Award Winner

ASCAP Foundation

Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Awards


B.L.U.E.S, Chicago 1979
B.L.U.E.S, Chicago 1979

Left Hand Frank on the bandstand, with Little Joe Berson (harp), Frank Bandy (bass) and, almost invisible to the left, Jimmy Rogers (rhythm guitar).

Smokey Smothers, B.L.U.E.S, 1982
Smokey Smothers, B.L.U.E.S, 1982

“People give me credit for that willpower.” Smokey Smothers in B.L.U.E.S, with Mad Dog Lester Davenport on harmonica, while his brother Abe “Little Smokey” Smothers looks on.

Sunnyland Slim, B.L.U.E.S, 1982
Sunnyland Slim, B.L.U.E.S, 1982

“You get more money with the white peoples: it’s just a very earthly thing, you got to live.” Sunnyland Slim in B.L.U.E.S, 1982.

Bill Gilmore, B.L.U.E.S, 1982
Bill Gilmore, B.L.U.E.S, 1982

“Most white guys cannot sing the blues. If I tried to do it, or if you tried to do it, it would sound vaguely ludicrous.” Bill Gilmore, co-owner, outside B.L.U.E.S.

Floyd Jones, Homesick James, 1979
Floyd Jones, Homesick James, 1979

Going down slow: Floyd Jones and Homesick James in B.L.U.E.S, 1979.

Jimmy Johnston, Kingston Mines, 1982
Jimmy Johnston, Kingston Mines, 1982

“He’s supposed to be a big deal, but to me he’s no big deal. This is my gig, man!” Jimmy Johnson plays the Kingston Mines.

Jimmy Walker, 1982
Jimmy Walker, 1982

“I don’t know nothing about no color. I look at you as a man, and I try to treat you that way. It’s just that easy.” Jimmy Walker at home.

Sugar Blue, 1982
Sugar Blue, 1982

“When I first met them it was a great big kick because it was the Rolling Stones. But after I got to know them . . .” Sugar Blue at Stages.

Junior Wells, ChicagoFest, 1979
Junior Wells, ChicagoFest, 1979

“If you making money out of me, I want some of it. Ten percent.” Junior Wells on the blues stage, ChicagoFest, 1979.

Jimmy Dawkins, B.L.U.E.S, 1982
Jimmy Dawkins, B.L.U.E.S, 1982

“I don’t have time to look for colors, I look for good musicians.” Jimmy Dawkins (right) plays B.L.U.E.S with Rich Kirch (rhythm) and Willie Kent (bass).

Hip Linkchain, 1982
Hip Linkchain, 1982

Hip Linkchain and band: Rich Kirch (guitar), Frank Bandy (bass) and drummer Fred Grady.

Johnny Littlejohn, B.L.U.E.S, 1982
Johnny Littlejohn, B.L.U.E.S, 1982

Everything the black man created, the white man taken. If they could sing, we’d be out of the blues.” Johnny Littlejohn at B.L.U.E.S, with bass player Harlan Terson.

Edition A: photographs printed on A3-size paper. Image size 209mm x 209mm. (Pictured). Signed, limited edition of 25. Unframed. Dispatched rolled. £89.95 plus p&p.


Edition B: photographs printed on A3-size paper. Image size 209mm x 328mm approx. Signed, limited edition of 25. Unframed. Dispatched rolled. £99.95 plus p&p.



USA: air mail, tracked, insured £12.75

Europe: tracked, insured £11.70

UK: Royal Mail Special Delivery £10.25


Photographs taken with a Nikkormat FT2 on Kodak Tri-X Pan film. Printed on a Durst Theta 76 using the Kodak RA4 photographic process, on Fujichrome DP II Lustre Crystal Archive paper. Signed in fadeproof pigment ink.


For orders and enquiries please email

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All images Copyright © 2016 Alan Harper. 

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, British blues fan Alan Harper became a transatlantic pilgrim to Chicago. "I've come here to listen to the blues," he told an American customs agent at the airport, and listen he did, to the music in its many styles, and to the men and women who lived it in the city's changing blues scene.


