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No matter how you classify Eddie Shaw's brand of blues, you can be sure it's the real deal.

Howlin' Blues

Eddie Shaw doesn't care how folks classify his fiery tenor-sax blues. Sure, there's Memphis, Chicago, Delta and West Coast styles to name a few, and while Shaw falls most in line with the Windy City version of the blues, that's not the point. To Shaw, the music speaks for itself, and when you've got it in your soul it doesn't matter what you call it.

"I just liked the sound and played what I felt," Shaw says in a low rumble of a voice over the telephone from Chicago. "I'm in the same bag I was in 25, 30 years ago."

Shaw's "bag" has taken him around the world as band leader for Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang and as a member of some of the top blues bands for almost 40 of his 63 years. Thursday he brings his road show to Richmond for the Jumpin' crowd.

Shaw's band is different from many blues bands. While most are led by guitarists or harmonica players, Shaw's saxophone takes much of center stage and he plays with a mix of confidence and raw power that lets a listener know the real deal is taking charge.

Shaw has been taking charge of his musical agenda since his early school days in Greenville, Miss., when he first picked up the trombone and joined the school band. He soon moved to sax and became part of a "little swing band" that played local parties. Shaw's school buddy Ike Turner had a band up the road in Clarksdale and Eddie often played with him. When Muddy Waters came through Greenville in the mid-'50s, Shaw sat in, and Muddy told him he had a job if he ever got to Chicago.

Shaw hit the Chicago blues scene at about age 20, and he quickly fell in with many of the best. He took up Waters' offer first and played with his band for about two years. During this time, he occasionally joined others such as guitarists Otis Rush and Magic Sam on the West Side bar circuit. Moving from band to band was a matter of survival.

"In Chicago, man, you have a tendency … to play with wherever the money is coming," he explains. "I was 21, 22 and [it] was one band to another."

Shaw remembers the Waters unit was a "great band," but internal problems eventually led him to a gig with Howlin' Wolf. Shaw played primarily with him for the next 13 years until Wolf's death in 1976. Shaw led the band and arranged much of the material during those years, and when Wolf's health began to fail, Shaw and the band took over the bulk of the show. After Wolf's death, Eddie and the band continued to tour and Shaw eventually added his guitar-whiz son, Vann, to the lineup. The popularity of the blues may come and go, but Shaw says he's doing just fine.

"We ain't where we're supposed to be but we ain't where we was …," he says. "The good Lord just put me here to do what I have to do, man."

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