Lucky Peterson interview 3/19/98
by Don O.
Blues youngsters seem to be a big phenomenon in the blues. Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Monster Mike Welch, Brody Buster, and Jonny Lang are just a few of the big name "blues" stars under the age of 20 today. Locally, you can't hardly go to a blues road show or jam without seeing a guest appearance by teen or preteen Andrew Baxter, Kat Lumley, or Buddy and Tina Wright. This is not really a new phenomenon. It's been going on for years. It just seems more prevalent today because of the involvement of major record labels and promotional machines. One can't help but wonder what will become of these youngsters once they grow up and have to compete with other adult musicians. Once the "cute" factor declines, the PR machine drops them, or they get ground up on the road, they may wish they had spent their wonder years on something other than music. Not so Lucky Peterson.
Judge Kenneth Peterson, better known as "Lucky", was born in 1964 in Buffalo, New York. His grandfather operated a juke joint in Alabama and his father, James, was a performing blues guitarist (still is) who played around Buffalo under the moniker Jesse James and the Outlaws. Shortly after Lucky was born his father opened his own blues club, The Governor's Inn. Young Lucky would hear the sounds of the blues coming up through the floor of their apartment above the club and by the age of three he was already playing drums and learning to play B3 organ. His father's contacts in the blues world led to his first recording at the age of five, an album with his father titled The Father, Son, and The Blues on the Perception/Today label, produced by blues giant Willie Dixon. By the time he was 6 years old a hit single from the album, "1,2,3,4", and promotional help from Dixon led to TV appearances on The Tonight Show, Ed Sullivan, The David Frost Show, and even What's My Line. Unfortunately, James Peterson had a falling out with Willie, so Lucky went back to being a child prodigy living above a blues club. He used that time well. At the age of 8 he picked up a guitar and added that to his bag of tricks. Keyboard lessons from Bill Doggett and Jimmy Smith helped hone his skills.
James Peterson's club featured a who's who of world class blues talent. While he was in elementary school by day, Lucky was at blues school by night. He found a keyboard slot in his father's band and regularly backed the blues luminaries who graced his father's stage.
On the Road at 17
In 1975 the Peterson family relocated to Florida. Three years later they returned to Buffalo where James opened The New Governor's Inn. By 1980 the family was back in Florida but Lucky was now spending little time at home. His keyboard skills had impressed Little Milton Campbell and Lucky spent the next three years on the road, nationally and internationally, with Little Milton. After 7 months he became the band's musical director. Quite a feat for a young man who was just 17. In 1984 Bobby Blue Bland lured him away from Little Milton and he became a featured keyboard soloist with the "Three B Boy". That led to three more years on the road. Lucky also began to experiment as a solo artist. On a European package tour he took time out to cut his first solo CD, "Ridin'", for the French label Isabel Records. During other down times, Lucky teamed up with Florida producer Bob Greenlee of King Snake Records where his keyboard and arranging skills were put to good use.
Dallas Gets Lucky
It was in 1988 that Lucky Peterson first moved to Dallas. "I first came through here when I was with Little Milton and moved here while I was still working with Bobby Bland" recalled Lucky. "I just liked the city. I didn't know anything about the music scene here." While Lucky was now in Texas, his roots in Florida remained strong. After leaving Bobby Bland to pursue a solo career, it was Greenlee who recommended Lucky to Alligator Records honcho Bruce Iglauer and produced his first album, Lucky Strikes, in 1989.
Lucky cut a second album for Alligator before signing a multi-album deal with the Verve-Gitanes subsidiary of record giant Polygram Records. He has just released his fourth CD for the label, titled Move. While he is often introduced as the "Young Prince of the Blues" Lucky Peterson is more like a Crown Prince. Not only does he keep busy with his own projects, he is one of the most "in-demand" session players around today. His skills are primarily in demand as a keyboard player, but Lucky is equally skilled as a guitarist and vocalist. His album appearances as a session man are staggering. "I'm on a lot of 'em" said Lucky. "At least 100. I never have really sat down and counted them." Those recording sessions include CDs with Etta James, Kenny Neal, Little Milton, Wynton Marsalis, Rufus Thomas, Joe Louis Walker, Jimmy Johnson, James Cotton, Carey Bell, Junior Wells, and dozens of others.
Peterson's latest CD is his usual mix of blues, rock, R&B, and soul, though this album has a little stronger blues coloring than some. Lucky contributed 6 original songs to the project and chose a diverse lot of covers, including songs from Prince, The Isley Brothers, Ashford and Simpson, and Robert Cray. "That just happened" laughed Peterson. "Carefree business. We got to cover a lot of bases. I like a variety of music. Isley Brothers, I love 'em. Prince, I love 'em. I don't want to miss out on too much." Dallas guitarist and songwriter Butch Bonner plays rhythm guitar on the project and co-wrote two songs with Lucky. "Butch and I always do something" said Peterson. "He's on all my albums. That's my buddy!"
"I'm fixing to head overseas to do a tour with Mavis Staples then come back and do some dates in the states" said Lucky. "I'm not going out for any long tours anymore. The longest I'll go out for is three weeks at a time. I used to do eight week tours but that's too long to be away from my lady!" Those tours take Lucky to Europe on a regular basis and to major festivals throughout the United States. Here at home, though, you're likely to find him in a tiny little blues club like Coaches Corner or The Blue Cat. You'd think a world class musician with credits like his wouldn't even bother with such small potatoes, but it is obvious that Lucky just loves to play. He even shows up at jam sessions, something most "name" artists are loathe to do. Sometimes he's just there to watch our other fine local talent, sometimes he'll take the stage himself. "There are some good players here" said Lucky. "Mike Morgan, Jim Suhler, Bugs Henderson, Hal Harris, Butch Bonner, lot's of 'em." Wherever you see Peterson perform, you are the one who is lucky.
Asked to give advise to the newest crop of youngsters on the blues scene, Lucky is succinct. "Keep playing" he said. "That's it. Oh, and buy my records" he added, laughing. Lucky's been there. They'd better listen.