Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A life-long blues odyssey symbolized by journey to Delta - Sept 1990

Zochowski's life-long blues odyssey symbolized by journey to Delta 
by Steve Hall, Indianapolis Star, Sep 20, 1990.

Jay Zochowski and his wife weren't looking for metaphors when they made a blues pilgrimage into the Mississippi Delta in July, but they stumbled upon one anyway. 

In Tutwiler, Miss., the couple had made several unsuccessful attempts to find the grave of legendary harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson. A gas station attendant steered them to the small Whitfield Baptist Church. 

Beside it, in what looked like nothing more than weeds from the road, was the headstone with Williamson's picture cut into it. The grave was decidedly off the beaten track, but others had made the trek too. Fans had left harmonicas, guitar picks, even a pint of whiskey on the headstone. 

The back of Williamson's grave
"It's this diamond of head-stone, yet it's overgrown with weeds," said Zochowski, host of Nothing But the Blues on WFYI-FM (90.1). "You have to look for it, to tramp through the weeds and cut through the briars and the B.S. to get to the heart of it. But people are willing to do it because they care that much about the music. That's a metaphor for the blues to me." 

Locally, Zochowski, 32, has cut through quite a bit of weeds in his time to call attention to the treasure America has in the blues. 

His weekly 2 1/2 hour radio show, required listening for the city's blues fans, got its start by accident in 1985. The station, then WIAN, missed a network feed of the nationally syndicated Portraits In Blue and asked Zochowski if he could fill the time. He did, so impressively — with records culled from his own blues collection — that station officials asked him to host his own program. 

In addition to Zochowski's encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, Nothing But the Blues has featured live, in an acoustic format, such fine local players as David Morgan and Pat Webb. It's Zochowski's way of giving recognition to what he considers un-fairly underrated musicians. 

He will continue in that vein Saturday. cohosting a live broad-cast of four electric blues bands in WFY1's studios, 1401 N. Meridian Street, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. 

The broadcast, which concludes FM90's 8-day fund drive. will feature traditional blues by Harvey Cook and the New Blue-tones, hard-driving swing by Rent Party, blues-rooted party music by the Hellhounds and country blues by Blues Deville. 

The event is free and open to the public. "Bring your kids," urged Zochowski, while smoking a cigarette in the WFYI break room. "You can never start 'em too young on the blues." 

The stocky, bespectacled man with thinning curly hair didn't see the blues light himself until he was a Ball State University student. One of the records he spun during his all-night shift on the college rock station was blues rocker George Thorogood's cover of Hank Williams' Move It On Over. 

"I'd always heard about the blues, but nobody had told me you could buy records by the original artists," he said. "No-body had told me about Chess Records in Chicago or, before that, Sun Records in Memphis, that Elvis Presley's That's Al-right Mama was written by Big Boy Crudup. And then the Thorogood record had Elmore James' The Sky Is Crying and some Willie Dixon stuff .. . 

"This was brand new for a white boy from the suburbs of Indianapolis." 

A white boy from the suburbs…in a wheelchair. The victim of an accidental shooting in 1973, Zochowski has rolled around in the chair so long "I don't really think much about it. It's just who I am." 

As much as the blues are a part of him. Prod him with any question — for instance, why blues bands are enjoying a resurgence in local clubs — and he speaks with the zeal of a devoted disciple. 

"Maybe people are getting tired of music produced in a factory and they want to get back to something real. Maybe drum machines aren't the way to go," he said. "The blues is music for the heart, not the mind — although the blues can make you think too about the people who made it and how they lived." 

That's one reason he and his wife Carla made this summer's pilgrimage to the delta. They found the small log cabin where guitarist Muddy Waters lived and was first recorded by folk archivists Alan Lomax and John Work in the early 1940s. Looking for the crossroads where bluesman Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil. they ventured to Dockery Farms at the lonesome hour of mid-night. 

And they visited Williamson's grave. No blues musician him-self, Zochowski left the only sign of tribute he could — his business card. 

Somehow that seems appropriate.