Todd Beebe: The Man From Mokena
by Aaron Porter
I’ve had the opportunity to interview quite a few people, most of who I’ve known. I didn’t know Todd until he began writing for the Bluesletter, so when I finally did interview him, it was like meeting a long lost brother. We laughed and talked about writing for the Bluesletter, CD’s vs. digital download and much more. Early in the interview I realized, Todd Beebe is not your ordinary superfan – far from it. Todd is something completely different, something amazing. He loves the music, he lives the music, he supports the music, he is the music. I felt lucky to have met Todd, a good man whose love and joy for the music is energizing. Ladies and gentlemen, Todd Beebe, the man from Mokena.
BL: You’re the first non-staff submitter to the Bluesletter in about two years. What made you decide to submit an article?
TB: I love to write. I have like piles of stuff that I just write to amuse myself, and it’s just sitting around. You know, you look at it sometimes and think – what a waste of time – like what am I ever gonna do with this? But, I saw where you had put the thing out, and I’ve read the Bluesletter forever – I was like, how cool would that be to have something in there. I don’t know, it might seem like a small thing to you, but it’s very cool to me to have something of mine put in there. I mean, standing in line to get into Buddy’s shows in January years back – we’d all be freezing out there, and you had to wait like seven hours until Buddy came on stage. You’d get food and drinks and the Bluesletter. It was like sacred. So to actually have something printed in there is just beyond cool to me. So hopefully I can keep on contributing because I’d love it.
BL: Without a doubt. So, has writing always been a love of yours? Specifically musical or just writing in general?
TB: Now days it’s specifically music, but when I was a kid – I don’t know if you know the children’s author Tomie DePaola? I actually won a day to hang out with him when I was a kid. I was in fourth grade, and there was a contest in all the schools in the area and he picked my story. So, I’ve always loved to write, but now a days it’s strictly all music related. It definitely spawned off the love for writing, for sure.
BL: Do you live in Chicago?
TB: I live in Mokena now which is a suburb of Chicago. Yeah, quite a ways out there. I’m out right next to Joliet, so it’s a cruise.
BL: Have you always lived there?
TB: Yeah, I’ve lived there for about eighteen years now – so I’ve lived there for a long time. I spent my life moving all around. I was actually born in Vermont; lived in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit – all over the country. With my dad’s work, we had to move, but I’ve lived in the suburbs of Chicago quite a long time now.
BL: Cool. How did you hear about Legends?
TB: I remember hearing about Buddy Guy first, and then just hearing that he had opened a club. I’m a guitar teacher and a guitar player, so being a follower of Buddy Guy I just had to get down there and see it, of course. It may have been on the news when I initially saw it that he opened up a club. I know he had the Checkerboard before that, but I was too young to get in there. But, I would say with Legends, I first heard about it on the news.
BL: When did you first start coming to Legends?
TB: Umm…it wasn’t right when it opened up – one reason is because I wasn’t of age to drink.
BL: How long has the blues been a part of your life and what got you interested in blues?
TB: Playing guitar you know, I started out playing like a lot of kids do – I did rock, and you get into Jimi Hendrix, and you really get into it. Then you start hearing all these names – some of them, just the names amuse you. I mean – Howlin’ Wolf – and you’re like, what the…Are these like comic book characters? I mean, it’s like this weird… So you know, I would seek that out and I just completely fell in love with it, like over the top. It really is something that keeps getting passed down for that reason. You hear about it and it keeps getting passed on, for sure. Hopefully, that answers the question.
BL: What do you do for a living?
TB: I’m a guitar teacher and my wife and I own a music store. We have several people who teach there. We do music lessons, we also do children’s theater which is more my wife’s thing, but I run the sound and all that stuff. We both perform too, which is one reason why I couldn’t get down here last weekend – we were performing. Every weekend we usually play somewhere together. Yeah, she’s like my right arm. We pretty much do everything together.
BL: That’s awesome.
TB: Yeah, it is very cool. So, we both teach full-time. That’s what we do during the week.
BL: You and your wife were married at Chess Records?
