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RIP: Chico Chism, Howlin' Wolf's last drummer

May 23, 1927–January 28, 2007

“I’m the house rocker and the show stopper, the woman’s pet and the man’s threat. I’m Chico, the Boogie Man.” – Chico Chism

Rest In Peace: Our beloved Chico Chism left us this morning around 5am. Since his 2002 stroke, Chico’s health had been gradually deteriorating. He spent this last week in a very weak state, unable to get out of bed. But he found much joy i n his many visitors this last week. His last few days were spent mostly peacefully sleeping. Chico never appeared in pain. He is survived by his daughter, Audrey, who was able to visit her father earlier this week from Chicago. He was 79 years old. Phoenix will never be the same without our blues cheerleader. We have all been profoundly touched by this beautiful person.

Chico Chism Memorial Service: Chico’s memorial will be held Tuesday, January 30, 2007 at the Rhythm Room, the club that he loved so much. There will be commentary, a religious service led by Father Ron Poston, as well as photos and video of Chico, followed by a musical tribute by his many friends including The Flamekeepers, and others including Big Pete Pearson, Lynne Avril, Bob Corritore, Nightshift Featuring The Chief & Tom Grills, George Bowman, Walkin' Cane Mark, Mike Howard, Matt Roe, Hans Olson, Blues Dinosaurs, Johnny Rapp, and many, many others not yet confirmed. A repast of barbeque will be available for sale, proceeds from the sale of which will help pay for the funeral costs; other donations will be accepted at the door. Doors will open at 6pm. No smoking will be allowed indoors, although smoking will be permitted on the outdoor patio.

Napoleon “Chico” Chism was born on a riverboat outside of Shreveport, Louisiana on May 23, 1927. Little is known about Chico’s upbringing: Chico was very secretive about his past and often claimed to be younger than he was. But we do know that Chico recorded in 1957 as a drummer for T.V. Slim on the original version of “Flat Foot Sam” on the Clif Record label. He was back in the studio again in 1959, but this time as a front man, recording the song “Hot Tamales And Bar-B-Que”. He also worked in the bands of Choker Campbell, with Big Joe Turner, Clifton Chenier, Classie Ballou, Rosco Gordon, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Little Junior Parker, and many others. At some point, he landed in Chicago and became well known in the 1970’s as Howlin’ Wolf's last drummer. He played on sessions with Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang, Sunnyland Slim, and Willie Kent. He played at Antone’s in Austin, Texas, during the 1970’s, befriending a yet to be famous Fabulous Thunderbirds band and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Chico started a record label called Cher-Kee Records, and put out a series of 45’s by some fine but undiscovered Chicago blues, soul, and gospel talent (such as Highway Man, Eddie Burks, Johnny Christian, and Willie Davis). Chico appeared as a featured star of the American Blues Legends 1979 European Tour, which also included Billy “The Kid” Emerson, Eddie C. Campbell, Good Rockin’ Charles, Noland Struck, and Lester Davenport. This tour led to a companion LP on Big Bear Records, in which Chico plays drums and sings two original numbers (“High Rise Blues” and “Big Fat Mama 480 LBS”). During the first half of the 1980s, Chico hosted regular nights at Kingston Mines and Rosa’s, which in Chicago’s competitive blues market, was a notable testament to Chico’s talent and charisma. In 1986, Chico relocated to Phoenix, Arizona at the invitation of Bob Corritore, who had met Chico in 1975 at a Howlin’ Wolf performance. Chico immediately found a home in Phoenix, and became a huge part of its blues community, winning great local popularity, and becoming a teacher to many budding blues players. He was a fixture at the Rhythm Room, performing often and regularly greeting his many musician friends as they toured through town. He became Corritore’s first call session drummer, and recorded Phoenix sessions with Jimmy Rogers, R.L. Burnside, Bo Diddley, Henry Gray, Lil’ Ed, Chief Schabuttie Gilliame, Mojo Buford, Louisiana Red, Big Pete Pearson, Pinetop Perkins, Little Milton, Smokey Wilson, John Brim, and many more. He would visit Chicago annually to attend the Chicago Blues Festival, and often participated in the festival’s Howlin’ Wolf tributes. In 2002, Chico suffered a stroke, which limited h is playing, but he remained active in the blues scene until the end. This little giant of the blues will be missed greatly. Thank you, Chico, for all the joy you gave us.

-Courtesy of Bob Corritore, bluesman, Rhythm Room club owner, and DJ. Bob will pay tribute to Chico Chism on Sunday, January 28, 2007, on KJZZ Phoenix, 91.5FM, and will re-air an interview with Chico from 2004. You can listen online at www.kjzz.org.