Blues Legend John Primer Brings Musical Tradition To Blues, Brew & Brats Festival On Saturday, July 30

Blues legend John Primer will be performing on July 30 at the Blues, Brews and Brats Festival in Waterville. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARILYN STRINGER

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — For over six decades, John Primer has played the blues, earning numerous awards and the moniker of “the real deal.”

When he takes the stage during the Saturday, July 30 Waterville Rotary Blues, Brews and Brats Festival, Primer promises to deliver traditional blues you can feel in your soul.

“I know what I’m here for: so the younger generation can know what the traditional blues sound like. Once they hear it, they love it,” he said. “It’s solid music with notes you can understand.”

Primer credits the late Stevie Ray Vaughn and Santana for bringing the blues to a new level with foot pedals and flair, but he relies on the blues tradition of using his guitar, voice and amp.

Growing up in Mississippi in the 1940s, Primer heard his grandmothers singing while working in the fields and singing gospel songs in church. When he moved to Chicago in 1963, it was with the sole purpose of a blues career.

“I know why we play the blues because I came up from hard times. I lived the life when I was growing up,” he said. “I still love gospel. That’s the way I started: singing in the church with my cousins. That’s when they had music in church without guitars.”

When he first broke into the Chicago scene, he’d play blues, country, R&B and even disco, he admits.

“I could pull a rabbit out of my hat in a minute,” he said. 

His first steady gig was at the legendary Maxwell Street in Chicago on Sundays and Theresa’s Lounge seven nights a week. He started his own band, the Maintainers, with Pat Rushing on Maxwell Street, then moved on to play with Sammy Lawhorn and Junior Wells at Theresa’s Lounge.

“Theresa’s was one of my favorite spots. It was a chance to meet all the top musicians,” he said. 

In 1981, he earned the chance to play with his idol, Muddy Waters, who called for him to lead his band. He was at the Checkerboard Lounge with Muddy Waters in the early 1980s when the Rolling Stones showed up. It was the Rolling Stones who infused rock with the blues, bringing it to a wider audience.

“The blues was there but not well-known but by the older generation,” he said. “They (the Stones) and Muddy brought the blues back alive. I’m proud of those guys. They put the blues on the map, so people noticed it.”

After Muddy’s death in 1983, he joined Magic Slim & The Teardrops, and in 1995, Primer began his own band, The Real Deal Blues Band.

Over his career, Primer has recorded more than 87 albums, including 17 in his own name. He’s written and produced 55 songs on six record labels, including his own, Blues House Productions. 

While he’s earned two Grammy Award nominations, been given two Lifetime Achievement Awards, was inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame, and won the Blues Music Award and Blues Blast Award, Primer said he’s not focused on awards.

“I paid my dues. If I get an award or don’t get an award, it didn’t bother me,” he said. “I’m happy for those guys to win. I’ll continue what I’m doing: keeping the blues alive.”

Primer is second in the lineup for the July 30 Blues, Brews and Brats Festival. First up is John Nemeth, who is known for his dynamic stage presence. Wrapping up the evening is Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials.

If you plan to attend this year’s festival, it will be held in downtown Waterville on S. Third Street between Mechanic and South streets. Farnsworth will be closed to traffic beginning at 5:00 p.m. Four different gates open at 5:30 p.m.

Bring cash, an ID and a lawn chair, but leave coolers, food and drinks at home.

Tickets are $15.00 each. Cash is recommended, but credit cards are accepted. 

Drinks are $5.00 for beer and $1.00 for pop or water at one of several drink stations.

Food trucks include Manny’s Munchies, Outlaw BBQ, Maybe Cheese Born With It, Cornhub popcorn and Glen Garbers’ Food (bratwurst).

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