James Peterson, whose career as a blues performer and a club owner spanned over 5 decades, passed away at the age of 73 on December 12, 2010. Born in Russell County, Alabama, I met James in Buffalo in 1976 where he was performing on Main Street at a club called the Sunset Inn. James had returned to the Buffalo area from Florida where he had moved for a couple years. James had, before I first met him, owned The Governor's Inn where he played regularly featuring his very young son Lucky on keyboards. The Governor's Inn also brought in some of the biggest names in the blues including Howlin' Wolf (and another time Wolf's band), Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Muddy Waters, Johnny Lee Hooker and too many more. When Lucky was like 5 or 6, Willie Dixon recorded him doing "1-2-3-4" and the father and son appeared on The Tonight Show. A couple years later, James and Lucky recorded an album, "The Father, The Son, and the Blues."
I remember walking into the Sunset Inn on Main Street, not far from downtown Buffalo in 1976, and was floored by James' blues. Lucky, then 13, was on keyboards as James sang and played guitar on a range of material from Muddy, B.B. and others, but lending his own stamp. Lucky only played that first set as he had to go to bed, but listening to James sing "Cummins Prison Farm," calling out to the patrons and they responding was something to see. It was similar to how B.B. King and his audience fed off each other at the Regal Theatre, if on a smaller scale.
I met him at the break and we became friends. I was doing a blues program on WBFO-FM and had James and Lucky come in to perform at the Station during a fundraiser as well as a live radio remote broadcast from the original Tralfamadore Cafe in Buffalo. Watching James perform was always a wonderful time. He was a steady, if unspectacular guitarist, but his vocals and his ability to interact with his audience is something rare among blues performers thirty years later. Peterson's vocals were similar to those of blues legend, Johnny Copeland. In Fall, 1977, he opened the New Governor's Inn in Buffalo which he operated for a few more years there, returned south to Florida near Tampa.
Lucky in the subsequent years became established as a band leader with Bobby Bland and then Little Milton, before commencing his own solo career. James continued to perform, and more importantly started recording for several labels including a couple of memorable albums for Malaco's Waldoxy subsidiary. Don't Let the Devil Ride and Preachin' the Blues. These releases led him to tour extensively and play a number of festivals. I remember the opening of his set at the Pocono Blues Festival as riding down on a ski lift, he was playing and singing through radio microphones.
His last recording may have been the 2004 JSP release, If You Can't Fix It, that was billed as by James & Lucky Peterson, but on which James handled all of the vocals, while his multi-talented son played a variety of instruments in support. This showed he remained a strong, powerful singer. I was fortunate to have known him and found him to be every bit as nice and gracious a person as he was an outstanding blues performer.
Condolences go to his son, Lucky and Lucky's family.
For more on James:
PW Fenton on his website, bluesland.net posted a memory of James along with a cool picture of him.