Blues legend returns to Vail

Wren Wertin

Two-time Handy Award winner James Solberg has definite feelings about the blues.

“I’ve always been doing the blues,” he wrote. “Always will, even if no one is listening. I am the blues.”

He’ll be proving it at the Half Moon Saloon tonight at 10.

Solberg is best known for his close association with Luther Allison. The two met in Milwaukee and went on to become musical soulmates, as well as band-mates.

Solberg began playing the guitar when he was seven, when his older brother Chuck showed him a few chords. He also learned the banjo, violin and piano, all of which contribute to his style. His childhood was spent in Wisconsin, moving around with his family. That’s where he first met Bob Dylan (Bob Zimmerman at the time); their two families shared a duplex. (Little did they know that Solberg would earn rave reviews for his contribution to the album “Tangled Up in Blues: The Songs of Bob Dylan” decades later.)

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After quitting school at age 15 and high-tailing it to Chicago, the blues mecca, he became friends with Eddie Taylor, Johnny Young, Big Walter Horton and Jimmy Reed. He played with them all as he honed his bluesy craft. He then returned to Wisconsin where he met his musical destiny in Allison.

The duo toured and recorded together until ’79, when Allison moved to Paris. Two years later, Solberg quit the business and opted to take care of his alcohol and drug addiction problems. For four years he worked as a motorcycle repairman and parts-designer as he re-grouped.

Re-entering the blues scene was easy for the musician, who went from performing, to club ownership, and then returned to performing. His back-to-back releases, including “Soul Fixin’ Man,” “Blue Streak,” “Reckless” and “Live in Chicago” cemented his place in history.

In a throwback to early days, he and Allison teamed up once again, a partnership that ended with Allison’s death. In the throes of loss, Solberg created “L.A. Blues,” a tribute album to his lost friend.

After that, his solo career really took off. Solberg and his band play at the Half Moon Saloon. Call 476-4314 for more information.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.

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