By Robert L ( Chick ) Willis
Intro: I find this letter to be both disheartening and yet inspirational to me on a personal level at the same time.
You see I always try to learn something from those who have come before me, since they have seen more and done more, they usually have something of value to offer to me. Although it is usually not possible to right the wrongs of the past, it doesn’t mean that we can’t change our current behavior in order to effect change in the future. That is something that we have absolute control over and our failure to change our own behavior may in some cases be just as bad as was the original injustice.
My hope is that people read this piece, absorb what Chick Willis is saying and figure out for themselves if there is any modification of behavior that they can do on an individual basis in order to influence the future.
And even if upon some reflection, you find that there is nothing that you can personally do within your own behavior that can effect any changes, one of the things that I know that you can do is to circulate this email to other people who might be willing/able to challenge themselves to change their behavior in an attempt to make the future just a little bit better?
A REAL BLUES ARTIST and INVENTOR.
By Robert L ( Chick ) Willis
Hey Blues Fans and friends, I am quite sad and broken hearted to see what some of the Blues Society’s are doing to my Blues; I say my Blues because I am the Blues. I was born into the Blues 72 years ago and have been recording the Blues professionally since 1956. I was even singing the Blues before then: like I say, “I am the Blues”.
What makes me sad is for someone to say that a young person knows more about the Blues than I do. There is no way that a person that has not had the experiences of the Blues or has lived the Blues can know anything about the Blues. Those people are copying what they have heard, not what they have experienced. I am not saying that they can’t play the Blues, but that person is like a person that learns to speak a foreign language but doesn’t know what the words mean. It’s like explaining something to a blind person that has never seen it but just takes your word for it. This is what is happening to the Blues; everybody seems to know all about the Blues, but they don’t. They are steering the youth of today in the wrong direction telling them that they are playing the Blues. The young artists believe them, because they think because these people are being picked to be judges over the Blues contests that they know what they are talking about. These people would not know a Blues note if it jumped up and bit them in the ass.
One of the sad things is that by the time somebody finds out these people are lying to the youth of today by telling them they are playing the Blues to only make money, and even sadder that these people don’t know what the Blues really is, it will probably be too late because the few of us that do know the Blues will probably be dead and gone and so will the Blues.
If you want to know what the Blues is all about, there are some real Blues people out there that can tell you what the Blues is. You can also learn from those same people how to play the Blues correctly. You can even make it seem as if you have some soul, but you have to get that knowledge from a ” Real Blues Person” like: B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Chick Willis, James Cotton, Otis Rush, Bobby Bland, KoKo Taylor, Etta James, Willie Cobb, Eddie Cusic, T Model Ford, Willie King, Big Jack Johnson, Eddie C Campbell, Jimmy McCracklin, Mavis Staples, Artie White, Otis Rush, Taj Mahal, Michael Coleman, Zora Young, Lazy Lester, Carey Bell and many many more Blues Legends that know what the Blues is.
White people love the Blues and have always loved the Blues. I can remember performing in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in the sixties at club High Hat. While we were inside the club with a full house of Black people, outside beside the dirt road was about forty to fifty cars parked with white kids sitting on top of the cars listening to the Blues, Real Blues, enjoying it, even though they could not come in. It is a shame that these people are getting phony Blues now. There are a few white people that are giving these White Blues lovers phony Blues all because they want to take advantage of them by giving them watered down Blues. They are trying to make money, and at the same time cut the Black Bluesman out of the profits that are made from a music that was invented by Black people. Instead of letting the White people that love the Blues hear the real thing, they are trying to segregate the Black Entertainers from the Blues; it seem like slavery all over again.
