Urban Djin played for Buddy Guy’s Legends for over 7 years, delighting our lunch crowds with a shining smile and a one of a kind sound. Unlike other musicians he would walk amongst the tables in his classic red cowboy garb enjoying the interaction of the guests. He was one of a kind performer, person, and friend, we miss his joy at Legends everyday and no matter where ever he travels he has a home here.
The following is a collection of experiences Urban had while living in Maxwell street from 1982 to 1996. Maxwell Street was a community unlike any other made up of musicians, food vendors and more, you could find just about anything there. It was the heart and hub of Chicago blues, hosting many of the greatest musicians to ever live. Whatever Maxwell Street became in its heyday it was a mecca of wonder that will never replaced but it will always be remembered.
Be It Ever So Funky…
There wasn’t much housing left in the neighborhood but the few lofts were amazing. 5,000 square feet and a freight elevator for $125 a month. And a party roof with a spectacular view of the loop! My neighbor Allan, who later joined a UFO cult and married the high priestess whose ex-husband subsequently murdered and buried him in the crawl space under the house, had a 16mm theatre in his loft, complete with projection booth, big screen, comfortable chairs and lots of cool movies. The outtake/blooper reel from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was priceless. Who needed a job? You could always make a little cash on the street. And it didn’t really matter if you didn’t pay your rent.
Yes, you read that right. When I moved into my first place in the neighborhood, the landlord was very adamant that he wanted the rent on time. And I did pay on time for a couple months. Gradually I got later and later and finally just stopped. One day Irv knocked on the door. He was apoplectic. “You haven’t paid your rent in six months!” His face was purple and he was shaking violently. I gave him $125 and promised to pay on time. There was no discussion of back rent. The next month I paid my rent on time and started the cycle over again.
And it wasn’t just Irv. Years later when I was living in a different place, after the first loft slid into the street (I’ll get to that in a bit), I ran into one of my landlords, Lenny, on 13th Street. He was pissed. He was on his way over to the Max Works, the hippie commune over on Maxwell. “Those sons of bitches haven’t paid their rent in almost a year! Do they think I’m their father? I’ve just about had it! I’m about ready to throw them all out and put a padlock on the door!” The fact that I hadn’t paid my rent in three or four months never even came up. And I’ll bet the hippies never paid any back rent either.
Lenny and his brothers Donny and Howard were fascinating guys. They let out spaces to deadbeats like me because they owned a lot of property, some of which was profitable. They were too busy to pay much attention to the spaces they were just sitting on, the ones they weren’t going to do the upkeep on,… but they did like having a variety of people around. I would read about them in the financial sections of the newspapers trying to take over some company or another.
They ran their business empire out of Howard’s Style Shop, a clothing store their dad had started probably sixty years earlier. Everybody who worked there was a major character. They had pullers on the street in front of the store who would size up everybody walking by and say something, anything, trying to get them into the store. Pretend you’re walking by Howard’s wearing glasses. “We got the smart boy look. Best deals in town.” (For those of you who don’t know, the young Wynton Marsalis would make a good poster child for the smart boy look.) It was all part of the three brothers’ business schtick. They’d cut big deals in that dingy little office with peeling paint over the store with MBAs from the suburbs who couldn’t have imagined the existence of anyplace like Maxwell Street.
I was living in the Garden of Eden. Hungry? Eat the fruit from the tree. Perfect place for a bohemian musician like me. Of course if something broke you didn’t call the landlord. I had to fix everything myself, including the ancient freight elevator, but I’m pretty resourceful so it worked out rather well. There was one thing I couldn’t fix, though.
To be continued…