Thu. Dec 8th, 2022

Filmmaker Kevin Mukherji’s new documentary “Tail Dragger” tells the story of an 82-year-old blues singer who was a protégé of Howlin’ Wolf and whose profession remembers the heyday of blues golf equipment on Chicago’s West and South sides.

“I first met Tail Dragger nearly 30 years in the past,” Mukherji informed an viewers Saturday after the movie premiered at Traditional Cinemas Lake Theatre in Oak Park. “I’ve been taking pictures his performances for the final 25 years.”

Tail Dragger, whose actual title is James Yancy Jones, represents one of many final direct hyperlinks to an period when liquor flowed freely and musicians fueled late-night reverie that helped Chicago lay declare to being among the many blues capitals of the world.

“I’m nonetheless right here above the bottom,” Jones informed followers throughout a Q&A session after the screening.

I requested Jones about how his music celebrates having enjoyable when so many affiliate the blues with disappointment.

“The blues make me really feel good,” he replied. “Blues is completely happy music. You’ve gotten up and down occasions. That’s the way in which life is. You are taking the bitter with the candy.”

“Tail Dragger” chronicles how Jones visited family in Chicago from his native Arkansas as a teen through the Nineteen Fifties. He settled within the Windy Metropolis for good in 1966 after a stint within the U.S. Military.

He labored days driving vehicles and fixing automobiles and stayed out till the wee hours of the morning studying play and sing the blues. Stay blues music was alternative leisure for folk after an extended day or week of labor.

At its peak, it should have appeared like there was a blues membership on each nook in a part of Chicago.

“I grew up on the South Facet,” “Tail Dragger” producer John McNaughton informed the viewers Saturday. “Muddy (Waters) and Howlin’ Wolf, they lived not too terribly removed from the place I did.”

McNaughton directed, cowrote and coproduced his first function movie, “Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer,” which was launched in 1986. His different movies embrace “Mad Canine and Glory” (1993) and “Wild Issues” (1998).

McNaughton mentioned he helped Mukherji make “Tail Dragger” as a result of Jones has such a captivating story to inform.

“He’s acquired large character,” McNaughton mentioned. “Telling tales is what I do for a dwelling, and this man is a narrative.”

Mukherji, 59, has appeared as an actor in quite a few motion pictures and TV reveals and directed a number of movies, together with “We Are One,” a 2017 documentary that includes Harold Ramis, Jimmy Carter, Forest Whitaker and others.

Mukherji directed “Loss of life and Taxis,” a 2007 movie that featured Tail Dragger in an performing position. Nick Pullia, an Emmy nominee and longtime director of communications for the Ravinia Pageant, wrote “Loss of life and Taxis” and emceed Saturday’s premiere.

Mukherji mentioned taking pictures that movie in Tennessee and Arkansas 15 years in the past strengthened his resolve to make a movie about Tail Dragger’s life.

“We acquired to be good pals,” Mukherji mentioned. “It’s a ardour challenge, straight from the guts.”

I seem briefly in “Tail Dragger,” speaking about Jones’ affect as a performer and the historical past of blues music in Chicago. Mukherji reached out after he learn a column I wrote about how blues music might be used as an academic device to assist bridge America’s racial divide.

I met with Jones in 2020 through the early months of the pandemic at his dwelling on Chicago’s North Facet. COVID-19 had upended his life. Restrictions on group gatherings had robbed him of alternatives to carry out in public. He has no scheduled performances within the Chicago space, he mentioned Saturday, however is scheduled to play in Finland in January.

Jones has recorded six albums, together with two for Chicago’s Delmark Information, however his legacy is extra as a stay performer than as a recording artist. He informed the viewers Saturday he by no means wrote lyrics earlier than recording songs within the studio, he simply made them up on the spot.

“You don’t have to write down nothing down,” he mentioned. “You don’t have to write down life down. You reside life day by day. After I write a music it occurred to someone I do know. That’s what I really feel.”

Mukherji mentioned he needed “Tail Dragger” to be a biography, not a musical documentary.

“I didn’t need it simply concerning the music,” he mentioned. “His life is extra that simply the music. I needed to discover a steadiness between the music and his life story.”

Probably the most dramatic a part of the story occurred in 1993, when Jones shot and killed Boston Blackie, one other Chicago blues artist. Jones claimed self-defense, was convicted of second-degree homicide and served 17 months in jail.

The 2 have been concerned in a dispute over $70 in fee owed to musicians after the 1993 Chicago Blues Pageant, Jones mentioned. He prevented Blackie for weeks, he mentioned, however Blackie confronted him one night time in a membership. He lunged at Jones with a knife, Jones pulled out a gun and shot Blackie within the eye.

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“It wasn’t one thing I needed to do,” Jones mentioned Saturday. “I requested the person to please go away me alone. Everybody was laughing at me, ‘He’s scared, he’s working.’ I used to be working as a result of I didn’t need to harm him. I knew I didn’t haven’t any different alternative.”

The killing provides to the mystique about Jones. He acquired the title Tail Dragger from Howlin’ Wolf, whose actual title was Chester Arthur Burnett (1910-1976). Jones met Wolf within the late Sixties in Chicago.

He acquired the title for 2 causes. First, Jones was typically late exhibiting up for gigs as a result of he labored days, he mentioned, and second, he was sluggish to study musical timing as a result of he initially listened to what the guitarist was enjoying as a substitute the band time keeper, the drummer.

Mukherji mentioned he’s working with streaming providers to distribute “Tail Dragger” in early 2023. The 90-minute movie is entertaining and effectively paced.

“What fascinated me most about Tail Dragger is his life journey,” Mukherji mentioned. “He by no means gave up. Irrespective of how powerful issues acquired he saved on going. That’s one thing we are able to all study from.”

Ted Slowik is a columnist for the Day by day Southtown.

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