TB: Yes, we were the first people, and as far as I know still the only people that got married there. It’s called Blues Heaven now, but it was originally Chess. Willie Dixon’s family owns it now, and actually his son, Butch and his daughter, Shirley have both passed away now – but they were still around when we got married in there. Elvis Costello was there when we were walking in, so we have a picture with Elvis Costello. So, it’s like, Elvis Costello was at our wedding. He was just hanging out downstairs. It’s hilarious because there’s my wife, Connie with her wedding gown on. You can rent out different rooms in there, and I wanted to actually rent the room where all the recordings took place, and we did. It was really cool.
BL: So, is your wife a pretty big fan of the blues also?
TB: Yeah, we’re both into just music. She grew up being classically trained, she’s really into classical too. But we both love it a lot.
BL: Outside of music, do you have any hobbies?
TB: All I do, if I’m not playing music or teaching music, is read about it. I’ve read all the biographies, or I’m writing about it, or writing a song.
BL: Most memorable Buddy moment, and then most memorable Legends moment?
TB: As far as most memorable Buddy moment – I guess the one guitar pick that I sent you pictures of – he(Buddy) had done his walk outside and I’d gotten a bunch of his picks and they were all his normal. But this one was like completely cracked and you could see where he was holding it and being so aggressive, and right before he walked back up on stage, he just looked directly at me and practically stuck it on my chest. So that was really cool, but I would say just the fact that pretty much every show he goes right to the door and waits there for everybody – to sign. I watched him get bigger and bigger and bigger since the late eighties when he really started making a comeback, and opening the club – and he’s always made time for the fans and always met ‘em by the door. It always struck me as weird at first when I started coming down here that you could just walk in the door and there was Buddy. There’s never been any, “Oh, get away from me.” He just comes walking in like he’s a regular. I love that about him. That may have answered the most memorable Legends question too. As far as that though, it might sound crazy but outside of the actual shows and seeing all the artists – I’ve seen Luther Allison, Gov’t Mule, Warren Haynes – a lot of people I’ve seen in the club. Actually, I think you guys open up earlier for the January shows.
TB: It used to be that they wouldn’t open the doors till like five or something, and we’d get there like around nine in the morning. Sometimes it was thirty below, snow’s blowing. My buddy Mike and I would come down here for years. He’s moved now, but he still comes down here when he can for a show. It’s a real bonding moment. It’s kind of a weird thing, but…
BL: I always thought the people who actually come early like that and stand in line – they’re like the people who come to this club regularly and they’re all really, really nice people. I mean, people who you’d want to sit at a table with and enjoy the music with because they love it like you do.
TB: Right, right.
BL: So is the guitar pick your favorite piece of memorabilia?
TB: Yeah, as far as for Buddy, that would be the one. As far as blues memorabilia, I actually sent you the picture of the contract from the Stones and Shindig! Where Howlin’ Wolf signed. I would say that’s a pretty cool thing to have.
BL: What is it about Buddy’s music, particularly, that speaks to you?
TB: He’s unique to me because he’s rooted enough in the old school blues. He was around those guys like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf that somebody who only listens to the real old stuff will also like Buddy but at the same time – like one of my kids at the store, if I wanna present them with the blues, I know I can’t go way back and play that for them because they’re not gonna get it at first. But, if I play Buddy Guy for them, then I’ve had them say back to me, “This is like rock!” And I’m like, “Exactly!” So, it’s like he’s got that thing where he can go in either direction. He’s traditional enough to appeal to traditional blues fans, but he’s also got enough of an edge that you can put him on any bill with a rock band and anybody in the crowd’s gonna love it. I don’t think you could say that about too many blues artists. I wish you could, because I think more people should be open to all of it, but unfortunately it’s not like that. So, I guess that’s what appeals the most to me. What I love about his stuff the most is that it’s just so universal.
BL: Are you involved in any blues organizations or groups, like Rock For Kids, and things of that nature?
TB: No, not to toot my horn about our own store, but every year we do an event. I mean, our store’s called All About Music – but we do an event every year – we call it, “Rock Camp” because again, you have to appeal at a rock sense to the kids. The kids form a band and they play together, but they have to do at least one blues song. That’s the rule we have – so we do teach them blues. We collect donations from doing the camp and that money goes to sending items to the troops overseas. That’s the one group that we’re very involved with. I know they just changed it – it was called “Operation Support Our Troops.” We give that to a an organization that’s actually out of Lisle(Illinois) and then they send everything overseas. We’ve been doing that for six years now.
