I know it’s dumb but I can’t help asking: is it true that Mick Jagger first spotted Sugar Blue playing harmonica on the Métro? Sugar Blue looks at me like it’s the sorriest question he’s ever heard. “Oh man,” he says, “can you really imagine Mick Jagger on the Métro…? I mean, they’d never let him out!” Okay, so how did he wind up playing fierce harp solos on tracks like “Miss You” for three of the Stones’ best albums? “I was jamming at a party in Paris when this guy gives me a number to ring about some session work. This English voice answered and said it was Mick, and told me to come on over to the studio, only it was like midnight or something, but I went. The taxi put me out at this deserted place near the Bois and just when I was thinking I was out of my mind for believing this stuff, someone opens a door and the next thing you know I’m recording with the Stones!”
In many ways Sugar Blue’s life has been shaped by fateful encounters. He was still a kid when he met Memphis Slim in a Chicago club. The blues master needed only one night to convince him to go to Paris. “He said I needed to experience life and pay my dues and Paris was the place to do it, so I went.”
Sugar Blue arrived in the early 1970s and soon became a fixture on the circuit here, jamming with all the great jazz names, playing blues with people like Luther Allison and rock with the Stones. When he finally left Paris 10 years later, it was again on the advice of his old mentor, Memphis Slim. “He told me I needed to get back into the Chicago scene, explore my roots there, and of course he was right.” The last decade has seen him win a Grammy for “Blues Explosion,” act and perform in the movie “Angel Heart” and tour all over the world. His 1994 album, “Blue Blazes,” (Night & Day), reveals both the astonishing range of his instrument and the extent of his lyrical attack. Sugar Blue and his band are at New Morning on May 12 to launch his latest album, “In Your Eyes,” and to remind us of when Paris was a town inhabited by bluesmen like Memphis Slim and Sugar Blue, and where Mick Jagger could pluck you off the Métro and thrust you into the recording studio. Old legends die hard.
8:30pm, New Morning, 7-9, rue des Petites Ecuries, 10e, Mº Chateau d’Eau, tel: 18.104.22.168.