There has been so much knowledge of the Blues lost to the world because of some of the Blues Societies and Blues Clubs: there are so many businesses out there that are using the Blues to make money without even playing the Blues or hiring Blues performers; instead they are hiring White Rock players and calling it Blues. There are hundreds of clubs that have Blues in their name but check out their schedule and you will not see any Blues Artist; all you see are Rock, R&B, and even Country Acts, but hardly ever any Black Blues acts. When they do hire a Blues act, it’s an act that is just as far from the Blues, as a White Rock act. Now I don’t want anybody to get the wrong idea and think I don’t like White Blues acts or White R&B acts, or Country acts, because I love all music, and I respect all entertainers, but I don’t care about the people that promote the Blues and not use the people that invented it. I don’t like being cut out of what I help invent. I don’t like being cut out of what I am an expert at. I don’t like some wet behind the ears White boy telling me that I don’t know something that I invented, because with me and thousands and thousands of Black people creating a product that is being used to make billions of dollars, and with my fifty something years of sleeping in my car after working hard in some club or dance hall or some fraternity party for an all White college or White only club because I couldn’t get a room in the all White hotel, I paid some dues to sing the Blues. I worked in all White clubs that I couldn’t go to the bar and get a drink or sit down to the table and eat: I had to eat in the kitchen. I have suffered way too much to see my music changed and twisted and renamed. Most of all, I refuse to be left out of my music, my Blues. I am not going to just stand around like some of my fellow Black Entertainers and just let a bunch of phony Blues experts tell me that I am not Blues. There are a lot of Blues Societies out there that are really sincere about the Blues, and there are some Blues Societies out there that don’t give a damn about the Blues or Black Entertainers. What some of these so called Blues Societies are presenting to the public doesn’t have anything to do with the Blues. Believe me, if you don’t have some Black Entertainers involved with your Blues Society or at least performing on your festivals, your Blues Society isn’t a Blues Society, it is a Rock Society or some other music society, because believe me, without Black Entertainers, you don’t have any Blues.
Let me tell you about some of the White Blues acts that I honestly love to hear play the Blues because they are lovers of the Blues. They know where the Blues came from, they know the Blues, and they know that they will forever be imitators of the Blues. But they do a damn good job of presenting and playing the Blues. Just to name a few of my favorites: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Charlie Musslewhite, Erick Clapton, Dr John, Marcia Ball, and Anson Funderburgh. I respect these players because they studied the Blues and jammed or played with “Real Blues Players” so they could understand how the Blues was played and even learned how Blues Players act, live, play, talk, and just how to be a Blues Person. I take my hat off to these guys and I say lessons learned well. Now there are other non-Black Blues Artist out there that are great Blues Players and know what the Blues is, where it came from, and how it got here; some even know when it got here.
Now let’s talk about the judges that were picked for the IBC. They were just like the jury that was picked to reside over the trials of the murderers of Medgar Evers, Emmit Teal, The Birmingham Bombing, and so many other judges that resided over Jim Crow courts of the Deep South and even far north. They don’t know anything about the product they are judging and really don’t give a damn, because they know what they must do. The IBC is designed to make money. They don’t give a damn about the Blues, the people who invented it, the people who perform it, or the people who love it, they are only interested in what sort of money they can make by using the name “BLUES”. There are so many benefits connected with the Blues because it is a historical music form, a music form that America can call their own but the pity of it all is some American’s want to claim it without giving credit to the one’s who invented it. We shouldn’t be surprised because this has always been the way some American’s think; just check American history and you will see how often this sort of thing has happened in America. Most of the people that get ahead in this country are the one’s without feeling, without heart; the one’s that put the almighty dollar ahead of everything, and I mean everything, even life it’s self. Just think about it, how can you have pork chops without a hog, have steaks without a cow, peanut butter without the peanut, orange juice without the orange, or lemonade with the lemon? I am just trying to say that there are some things that will not be what they were meant to be if you take away what made them what they are. How can you expect to have Blues Music without the involvement of the people who invented it? The original Blues people, ” Black People”. We are the Blues, and will forever be the Blues. Let me explain just how the Blues came to be: it was not only because we as Black people were mistreated; it’s not only because we were enslaved; it is not just because we were made to work until our backs were about to break; it’s not only because our mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and wives were raped and made to bear children with whomever had a slave that they thought might make big strong slaves to work the cotton and corn fields. You see, we could not complain because we had no one to complain to, there was no one to come to our rescue, contrary to some of your thinking, even back then we had a soul, we had feelings, we loved our families, our wives, and our children, and we suffered when the master decided to sell our loved ones or hang our loved ones or decided that one of us was too old to work in the fields and decided to have the vet to put you to sleep as if you were an old mule who had outlived his usefulness; sometimes you would wake up to dogs barking and men hollering mean things to your loved ones and telling them that if they didn’t tell them where one’s loved one was hiding, they were going to rape all of the females and kill all the males, so to save your family you had to give up one of your son’s because they said that he had done something, when you know that he hadn’t done anything, but you couldn’t say that because you would be calling the man a liar, and that was a no no, so you would just give up one of your son’s