A life in blues

Lucky Peterson will perform three concerts this month.

Lucky Peterson
The blues is a definitively grassroots musical genre, which infers a family-oriented approach.
Lucky Peterson certainly embraces that idea. His wife, Tamara, and his son and daughter all contribute to some of his recordings and shows, and Tamara will be on stage with the veteran blues singer-guitarist when he appears at the Zappa Club venues in Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Jerusalem on March 23 to 25, respectively.
“Yes, you could say it’s a family affair,” Peterson chuckles.
The 54-year-old bluesman has the hereditary musical instinct in his genes. His dad, blues artist James Peterson, owned a nightclub in Buffalo, New York, called The Governor’s Inn. The venue was a regular stop for iconic blues musician Willie Dixon who was instrumental in unveiling the precocious talents of then five-year-old Lucky to the big wide world.
“Willie Dixon took me under his wing,” says Peterson.
That early patronage led to media exposure on the grandest scale, as the infant performed his own insouciant and endearing rendition of James Brown R&B 1956 hit “Please Please Please” on primetime TV shows The Tonight Show, The Ed Sullivan Show and What’s My Line? It was an auspicious introduction to the entertainment industry, and music journalist Tony Russell later noted that Peterson “may be the only blues musician to have had national television exposure in short pants.”
Peterson took it all in his boyish stride.
“At that time, for me I was just doing something. I was a kid. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just having fun,” he says.
In fact, the fun began even earlier.
“I started playing music at the age of two, and I was a professional when I was five,” he states. “My first thing was drums, and from drums I started playing organ.”
Peterson, who was named “Lucky” due to the fact that he and his mother were fortunate to survive his birth, now does a mean turn on Hammond B3 electric organ and guitar in support of his plaintive vocals. Having started out playing drums at such an early age indicates an innate sense of rhythm. Peterson errs on the side of modesty with regard to his percussive talents.
“I sometimes have a good sense of rhythm,” he says with more than a touch of comic understatement.
Peterson says he was blissfully unaware of the media-supported waves he was making in the entertainment industry – “I was just doing what my father told me to do,” he says – but began taking his musical development more earnestly in his teens when he enrolled at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, where he played the French horn with the school symphony.
“Yeah, I got a little more serious about what I was doing [in music],” he recalls, “but not too serious. I should have taken it more seriously. But by the time I went there, I was already professional. I was already traveling. I was already working. I was already doing the stuff other people wanted to do.”
Playing the French horn must have been a far cry from performing blues and R&B numbers on guitar and organ.
“It was cool, but it was real different. We did a big production of Cinderella. I enjoyed it,” he says.
The school ensemble experience was also a lesson in self-discipline and getting into the nitty gritty of the discipline.
“I just made sure I blew the horn on time,” Peterson continues. “I think doing that stuff at the academy helped me with my music in general. It helped to improve my music theory.”
Peterson would have been perfectly happy to have taken his wind instrument skills into his principal field of activity.
“I really wanted to start playing blues on French horn, but I never got around to it,” he laughs.
The lack of horn blowing did nothing to stymie Peterson’s creative flow. He put out his debut record at the chronologically suitably titled Our Future: 5 Year Old Lucky Peterson, followed by his sophomore release Daddy Come Home for Christmas just three years later. There have been more than 20 albums in the interim, with the most recent, Long Nights, coming out last year.
Over the years, Peterson has paid his dues – several times over – and accrued invaluable on-the-road experience with the likes of blues, R&B and rock diva Etta James.
“It was wonderful being with Etta. She was a friend. We’d laugh and talk and tell jokes and play good music,” he recalls.
Surprisingly, tenderness of years notwithstanding, Peterson started out on electric guitar rather than the presumably far more child-friendly acoustic version.
“My father played electric guitar, and he had a bunch of guitars around the house. They were all electric,” he explains.
The bluesman does not feel it pushed him along a particular learning continuum compared with beginning on a non-electric guitar.
“A guitar is just a guitar,” he says simply. “I look at it as God wanted me to do what He wanted me to do. Whatever was around, that was around.”
Peterson has certainly been around a while, doing his thing on stages up and down North America and on the wider global scene for nigh on half a century.
Fired by some of the greats who played at his dad’s blues club back in the day, the likes of Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Howlin’ Wolf, Peterson maintained a busy performing and recording schedule, playing at such front grid locales as the Apollo Theater in New York City.
“That was the stuff that I was around,” he says. “That was great for me, coming up.”
That, of course, comes into Peterson’s writing mix.
“I’ve got a lot more life lived to put into my songs now,” he notes. “I’ve done a lot of more living.”
Thank God for that, and thank God Peterson is coming back this way after a four-year hiatus. The three Zappa venues are offering the hottest blues tickets in town.
Lucky Peterson will perform at Zappa Tel Aviv on March 23; Zappa Herzliya on March 24; and Zappa Jerusalem on March 25. For tickets and more information: *9080 and https://www.zappa-club.co.il/