A little while back, I am sure you recall, I wrote about my encounters with an intermittent and obscure Mississippi bluesman by the name of Little Willie, whom I heralded as "Colorado Springs' answer to Little Walter" or some crazy shit. Well, this week, and quite long overdue, I am going tell you about another true bluesman I know. But whereas Willie is still up to his neck in the "troubles" that gave us all the "blues" in the first place, this next man has recently slayed a few of his deeper demons, and has earned his place back in our musical community.
John Harper Wise, a nature-made musician if ever there was one, was born in Kansas City, Mo. in 1952, and had a guitar in his hands by 12. By the time he was 15, he was one of very few white musicians to gain acceptance into the Black Musicians Union, Local 627. Leading a relatively comfortable life for a blues slinger (i.e. he went to college and had gainful employment), John moved to Colorado Springs in 1990 to work as a perfusionist at Memorial Hospital. (He ran the machine that keeps your blood pumping when the doctors are tinkering with your insides.)
It was around this time he started playing gigs around town with the blues trio Gordon, Stone and Wise, which eventually developed into the popular and award-winning Blues Alert (and, much later, Johnny and the Jukes). It was also around this time that John happened to meet, and subsequently marry, my dear sweet mother. I was moved into a "bungalow" behind his house.
Stepfather bullshit aside, it was John who bought me my first bass guitar, and taught me to play "Smells Like Teen Spirit," but only after teaching me "Louie Louie." He taught me how to wind up guitar cables so they don't get tangled, and which way to point the speakers so they don't feed back, and to always thank the wait staff, and that, above all else, when it comes to the blues, "blacker" always means "better."
Unfortunately, he also got wrapped up in some of those bluesman "troubles" we talked about earlier, and consequently taught me all kinds of wonderful shit about how not to be.
Anyhow, this article really isn't about that stuff, it is about a good man who has been through some bad times, and has, hopefully, put it all behind him. It's about a man with encyclopedic knowledge of every facet of American roots music — blues, jazz, country, zydeco and all genres in between — and who has the heart, soul and talent to deliver thousands of songs with conviction. It has been a long time coming, me writing this piece, and I apologize to you all for withholding this information for so long, but never before has a white man been born so black!
You can catch John performing occasionally with the New Orleans roots/funk group TRIBE, or on Tuesday nights at Front Range BBQ with COW (the Coalition of the Willing). He also plays a set of fine jazz at Rico's with Susan Rissman on Thursday nights, and another with Annie Lenoir on Saturdays at Dale Street Cafe. For more info, albeit not much, visit tribewise.net.
Well, that's that, I suppose ... smell ya later.
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I miss you, Lenny! My family and I thank you for all the special times…
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