to save the rest of your family. I am just trying to tell you what the Blues is and how it came about, and how it was invented. To tell me I don’t know what the Blues is, oh GOD, how I wish you were telling the truth. I wish I had never had the Blues, because that means I would have never had to suffer as I did; my father would never have had to suffer the way he did; my grandfather would never have had to suffer the way he had suffer; my mother, my grandmother, my great grandfather and many many other members of my family would not have had to suffer the way they did, but they did. You see, my family didn’t have anything to pass down to me but the Blues, and when I took the Blues that they passed down to me I added my own soul to the Blues that I knew so well; 72 years of living the Blues comes down to just one thing, and that is, “I am the Blues, and I dare anybody to tell me that I am not playing the Blues. How did you become and expert? You are not a Blues expert if you don’t know a John the Conquer Root when you see one, if you have never carried a Mojo in your pocket, if you never had a Black Cat Bone or know where and how to get one that would work for you. There is not a soul that can judge Blues Music unless you are an experienced Blues Player or Singer. I don’t care how many Blues shows you have seen or how many Blues albums, Blues CD’s, Blues 45’s, or Blues magazines you own or how many Blues act’s you have hung out with, that does not qualify you as an expert on the Blues. I sure wish these so called experts would get a life because how can you be an expert on something that you have had no experience in. You cannot be a Black expert if you have never been Black. You can not be an Indian expert if you have never been an Indian. You can not be a Mexican expert if you have never been a Mexican. I am getting sick of corporate America thinking all they have to do is set up a school to teach each other how to be an expert on almost anything that they could think of, or better yet any race of people they can think of. Every expert of Black people, or any other race of people that I ever met or heard of was White. I have never met a Black people expert that was Black or a Mexican people expert that was Mexican, or a Japanese people expert that was Japanese. Indian affairs are even run by White people. I am getting sick of all of these experts that don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground.
Back in 1983, I was presented with a lifetime membership to an organization that had Blues Black music at heart. The people in charge of this organization were true lovers of the Blues and were sincerely trying to help keep the Blues alive; this organization was The Blues Foundation of Memphis, TN and was headed by Mr. Joe Saverin. The lifetime membership document reads, and I quote:
For your outstanding contributions to music, and with gratitude and sincere appreciation for your energy, effort and generosity as you have shared the spirit of music throughout the world, and further, in consideration of your creative accomplishments and your brilliant musical career, we, the performers and lovers of music who make up the membership of the Blues Foundation’s supporting organization known as the Blues connection, on this date March 16 1983, hereby declare CHICK WILLIS & THE STOOP DOWN BAND, A lifetime honorary member of the Blues foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and the perpetuation of the spirit and the music made famous by W.C.Handy-“The Blues”- and the myriad other styles of Blues-related music. With Great Pride and Affection. Signed. JOE SAVERIN.
But this same Blues foundation seems to think that I don’t know what the Blues is; that I am not playing the Blues. That is an insult to me and to other Black Blues Masters all over America- the land of the FREE. There needs to be more effort to recognize the people that created this wonderful music form because it has paved the way for other music types like: Rock, Metal, Acid, Rock-a-Billy, Hip Hop, and many other types of music.
Just like the old Blues Players are disappearing, so are the old Blues lovers. So who will document the Blues: a Blues Foundation that only caters to young White Players; a Blues Foundation that is trying to sell the public a bill of goods. Well they might get away with it because there is no one that can call them a lie when they present to you a kid that is playing Rock with Blues changes and tell you that what you are hearing is the Blues., so who is there to say that this is not blues? I am grateful to all Blues lovers for loving the Blues, but I am sadden because they are being sold a bill of goods. These people should be getting the real thing and the few real Blues Players that are still here should benefit from the proceeds that the Blues generates. It’s sad that the few of us that are still around are just being pushed to the side. I love B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Etta James, Ko Ko Taylor, and the few other Blues players that have been picked to reap some of the benefits of the Blues but there are still a lot of Blues Players out here that deserve some of these benefits that comes from the Blues as well. There are Players out here that are becoming millionaires from the proceeds of the Blues, and some of these people don’t even give a damn about the Blues or who invented it or how much heartache these Blues Players had to go through to bring the Blues this far. The Blues has been brought a long way and it has been a long hard journey from Africa to the Charleston Bay. There are a lot of people out here trying to rewrite the history of the Blues with a lot of lies. I don’t mind you writing about the Blues but don’t say that it came from some blue eyed soul brother, or some wet behind the ears kid. Go ahead and tell the people that the Blues was invented by a Black person that was trapped in a White world with no way out. Tell them that the Blues was invented by a Black person that was made to live under a flag that they couldn’t call their own. Tell the people that the Blues was invented by a Black person that couldn’t speak out about the injustices that they suffered but they could sing about it. Tell them that the Blues was a form of escape to give a Black soul just a little release from the hardships of the 1800’s and the 1900’s. Tell them that the Blues was invented by a Black man that had to raise, clothe and feed a child that was fathered by his White master with his Black wife. Tell them that the Blues was invented by a Black man that had a half White brother that the master disowned. Tell them the Blues was invented by a Black man that was taken from his family and sold to a slavemaster that beat him when he didn’t pull enough corn or pick enough cotton.
