Remarkably versatile, Chicago-based blues/rock guitarist Keith Scott has been working his way methodically up through the blues’ ranks since his parents bought him his first guitar at age 14 and his young ears heard Muddy Waters in 1980.
Born in White Plains, N.Y., Scott was first exposed to the music of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Grand Funk Railroad. With this sonic baptism, a mind-set and foundation were established for him to explore the realm of blues inhabited by the creme de la creme of Chicago musicians such as Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed and others in that pantheon. Little did Scott know, however, that he would go on in just a few years to actually play with many of the greats of post-war Chicago blues.
“I was totally blown away,” Scott says of first hearing Waters, adding he was lucky enough to meet this master of the Chicago blues in 1980 while living in Florida. “Meeting Muddy Waters really helped in spurring my interest in playing blues. My musician friend opened for Muddy on the campus of the University of Florida at Gainesville and he invited me to come and hang out with him.”
Scott remembers meeting Waters as being, “overwhelming.”
“He was very cordial,” Scott says of the elder statesman. “Then, I met his whole band and partied with them — guys like Matt Murphy and Lovie Lee, Ray Allison, all those guys. I didn’t think I’d be in a band until I met Muddy Waters and his band. Then I said, ‘I want to be in a blues band.’ They were just so stately and well-dressed, and they took their music so seriously. They seemed like they were gentlemen and they loved what they did.”
Around that time, Scott also met Bo Diddley, another encounter that had a profound effect on him.
“I got to spend some time at Bo Diddley’s house in Gainesville, Fla. That time, too, my friend was his bass player. Bo was awesome, totally the coolest guy. He cooked, he had a barbeque and I remember he had a lot of dogs,” Scott says.
As time passed and Scott became acquainted with the greats of blues through their records and performances as well as personally, the blues crept increasingly into his own guitar playing.
“I thought I would learn to play blues, but I didn’t really think I’d get this proficient at it,” Scott says.
By 1982, as the love of the blues consumed him, Scott left Florida and moved to Chicago to become part of the mind-blowing scene the city offered in that era.
“My friend said, ‘We’ll move to Chicago, put a blues band together, play that scene and meet everybody,” Scott recalls.
They did just that, and for Scott, it worked better than he could have imagined. Not long after his arrival in Chicago, he was spending his nights at the city’s greatest blues clubs, as well as some of its most obscure and down-home West Side haunts, meeting the best of the city’s blues talent.
“It was pretty incredible,” he says. “After I got there, the next thing I know I am at the Checkerboard Lounge and Buddy Guy was there, just hanging around. Junior Wells was there and everybody was real friendly — and it wasn’t commercialized at all.”
With his other blues hangouts being the famed Theresa’s on the South Side, B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted and innumerable joints on the West Side, Scott’s indoctrination into Windy City music progressed at lightning speed, with him meeting and playing behind legends such as Johnny Littlejohn, B.B. Odom, Eddie Taylor and Little Milton. These older gentlemen, Scott says, taught him the importance of “just lying back and being a good accompaniest” while serving as a backing musician. He recalls, also, he learned some practical lessons about dealing with the unpleasant, rougher edges of the Chicago blues world.
“I played my first gig with Bill Warren, who drummed on Junior Wells’ ‘Hoodoo Man Blues” album,” Scott recalls. “He offered $30 for the gig. At the end of the night he gave each guy in the band $5. I said, ‘Where’s my $30?’ He said, ‘I meant it’s $30 for the band!’
As his playing skills and confidence grew, so did Scott’s resume. He was noticed by Hip Linkchain, who asked him to join his band in 1985 and Scott immediately traveled with Linkchain to Calgary, Alberta, Can. It wasn’t long before sly businessman and wizard of the West Side blues guitar Jimmy Dawkins — a friend of Linkchain’s — snapped up Scott for use in his own insanely heavy blues band. Scott’s first gig with Dawkins occurred Oct. 24, 1986 when they drove to Miami Fla. to play the Tobacco Road club. Under Dawkins, Scott cut his teeth further at a fast clip, touring the United States, Canada and Europe into the early 1990s.
“My fondest memories of playing with Jimmy are some of the crazy times in the van at night, driving through Canada and when Robert Plant came to watch us play at B.L.U.E.S. That night with Robert Plant was a highlight. He hung out with us,” Scott says. For Scott, having Plant in the audience symbolized his life had perhaps come full circle — there was his boyhood rock idol, standing in one of Chicago’s premier blues clubs, watching him play the music.
As concerts with Dawkins became more sporadic in the 1990s and Scott’s reputation as a reliable, controlled and soulful guitar-slinger grew, Scott ventured out on his own, performing a loud and funky brand of music he perfected, labeled and plays to this day called “heavy blues.”
Scott has seven solo CDs to his credit, among these, “Heavy Blues,” “World Blues” and “Universal Blues.” His “Tennessee Blues,” released in Fall of 2011, has been reviewed favorably by Living Blues, the world’s premier blues magazine. He was also reunited onstage with Dawkins at the 2010 Chicago Blues Festival in front of a crowd of thousands.
Scott maintains an ambitious touring schedule in 2012 that has him driving hundreds of miles a week to perform as an acoustic, solo artist throughout Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin. He frequently makes treks to play clubs in the Pacific Northwest and Montana, while spending time in the summer working festivals with his electric band. Scott is also a favorite on college campuses and on Chicago’s popular WXRT radio.
“I guess it’s the lifestyle I enjoy,” he says of his hectic, itinerant way of living. “I get to meet new people, create a new progression in my career. I wait for the phone to ring — today it did. Whether it’s the House of Blues or a small tavern, it’s still what I love to do.”