BL: Wow! That’s impressive. Really amazing!
TB: Yeah, we collect quite a bit of stuff and we send it overseas, yeah it’s a cool thing to do, and the kids like it because they get an opportunity to help; and like I said, we have them play a blues song. I think so many – not just kids – but people are not exposed to blues, so they don’t know if they like it or not. Some of these kids just love it once they get a taste of it, you know?
BL: There’s been kind of a question of – is it better to buy CD’s from the artist or from iTunes? I know some people worry about their online presence, as the internet is a huge part of our lives, it’s a great way to expose people to your music and things of that nature. There’s still kind of that thing where you don’t really make as much money – what are your thoughts on that?
TB: I definitely say getting CD’s from the artist. I’m so old school on that sense. I’m still playing CD’s in my car. People are like, “You’re a music teacher!” [pullquote]I don’t even have an iPod, which is really sad. I’m getting ready to break down and get one just because of the convenience of it.[/pullquote] I was just reading a thing about this the other day that they asked people like you and I, and we all said that CD’s sound way superior; and they asked kids to compare CD’s with MP3, and they thought the MP3’s sounded better because that’s all they’ve known. I thought that was interesting that their ears have…but I guess that’s a whole other topic. But, I miss having the record stores. I used to just love that – going in and looking through the records. I guess the same thing’s happening with books now. Borders went out, and I see everybody with their Kindles– whatever. I was wondering about that too – Connie and I were talking the other day and we’re like – seriously – if the author puts out a book and they’re gonna have a book signing, how are you even gonna do it? Do you bring your kindle and say, “Here, sign my Kindle.” How is that even gonna work?
BL: They’re going to have a thumb imprint area.
TB: I mean, I get the argument with the green and all that and saving trees, but…
BL: With recycling though.
TB: Right, I agree – but to me, you can’t beat a book and you can’t beat a CD.
BL: Not only that, but how are you going to pass on books that you get from Kindle. I have a friend who does book drives for female inmates. How’re you gonna do that with a Kindle?
TB: Right. It’s weird but that’s what killed off record stores. I remember going into Tower Records right before they closed and the guy in there was saying that’s what did them in. Everybody’s just downloading and their sales had gone down. I try to teach that to my kids too, because they’ll come in saying, “Oh, I just got the new album,” and I ask them where they got it, and it’s from the internet. Really, I guess anymore just playing live is the only way that musicians are going to be able to make any money. As far as counting on record sales, that’s just going to be something that’s not even… But, even if you’re buying CD’s, I’d feel better about getting them from the artist. I don’t know how that really works here, but when I’ve always had a chance to buy like Buddy’s CD’s – I’d rather get ‘em here because I’m figuring somehow it’s going to him or the club.
BL: Well, that’s one of the tough things also for a lot of blues musicians is that some don’t have websites, so even if they do have a CD, if you don’t catch them at the show, you’re kinda out of luck.
TB: Yeah, right. It(the internet) has done some cool things – it’s cool that you can just bring stuff up, but to actually have an album…because I’d always look through the liner notes, and I knew everybody who played on everything. It’s scary. I don’t know where everything’s gonna end up; but I definitely prefer buying CD’s to downloading. And, if I can, I like to buy them directly from the artist as much as I can. Any way to cut out the middle man is the way to go for me.
BL: Unlike other music genres, blues is kind of well known for recycling its songs – but it’s never really addressed, you know? People never really refer to blues musicians as cover bands or anything like that. Do you feel it’s because the blues is limited in its ability to remain current or relevant to the time period or time frame?
