Voodoo DeVille Horns
"He's built for comfort, he ain't built for speed."
"If we were the Spice Girls, he'd be Old Spice."
grew up just south of Chicago -- the home of the blues -- in a town called Rockville, Maryland. As the oldest member of Voodoo DeVille, Pops lived the blues for most of the 20th century. His first exposure was his chance meeting with Robert Johnson. His uncle Marvin was a professional photographer taking pictures throughout the south as part of one of the New Deal programs during the '30's. He often let the young Pops -- only 11 years old at the time -- tag along. It was Uncle Marvin who took the famous picture of Robert Johnson with the cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Just before Uncle Marvin snapped the picture, he hollered to Pops -- "Hey boy, light the man's cigarette." So Pops obeyed and became an unseen part of blues history. (Pops never forgave the U.S. Postal Service for airbrushing the cigarette out of the Robert Johnson stamp. Pops made his displeasure known to the Postmaster General and, fortunately, was barred from ever being employed by the Post Office because he could have given the phrase "going Postal" a bad name.) It was during that photo shoot that Robert, a harp player himself, tossed Pops an old harmonica and said "Here boy, go make some sound."
At 18, Pops left home to pursue his fortune as a wandering harp player. About the time World War II broke out, Pops enlisted in the Army. The Army, recognizing his harp skills, assigned him to the USO. It was there that he first hooked up with the Andrews Sisters. Some say Pops had something going with Maxine, but Pops refuses to confirm or deny. It is little known that the song "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" was originally titled "Boogie Woogie Harmonica Boy" due to Maxine's affection for the young Pops. The record label, however, didn't feel that "Harmonica Boy" sounded patriotic enough given that the war was on. So the name was changed and once again Pops missed out his place in music history. Unfortunately, Pops was dishonorably discharged from the Army when he and Gene Krupa got into a fist fight during a Bob Hope show in the Philippines. It all started when Pops started taunting Krupa because he couldn't keep up with Pops' torrid pace during the harp boogie numbers.
After WWII, Pops wondered mainly through the South picking up gigs and odd jobs wherever he could. But times were tough, and like many others, he headed north Highway 61 and, after a brief stints in Memphis and Hannibal, eventually worked his way to Chicago. He got a part-time job working the loading dock at a furniture store in downtown Chicago. During his time there he met got to know a young Muddy Waters who came by the store from time to time, driving the delivery truck for a venetian blind company. One of Muddy's big breaks came when he accompanied Sunnyland Slim when Sunnyland cut "Johnson Machine Gun" on the Aristocrat label. Coincidentally, the day before the session, Muddy made a delivery to the store where Pops was working. Knowing Pops was a fellow blues man, Muddy told Pops about his session the next day. But Muddy was concerned about making it to the session.
Muddy said, "I don't know if my boss will let me off work tomorrow, Pops." (Though still a young man, Pops went gray early, earning him his nickname.)
"Hell, Mud" Pops told him. "Just tell your boss that your cousin was shot in an alley last night or somethin', and tell him you got to go take care of business."
Muddy thanked him for the idea and left for his next delivery. Of course, the excuse worked and the rest is blues history.
The first time Pops saw Muddy play, Pops was sitting in a bar late one night, listening to a tolerable band walking through a few slow blues. In the middle of one song, the door flew open and in walked Muddy followed by his band, the Headhunters. The band on stage quickly wound down their song. Muddy walked up to the lead guitarist and they talked for a minute or two. When they stopped talking, the band shuffled off the stage and Muddy motioned for his band to come on up. Muddy counted off the first tune and they proceeded to tear the place up. People started coming through the door, hearing the music from out on the street. Pops was blown away by Muddy's young harp player, Little Walter. It was the first time Pops heard anyone play amplified harp. Pops knew he would have to start all over again -- everything had changed.
Pops stayed in Chicago for the next several years, working odd jobs and sitting in occasionally in clubs. This gave him time to brush up on his amplified harp skills and occasionally rub shoulders with some of the giants of the blues. By the mid 50's, Rock & Roll was beginning to dominate the music scene and even the Chess brothers began to focus more and more on their Rock & Roll artists. Around this time, Pops decided it was time to move on and try to do something with his life, so he packed up his harps and few personal belongings and headed back East.
In the intervening years, Pops has gone to college, got married, had a son, got divorced, got married again, had another son, and has been gainfully employed for most of that time. However, his harp playing fell by the wayside. He picked up the harp only once or twice a year and then just to blow a few riffs. Then he would put it down. He was living a good life. He had a great family and a good, steady job. He was off the booze and the nightmares had faded. With therapy, his kleptomania was under control and it was finally safe for him to be around barnyard animals. His life as a blues man was just a memory.
While he was living a good life, Pops did have a near-death experience during these years (death from embarrassment, not from physical injury). He managed to run over himself with his own truck
. While he came through it relatively unscathed, the psychic scars and the blemish on his reputation live on to today.
Then in 1998, his job required that he go to Philadelphia for a conference. There we a reception during the conference at the Philadelphia Convention Center. Live entertainment was provided and about halfway through the evening, a new band walked up on stage. They called themselves the Blue Jays. From the looks of the musicians, not to mention their lame band name, Pops wasn't expecting much but he listened politely. From the first chord, he could tell -- this was a blues band. As they played on, Pops began to feel the faint stirrings of life so many years before bubbling up from deep inside himself. He liked it. When they finished playing, he went up and talked to the band. They seemed like nice guys, who he later come to know as T-Bone, Stacks, Plowboy, the Delaware Destroyer, and Rooster. He told them a little bit about himself (except for the truck story
, that would come later when he had gained their confidence) and asked if he could sit in with them the next time he was in Philly. They agreed and sure enough, Pops was accepted as a member of the band. Back into the life of blues man, Pops packed up his family and moved to Philadelphia to be closer to the band, where he still happily resides today.