One of the most welcome surprises for me this year was the discovery at Dottendorf’s Blues Night that there is a band delivering smoky, vintage Chicago Blues with style in Bonn. Good reason then when I heard they were playing in a smokey Bonn Club to see them. The Chaingang Kings were at Session in Gerhard-Von-Are Strasse so I laced up my Boogie Shoes and got ready for a sweaty night of hard liquor, low lighting and Blues.
‘Session’ is possibly the oldest live music club still going in Bonn. Niggi Lehmann and his brother Edgar, unable to find a rehearsal room for their Beat & Soul Band, decided to open a club and called it ‘Bus Stop’. The current ‘Session Club’ came into being in 1970 and has since established itself as a place for young musicians to learn their trade in Bonn for almost 50 years.
Thursday night is traditionally ‘Blues Night’ at Session, and, although tonight is a Saturday, the band I’ve come to see have also been regulars in this tiny, downstairs cellar club. Actually, this sweaty, and dark place really is the perfect place to see The Chaingang Kings. There’s an air of prohibition Chicago rolling around the smoky tables, and even getting in the door you expect to see a flap open and see through it pair of furtive eyes as a man asks for the password. As it turns out, there is no flap, and I’m asked by a young man with friendly eyes for only 10 Euros.
Down another flight of stairs and there’s a trace of blues music seeping from somewhere. I open another wooden door and the sound doesn’t so much hit me, as punch me hard in the face. The Chaingang Kings are going down a storm. I can see their heads in the distance on a tiny stage. The space between me and them though is jam-packed with beer-glass wielding, dancing bodies. Forget your Clapton’s and your Bonammassa’s – this is the true heart of The Blues.
It’s hard to believe that for most of this club’s existence the four young men on the stage weren’t even born. They weren’t born when most of the songs they play were written either. BB King’s ‘Sweet Little Angel‘, Little Walter’s ‘My Babe’, Muddy’s ‘I’m Ready’. Cat Lee King at the piano performs them though as if Memphis Slim were guiding his hands on the piano and Howling Wolf had hijacked his vocal cords. There’s a solid rhythm section in the youngest member ‘Mad’ Christopher Johnson and Jimmy Maxwell on Contra-bass, but key to the band moving up to their present level is the addition of Magic Maliq who really gets the chunky deceptively simple note runs that BB King was master of down pat. In short, this really is about as tight a tight-ass Jump Blues band as you can get. The boys even have their own numbers, check out ‘Woman in a Green Jacket’ or ‘Chaingang Boogie’ and tell the difference from the classics if you can.
At a time when so many young Blues players are looking at Eric Clapton, or even Joe Bonamassa, as the starting point for their Blues Rock inspiration it really is a pleasure to find youngsters actually going back further, and looking to create not just the sound but also the aura of those days. The slicked-back hair, trilby hats and blocky suits that leap out from many a grainy Chicago/Jump Blues photo from the ’40s and ’50s.
The 1970s saw a whole generation of white youngsters turning Chicago Blues into Rock. it’s high time there were musicians reminding a younger generation just what the magic was that the likes of Clapton, The Stones, The Who et al were inspired by. Great too that the joint was, as they say, really jumping. I hope local promoters are taking note. A CD is underway I’m told. I can’t wait to hear it!
Finally, a clip from the band’s appearance in Dottendorf earlier this year…