Teacher's Blues

Robert "Wild Boar" Moore sticks it out in Miami

Let's get this straight. Rock and roll is dead. Killed off sometime in the mid-Fifties when Elvis first copped that hip swivel and lip thing from Wynonie Harris and Bill Haley mapped the course of every rock and roll clown prince to follow: meteoric rise, decadent climax, rapid descent into oblivion/death.

But the music that spawned Elvis and the rest -- that nameless sound of the Forties and early Fifties -- was alive with savage power and filled with a raw sexual energy that could've made Madonna blush. Big Joe Turner understood where the music came from; so did Louis Jordan. Rockin' blues they called it sometimes. And that's what rock and roll was: the blues, high on Benzedrine and gin, shouted over the relentless beat of drums and bass.

Every rock, pop, R&B, and hip-hop performer who's ever jammed on a three-chord song (or sampled one) since then, from Too Short to Christina Aguilera, is in debt to the blues. But nobody pays up, and the blues don't pay off. No fat record contracts. No stadiums filled with screaming fans. Only more blues.

Steve Satterwhite
Steve Satterwhite

Sometimes the surest thing the blues brings is a regular gig at a place like Macabi's Cigar Bar in South Miami, playing to a couple of dozen fans and passersby on a Saturday night. It's here bluesman Rob "Wild Boar" Moore elevates the room with the rise and fall and rise of his talking guitar, and Clifford Hawkins can bring everyone in the place to their feet with his B.B. King-inflected voice.

The music of Moore and his band is pure blues. Not blues-rock or jazzy blues but the biting full-on blues of the Mississippi Delta, with a heavy dose of electricity and edge added from its time in Chicago. Macabi's on a Saturday night is no place for navel-gazing art rockers, or a quiet night with your favorite cigar. Moore and his band play music that makes all the right parts move. And if Hawkins's soulful tenor doesn't get you off your butt, if the fervor and showmanship of the band don't set you howling, if Moore's stirring solos don't make you move, then you may get a personal visit from Moore's stinging guitar and an E-string bent from here to Memphis. This may be the best live show in town, but it doesn't matter. This is the blues.

Robert Moore understands the blues, how one day you can be riding high in the toughest blues city in the world (Chicago), sharing a stage with the greatest of bluesmen (John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, James Cotton), and the next you're so low you can barely spare the few bucks to buy strings for your Gibson 335, the one friend who can bring a little comfort, help ease your mind.

And that's the way it's been for Moore, picking up the guitar at age twelve in the mid-Sixties in his hometown of Chicago Heights. He later caught the blues bug as a rebellious high school kid, along with the stage name he's used ever since: Wild Boar. He took in the blues on underground radio and haunted local blues clubs waiting for the man to say, "Ladies and gentleman, Mr. Otis Rush!"

Moore began listening to Rush, one of the greatest blues guitarists ever, to absorb all he could from the master. After a late-night show, Moore would run home and try to play the fingerings he'd seen on Rush's fretboard, copying the sounds he'd heard coming through the amplifier. "Otis is probably my biggest influence," says Moore of those seminal days. "I think about him when I play."

As a kid just out of high school in 1971, he found himself in Muddy Waters's living room one afternoon. Waters was signing a contract to play a local show Moore's friend was producing while the young guitarist's band rehearsed in the basement. It was the first time Moore met the legend, and Waters invited him to jam with the group. It was a memorable day for a kid still cutting his chops.

Soon Moore met them all -- Buddy Guy, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon. He would hang out backstage during shows at Alice's Revisited, the North Side blues club, sometimes sitting in. He'd fetch vodka for Otis at the liquor store across the street while the legends carried on in the basement. "I'd sit backstage and talk to those guys," Moore recalls. "I'd wanted to be a band leader, and I'd ask them about it. I was trying to figure out, What's a bandleader do? How do you run a band? I learned a lot that way."

Moore dropped out of college after one semester to become a musician, a blues musician. He worked with Johnny Young before Young's death in 1974. He moved to the North Side and met up with harp-player and guitarist Wild Child Butler. They put together a band, played around the city, and toured the Midwest, gigging with Luther Allison and Sam Lay. In 1975 they recorded Butler's album Lickin' Gravy, Moore's most tangible accomplishment. He drove a cab a couple of nights a week to support his ambition.

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