FOR A century Maxwell Street was the “gateway neighbourhood” of Chicago. Irish and German immigrants arrived in 1848 to build railroads; Italians, Greeks, Russians, Bohemians and Mexicans moved in shortly after. By the late 19th century Eastern European Jewish migrants had established a ghetto street bazaar, famed as the largest open-air market in America. Blues musicians who escaped the segregated South in the 1930s came to Maxwell Street for the market’s large audience. So large and loud, in fact, that they needed amplifiers and electrical instruments to cut through the din of hawkers. “Chicago blues” was born.
The electric guitars and harmonicas favoured by Chicago bluesmen such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Jimmy Reed made for a new sound, one that proved commercially potent. Three thousand copies of Waters’ single “I Can’t Be Satisfied” (1948)—with its blend of Delta Blues and electric slide guitar—were sold in a day. Little Walter and B.B. King frequently topped the rhythm-and-blues chart. There is no Blues Museum in Chicago, and small blues venues are falling by the wayside. Buddy Guy performs a 16 week sold out residency at his own club every winter, but few others have that luxury. With the highest murder rate in the country, this city should never forget the Blues....but unfortunately they are.