Harper's eloquent memoir conjures the smoky redoubts of men like harmonica virtuoso Big Walter Horton and pianist Sunnyland Slim. Venturing from stageside to kitchen tables to the shotgun seat of a 1973 Eldorado, he listens to performers and others recollect memories of triumphs earned and chances forever lost, of deep wells of pain and soaring flights of inspiration.


Harper also chronicles a time of change, as an up-tempo, whites-friendly blues eclipsed what had come before, and old Southern-born black players held court one last time before an all-conquering generation of young guitar aces took center stage.

Dave Gelly, Jazz Critic, The Observer

An absorbing book, combining narrative flair with expertise lightly worn” 

"The author has provided a painstakingly detailed glimpse into an almost forgotten era of the Chicago Blues scene. Reading this book filled in some personal lapses of memory, reminding me of the wonderful musical moments that I shared with some of the greatest musicians that I've ever known."--Billy Branch, Musician

"It captures an era . . . when the blues scene was about midway through its descent. He profiles the players, the promoters, the clubs, the record labels, the disc jockeys, and much more that went into the early 1980s Chicago Blues scene."--Steve Cushing, author of Pioneers of the Blues Revival 

"There is a kind of Kerouacian feel to the storytelling. . . . The stories are vivid and well-drawn . . . and they inevitably generate a feeling of nostalgia in a reader, such as myself, who was on that scene at the time."-- David Whiteis, author of Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories

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Copyright © 2016 Alan Harper ℗ 2016 Alan Harper

Lonnie Brooks, Chicago, 1982

Koko Taylor, Chicago, 1982

Jimmy Dawkins, Chicago, 1982



Born in Scotland, brought up in Africa and educated in England, Alan Harper was at school when he discovered the Chicago blues, and at university - where they had the best blues archive in the country - when he resolved to travel to the city and find the music for himself. This book chronicles his trips to Chicago as a young, blues-mad British fan, his experiences in the clubs, and his meetings with the unforgettable characters who made up the early-80s Chicago blues scene.


It was a telling time for the music, and an era not chronicled before: when many of the older, Southern-born singers were still active, alongside a new generation, both black and white, some of whom had been brought up on soul and funk, while others had arrived at the blues via rock.


The city’s black neighbourhoods were in decline, and many of the old clubs had disappeared. Hand-in-hand with white appreciation of the music came the phenomenon of the white-owned blues club, which rode to the rescue and saved many a musician’s career. It was an era in the history of the Chicago blues when its racial politics were thrown into sharp relief, along with that hardy perennial, the question of ‘authenticity’.


The author embarked on his research assuming he would be writing a eulogy, but it didn’t turn out like that. The music might have been at a temporal, racial and cultural crossroads, but its heart and soul were very much alive. The author interviewed and photographed dozens of characters who were active on the Chicago blues scene, and the book is a celebration of their lives and work.

The author (right) with drummer Fred Grady outside B.L.U.E.S.


"A fascinating overview of a time and place that will never be replicated. It left me nostalgic for how good we had it in those days, when giants such as Junior Wells, Louis Myers, Fenton Robinson, Eddie Taylor, Luther Allison, Jimmy Rogers, and Otis Rush were common attractions on Chicago’s wide-ranging scene. For a lively account of what it was like to have numerous options every night to enjoy vital Chicago blues up close and personal, Harper’s book can’t be beat." – Bill Dahl, ARSC Journal


“A vivid illustration of the 1980s music scene in a city which has fostered the blues like no other. There were hundreds of musicians and a bewildering number of styles, yet he manages to do them all justice... through extended interviews with musicians, record executives, radio DJs and club owners, as well as his own excellent photographs. Some scarily picaresque characters found in him a worthwhile confidant.” – The Times Literary Supplement

"It was a bit like a gap year that got out of hand." - BBC News


"He tells a good story and is a very fine writer, and folklorists and casual readers alike will be entertained by his adventures. He takes the reader on an enjoyable ride, painting an accessible picture of Chicago in the 80s, a time capsule as seen from an outsider’s perspective."  Journal of Folklore Research, Indiana University

"Essential reading for fans of one of the most influential musical genres, and Harper's evocative images show he is a skilled lensman and perceptive and entertaining writer." Amateur Photographer

"Alan takes you on a  journey... you almost get the sense how it felt to play some of the joints and duck the flying chairs when fights broke out. The personal side of this book is what gives it its strength and depth and holds you page by page. This has to be a recommended read." – Blues Matters magazine

