Kirk West: Five Stories Behind The Blues

On First Friday, February 3rd, Gallery West in Downtown Macon will celebrate eight years of a one-of-a-kind collection of photography that celebrates rock n’ roll, country music, and especially the Blues! In anticipation of the event, here are five stunning images and the stories behind them from famed photographer & author Kirk West!

1. B.B. King at Park West, Chicago (1979)

A beautiful Uptown Blues Show in a glamorous plush nightclub on a co-bill with Bobby “Blue” Bland. This was blues that made you feel above the whole mess; blues that made you feel classy & happy to be beyond the fray… And B.B. was glad to take you there!

2. Albert King at Chicago Blues, Belmont Avenue (1983)

Albert was one of my top three bluesmen ever. He was stone-cold stern on stage– all business. He said more with the notes he didn’t play than most guitarists said with the hundreds they did play! He’d smoke his pipe throughout the show, just being as chill as you want… He was a cranky old bastard though– held his band members to high standards and would fine them for not keepin’ up. I actually saw him fire a bass player right on stage one night at Chicago Blues! He had been ridin’ this bass player all set long when in walked a bass player Albert knew! He called him up to the stage and fired the original guy on stage! AND made him let the new guy play his bass and rig ’til the end of the gi! What a hoot!!! One of the joys and honors of my life was Albert always remembered my name. Even in a crowd at blues fests I’d hear him holler out my name! I always figured these old boys would just write me off as some little white boy with a camera in his face! I loved ol’ Albert King!

3. Big Mama Thornton at Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago (1984)

Big Mama had been on the downward slide for a couple years from her life of hard drinkin’. She had lost over two-hundred pounds by the time she played the Old Town School, a small acoustic joint on the North Side of Chicago. She fit in perfectly– a packed house– and it would be the last time most of the folks there would see her perform. Big Mama, who by then was actually a very Little Mama, would only live another couple months before she passed. She made her name in the ’50s & ’60s, left her mark on the blues, and gave Elvis “Hound Dog” to start his climb. She died before hittin’ 60… It was the high cost of low livin’.

4. Albert Collins at Kirk West’s Studio, Chicago (1984)

Albert was a killer showman for sure with a stinging guitar sound and amazing rapid technique. “The Iceman” they called him and he could freeze you out in the hot Chicago clubs of the day. Albert had the longest guitar cord anybody had ever seen, and many nights on N. Sheridan Road near the lakefront at Biddy Mulligans, Albert would strut out the front door of the club takin’ some of the audience with him, and head out into the street and rip it up while holdin’ back the traffic! The Iceman indeed! This shot was for an album cover session for his next Alligator Records release. Shootin’ Albert in the studio with no audience was no problem either– I just said, “Albert, give me 2am at The Mines,” and this is what he gave me!!!

5. Buddy Guy, Chicago Blues Fest (1989)

Buddy in the pre-polka dot days…’ When Buddy got to rockin hard you had to stand back a good 8-10 feet or you’d get splattered with Jheri curl drops, which were a bitch to clean off your camera! But man, could he lay it down! At these big events Buddy was a real showman, often cutting the playin’ short to brag and talk smack in the middle of a smokin’ solo. I always hated these disruptions– I ‘d much rather see him in a small joint where he couldn’t get away with that kinda show. Play the blues! Damn it, Buddy!!!! Save that smack talkin’ for the young boys in the hood! Ol’ Buddy is still out there breakin’ it down! BTW, in a little side note, My Lovely Bride Kirsten & I were married on stage at Buddy’s old blues club, The Checkerboard Lounge, and Junior Wells & B.B. Odom played. A big time was had by all… AND no Jheri Curl splatter!!!

First Friday, February 3rd, 5pm-9pm, celebrate 8 years of Gallery West with a special exhibition of Chicago Blues photography by Kirk West! Also featuring artwork by Johnny Mo and Lynn Tate, a book signing by Bob Beatty (author of Play All Night: Duane Allman and the Journey to Fillmore East), and LIVE music from Robert Lee Coleman and Black Pearl!

All photos by Kirk West.