Fattening Frogs For Snakes

Chicago Bound

for Bob “Righteous” Rudnick & Sergio Mayora

The Chicago Blues,
the Chicago blues,
everybody calls it
the Chicago blues

but the Chicago blues
came straight up from Mississippi
by car & railroad train,
starting at the end of the Depression,

around 1937-38,
carried straight up from Mississippi
by the Delta blues players

in their guitar cases,
on their backs,
in their pants pockets,
in their shoes,

strapped to they chests like holsters,
rolled up like a wad of bills,
cubed like dice,
sharp & deadly as razors

tucked in the top of they socks,
a .38 stuck in they waistbands,
blues in the cut of they bennies,
blues in the throat & chest,

blues from Mississippi
walked off the plantations & caught a train,
or drove up Highway 61 in a beat-up Ford
or something a little slicker,

a 1937 Hudson,
or a 1936 Packard convertible
with a big radio
picking up Count Basie out of K.C.

or the 12 Clouds of Joy
or Duke Ellington in a broadcast
out of New York City,
the blues in an automobile

with ho's hanging out the windows
or sitting back on a train
from Memphis to Chicago,
the blues in a nasty cardboard suitcase

& a pocket full of harmonicas
all the way from Mississippi,
blues came to Chicago screaming
& kicking & grinning

out of Mississippi
where it came from
& it came to Chicago
where it became the Chicago Blues

”Chicago was not the blues,”
Sunnyland Slim says. “When I come there,
I didn’t stay
because my kind of music

wasn’t appreciated. Brother [Montgomery] could,
but most of the musicians
wasn’t there. They just record
& go back to Memphis,

like Memphis Minnie. Roosevelt [Sykes] go back
to St. Louis or Memphis. Go back to Helena
once in a while. Lonnie Johnson
go to St. Louis. [Big] Bill,

he would go to Rosedale.
But after Mississippi,
Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Missouri,
the colored people wanted to come up there

where they be recognized. They could say
what they want to people
& some of them—a lot of them—
had houses. And when they did pull out,

the people runnin’ them joints,
they had a little money. They got in beers
& started having more joints,
blues. And Chicago

really got the blues
in '38, '39 on up. That’s
when Chicago
really got the blues. But before,

well, you find Jelly Roll
& some of them big bands,
big shots,
but not nobody like me. We got

around here now. But the South
was full of it. It’s always been blues
down there—always will be
until the end of time.”

— Detroit
May 6, 1986/
New Orleans
December 11, 1995