Among the greatest saxophonists ever to play the blues in Chicago, Eddie Shaw has the rare distinction of having been a sideman for both Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf during their early 60s peak years. Playing his first Toronto show since making his big screen debut in John Sayles' Honeydripper, Shaw rocks the Silver Dollar Saturday (May 31). 416-763-9139.
Did you enjoy your role in Honeydripper enough to want to pursue a career in acting or was the film job a one-time thing?
Oh, I don't want to be no actor but I would like to do maybe three movies, just two more to show everyone that my performance in the first one wasn't an accident. You know, I only had nine lines in Honeydripper but it was a great part and I really enjoyed the film shoot.
We did it on location in Alabama and there were days where they told me I could just kick back at the hotel because I wasn't needed for the scenes they were filming but I'd go to the set anyway just to see how John Sayles worked and watch how Charles Dutton and Stacy Keach got into their characters. It was a wonderful experience and a real milestone in my life.
Knowing your connection with both Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, it seems like you'd be a natural choice for a role in the forthcoming film Cadillac Records based on the lives of artists associated with the Chess label. Will you be involved on screen or as an advisor?
Some of the guys playing different characters have called me up saying, "Eddie, you should definitely be in this movie 'cause you know more about Muddy and the Wolf than anyone" but I haven't gotten a call from the producer, director or anybody else behind the film. The people putting money into these films are looking for a big profit so they're not looking for people who really know what went down, they want popular stars who can guarantee them good box office. I heard they've got Cedric The Entertainer playing Willie Dixon and that singer Binaca... er... Beyanca? No... Beyonce, that's it, Beyonce is supposed to be be Etta James. But I'm not sure if the film is still in production or what.
Any plans to write a book to set the record straight about what was happening during those exciting times on the Chicago blues scene?
Actually, I am working on a book which is going to be called I Can't Stop Now. The ghostwriter I've got helping me is Don Wilcox who co-wrote Buddy Guy's book Damn Right I've Got The Blues and we're almost done. I'm telling stories about what really went on and everybody who was involved with comments from other musicians I've played with like B.B. King, Buddy Guy and others. I'm not going to lie about anybody or anything.
There are some who won't appreciate the truth being told. Do you think your book could make you some enemies?
Before I say anything negative about somebody, I won't say nothing at all. Most of the guys I'm talking about are dead and gone but they have family members that are still alive. So if you're looking to find out how many women Muddy Waters banged or if Magic Sam drank too much or whether Freddy King had a gambling problem, I won't be commenting on any of that.
Your song Blues For the West Side is a certified Windy City classic. How did you come to record it with Magic Sam and why was it released on the Colt label credited to Al Benson, the so-called godfather of black radio in Chicago?
Blues For The West Side was recorded for Bob Koestler's Delmark label -- not Colt. Bob had a studio booked every Tuesday so we'd record a session with Magic Sam one week and maybe Mighty Joe Young the next. One Tuesday Magic Sam didn't show up so we recorded a couple of my tunes, including Riding High and Blues For The West Side. The songs were sounding real good in the studio so we had Sam dub onsome guitar parts later. Somehow Shakey Jake Harris got ahold of the tape and cut a deal with Bill Hill who put out Riding High and Blues For The West Side as a single on Hill's label, Colt Records. Al Benson was a very popular DJ on the South Side but to this day, I have no idea how he got credited for a song I wrote. I never met the man.
To make a long story short, I didn't make a cent off that record. Back then, I didn't know anything about copyrights and the importance of getting the right paperwork done - Willie Dixon schooled me on that later on.
Eddie Shaw reveals the source of the antipathy between Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf.
Can anyone be sure whether Wolf is telling the truth? Shaw thinks so.