A Fireside Chat with Lucky Peterson
Blues icon Leadbelly is legendary, in part, because of his versatility. Familiar with the blues, ballads, rhymes, hymns, and gospel, Leadbelly's influence is prominent in every genre of music in this country. Lucky Peterson, born a decade and a half after Leadbelly's death, has the functional dexterity of Leadbelly, yet the modernistic relevance of other legends of the music like Jimmy Rushing. Peterson has a quality that rings home to the common man, the blue-collar working class, and so an album produced by Bill Laswell seemed the farthest thing to working class. But Laswell brings something unheard in previous Peterson recording sessions, an avant-garde vamp that is sure to be of interest and certain to surprise. And Laswell brought some friends, to the tune of Henry Threadgill, Graham Haynes, and Alex Harding, all versed in the avant. Folks, Lucky Peterson, child prodigy, well on the road to becoming a musical legend himself, unedited and in his own words.
Fred Jung: Let's start from the beginning.
Lucky Peterson: My father had a club in Buffalo called the Governor's Inn. He brought in all kinds of entertainers, all the blues acts, legends like Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Bill Doggett, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, I can go on and on. Our home was up over the club and my father was a musician as well. So there was music in my father's club seven nights a week/ I got into it from God. I guess God decided that I needed to be a musician. I started playing drums at the age of three and from there, I started playing keyboards and my father showed me some things, showed me some guitar stuff and from there, I have been learning and playing. Early on, it was really just playing music. Now, blues is my life. The blues is a feeling and the blues is what I do. I not only do the blues. I do a lot of different things, but my basic thing is the blues. I mix it up with a little jazz, a little rock and roll, a lot of gospel, funk, a little bit of everything into what I do and to top it off, a little high energy.
FJ: How did you meet Willie Dixon?
LP: I got to meet Willie Dixon through my father. Willie Dixon came to my father's club and my father told him, "Willie, I want you to hear something. My son can play." That led to "1-2-3-4." My father wrote that song and Willie Dixon wrote the flipside, "Good Old Candy."
FJ: And Little Milton?
LP: I got out of school and was down in St. Petersburg, Florida and my father and Little Milton were really good friends. My mother pulled Little Milton to the side and said, "Milton, my son is out of school and you need to take him on the road because we don't want him to get into trouble," because at that time, I was just hanging out. Seventeen years old, peer pressure, you are hanging out with the fellas. My father didn't want me to go, but my momma wanted me to go and the women always rule. So that led me to a spot with Little Milton. I went on the road, but when Little Milton first come down there, he didn't have his band. His band had gotten snowed in in Memphis, Tennessee, so he called my father and my father told him to come on down and that I had a group and we played blues. So we played with Milton in Orlando the first night and the second night, he was in Tampa. We thought we were going to play and we went to the club in Tampa, but the bus was there and when we walked up, his keyboard player didn't show up and so he asked me if I wanted to play keyboard and I said "Yeah." I played that night and got two standing ovations and he said, "You really need to go on the road. I'm gonna talk to your momma again." At first, Milton wasn't sure he wanted to take me on the road, but after that, the next night, they talked and ate fish and drunk Hennessey and stuff and that Monday, we started rehearsal in Florida. By Friday, I was gone.
FJ: You did a stint with Bobby Bland, who during his day was quite the ladies man. Did any of that come your way?
LP: (Laughing) Oh, nah, ain't nobody look at me like that. I am just an old, big bellied blues man (laughing). Nothing like Bland.
FJ: When did you know it was time to begin your solo career?
LP: When I was playing with Milton, Milton would let me open and stuff like that and I saw that the audience was loving what I do and what I was doing. I really started branching out when I got with Bobby Bland. When I got with Bobby Bland, I said, "Man, if everybody can do this, I can do this too." I done had all the training that a fella needs. There ain't nothing to do but to get out there and do it. Bob Greenlee called me to do a record with Kenny Neal and I said, "Yeah, no problem." So I went down there and did the record with Kenny Neal and after I got down there, Bob said, "How about doing a record on your own?" I said, "Yeah, no problem." And here I am.