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Bringing A Taste of the Blues to Milpitas

Bay Area resident and blues musician Johnny McGee grew up under the tutelage of greats like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Albert King. See him perform on Sunday, March 20 at the library.

John McGee not only knows the blues, he grew up with them.

Growing up in iconic blues cities in the South and Midwest, this Mountain View resident counts Ike Turner, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert King as stagemates and mentors.

This weekend, McGee brings his signature style of Chicago blues to the . The takes place on Sunday the 20th at 2:30 p.m. in the library auditorium, and is free and open to all.

McGee, who performs under the name Johnny McGee, got an early start to his musical career growing up in the South and Midwest. He was born and raised in Memphis, Tenn., and his family later moved to East St. Louis, Ill.

“I grew up around blues,” McGee said. 

In Memphis, his uncle ran Club Paradise, a blues joint that was located right next to B.B. King’s club; Tina Turner was a babysitter for one of his siblings. Later, McGee got his start on rhythm guitar, learning from blues greats Ike Turner and Rodney King.

“I fell in love with the bass, and it's hard for me to see any substitute," McGee said. "Bass is unique, in itself.”

From there, McGee eventually ended up on the road with artists like Albert King and Little Milton. McGee specializes in a style of blues called "Chicago blues," which was developed in the industrial center and transportation hub of the Illinois city.

“A lot of what happened with the electric guitar and slide guitar came to embody the sound that was called the 'Chicago sound,'" said Ramon Johnson, producer of San Jose Blues Week and host of "Chef Ramon's Blues Cafe," a blues radio show that airs on Friday from 2-6 p.m. on 90.5 KSJS-FM. "A lot of the Delta blues was acoustic-based music—not that electric guitar wasn't used there as well, but it got refined with Chicago blues."

Marked by this use of electric guitar and a heavy beat and percussion, Chicago blues artists like Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley quickly became popular in mainstream American music and also turned into a source of inspiration to rock-n-roll artists in England.

“'The blues is the roots; everything else is the fruit,'” said Johnson, quoting blues great Willie Dixon. “I tell people, no matter what music they like, go back to the blues. It’s the music that spawned rock and roll, it's the music that spawned R&B, soul music, and had a close tie to gospel and church music.”

For McGee, blues is more than a genre.

“I love all kinds of music, but blues is where my heart is,” he said. “It has many different feels, and being a southern boy like myself, it's where you can really express yourself.”

For Sunday’s performance, McGee will be accompanied by singers Leonard Davis and Lucille Hurd, who performs as Diva Ladee Chico. Hurd met McGee in the '80s at the Quarter Note Bar and Grill in Sunnyvale.

“[McGee] knows how to bring the down-home bass bottom to the top of R&B music,” Hurd said. “Very seasoned to complement any vocalist he plays for.”

Librarian Susan Wright organized the concert. Sunday's show will be McGee’s third time performing at the library.

“They love to play, they love to play their hearts out, it's a great deal of fun,” Wright said. “We've had people ask for them to come back.”

Jensen Lee March 19, 2011 at 09:21 PM
Willie Dixon is certainly the godfather of the blues. If you've heard, "Spoonful" or "You Shook Me," you know his music. Johnny Rivers’ “Seventh Son” is another example. “Seventh Son” captured the electric energy of Rivers’ live performances. On my Rockaeology blog at http://bit.ly/f68Ood Dixon, himself a seventh child, says the belief in the powers of the seventh son is steeped in bayou folklore.

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