Let’s talk about the Blues Societies of the world. Check out the lineup of the Blues festivals around the world; you will find most of them don’t have a Black Artist in the lineup; you will find White only in most of the Blues festivals. Those festivals remind me of the old days when signs were everywhere I n restaurants, bathrooms, waiting rooms, even hospitals, motels and hotels that read “White Only”. This is like selling Kentucky Fried Chicken and leaving the Colonel out; it’s like selling computers and leaving IBM out. Sometimes I pray that one morning the world would wake up and the Blues and all the music that camel from the Blues would have vanished. I would rather see the Blues disappear than to see what is happening to my BLUES today. The hurting thing is that they are trying to justify what they are doing to my music by coming up with a whole lot of off the wall names like, Mississippi Blues, Chicago Blues, Kansas Blues, Swamp Blues, Delta Blues, Rock Blues, Jump Blues, Electric Blues, Acoustic Blues, and Acid Blues. That’s just like Jump Chick Willis, Rocking Chick Willis, Boogie Woogie Chick Willis, Swamp Chick Willis, Chicago Chick Willis, Mississippi Chick Willis, and Delta Chick Willis. But what ever you call me I am still Chick Willis and the same goes for the Blues. You changed the Blues: why not just call Rock, Rock, or Acid, Jump, or Swamp, or Electric; just leave the Blues part off and you will have music of your own, because most of these players are not playing the BLUES.
These are some of the people that tried to teach the world where the Blues came from and how it got here: W C Handy, Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson, T-bone Walker, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, John Lee Hooker, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Elmo James, Willie Dixon, Freddie King, Charlie Patton, Ma Rainey, Lead Belly, Howlin Wolf, Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Boy Williamson, Memphis Minnie, Arthur Big Boy Crudup, Lightnin Hopkins, Charles Brown, Albert King, Brownie McGhee, Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles, Big Mama Thornton, Big Joe Turner, Albert Collins, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Sonny Terry, Junior Parker, Blind Boy Fuller, Hound Dog Taylor, Big Joe Williams, Amos Milton, Big Maybelle, Julie Lee, Josh White, Blind Willie McTell, Wynonie Harris, Luther Allison, Ruth Brown, Johnny Ace, and so many more that have passed and gone. They had a million Blues stories to tell the world., but just didn’t get the chance. It looks like the few that are still here will not get the chance to tell their story to the world either.
Now let’s talk about the IBC. How did Jim Mills get to be a Blues expert; When did he have the Blues; How long has he been Black? When did Paul Aaronson get to be a Blues expert; How much hell has he gone through in the cotton fields; How many of his kin folks were kept from getting an education because they had to go and work in the field: Who told John Tepiew he knew anything at all about my music, the Blues; He has no idea what the Blues is or how to be a judge of the Blues. This dude Baker Yates doesn’t know anything about judging any part of the Blues; He shouldn’t even be allowed to listen to the Blues; He thinks my Musicians should look at one another all night long. My band doesn’t have to look at each other because they know what they are doing. The way these scores are, it’s as plain as day that this was a setup. Any of you that have seen my show, heard me sing the Blues, play the Blues, and perform on stage know if I am a Blues Man or not. If you would like a copy of this so called score just e-mail me and I will send you a copy and you can Judge for yourself. There were only two judges on the panel that knew something about the Blues, stage presence, and originality, that was Charles Thompson and Nashid
Of course Baker Yates knew I was singing and playing the Blues, but Ray Charles would have known that.
I was told by some of my friends that this newsletter would make some of the judges not like me, but looking at these scores they don’t like me already.
