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Blues For Peace

Blues Band, Milwaukee, WI, 1967

Blues Band Confidential

What was it like to learn to play the blues in the 1960's? Forget interactive CD'Rom's, video's, and music books! Come to think of it, how did I learn to play the blues?

I was sittin around the house one day in the fall of 1968 when the phone rang. My friend Steve Cohen was on the line and said "Hey, Johnny, we're starting a blues band, wanna join?" Never mind that I knew nothing about blues guitar, I said "Sure, man, you got it."

So we all got together in Bill Stone's basement near the lakeshore in Milwaukee, WI ... Steve on harmonica and vocals, Bill on lead guitar and vocals, Mark Wilson on drums, Dave Kasic - bass and yours truly on rhythm guitar (and sometimes lead). Bill put on a record, probably Freddy King's "Hideaway" and showed me what to do. We also did stuff by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, James Cotton, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, B. B. King and Jimmy Rogers.

After a few weeks of practice, the newly formed Stone Cohen Blues Band played its first gig at a place called the Catacombs in Milwaukee. Steve, by the way, gave me my his copy of On the Road by Jack Kerouac that he stole from his sister, Judy. His other sister, Bev, had a crush on me, but that's a different story.

One gig I'll never forget was Halloween Eve at the Reno Gardens. We were belting out "The Popcorn Man" when all of a sudden chairs start flying through the air like in an old Western movie. Next thing I know, there's a guy out on the dance floor waving a gun and I hear shots.  I never packed up my equipment so fast in my life. My guitar and Super reverb in hand ... we beat the hell out of there and piled into the station wagon.

We're driving along when all of a sudden the guy in the front seat starts cussing and swearing. Then he reaches down and pulls up a bloody hand. It turns out he was shot in the butt! We took him down to the ER room at Columbia Hospital in Milwaukee and waited on the bench for hours. (Don't tell my mother, she thinks I was caught in a snow storm.)

By Johnny Mayer.

Blues For Peace

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