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John Primer has been a long-standing performer at BLUE CHICAGO knocking out great Blues music since he first performed at BLUE CHICAGO with the legendary Magic Slim in 1985. Since then he has surely sealed his reputation as “The Real Deal.”  John Primer has been a long-standing performer at BLUE CHICAGO knocking out great Blues music since he first performed at BLUE CHICAGO with the legendary Magic Slim in 1985. Since then he has surely sealed his reputation as “The Real Deal.” 

At 8 years old, John borrowed his first guitar and started to strum. With the sounds of Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Little Milton, Elmore James, BB & Albert King reverberating through his Grandmother Laura Nell’s tube radio, John was instantly hooked.  Early inspiration came from spirituals, gospel, blues and R&B tradition.  John first appeared on stage at the local Baptist church, in his hometown of Camden Mississippi.

At the age of eighteen, John followed the path of his mentors and migrated to Chicago in the fall of 1963.  He quickly found work in an era when Chicago’s modern electric Blues sounds were first taking shape. Forming his first band, The Maintainers in 1964, John rocked the West Side clubs.  By 1968 John fronted The Brotherhood, a Soul and R&B group, forming his own unique style and expanding his repertoire.  Over the course of the next 7 years, John would play with such greats as Sammy Lawhorn, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, and Lonnie Brooks, all innovators sculpting the sound of Chicago Blues.

In 1979, master songwriter and bassist Willie Dixon persuaded him to join his band, The Chicago All Stars.  John developed his skills as a rhythm guitarist, a lead slide player, and a powerful singer.  Another blues master who believed in John Primer was none other than the “Hoochie Coochie Man” himself, Muddy Waters.  Muddy recruited John not only as a guitarist, but also as an opening act and bandleader.  As he did with so many other great musicians, Muddy served as a father to John, instilling in him an unrelenting passion for the music that gave birth to Rock and Roll.  John stayed loyal to Muddy until his untimely death in 1983. 

Fresh off the heels of his success with the Muddy Waters Band, John signed on with the legendary Magic Slim.  For the next 14 years, he toured with Magic Slim & The Teardrops, bringing tight, house rocking sounds to every corner of the planet. They were voted the best blues band in the world year after year and are still thought of today as the inventors of “the lump”, the Chicago Blues sound.

In 1995 the John released his major label debut “The Real Deal” on Atlantic Records. Deciding to make it on his own, he began touring extensively in support of his twelve solo albums to date. John formed his independent record label, Blues House Productions in 2008. John is a Living Legend and has been given the Lifetime Achievement Award many times and is a Grammy Nominated Blues Artist. Being one of the last Traditional Blues Artists, he was taught the old way (some say, “the right way”) by our founding fathers of the Blues. We need to cherish this history and celebrate his amazing music!


Nicknamed the “Sweetheart of the Blues” by the staff at BLUE CHICAGO, Shirley has been gracing the stage here since the 1990s with her spectacular performances.

Like so many African-American vocalists, Shirley Johnson started out singing in church and then went on to embrace secular music. The Chicago resident, whose influences range from Mahalia Jackson to Koko Taylor, Etta James, and Ruth Brown, is a gritty, big-voiced blues singer who can also handle soul and gospel. Although Johnson has spent much of her adult life in Chicago, the Windy City is not her hometown;  she was born in Franklin, VA and raised in Norfolk, VA. Shirley came from a very religious family and  was only six when she started singing gospel in a church choir.

When Shirley reached adulthood in the late '70s, she pursued a career in secular music and made her presence felt in Norfolk's blues and R&B circles. She went on to become an opening act for Aretha Franklin, Jerry Butler, Z.Z. Hill, and other well-known artists who were passing through town. In the early '80s, she recorded some singles for two regional labels in Virginia and those recordings caught the attention of a man who was planning to start a label in Chicago. The aspiring record man expressed interest in recording Ms. Johnson and sent her a plane ticket to Chicago, but when she arrived in the Windy City she learned he didn't have enough money to pay for a session.

Nonetheless, she decided to remain in Chicago and became active on the city's blues circuit, where she has performed both Blues and Soul. The musicians she worked with in Chicago included Little Johnny Christian, Artie "Blues Boy" White, and keyboardist “Professor” Eddie Lusk (who was a staple at BLUE CHICAGO and took Johnson on the road with him on international tours.)

Since  the '90s, Johnson has made many recordings and in 2000 is one of the vocalists recorded on BLUE CHICAGO’s CD entitled “Mojo Mamas.”

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