Charlie was born and raised in Chicago, and his mom listened to the blues all the time- so his passion began at a very early age: “I always had a feel for it,” says Charlie and with his Dad playing the blues harp- at aged seven, it was clear which way Charlie was heading as he would sing along!
Playing the guitar was a little more stressful for Charlie at first but (Charlie’s) sister had a musician boyfriend named Jimmy Radcliff. One day he caught Charlie playing his guitar. Charlie recalls that ”he was very angry at first but then asked if I wanted to learn and he let me keep playing and I did so for months until there was only one string left !”
Charlie’s first break came through Chicago bandleader/guitarist Buddy Scott, mentor to many blues artists on the scene today.
When fellow blues artists Liz Mandeville interviewed Charlie- this is how she explains it:
“Charlie was walking down 43rd Street with the guitar in a case on his back. Buddy was leaning on a car out on the street. Buddy Scott said, “Hey is that a guitar?” At
First, Charlie was hesitant to engage with the stranger, as people can be unpredictable and he didn’t know if Buddy might try to take the guitar or something. But Buddy was persistent, he insisted Charlie show him what he could play. So finally Charlie got out his guitar and started playing a Tyrone Davis song. But when it came to the chord change Buddy said: “No that ain’t right.” And he showed Charlie how the song was played. Then Buddy invited Charlie to come out and sit in with his band and that led to his first gig. “It was 59th and Halsted,” Charlie said, “snow all over the place, but I was so happy! I got to play and I got paid $10!”
Charlie then had a longstanding gig with Buddy Scott’s band and played every Fri and Sat night at Lee’s Unleaded Blues, 7401 Chicago Avenue – for almost 6 years!
Liz goes on to describe Charlie’s story:
“Finally, one night Charlie met bandleader, Casey Jones, on a show at Roberts 500 Club. Charlie was singing one of Casey’s songs, “Please Mr Blues.” Casey heard him singing and told him “That’s my song, you can’t sing that!” Charlie said, “I’m sorry I didn’t know that was your tune, who are you?” Casey said, “I’m Casey Jones and that’s my song!” Charlie has such a great attitude and laid back demeanour that pretty soon Charlie was invited to jam on Casey’s weekly gig at the Kingston Mines.
The people at the Mines responded wildly to Charlie’s energetic show, “everybody was up on the dance floor, it was a mess!” So that led to Charlie being a regular guest and soon he’d been hired to play every Monday night. It happened the night Sam Goode went out during the break and didn’t come back. “Who’s going to play his show?” everyone was asking, “I’m not playing his show and my show!” was Casey’s answer. “Well, I’ll play it!” Charlie said and he proceeded to light that club on fire! Doc Pellegrino, who owns the Mines, recognized a winning talent and soon had hired Charlie to play with Casey’s band full time.
Charlie played with Casey Jones Band for a long time, but he wanted to do his own music, have his own show. He’d gotten tired of being a sideman and one night he was talking to the drummer, Vernon Rogers, about quitting the band to strike out on his own. “Don’t quit!” advised Vernon, “Talk is that they’re gonna offer you your own night, so don’t quit!” Charlie took the drummer’s advice and that very next Monday night Doc asked Charlie to bring his own band in the following Sunday and be the opener. Pretty soon he was there five nights a week. “
Charlie has one CD to his credit, So Happy I Could Cry, available at his shows. He is also a featured artist on two tracks for the compilation CD on the Severn Label titled Chicago Blues Harmonica Project: More Rare Gems. The album features the late Little Arthur Duncan, Harmonica Hinds, Reginald Cooper, Big D and other Chicago blues harp players. A photo of Charlie blowing harp graces the CD cover.
Charlie has also performed at the Durban International Blues Festival in Durban South Africa and has remained a good friend to not only the organizers- but to Durban Blues Fans- and will “ perform “ in the 2020 festival again.