WANT TO GO?
Johnny Rawls performs at 8 p.m. Friday at Haddad Riverfront Park as part of the free Charlie West Blues Fest and again in a $10 show at 7 p.m. Sunday at Woodrow's Place, 244 1/2 Seventh Ave., South Charleston. There, he's joined by Inspiration. Call 304-349-1439 for Friday or 304-400-4814 for Sunday.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some blues musicians are made. They discover the blues and make a choice to help keep the music alive.
Others, like Johnny Rawls, are born into it. It's practically in their DNA. The soul/blues singer performs Friday at the Charlie West Blues Fest and again on Sunday at Woodrow's Place in South Charleston.
Rawls was born in the Deep South. He discovered his voice singing gospel music in the Mississippi church of his boyhood. He learned his first licks on the guitar from his blind grandfather. Before he could even drive a car, he was on the road, singing and playing with different blues and soul artists, including soul blues legend O.V. Wright.
"It was no trouble getting into clubs," the 60-year-old recalled. "It was no trouble at all. Back then if you behaved yourself, if you was with an adult, you were good. You made your own rules."
Playing is very different today.
"It's easier [to make a living]," Rawls acknowledged. "But it's still hard. You have a lot of blues lovers, but blues is more of a crossover music. Back then, it was real small markets, predominately black, on the Chitlin' Circuit."
The Chitlin' Circuit was a string of clubs and theaters, mostly in the South, where it was safe and acceptable for black entertainers to perform during segregation.
These days, Rawls plays the blues all over the world.
"They really love my kind of blues in Japan," he said. "They love that soul blues."