I don’t want my friends and fans to get the wrong idea. I don’t want you to think that I am a sore looser. When I went to Memphis I didn’t think I would win, but I went there to see for myself if what a lot of the Blues Players were saying about the IBC being designed just to make money and to draw revenue to the city of Memphis were true. It is believed that the Blues Foundation is not trying to help keep the Blues alive but instead the Blues Foundation is trying to help the Blues to be reborn into music that can take the place of the Blues but keep the name “Blues”. But music that non- Blues Players can play this way, the real Blues Players get cut out of the Blues. Look at the very first IBC and really listen to the contestants and you will see that most of the winners were not Blues. I have been looking at Blues Foundations and Blues Clubs for a long time and there are a lot of so called Blues Society’s that are not really Blues Society’s, but instead they are Rock Society’s. If they call themselves a Rock Society, they would not have the support that they have with the Blues. Let’s face it, the Blues is a wonderful invention and as a Black Blues Man I am not going to let the world forget that I had a lot to do with bringing this wonderful music from 1934 to the present. I am not going to just stand by and let my Blues be turned into whatever some President of a Blues Society or President of some so called Blues Club or some so called Blues Festival want it to be. While you are reading this news letter keep in mind that I am not a college graduate and I don’t have any degree’s, except the one’s that I have earned in the Blues, so take your time and try to read and understand what I am trying to convey and try to understand that when I say Black and Blues in the same sentence remember these two words go together because I can remember when the word Blues meant Black because there was no Rock and Roll, there was no Acid, there was no Rock-a-Billy, there was no Hip-Hop, and there was no Rap. To say Blues without saying Black is like saying snow without saying white. But like I said you will find misspelled words missed pronounced words and all sorts of other mistakes but I do believe you will be able to understand everything that I am trying to say to you. Just in case, I am giving out my contact information so if there is anything you don’t understand you can get in touch with me and I will be glad to explain anything that you don’t understand about my newsletter, or if you just want to get in touch with me for any other reason, There are a lot of great Blues Players that never got a chance to make a living with the product they invented, the Blues, because they came up in bad times, they came up under slavery and even after slavery was supposed to be over these Blues Players still were not free, but they still kept on singing and playing the Blues because it was an outlet for anger, troubled minds and poverty because they were not getting paid for the work they were doing. The only money they could make was at a fish fry on Friday and Saturday nights, or a Sunday picnic. This money helped to make ends meet because they were not getting paid enough for picking and chopping the cotton, or picking the peaches, or thrashing the corn, or milking the cows, or slopping the hogs, or share- cropping with the boss man; so on the weekend these Blues Players would write songs about the way the boss man was treating them and sing them at these gatherings. Just by listening to these songs the people that attended the event would know what was happening with this Blues Player because he was telling his story every time he wrote a song, because he couldn’t get in trouble when he or she sang their story because you could sing and call your boss names when you could not stand face to face and call him a slave driver or a cheat, but you could put it in a song in a way that everyone but the boss man would know what you were saying. You see, the” BLUES” was then, and still is our connection with other Blues lovers!
Most of the White Business Owners want to just use the name BLUES to make money and exploit the young White Blues lovers by giving them watered down Blues. Now there are a lot of Blues lovers and they come in all colors. They will travel hundreds of mile to hear some real Blues and see some real Blues Players, but they are often disappointed because most of the Blues Festivals don’t have the real thing, only imitation; some are good imitators, but it just don’t take the place of the real thing. Let’s face it, if that’s all they got, they have to make the best of it and accept the watered down version of the Blues. Most Black D. J.’s on commercial radio stations don’t play the Blues, they only play Rap and Hip Hop, and so the Black Blues lovers have nowhere to hear a great Blues song. So they go to a Blues Festival, and guess what, most of the time they hear a lot of Rock that’s called the Blues. I want to remind you again that I am not talking about all Blues Festivals or all Blues Societies, or all Blues Clubs, but there are enough of them out there to keep a lot of Black Blues players from making a decent living. There are some Blues organizations that are really sincere about keeping the Blues alive and creating a place for real Blues Players to perform and make a living while doing what they love, and that is playing and singing the Blues. Just like I said before, I won’t name names because they know who they are, and you that don’t know, start taking notes and you will be surprised.
I could write a book about the Blues that most people that listen to the Blues don’t know, but that would take me a long time because you see I have so much to say just like many many Blues Artists that went to Blues Heaven. I bet they are sitting around telling their BLUES story to one another.
I want to thank all who read this and hope you get something out of it that help you understand me and my Blues just a little bit more. Always remember, “I am just a little old BLUES man”.