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Maxwell Street Bluesman Shot, Paralyzed

By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 30, 2006 4:50PM

The Maxwell Street blues scene is a shadow of its former self. So it’s with sadness and worry that we read this piece in the Sun-Times this morning about Piano C. Red, one of the men who’s worked tirelessly to keep this part of Chicago’s history alive.

2006_03_red.jpegRed, whose real name is James Wheeler, is known as one of the last remaining bluesmen in the Maxwell Street market, which is now located on Canal St. Last Thursday evening, Red was shot outside a South Holland gas station during a robbery attempt. The bullet damaged his spinal cord, and doctors are not sure if he’ll regain feeling in his legs.

Undaunted, Red vows to play again within the month. The Chicago Journal reports that Red’s bandmates will perform this Sunday at 15th and Canal. Red hopes to be well enough to perform in a wheelchair in the coming weeks.

Last year, the Chicago Journal covered the efforts of a Japanese film crew to capture some of the old-school Maxwell Street flavor. If not for Red’s dedication, they’d have gone home with nothing but B-roll footage. Cards and donations can be sent to Piano C. Red in care of the Maxwell Street Foundation, P.O. Box 6435, Evanston, IL, 60624.

All of this comes at a time of uncertainty for what’s left of Maxwell Street. The area is scheduled to move again in 2007 to a site near Desplaines Street. One bright spot is a proposal by developer Bill Lavicka for a $1.5 million center devoted to preserving the music of Maxwell Street and the history of the immigrants that made up the surrounding neighborhoods.