Dave Specter
" BluesWax Sittin' "

By Bob Putignano

The just-turned-forty-five-year-old Chicago guitarist Dave Specter has been on the scene for almost two decades, with eight critically acclaimed recordings on Bob Koester's fifty-five-year-old Delmark record label. Specter cites his musical influences as T-Bone Walker, Kenny Burrell, Magic Sam, Pee Wee Crayton, and other guitarists who stretch the Blues envelope into Jazz and even some Rock. Specter's first band was called the Bluebirds, which made its debut around 1989, and his first CD debuted in 1991, titled Bluebird Blues, which also featured the great Ronnie Earl.

Specter doesn't sing, so over the years he has utilized the vocal services of Barkin' Bill Smith, Jesse Fortune, Lenny Lynn, Lynwood Slim, and the now Severn recording artist Tad Robinson. Specter's previous CD, Is What It Is, featuring his old buddy Steve Freund, was a fabulous collaboration that was released in 2004. Specter also recorded with the legendary Brother Jack McDuff on 1996's Left Turn On Blue.

: Which brings us to Specter's latest CD, Live in Chicago, which is also available as a DVD and includes his very special guests Jimmy Johnson, Tad Robinson, and Sharon Lewis.

Bob Putignano for BluesWax: Hey, Dave, did we get you up early this morning?

Dave Specter: Yeah, but I had to get up early anyway. I'm playing at Buddy Guy's tonight right here in Chicago, just trying to make a living.

BW: All in all, is everything going well for you?

DS: It's summer in Chicago, last week was the Chicago Blues Festival, so I was running around all over playing at the various spots. Plus, I'm a partner in a new club in Evanston, Illinois, where we just had Jimmy Johnson, Jimmy Burns, Syl Johnson, and two nights of Eddie Clearwater with Honeyboy Edwards.

BW: That'll keep you busy. What is the club's name and does it have a website?

DS: Yep, and our website is up, too, www.Evanstonspace.com. The space part stands for the Society for the Preservation of Arts and Culture in Evanston.

BW: How many nights are you doing music there?

DS: We are doing music about three to four nights a week, with a wide range of roots music in addition to Blues.

BW: How many nights are you playing there as the boss?

DS: About once a month, but I do sit in. I just sat in with Jimmy Johnson's brother, Syl, this past Saturday night, and that was a lot of fun.

BW: The new CD, Live in Chicago, is pretty hip. You have a lot nice guests on this one, which is a little different for you.

DS: Yeah, I always kind of wanted to do a Blues revue, party-type of record. I have worked with so many artists over the years, so this record features my band doing some instrumentals and Jimmy Johnson, Tad Robinson, and Sharon Lewis.

BW: Jimmy Johnson sounds timeless, he's unbelievable.

DS: I love working with Jimmy, I worked with him for quite a bit, actually for almost twenty years now and I'm honored to have him on record with me.

BW: He had a serious accident years ago with a car crash, where some of his band members were killed. \

DS: It was really terrible. He lost two members from his band.

BW: Is the record doing well and getting a lot of airplay?

DS: Yeah, especially here in Chicago, plus the reviews have been really positive, too.

BW: Speaking of radio in Chicago, you guys lost a big station there about a year and a half ago right?

DS: What happened was the NPR station cancelled all of its music formats. Previously they offered quite a bit of Jazz, and some Blues, too.

BW: What were the call letters?


BW: I used to email with the Blues deejay there, Niles Frantz, who seemed very knowledgeable about the music he programmed, and, judging from his playlists, he always impressed me that he was someone who tried very hard to keep his programs fresh. So that's got be tough when you loose a big outlet like that. That's why we tell all of our listeners here during our fund drives how important it is to support stations like WBEZ and here at WFDU, as if there is no support, we might lose the musical programming.

DS: It was a major loss. The station is still on the air, but it's mostly talk radio now.

BW: Unfortunately we hear about losing stations, more and more.

DS: I know, and it's kind of like trying to find a record store in this country, too.

BW: Speaking of record stores, is the Jazz Record Mart in Chicago still going well? I was there several times and got lost in there for hours each time I visited them.

DS: I was there yesterday. [Laughs]

BW: What did you buy?

DS: Hmmm. What did I buy? Oh, I bought the Howlin' Wolf DVD, The Howlin' Wolf Story. The DVD has great footage and interviews. I wish I could have seen him live.

BW: You are a relatively young guy, for the Blues, who has been around for quite some time now.

DS: I just turned forty-five and I started to play around Chicago around 1985, so over twenty years now.

BW: Are you originally from the area?

DS: Yep, I am a native city boy.

BW: I don't recall, but have you ever visited us here in New York?

DS: I love New York, when I was with Son Seals in '87 and '88 we used to play in New York at places like Manny's Car Wash, The Lone Star, and the Village Gate.

BW: And those clubs are all gone now.

DS: I know. I remember playing a double bill at the Village Gate with Son Seals and Johnny Copeland. It was an amazing night, plus we sold the club out! But after the gig we immediately got back in the van and drove straight back to Chicago.

BW: Every record you've made is with Delmark, right?

DS: Right, this is my eight recording with them, plus I am on quite a few more as either a sideman or producer.

BW: I really enjoyed your work with Ronnie Earl on your first recording; are you still in touch with Mr. Earl?

DS: I just spoke to Ronnie last week.

BW: How's Ronnie doing?

DS: I hear that he is playing fairly regularly locally.

BW: Locally I know, but we can't get him out of the Boston area often enough. He used to play in around New York City very regularly ten, fifteen years ago, but not anymore. That original Broadcasters band was killer; did you ever get to see them?

DS: I did, as they got out to Chicago pretty regularly, too.

BW: Your recording with Ronnie must have been quite special.

DS: It was, plus it was my very first recording called Bluebird Blues, which was recorded in 1990. I'd met Ronnie when I was on the road with Son Seals, at places like the Lonestar Roadhouse, and we have become good friends. At that time he told me that if I ever got into the studio and needed his help, to give him a call, so I did! Ronnie is also a big fan of Delmark records, so Delmark brought him to Chicago and we made the record.

BW: Very neat! What's next up for you?

DS: I'm going to Italy next month, where I will be playing at a few festivals. I just got back from Switzerland and France, plus I'm busy with my new club and gigging at other venues in Chicago.

BW: Who are you going to play with in Italy?

DS: I'm going by myself and playing with an Italian band that has backed up guys like Sugar Ray and Tab Robinson.

BW: What is the name of this Italian band?

DS: The Rico Blues Combo.

BW: This concept of hiring a local band abroad is becoming more and more common, especially with the costs of flights and all.

DS: It's definitely financial, about half the times that I go to Europe now I usually go by myself and hookup with a local band for gigs, but I'd rather bring my own band.

BW: Have you been in touch with Steve Freund? I really enjoyed that disc you guys did together a few years ago.

DS: We have not spoken in a little while, but he usually comes to Chicago once a year, and I head out west similarly, but we have not done that this year, hopefully sometime soon. I love playing with Steve.

Bob Putignano is a contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact Bob at bob8003@yahoo.com web site: www.SoundsofBlue.com.

Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com