fb-pixel

Lucky Peterson, a bluesman since he was a boy

NEW YORK — In his recent concerts, bluesman Lucky Peterson, who died Sunday in Dallas, had been celebrating his 50th anniversary in show business. That was striking considering that Mr. Peterson, at his death, was only 55.

Known as both a guitarist and an organist as well as an evocative vocalist, Mr. Peterson cut his first record at 5. By the age of 8, he had been on “The David Frost Show,” “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” and more.

But he was more than a childhood novelty act. He blossomed into a reliable blues player, backing stars like Etta James and Otis Rush and fronting his own groups on albums and in propulsive live shows. His latest album, “50: Just Warming Up!,” was released last year.

Advertisement



Brett J. Bonner, editor of Living Blues magazine, had Mr. Peterson on the cover last year. He called him “an incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist,” one who, he noted, was popular in France as well as in US blues clubs.

Mr. Peterson’s family announced his death on his Facebook page, saying that he had become ill suddenly, though the specific cause was not given. Mr. Peterson had lived in Dallas for years.

Judge Kenneth Peterson was born Dec. 13, 1964, in Buffalo, N.Y., where his parents ran the Governor’s Inn, a juke joint that was a popular stop for blues musicians, Howlin’ Wolf among them.

“He’d come in,” Mr. Peterson told The Buffalo News in 2001, “holler up the stairs for my mother and say, ‘This is the Wolf, and I’m hungry!’ ”

His father, James, a blues guitarist, encouraged his interest in music when he was still a toddler. He started banging drums at 3, then, dazzled by the equipment the organist Bill Doggett showed up with during a stopover, became interested in the organ. His father, he told The Chicago Tribune in 1993, raided the bar’s ashtrays to teach him chords, putting the butts on the keys.

Advertisement



“He put the white cigarette butts for one chord, and he put the brown cigarette butts for another chord,” Mr. Peterson recalled.

John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and many others came through. Sometimes they’d let him perform with them.

“It was a great privilege to play with these people, because they’re legends,” Mr. Peterson told NPR in 1998. “Plus they taught me a lot of things, because everything that I’m doing now, I’m just going off of what they taught me.”

In 1969, having already picked up his nickname, he recorded an album, “Our Future: 5-Year-Old Lucky Peterson,” perhaps hoping to catch the wave being ridden by young Michael Jackson, who was then fronting the Jackson Five.

The bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon produced some of its songs, including the single “1, 2, 3, 4,” and young Lucky began appearing on “The Tonight Show,” “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the arts and public affairs show “Soul!” and others. Sometimes he was the featured performer; sometimes he was in the backing band of an established star.

In the NPR interview, he recalled being on “The Tonight Show” with Buddy Rich, the flashy drummer.

“I wanted to play drums,” Mr. Peterson said. “And I remember him telling my father, ‘You keep him away from the drums, ’cause if I catch him by the drums I’m gonna put him in this little bag right here and throw him over in the river.’ ”

Advertisement



Mr. Peterson and his father released an album, “The Father. The Son. The Blues,” in 1972. For a time Lucky attended the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, although he acknowledged that the lessons, which focused on classical music, didn’t much interest him. “If I knew what I know now, I would have been more serious,” he told The Buffalo News. “I would have really learned it. I can read a little music, but not like I’m supposed to know.”

Mr. Peterson battled substance abuse periodically and went through unproductive periods, but he continued to perform and record until his death.

Mr. Peterson leaves his wife, Tamara Stovall Peterson, who often sang with him, and several children.