"Spiced with anecdotes that make it easy to turn the page... Harper really goes into depth, and tells of his experiences with a much-needed critical distance. With hindsight these years mark the definitive end of a great period of the Chicago blues and the beginning of the new, lesser era." - Jefferson magazine


"Combining personal accounts with finely combed historical content, offering not only a “good read” for music fans, but important historical documentation of the people and places of this seminal era. The timelines, biographical notes and index — like a textbook attachment to his memoir—provide any blues enthusiast or beginner to the genre a great source of reference." The Chicago Ambassador

“Harper manages both considerable factual reportage and offers astute insights not only into the music but also the politics, the society, the times and this specific city." Peter Bacon, The Jazz Breakfast 

"Terrific. Really a pleasure, and the clearest-eyed view of the Chicago scene I've ever read." Elijah Wald

"Simply the year's best blues book - highly recommended." Richard Gjems, Blues News

"Harper's memoir is beautifully wrought, and populated with an array of vivid and memorable characters......Flecked with insight, wit and warmth, it proves to be an evocative portrait of a bygone era." Mojo

"Personal stories are the strength of the book... a wonderfully wide-ranging series of short interviews with an impressive cross-section of Chicago blues society. Appendices, with notes and brief biographies of all the bluesmen referred to, give weight to the anecdotal main text." The Jazz Rag

"Harper's account is easy-going and conversational but his deep knowledge is undisguised. It is an affectionate account of a cultural moment passing into memory." Scottish Review of Books

"Richly detailed and thought-provoking... first-hand insight" Living Blues

"Harper shares his stories of searching for the blues in Chicago in his crisply told, energetic, and vibrant memoir" - Henry Carrigan, No Depression

"Waiting for Buddy Guy is a fascinating book ... a delight" - Jazz Journal

"Harper absorbed Chicago blues utterly and wholly, and in this gem of a book, he imparts his passion and knowledge in a witty, intelligent, revealing and honest manner. It’s a real page-turner" - Record Collector magazine

"He had a beer or two with many musicians and promoters, stored a wealth of anecdotes and writes (unlike many music writers) self-effacingly—aware that he is not the main subject of interest" - David Luhrssen, Shepherd Express, Milwaukee

"An absolute must-have book for the blues fan.... Any book that leaves you wanting more is – well, it’s like a great concert that makes you want the owner to leave the bar open for one more round, one more encore. A tip of the pork pie hat to Alan Harper for sharing what the witnesses witnessed" - Hubert O'Hearn, American Blues Scene

“This is a time capsule, and Harper allows us to unwrap it without any commentary...   Like the music that he documents (and makes you want to run out and hear), like the clubs he describes (and ditto to visit), Waiting for Buddy Guy just is. And it’s all the better for it.”  Dave Thompson, Goldmine 


“As much an unblinking eyewitness account, full of telling detail, as an intriguing social history, dealing with such burning issues as authenticity, racial politics, music-industry practices, etc. From Sugar Blue to Willie Dixon, from Son Seals to Sunnyland Slim – the whole vibrant Chicago blues scene is captured here in a book which is both immediately accessible and constructed with scrupulous care.” Chris Parker, London Jazz News


"You gotta check out this book, it is absolutely terrific." - Nick Digilio, WGN Radio, Chicago, 8 March 2016.  Author interview with Nick Digilio


"This rich memoir captures not only the music, but the memories of many of Chicago's great blues legends and others who lived during this important era."

PopMatters, 18 March 2016.


“It looks at the blues in a state of flux in Chicago, when the old guard was still playing and the new boys were coming in. What I like about it is he’s not afraid to discuss the racial questions in the blues” - David Freeman, Blues & Boogie, Jazz FM London


"Harper tells the story with a lively anecdotal flair that ropes the reader in from the first few pages with a wealth of fond memories for those, like me, that were on the scene at the time. 45 candid black and white Harper photographs add faces to the storytellers. Very recommended." Gary von Tersch, Big City Blues


"There is a new book out that I am proud to be a part of. Great interviews with some legendary folks. Check it out and buy a copy!!!" Steve Freund, blues guitarist


"An amazing historical document with some great insights and humour."  Blues & Rhythm