Eddie Shaw has done just about everything in the blues business. He’s been a sideman, singer, bandleader, songwriter, arranger, producer and tavern owner. In most of those roles, he has worked on behalf of other artists. The whole West Side blues scene benefited from Eddie’s efforts, which included acting as bandleader and manager for the late Howlin’ Wolf from 1972 to 1975. After working for years behind the scenes, Eddie stepped out on his own as a band leader, proving himself to be one of the blues world’s premier horn players and a fine vocalist to boot. Before Wolf died in 1976, he urged Eddie to carry on the blues with The Wolf Gang. Eddie not only kept the core of the band together (later adding his talented son Vaan on guitar), but also forged a new identity for Eddie Shaw and The Wolf Gang.
Eddie’s career with Wolf began in 1958, but his varied activities brought him in contact with hundreds of other bluesmen, both in Chicago and in the South. Eddie was born March 20, 1937, in Benoit, Mississippi, and grew up in nearby Greenville, where his adolescent friends included a number of musicians who would one day become fellow Chicago bluesmen: Little Milton Campbell, Left Hand Frank Craig, Johnny “Big Moose” Walker and L.V. Banks, among others. Eddie and his close companion Oliver Sain were just two of the many blues and jazz horn players to come from Coleman High School. They joined other formally trained musicians in Greenville’s sophisticated, urban jump-blues bands, which featured four- and five-man horn sections. Eddie and Oliver made the rounds of the local nightclubs, schools, and dances, and often traveled through the Delta to play with bands such as Ike Turner’s and Guitar Slim’s. Eddie, who played trombone and clarinet before switching to saxophone, also put in some time with more traditional local bluesmen like Sain’s stepfather, Willie Love and guitarist Charles Booker. In 1957, Eddie sat in with the Muddy Waters band in Itta Bena, Mississippi. Muddy hired him on the spot, and Eddie arrived in Chicago as a member of the top band in town.
The Chicago bands of Muddy and Wolf were built around amplified country blues, and Eddie found that he had to play differently in Chicago than he had in Mississippi. He was usually the only horn player in the band and no longer had section arrangements or short, set parts to play. But Eddie adapted to the new demands as a soloist. A few months with Muddy, a few months with Wolf, back to Greenville for a short stay, and then Eddie settled in Chicago for good. He rejoined Wolf for about two years, moved on to the Otis Rush band, and during the ‘60s worked most often with Magic Sam on the West Side. In between, there were plenty of weekend gigs with any band that needed a sax man for a night or two--“in and out of bands, up and down the highway,” says Eddie.