Eddie Shaw & The Wolfgang
When the blues resurgence was in full swing in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Eddie Shaw was in the eye of the hurricane. Shaw, a tenor sax stalwart, was right in the midst of some of the seminal blues recordings going down in a few Windy City studios. He played gigs with Hound Dog Taylor, Freddie King, Otis Rush, Earl Hooker, and Magic Sam. Shaw also arranged the tunes on The Howlin’ Wolf London Sessions (with Eric Clapton) and Muddy Waters’ Unk and Funk album. The Wolf Gang was the original back up band for the legendary Howlin’ Wolf and in 1972 Shaw became his person manager until Wolf’s untimely death in 1975.
That’s a resume that any blues musician would covet and we’re not even counting the greats Shaw played with in the early ‘50s before he hit Chicago, back in Greenville, Mississippi, such as Ike Turner, Little Milton Campbell and Willie Love. But Shaw remembers that at the time many of the people we revere as legends today were not regarded as part of the blues pantheon, but as entertainers. "At that time, you were just on the stage with a regular guy," Shaw says of Howlin’ Wolf.
In the late ’50s, Shaw walked out of Muddy Waters’ band and walked down the street and onto the stage to accompany Chester "Howlin’ Wolf" Burnett. The bluesman kept room for Shaw in his band after hearing his rich tone, perfect fills, and tasteful solos. Considered to be one of the premier Chicago blues bands performing today, no one stands better positioned to bridge past and present than Eddie Shaw. Of the uncounted musicians who played with Howlin’ Wolf and drew inspiration from him, Shaw represents the modern-day counterpart to Wolf’s raucous unrelenting style of blues.
"He rose from the cotton fields of Mississippi to be the greatest blues singer in the world. He played all over the world for kings and queens," Shaw said of his mentor. "[Howlin’ Wolf] didn’t have too much education but he was very wise, street-wise, and I learned my band finesse mostly from him," Shaw says. And when Eddie Shaw steps to the microphone, he might not have the maniacal vocal fervor of Wolf’s that rock stars like Mick Jagger tried to emulate, but he comes surprising close.
Shaw likens his style of sax playing to the same cadence and exuberance that comes from a Sunday pulpit. "I think playing the horn like I do is something like the old Baptist preacher. When a Baptist preacher preaches in church, everybody listens. He shouts out what he wants you to hear, and he brings it to you in such a way that you’re gonna listen. So that’s the way I try to do it with saxophone. I try to have a good attack, don’t try to play a lot of notes, try to stay with the basics and tell a good story."
The Wolf Gang currently features Shaw as lead vocalist and sax; Lafayette "Shorty" Gilbert, who’s earned the most seniority in the band after 20 years; pianist and Chicago fixture Detroit Junior; drummer Tim Taylor, son of the legendary guitarist Eddie, who has eight years of his own in the Wolf Gang; and son Eddie "Vaan" Shaw on guitar. Columbia is in for a treat on Saturday with one of the hottest Chicago blues bands active today.