St. Louis just opened a blues museum. Buddy Guy had a good point when he asked why we don’t have one in Chicago. Lots of talk about fixing up Record Row, but no action yet. Most Chicagoans don’t know you can visit the Chess Records studios at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue. We have blues clubs in this town scattered all over, but no Beale Street, French Quarter, or center of the action. Now I pick up the Chicago Tribune and see that the house Muddy Waters called home for nearly 20 years is abandoned and in danger of coming down. No way! Even though there is no hospitality at the site, and it’s not exactly in the heart of things, tourists from around the world go and stand in front of the house that looks like it could come down in a big storm. It’s listed as a historical spot in guide books. People from Europe and Asia know it’s a place that should be preserved and treasured. Too bad Muddy’s own town doesn’t care.
I remember just a few years ago you could visit Liverpool, England and have to search for a tour of Beatle history sites. Now, the town uses the Beatles to keep it’s economic engine running. They rebuilt the Cavern club, have a couple of museums, revived the Matthew Street district and made it a destination for Beatle fans, have kept open some of the Beatles’ favorite pubs, and the National Trust has restored the boyhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney and have them open to tourists. In fact, in the Trib article Bruce Iglauer of Aligator Records points out, “The city of Liverpool would recognize the historic, cultural and tourism value of John Lennon’s house and never allow it to be torn down. Muddy Waters was every bit as important to the blues and to Chicago as the Beatles were to rock ‘n’ roll and Liverpool.” Right on, Bruce. You nailed it.
This house at 4339 S. Lake Park Avenue was the center of the blues universe in this town from 1954 till Muddy moved to the burbs about 20 years later. It was a constant jam session. Heck, any building the hosted jams with Muddy and Howlin Wolf should be preserved. If those walls could talk. When I went on a blues pilgrimage down Highway 61, I spent lots of time in Clarksdale, Mississippi and one of the highlights there is the Delta Blues Museum. Heck, one of the directors found out I was from Chicago and wanted to talk for awhile because Chicago is so revered for it’s role in the development of the Blues. Everywhere but in Chicago. In the museum they rebuilt the cabin Muddy lived in before he moved to Chicago. It was falling apart, but music fans rallied and rebuilt the cabin in the museum. It’s sacred to people who love the blues and the musicians who made the music.
We can’t rebuild Muddy’s two-flat in a museum, but we could preserve it and use it as a museum and cultural center. How cool would it be if kids could come there and learn to play the blues. School classes could take a field trip and learn about the music that is the soul of this city. People from around the world could do more than just stand on the sidewalk and look at this tragically neglected building. Buddy wants a blues museum in this town. We could put it in Muddy’s house. I believe there are enough people in Chicago that would be willing to raise funds, help with the renovation, and volunteer to work at this historical site. Look with Memphis did with the Stax Studio. That place is not only a museum but a focal point for music education. And they have a brilliant gift shop. $$$$$. Why not raise some cash to maintain the building and offer music education opportunities. Somebody who comes all the way from Japan to see Chicago would love to buy some Muddy or Chess or blues key chains, coffee mugs and t-shirts. And CD’s. Who do we call to get this done? Any ideas?