s interpretation of the title track was recorded at the same anniversary event as Mike’s single above, using the same musicians. This bouncy, almost funky cover with a sharp-edged beat was released already in December, and both Sheryl’s strong vocals and the Delmark All-Star Band’s tight playing make this a worthwhile tribute to James Earl Thompson aka Jimmy Johnson.

(acknowledgements to Kevin Johnson)

© Heikki Suosalo


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