Photograph by Darrow Montgomery
Pastor Brian Hamilton does not think the blues is the devil’s music. If he did, he couldn’t justify his love of Robert Johnson, the influential blues player who, legend has it, made a Faustian bargain in order to master the guitar. Every Monday since September 2006, Hamilton has presented some of the finest local blues players at Westminster Presbyterian Church. An offshoot of the church’s 13-year-old Friday night jazz program, these “Blue Monday Blues” gatherings are an effort by Hamilton and his wife and co-pastor Ruth to bring the neighborhood together while showcasing a culture with deep roots in the quadrant’s history. You won’t find watered-down blues rock here: Hamilton, an enthusiastic presence onstage, draws from the city’s soul music community—Eddie Jones, Lil’ Margie, Curtis Pope—as well as Chicago- and Memphis-influenced blues players like Charlie Sayles and Clarence Turner. Sometimes, there are surprise guests like Skip Mahoney, who sang at a recent tribute to Whop Frazier. It’s a strange venue for the blues, to be sure: The 300-capacity sanctuary has a ’70s minimalist design with rows and rows of plastic chairs. But for a few hours at the beginning of the week, it comes alive with the sounds of harmonica, horns, electric guitars, and black Baptist-derived vocals. Sinning, though, isn’t allowed: Although the cafeteria always sells some down-home dinner, there’s absolutely no alcohol.