There might not be a more unsung musician than John Primer.
The venerable blues vocalist/guitarist was the bandleader for such legends as Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and Magic Slim and the Teardrops. And he’s jammed with The Rolling Stones, Buddy Guy and Gary Clark Jr.
The Mississippi native, 74, was nominated for a pair of Grammys, but acclaim has alluded one of the rare remaining Chicago blues traditionalists.
“I’m fine with not being known,” Primer said by phone from Chicago. “That’s something I can’t control. What I can control is playing the guitar. The guitar is a real thing, which I can put my heart and soul into. It’s not a computer. When you see someone play a guitar live, you get it. More people need to go out and reconnect with guitarists.”
Primer and his band, The Real Deal, will perform Sunday (3/1) at CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids. He continues to make music. “The Soul of a Blues Man” is his latest album, filled with visceral soul and R&B.
“I can’t stop putting out albums,” he said. “It doesn’t matter that I’m this age or that people don’t buy music like they once did. I can’t help myself. I’m a musician and that’s what musicians do. I’ve been around so many great musicians.”
Waters had the biggest impact on Primer, who started playing guitar in Chicago during the early 1960s.
“Muddy influenced me so much,” Primer said. “He was an original. Muddy would play the same music but with different lyrics. He was fascinating.”
Primer also learned a lot from Sammy Lawhorn, a musician in Waters’ band.
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“He had a big impact on me as a slide player,” Primer said of Lawhorn. “I went to school with those guys ... Muddy is the blues to me.”
Primer’s hardscrabble upbringing was significant.
“My dad died when I was 3 years old, and my mother went off to Chicago to work. That’s where I got the blues at a very young age and it stayed with me,” Primer said. “I was pretty much raised without a mom or a dad, and I cried my eyes out as a child. It was a sad time. That has always come out of me when I play the blues.”
Primer plays with passion.
“It all comes from my heart,” Primer said. “I lay it all out there.”
His primary goal during his twilight years is to keep the blues alive.
“It’s a wonderful style of music,” he said. “I’m all for kids discovering it and learning it and maybe appreciating it. If I can help develop a young kid into a blues guitarist, that’s a good thing.”
Primer encouraged and performed with a prepubescent Derek Trucks. The guitar hero, who performs with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, is regarded as one of the finest in the business. Trucks, who is the 16th greatest guitarist of all-time according to Rolling Stone’s 2016 list, played with Primer as a youth.
“Derek jammed with me when he was 12 ...,” Primer said. “We jammed. I’m so proud of Derek. He became a great blues guitarist. There could be more great, young blues guitarists. They just have to discover the music. That’s what it’s all about.”
• What: John Primer & The Real Deal
• Where: CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
• When: 7 p.m. Sunday (3/1)
• Tickets: $17 advance, $21 door; CSPS Box Office, (319) 364-1580 or Legionarts.org/events/upcoming/john-primer-real-deal
• Artists’ website: Johnprimerblues.com