‘Kids dig the blues,’ says guitarist John Primer on modern challenges

Bluesman John Primer argues that «no one knows what the blues is; you can’t define it,» his Mississippi accent coming over the phone line in a recent interview with Kathimerini. Primer has dedicated his life to what he calls «this profound, huge feeling called blues, the ‘grandfather’ of rock, as the ‘father’ is jazz.» The guitarist will be on stage at the Half Note Jazz Club until tomorrow with his bass, harmonica, keyboards and drums ensemble. Having grown up with blues, gospel and spirituals, Primer borrowed a guitar at the age of 8 and started scratching away at it. In 1963 he went to Chicago, the mecca of the blues. «I was 17 years old and for the first time in my life, I realized just how popular the blues was.» The young man seized every opportunity that came his way, playing with different bands at night and practicing during the day. In 1974 he exploded onto the Chicago blues scene, playing several gigs at one of the city’s most popular haunts, Teresa’s, while four years later the great Willie Dixon convinced him to team up with the Chicago Blues All Stars, among whom was the legendary Muddy Waters. «It was quite an experience playing with him,» says Primer. «Basically, I studied his music, his playing.» Muddy Waters passed away in 1983, and Primer went on to «study» at the side of another great musician, Magic Slim. A few years later, the guitarist from Mississippi began recording a series of albums, not as a side man, but as the headliner. Playing blues today, in the age of hip-hop and rap, is a new challenge for artists such as Primer. «It means that you have to work very hard. But I’m happy. Young kids today, they dig the blues. Everyone think the blues is about being sad, but if you ask me, when I’m down and I play the blues, it lifts me right up,» he says.