When the Blues migrated north, it found adoptive homes that were supportive and nurturing, but few embraced the form and its purveyors with the passionate conviction of Chicago. Maybe the city’s response was simply mirroring the talent it attracted, but whatever the reason, the Blues loved Chicago and Chicago loved the Blues — an affair that has continued unabated for nearly a century.
After Chicago sheltered Delta Blues refugees during the Depression, it served as a Petri dish for subsequent genre experiments, fostering a profound musical evolution that ripples through the Blues to this day. Chicago’s Blues genealogy is rich with the biggest names to ever take a stage, and the literal and figurative children of Chess Records number in the tens of thousands. Listen to The Rolling Stones’ Chess sessions in the early ’60s for glimpses of young acolytes going to the first church of the Blues.
Through all that growth and evolution, there is a Blues segment that endeavors to keep its roots alive by hearkening back to its earliest moments. Among the best within that subset is Cash Box Kings, an old-school throwback group that hybridizes the early Delta period with the raw-boned electricity of the ’40s and ’50s, while adding more than a dash of unbridled contemporary energy.
The Kings’ core quartet is a murderers’ row of Blues talent. Vocalist Oscar Wilson is an imposing 6-foot-3-inch, 300-pound side of Blues beef who croons with teddy-bear gentility and wails with hellhound authority. Writer/arranger/harmonicat Joe Nosek stands shoulder to shoulder with Slim Harpo and Little Walter, while guitarist Joel Paterson scorches, blisters, stings and then provides a soothing balm. Drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith draws on an encyclopedic array of pulses and heartbeats to ground and propel the Kings’ magnificent tumult. A revolving cast of supporting players completes the recipe for Chicago’s best Blues gumbo. The Kings’ two Blind Pig albums, 2011’s Holler and Stomp and 2013’s Black Toppin’, showcased their unique ability to channel the past into a reinvented future, writing in the style of their heroes while covering the familiar and the obscure with equal reverence and love.