The blues converge in Little River to benefit Relay for Life

Chicago Bob Hess can’t get used to feeling blue, but he’s fine getting down with the blues, especially for a cause.

The third and newest inductee as a “Great Blues Artist” and ambassador from South Carolina in the Blues Hall of Fame, Hess will perform in the “Blues for the Cure – North Side Blues Spotlight, Show and Revue,” benefiting the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life,” 8 p.m.-1 a.m. Saturday at Jay’s At Little River, 1598 U.S. 17 N.

Hess will hook up on stage with fellow local blues musicians such as Tim Allen’s Blues Time, Stony Bowman, Vern Cygan, Calabash Flash Ludwick, Keith Patterson, Coman Sproles and the 69 Band, Michael Stallings, Digger T. Tozzi, Donny Trexler, and the Rev. Spider Webb.

By teaming up with friends in concert, Hess said “you jump on it” for charitable opportunities. Hess said he’s had “three bouts” with cancer, which also claimed three grandparents and his younger brother, whom he looked after when growing up.

“Every day I think of him,” Hess said, remembering his own surrogate role he relished in light of their father working out of town for long stretches.

Hess said although he lacks a largesse to donate for cancer-fighting causes, “music is my way of giving back,” through such fundraisers. Music has nourished his blood for more than 50 years. He said he learned about his honors in the blues hall of fame – which has only an online presence at this point, www.blueshalloffame.com – through an email.

“I jumped out of my chair and did a little dance,” said Hess, who traces his birth in blues to playing a newly acquired guitar while dating in junior high school in his native Ohio, to a Gerry and the Pacemakers hit, “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying.”

“When I got that thing,” he said of the Kent, “I carried it everywhere, and I practiced and practiced ‘til my fingers bled.”

Counting more than 75 guitars through the years, Hess, who cut his teeth in the music business after his family had moved to Chicago, said he wishes he kept certain models that might now bear historic value, one of which was a 1983 Fender Stratacaster, traded in for a 10-speed bike – “God knows where that’s at” – and a 20th anniversary Les Paul that was pawned and sold for money so “I could visit a girl in California.”

Having wished he could be one of the Beatles, Hess said “Mustang Sally,” made popular in the ‘60s by the late Wilson Pickett, has remained a staple for his fingers on the frets.

“I remember doing that song when it came out,” Hess said, “and it’s still a crowd pleaser. ‘Ride, Sally, ride’ is a great audience participation thing.”

Real satisfaction, Hess said, “comes from people singing along with your originals,” the result when he was among the band for a B.B. King show at The Palace Theatre in Myrtle Beach, during “Sugar Man,” when the crowd began singing the words aloud.

“That put the hair on my neck straight out,” Hess said, still flattered at being told that King asked for Hess and the band mates to play on stage here with him again a year later. “What a humble, cool, nice man.”

At home in House of Blues

Hess, whose first job in Myrtle Beach was heading The Sun News’ art department into the early 1990s, would spend five years as part of the first house band for House of Blues, at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach. He said crossing paths with many “people I never in my life thought I would rub elbows with,” a greater reward was seeing “they’re just folks” like anyone else.

One encounter around sound checks played out with Jeff Beck.

“We were sitting on the couch backstage,” Hess said, “and both of us had our guitars out, just picking.”

Hess said he reached “a fork in the road,” deciding to settle in this homestead rather than commit to so much time out of town, and on tours, with other artists.

“Money isn’t everything,” he said, always appreciated “recognition from your peers and the people you love, whom you are with every day.”

One local fellows bluesman, the Rev. Spider Webb, has enjoyed having Hess in his Boogie Blues Revue in several places the past two years, such as in jams at SBB Original in Murrells Inlet. The first time Hess joined Webb there marked a return after Hess had coped with some health issues.

On this “mystic evening,” Webb said, “Chicago Bob took the stage and brought the crowd to their feet, with some misting up with tears of joy as they witnessed the return of this bluesman to the stage.”

Those weekly jams at that time became automatic, but one Thursday night, “just before show time,” Hess’ car was not in the parking lot, said Webb, who then called around and found out Hess was in a hospital’s critical care. With a “blues miracle,” Hess made another comeback, the next week.

“It was almost like he had just walked out of the hospital,” Webb said, “but there he was with bandages and patches sort of dangling from his body, while still dressed to impress as the real bluesman he is, in a three-piece suit, dapper hat, and a guitar in his hand. He blew the place away as soon as he took the stage.”

Webb treats any concert with Hess “as a highlight in my career of a lifetime blues musician to be able to perform with such a legend.”

More voices for the cause

Scott Mann, who steers the afternoon drive shift weekdays on WYAV-FM “Wave” 104.1, will host the benefit concert this Saturday. A regular across the Grand Strand to lend his voice and hands with charities, Mann said this concert, the third such blues evening in the past year, means “a big deal” to him because he has overcome rectal cancer.

Grateful for its remission for four years, Mann still smarts from losing several family members, including his mother and grandmother, to cancer.

Whether at home, or through friends or knowing someone affected by cancer, “it hits every body,” Mann said, hopeful that humankind will keep a goal of reaching a point that, “Enough is enough.”

Mann called having “great musicians” turn out in putting together a charity event “extremely satisfying,” and that this “Blues for the Cure” gives the north Strand a turn in awareness for the American Cancer Society “Relay for Life,” for which numerous other events on foot are booked this spring.

“You can’t solve a problem without help from everybody,” Mann said.