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James Peterson - Born on November 4, 1937, in Russell County, AL; children: Judge Kenneth "Lucky" Peterson.


Musician, 1952-; club owner, 1965-1980; recording artist, 1970-, albums include: The Father, Son, and the Blues, 1970; Rough and Ready, 1990; Too Many Knots for the Kingsnake, 1991; Dont't Let the Devil Ride, 1995; Preachin' the Blues, 1996; Wrong Bed!, 1999.

Life's Work

Blues guitarist, singer, and composer James Peterson's career in the music world has spanned 50 years, with stints as a club owner, concert attraction, and recording artist. He also mentored the career of his son, Lucky Peterson, who appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show as a six-year-old and went on to an acclaimed blues career of his own. While promoting the visibility of other acts through his ownership of the Governor's Inn in Buffalo, New York, Peterson began his own recording career with the 1970 release The Father, Son, and the Blues. With a variety of business interests, however, it was not until the 1990s--40 years after he started out as a professional musician--that Peterson reached his most prolific period as a recording artist. After recording Rough and Ready in 1990, Peterson released three more albums during the decade. Continuing to appear in concert, sometimes in tandem with his son, Peterson released his sixth album, Wrong Bed!, in 1999.

Born in the rural southeastern Alabama county of Russell on November 4, 1937, James Peterson grew up in an atmosphere filled with music. Gospel music was a part of the daily lives of African Americans in the region, and Peterson was also exposed to secular music by helping out at his father's juke joint, where people would gather to hear the blues. Peterson left home when he was just 14 years old and moved north with his brother Aaron, to the industrial city of Gary, Indiana. There he picked up a guitar and taught himself to play. His son, Lucky, later recalled in an interview with Mai Cramer on the Real Blues web site: "I guess he really loved music, and wanted to play the guitar. And he's self-taught. He went to the pawn shop and bought him a guitar, and taught himself to play. He was fascinated with music." Peterson stayed in Gary for just two years before moving to another northern industrial city, that of Buffalo, New York, around 1955. As a guitarist and singer, Peterson was influenced by some of the greatest blues artists of the day, including Muddy Waters and B.B. King, and he began to attract his own following as a live act by the late 1950s.

On December 13, 1963, Peterson and his wife welcomed a son, Judge Kenneth Peterson, who went by the nickname "Lucky." Lucky Peterson inherited his father's love of the blues and quickly gained a reputation as a child prodigy for his musical talent on the organ and guitar. When he was five years old, Lucky recorded a song under the guidance of blues musician Willie Dixon. "1-2-3-4" did well enough on the charts that the young artist was invited to appear on several variety and game shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, and What's My Line, where he was joined by his father. The two also appeared together on the children's show Sesame Street.

By the time of his son's success, James Peterson had also become something of a blues impresario. Following in his own father's footsteps, Peterson opened the Governor's Inn House of Blues in Buffalo in 1965. The Governor's Inn became a regular stop for blues performers over the next ten years, with Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, Junior Wells, Koko Taylor, Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy appearing in concert there. In order to keep the club afloat financially, Peterson also worked at a used-car lot during the day. The Petersons lived above the Governor's Inn. "He had music seven days a week," Lucky Peterson remembered about his father in a Real Blues interview, adding, "All the musicians needed to do was come in and play. He had all the instruments."

In 1970 Peterson recorded his first album, The Father, Son, and the Blues, for the Perception label. Among the guest musicians appearing on the album were Willie Dixon, who also co-produced the album with Peterson, as well as Lucky, who played keyboards. In 1975 Peterson moved to Florida, where he continued to run a blues club. He returned to Buffalo in 1978, however, and opened up the New Governor's Inn blues club, which lasted for three years. In 1980 Peterson moved to the Tampa Bay area of Florida, where he managed the After Dark club.

By 1990 Peterson was perhaps best known as the father of Lucky Peterson, who had toured as musical director with Little Milton and Bobby "Blue" Bland, and had released several albums. The elder Peterson then stepped back into the spotlight with his own 1990 release, Rough and Ready, which was followed by Too Many Knots for the Kingsnake in 1991. Peterson recorded two more albums in the 1990s on the Waldoxy label, Don't Let the Devil Ride and Preachin' the Blues. The albums led to a resurgence of interest in Peterson as a concert performer, both as a solo artist and in tandem with his son. A December 2000 review in the St. Petersburg Times noted that Peterson "played a raw, hard-driving set, moving from the lowest, raunchy blues to the highest ecstasy of a sanctified church meeting. He played and sang as if he were rooted to the center of the earth. What he lacked in refined technique he more than made up for in the solid, seemingly unstoppable forward motion. Using his cordless guitar and trademark headset, James prowled through the club singing, screaming, and occasionally sharing verbal asides with the audience."

In 1999 Peterson released Wrong Bed! on his own label, HownDog Records. "This is not lightweight material, my friends," wrote Sonny Boy Lee in a San Antonio Blues Society review of the album. "James speaks from his soul--honest and on the mark. But he also knows how to inject humor into his material, something that is sadly lacking in most blues recordings today." A reviewer for the Southwest Blues Magazine agreed, calling Wrong Bed! "a solid bunch of songs, sturdily constructed and impressively performed" by Peterson and guest musicians that included his son on bass guitar, backing vocals, and keyboards. Peterson continued to tour and make music into the next decade with no signs of slowing.