LAWNDALE — Blues musician Larry Taylor grew up in Lawndale during the '60s, with a strong appreciation for the community's value despite its hardscrabble exterior.
His stepfather, Eddie Taylor, was a legendary blues guitarist, and Larry was encouraged and supported by community members and fellow musicians.
“The thing that I loved about the era was a sense of black pride,” Larry Taylor said of his youth.
He hung out at Eddie Newell's barber shop on Kedzie, where Newell blew his harp between haircuts, and other local blues players gathered and swapped musician tales and wise words with young Larry.
It was the heyday of the West Side blues scene, when clubs like Silvio's, Avenue Lounge and Key Largo hosted icons like Howlin' Wolf, Lonnie Brooks and Muddy Waters, who played alongside regulars like Willie Kent and Guitar Red.
This rarely told story is the focus of the new movie, “The Rhythm and The Blues,” filming later this month in Lawndale.
Adapted from the 2010 book by Larry Taylor and Bonni McKeown, "Stepson of the Blues" (Peaceful Patriot Press) and set for a 2016 release, the movie highlights Larry's coming of age among blues royalty and rough streets as his stepfather tackles the changing blues industry.
Larry Taylor in 2004.
“The film is an urban family drama. It's about a family of musicians from Larry's point of view,” said screenwriter and producer McKeown.
The Taylor family, led by Eddie Taylor, his wife, singer Vera Taylor, and their eight children who all became musicians, star in a riveting tale of love, suffering and triumph amid the backdrop of '60s-era Chicago.
“This movie is very important because there are a lot of blues musicians in this city, and their stories don't get heard, said Larry Taylor. “This story is about me and my family.”
Evocative storytelling is a blues hallmark, and the movie's Chicago-bred director and producer Darryl Pitts intends to rely on this tradition to engage viewers.
“Ultimately, you want to have something that people can connect to,” Pitts said. “Chicago is a very fertile ground for music, but I'm not making a museum piece. The blues is a living, breathing thing with the currency of today.”
Some of the currency will likely come from noted actors Leon and Guy Davis, tapped to play musicians Eddie Taylor and Jimmy Reed, respectively.
Leon is best known for his title role in the 2000 TV movie "Little Richard" and his portrayals of David Ruffin in the 1998 TV movie “The Temptations” and Derice in the 1993 movie classic “Cool Runnings.”
Davis is the son of the late Hollywood legends Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, as well as an accomplished actor and blues musician.
Except for exterior shots for the popular Showtime TV show "Shameless," the Lawndale neighborhood rarely hosts movie cameras, but that's set to change around the end of June, when filming is scheduled for the independent production.
Neighborhood residents will be featured as extras, as well as local musicians, including harmonica master Sugar Blue as the harp-playing barber Eddie Newell.
“This is a real story,” Taylor stated. “There are many stories like mine out there, but they don't want to tell them. They want to talk about the crime and the negative things, but there are lots of positive stories on the West Side.”
Taylor's story certainly counts as a positive one. His mother and stepfather (both deceased) moved from Mississippi to Chicago during the Great Migration, bringing their blues traditions with them. Eddie Taylor patented the signature shuffle in Chicago blues staple Jimmy Reed's sound, and Eddie's expert guitar riffs can be heard on dozens of classic blues recordings, including John Lee Hooker, Elmore James and Sunnyland Slim.
He toured the world and is considered an important architect of the postwar Chicago blues sound. Vera Taylor was a skilled blues singer who sometimes accompanied her husband while raising eight children. Larry Taylor grew up with his parents in Lawndale, battling poverty, racism and addiction to develop into a noted blues drummer, proudly continuing his family's blues legacy.
“I lived in a poor neighborhood, but it's not where you live, but how you live,” said Taylor.
Poised to reflect the stories behind the facades shown in Hollywood films like “Cadillac Records,” “The Rhythm and The Blues” will tell a Chicago story, with Chicago voices.
“We're going to show the rich musical heritage of Chicago's West Side, and I don't think a lot of people have seen that perspective,” said Pitts.
Watch the film's trailer here.
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