TB: That’s a good question. I know I’ve even heard Buddy do songs that kind of deal with more modern issues. I think a lot of it has to do with the blues never getting any exposure. Like I said, we play out on the weekends – we’re primarily an acoustic duo, so it’s mainly restaurants we play – and if you play a blues tune – something from Howlin’ Wolf – you can just tell that most people are sitting in the crowd like, “What is this?” But the minute you start playing “Mustang Sally” or “Sweet Home Chicago”, then instantly they know it. So, I think that stuff gets recycled so much because that’s the only thing that seems to grab people that they know. That’s because nothing else gets a chance. I don’t like that, but even like our kids at the store, a lot of time the first blues I’ll show them is, “Sweet Home Chicago.” I could name you like a million other tunes I’d rather show them. But, the song, “Pride and Joy” is a good example because that was in Guitar Hero, so kids will know that right away. So then they know this blues song, “Pride and Joy” and now you show them a Buddy Guy tune and they see it’s very similar, and they’re like, “Oh wow! I like this.” But it’s like blues never gets a chance. I don’t really know why that is. XRT’s okay, they play some. I wish they’d play more. But like in the last article I was talking about “Mustang Sally”off the Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues album, that gets played still a lot on there. But it’s like the only thing people wanna hear.
BL: But some exposure, I suppose, is better than none.
TB: Exactly. And it does. I’ve seen it. It’s not enough, but it is pretty cool because I’ve seen my students after I’ve shown them “Pride and Joy.” Then two weeks later they’re coming in, “Oh, here’s this guy…you’ve maybe never heard of him before…” And it’s Muddy Waters. I’m laughing… “Are you kidding me?” But, I’m thinking, “Yes! Mission accomplished!” So, it does happen, but not as often as I’d like.
BL: What is blues music to you?
TB: Oh, how much time do I have? To me, I know Albert King said on his Live Wire/Blues Power album – you know he gives that speech about the little baby lying in the cradle and he can’t get the milk fast enough and he’s crying. That’s the blues.[pullquote] It sounds almost cliché, but I literally feel like it’s a human emotion – something that’s inside of you when you’re sad or when you miss someone, or you’re longing for something. That’s the blues.[/pullquote] But having said that, the reason blues always gets a negative slant too is that it’s always a depressing music, but really it’s not. If you think about it really, blues was started for people when they felt blue. They used blues to lift them up, so it’s almost like the drug that dragged them out of depression. So, it’s really a happy thing, if you think about it. It cures the blues, if that make sense. The Blues cures the Blues. It’s absolutely like a human emotion. The rhythm of the blues – it’s like it’s born in us or something. It’s very cool. It’s definitely a human emotion, for sure. It’s in everyone.
If you’re curious to know more about Todd, Connie and their store check it out:
All About Music & Children’s Theatre
19108 Wolf Rd.
Mokena, IL 60448
“We do private Guitar, Vocal and Acting instruction. Also every year (although we donate to the organization multiple times throughout the year) we do an event called All About Musicpalooza.
Students from our store are put together in groups that involve learning how to put a band together and perform together. There are also other groups in the event that do acting as well. One of the requirements for being in the event is you must perform at least 1 Blues song. The students are taught the history of the Blues and by show time they are able to play a Blues song with all of the other students. On show day, they perform at an event- All About Musicpalooza- that has over 500 people in attendance, on a full stage with full sound, lights, etc.
To get into the performance, we ask people to pay a small admission fee, usually about 5 bucks, and to bring packaged items for our troops. There is a list of items they need the most on their website below. So- with the money we collect, we use the proceeds to go and buy more items, and then all of those items are brought to the location I listed below, and they ship them overseas to the troops.”
Here is their info, and what they do (this text is from their site):
Operation Support Our Troops- America
1807 S. Washington St.
Suite 110 #359
Naperville, IL 60565
Founded in 2003, Operation Support Our Troops – America (formerly Operation Support Our Troops – Illinois) has been a grassroots effort that’s blossomed into one of the largest volunteer based military support organizations in the country. As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, we exist to provide comfort and care at home and away to our active duty military, families and veterans.
Our goal is to support the morale and wellbeing of American forces by providing comfort, resources and education to them and their families both while they are deployed in harm’s way and after their return. We accomplish this by providing a link between the citizens and military personnel so that everyone has the opportunity to express their support. This allows us to send comfort packages of items that are not readily available to our troops in their deployed locations, along with personal letters, cards and notes of support from the community at large.
We are also dedicated to supporting our wounded service members, families and veterans through programs, support and facilitating awareness in various communities as to the needs of our troops.