Releasing his debut at five years of age, LUCKY PETERSON has been in the blues game for a long time, a game which chose him, as he tells SAMUEL J. FELL.
There aren’t many artists around today who can claim to have recorded their debut album at five years of age. There are even fewer who can then go on to say they were discovered by the great Willie Dixon a few months earlier, whilst playing in their father’s blues club. In fact, there’s probably only one who can say that – Judge Kenneth ‘Lucky’ Peterson.
Peterson is indeed lucky, although if you’ve heard this 51-year-old play before, then you know there’s a good deal of talent in there too; he’d not still be plying his trade today if not. Based heavily in the blues, but employing in healthy doses R&B, soul and rock ‘n’ roll, Peterson is a living embodiment of this music whose organ and guitar skills are up there with the best of them – he learnt from the masters, and he’s becoming one himself.
“I remember my father coming to get me and telling me to play the organ,” he says, on that night back in the late ‘60s. “I remember Willie Dixon telling me to come outside to the backyard where there was a swing-set, but just bits and pieces, I mean I was only five years old back then.”
Indeed, too young to remember much, but it obviously had a profound effect on him, as it’s fuelled his love for the music ever since, even if his focus was elsewhere for a while. “To get myself some money,” he laughs when asked what it was about the blues that captured his young mind. “[And then later on when I was older] I was thinking more about girls. My father would say, ‘Boy, you gotta get in here and rehearse’, and I’d say, ‘I’m tryin’ to rehearse with this girl right here’. And he was like, ‘No, you gotta rehearse this organ, you’ve got things to do’.”
It was inevitable however, that his focus would eventually turn to music. “I’ve got the blues in my blood,” he says more seriously. “I’ve got no choice but to play it, it’s in my blood – I didn’t choose the blues, the blues chose me.”
After recording his debut in 1969 (Our Future – Five Year Old Lucky Peterson), Peterson continued with school, eventually learning the French Horn and playing in the school orchestra, but it was after this that his education truly began as he scored stints playing in the bands of Etta James, Little Milton and Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland.
“Stay humble, do your job, make sure you try and interact with the audience and just stay humble,” he says when asked what he took from those sideman years, and brought to his own solo career, which started to gain momentum in the late ‘80s. It’s stood him in good stead – Lucky Strikes! (’89) and Triple Play (’90), both albums released on the Chicago-based Alligator Records label, saw him come into his own as a solo artist, employing the lessons learnt, and from there it’s been a smooth flow – or as smooth as things can be when you’re a travellin’ bluesman.
“The only thing that changed was the money,” he says ruefully, when asked what change he’s noticed in the industry over the past thirty or so years, referencing rising inflation and stagnant wages and gig fees. “But I love what I do, and I’m around good people, my management team, they’re down for me. So I’m down for them, so we just try to be down for each other and keep the music alive.”
This he’s doing. His latest album, released in 2014, is Son Of A Bluesman, a tribute to his father who died in 2010. It showcases an artist who, as he said, has the blues in his blood, and one who isn’t finished yet. “When we’re back from Australia, I’m not doing anything but going into the studio and start coming up with things.”
And so another album, to add to the seventeen he’s recorded over a career spanning the vast majority of his life. Lucky Peterson isn’t a household name when it comes to the blues, but as with so many artists of his ilk, this is not really a concern. The focus here is playing this music that chose him, which is something he’ll do until the day he dies. In that regard, Peterson is indeed lucky, as are we, the broader blues-listening community, because through artists like him, the blues lives on.