Muddy Waters Revisited Sept. 21 at Checkerboard Lounge

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The music of Muddy Waters is a river of influences, rolling through country blues, rock and folk.

So it is not surprising that Woody and the Chucks face off against BabyBrutha in “A Tribute To Muddy Waters” battle of young blues bands at 8 p.m. Sept. 21 a the Checkerboard Lounge, 5201 S. Harper Ct. (No cover, (773) 684-1472).

The event is sponsored by Hyde Park Records, who will carry the winner’s CD. Each band will cover a couple of Muddy Waters tunes.

Special and unusual guests include Danielle Colby from the History Channel’s “American Pickers.” The Chicago resident is also a burlesque dancer named Dannie Diesel.

Colby will love picking through the historic artifacts at the Checkerboard.

Danielle Colby, a fan of Muddy Waters

Checkerboard owner L.C. Thurman and Chicago blues archivist Larry Thompson will deal stories about Muddy Waters. Some of them may even be true.

Waters (McKinley Morganfield) appeared in the 1970s at the original 135-seat Checkerboard, 423 E. 43rd St..

Thurman and Buddy Guy opened the Checkerboard in 1972 and Guy remained a partner until 1986. The blues legacy of 43rd Street is what drew rock stars like Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones to the Checkerboard. The Black Lone Ranger cleaned up the joint and stayed overnight. “I didn’t have a burglar alarm so I had to have someone stay in the place all night,” Thurman said last week in a conversation at the club. “Everybody liked the Ranger.”

The late Black Lone Ranger twirled his Colt .44 six-shooter in a salute to Willie Dixon on a cold afternoon in January, 1992 as his funeral procession passed the Checkerboard. I was there.

The current Checkerboard has the regal beige leather booth where Mick Jagger sat on Nov. 22, 1981 while studying Muddy. After their gig at the Rosemont Horizon, the Stones dropped in to jam with Muddy. The city closed the original Checkerboard in 2003 due to building code violations. In November, 2005 the University of Chicago helped Thurman relocate to his current 200-seat club–a former women’s workout center.

One of the great things about this Checkerboard is how the entrance has retained the smoky smell of the original Checkerboard. “Sometimes I do that when I have a drink,” said Thurman, 75. “The customers don’t smoke.”

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Please enable Javascript to watch this videoBefore opening the Checkerboard Thurman managed the Blue Flame at 39th and Oakwood. That’s where he met blues guitarst Lefty Dizz, who became a fixture at the Checkerboard.

How did the Checkerboard take off?

“I know you’ve heard of Kingston Mines,” Thurman said. “We had a Blue Monday and the guys from Kingston Mines and other clubs up north came down to see how I worked this business. I taught them everything they know up north. Now they’re millionaires. And I’m poor.”

The battle of the blues bands was organized by Steven McKinley Monson, the grandson of Waters. He intended to have the event raise funds to help restore the historic empty home at 4339 S. Lake Park where Muddy lived between 1954 and 1974. Monson changed gears in mid-June when the house was taken off the market in a short sale.

Scenes from the basement of the Muddy Waters house earlier this year. (Photo courtesy of Neighborhood Housing Service)

Chris Toepfer is executive director of the non-profit Neighborhood Foundation. He is largely responsible for keeping the historic house in the public eye with his artistic board ups.

“I’ve boarded up this house three times,” he said earlier thins month during a conversation in front of the Waters house. “We did it about 15 years ago. Then we did a boarded rehab, where someone comes in and tries to flip it. Unfortunately they don’t respect the history but they do a hell of a job and leave. That gets broken into. And this is the third incarnation.

“When our boards have been on it’s been very secure. The board-ups we do bring attention to the building. We looked at historical images of the house. I was actually working with one of his great grand daughters that I think was here when he was here. At one time we had a jam session of blues musicians (in the front living room window). We also had a silhouette of a scantily clad woman. But she had to go. It became kind of controversial.”

Does he think of the events that took place in a historic building such as the Waters house?

“I do, a little bit,” he answered. “Very often I am running out of time, daylight and battery power. Mostly I’m thinking of how to get done quickly. Also in Chicago the later it gets and the darker it gets the more dangerous things get. But I do think, ‘What did this neighborhood use to be like?’ And can we bring some of that back?”

Chris Toepfer at the Muddy Waters House (Photo by Peter Holderness.)

Toepfer installed replica flamingos that Waters had on the front door–but what’s with the canoe woods scene above the front door? “

“We were called here about 11 at night,” he said. “I was working all day and didn’t have a lot of materials. I didn’t want to use bad plywood, so I used a panel I had. I’m a big fan of the artist David Boyd who does a lot of canoes. About a year ago I was trying to paint something like that in the studio and it ended up here. “That’s a Northern Wisconsin lake.”

It could be Mississippi.

And on Sept. 21 there’s a good chance the Checkerboard will be the Checkerboard again.

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