The history of the blues is one of a music passed down from one musician to another over successive generations. The core of the music remains the same, but each new generation brings a unique voice. Even the most legendary figures such as Muddy Waters and B.B. King learned their craft at the feet of local masters and traveling musicians before putting their own stamp on the genre. This tradition of apprenticeship has helped to forge generation after generation of blues musicians. Carl Weathersby is a singer and guitarist who exemplifies the best of modern blues, and his story mirrors the biographies of so many blues players who came before him.
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1953, Weathersby made his way north in the early 1960s with his family to settle in East Chicago, Indiana. After picking up the guitar in his teens, he had an encounter that made an indelible impression and launched him down the well-traveled blues road. Upon learning Albert King’s “Crosscut Saw,” Weathersby played it for a family friend who gave him some unexpected feedback. The man, a mechanic named Albert, listened and responded, “Man, that ain’t the way that song goes; that ain’t the way I played it.” The mechanic—Albert King himself—showed Weathersby the “right” way to play the song, and Weathersby took the lesson to heart.
After serving in Vietnam and working in a steel mill, as a police office, and as a prison guard, Weathersby was invited to join King’s band as the rhythm guitarist, a position he held from 1979 to 1982.* Weathersby then went on to join Billy Branch’s Sons of Blues, and over the next 15 years, his soulful vocals and guitar helped to define the group’s sound. Below, watch a live performance from Germany in 1995 that features Weathersby tearing it up on “If Heartaches Were Nickels.”
In 1996, Weathersby left Sons of Blues to step out on his own. His first solo album, Don’t Lay Your Blues on Me, was released on Evidence Records and subsequently nominated for a W.C. Handy Award for blues album of the year. He followed with six more solo efforts, including 2011’s Leaving Mood with fellow Chicago artist Toronzo Cannon. A mainstay of Chicago’s blues clubs—he’s a regular headliner at Kingston Mines—Weathersby also still plays festivals throughout the country.
Listening to Weathersby, you can hear the full sweep of the blues, from its roots in the Delta to electric blues to rhythm & blues and soul influences. And with a direct connection to the blues masters, Carl Weathersby is the real deal—authentic and steeped in the blues tradition. That’s no accident. As he told the Bay City Times in 2011, “I’ve been taught by people like Johnny Littlejohn, Eddie Taylor, Robert Jr. Lockwood, you know…All these guys created the (music) we’re doing and I’ve been taught by them what to do.”
Catch Carl Weathersby live in Chicago every Wednesday at Kingston Mines.
*Weathersby wasn’t the only Chicago musician to play with King. The late Chicago legend Son Seals, whose stinging guitar had echoes of King’s style, played drums for King for several years, including on the acclaimed Live Wire/Blues Power album.