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Subway Blues

By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 11, 2005 7:00PM

Bringing a movie about Mississippi blues to Chicago may seem a bit like bringing coal to Newcastle. We Chicagoans are a boastful lot so we’ll be happy to tell our Mississippi friends about our excellent blues scene (that serves both the tourists and the purists) and inform you that we’re the home of one of the premier blues labels—Alligator Records. Of course, your Mississippi friends might just as well turn around and point out that the cities of Jackson and Clarksdale gave birth to the child that eventually grew up to be post-war Chicago blues. Not to mention several of the artists that gained fame in Chicago blues were born in “The Magnolia State” (Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Pinetop Perkins to name a few). And thanks just the same but they’ve got their own Do it all night!legendary blues label in Malaco Records, onetime home of such legends as Bobby “Blue” Bland, Z.Z. Hill, and Latimore. As for live music…

That’s where Robert Mugge’s film Last of the Mississippi Jukes steps into the picture. Mugge’s bona fides in documenting the blues had been well-established thanks to previous works like Hellhounds on My Trail and Deep Blues. Filmed in the spring of 2002, Mississippi Jukes seeks to capture the history, the feeling, and the music of Mississippi’s juke joints, which have been near extinction for the last several years.

Performances by legends like Eddie Cotton and Bobby Rush (no, this one) and relative upstarts like Alvin “Youngblood” Hart (right) give the film weight but it’s the late-night-into-early-morning performances of the Subway Lounge house band and its round robin series of guests that illustrate how the art of the blues was not just life to so many but also life-sustaining.

Last of the Mississippi Jukes is showing at The Gene this Wednesday at 8 PM and Sunday the 16th at 5 PM.