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Piano C. Red

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Information about Piano C. Red

Profile image of Piano C. Red

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Blues Pianist

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Red
Favorite Food:
Salmon Croquettes
Favorite Time of Year:
Summer
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Family
Favorite Quote:
What's Up?

Birthplace

Born:
9/14/1933
Birth Location:
Montevallo, Alabama

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Blues Pianist

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Red
Favorite Food:
Salmon Croquettes
Favorite Time of Year:
Summer
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Family
Favorite Quote:
What's Up?

Birthplace

Born:
9/14/1933
Birth Location:
Montevallo
See how Piano C. Red is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Blues pianist James Wheeler, also known as Piano "C" Red, was born in Montevallo, Alabama, on September 14, 1933. At the age of twelve, Wheeler learned the basics of blues and boogie-boogie piano and just four years later moved to Atlanta, where he lived and performed for the next decade. It was in Georgia that he was given the name "Red," after the red suit he always wore on stage. The "C" (for Cecil, Wheeler's middle name) was added to differentiate Wheeler from another blues pianist from Georgia who went by the name Piano Red. Wheeler then relocated to Chicago and has lived there ever since. He performed with the legendary Count Basie Band at the High Chaparral in Chicago and appeared nightly at Joe Chamble's Club on 47th Street.

Wheeler was also a regular on the Maxwell Street blues scene, where many legendary blues performers got their start. In the early 1960s, Wheeler sat in with such greats as Elmore James, Eddie Taylor, Jimmy Rogers, Hound Dog Taylor and Sonny Boy Williams. He later played there with his own band, the Flat Foot Boogie Men. As the Maxwell Street Market area was threatened with redevelopment, Wheeler was active in efforts to help preserve the Maxwell Street Market and its longstanding role in the blues community. Even though the original market no longer exists, Wheeler and his band still play in and around the area, in addition to performing at other Chicago blues clubs.

Over the years, Wheeler has performed with many Chicago blues legends, including Muddy Waters, B.B. King, KoKo Taylor, Buddy Guy, Little Walter, and Junior Wells. He has also made recordings with Chess, Sound, Dawn, and Big Boy Records.

For more than forty years, Wheeler has worked as a cab driver by day and blues musician by night, and for this reason named his 1999 CD release Cab Driving Man. Because of his continued presence in the Chicago blues scene, Wheeler was featured in the June 1996 issue of Living Blues. Wheeler was also interviewed by Niles Frantz from WBEZ's Eight Forty-Eight program.

Wheeler was shot and paralyzed during a robbery at a gas station in Chicago on March 23, 2006. He passed away on June 3, 2013.

James Wheeler was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 4, 2003.

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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Piano C. Red's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Piano C. Red lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Piano C. Red talks about his family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Piano C. Red describes his father, Robert Wheeler
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Piano C. Red talks about his mother, Lucille Evans, and his great-uncle, a contractor
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Piano C. Red talks about how his parents met and about his family
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Piano C. Red describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Piano C. Red describes his biking trips from Montevallo to Birmingham, Alabama
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Piano C. Red describes seeing entertainers in Birmingham, Alabama like Louis Jordan, Pigmeat Markham, and Little Esther
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Piano C. Red remembers a near-death experience between Montevallo and Birmingham, Alabama
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Piano C. Red talks about his grade school years at Montevallo High School in Montevallo, Alabama
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Piano C. Red talks about learning how to play the boogie-woogie
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Piano C. Red talks about boogie-woogie players
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Piano C. Red explains why he dropped out of high school and his interest in education
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Piano C. Red talks about factory work for young black men in urban areas
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Piano C. Red recalls his early dreams to become a musician
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Piano C. Red talks about his jobs after dropping out of high school
  • Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Piano C. Red talks about moving to Chicago, Illinois to pursue music and forming a band with other musicians
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Piano C. Red describes how he practiced on a piano in the early years of his career
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Piano C. Red describes the beginning of his professional music career
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Piano C. Red talks about the Flat Foot Boogie Blues Band and his song-writing process
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Piano C. Red describes the challenge of making a living as a musician
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Piano C. Red talks about buying a suit on Maxwell Street
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Piano C. Red talks about musicians playing on Maxwell Street and how he made a living playing
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Piano C. Red talks about the disintegration of his deal with Chess Records
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Piano C. Red talks about the influence of the blues on English rock and roll musicians
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Piano C. Red describes changing tastes in music
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Piano C. Red hums the twelve-bar and eight-bar blues and talks about his CD "Cab Driving Man"
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Piano C. Red talks about declining interest in blues music
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Piano C. Red talks about the difficulty of playing in blues venues on the North Side
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Piano C. Red talks about the ability of the blues to speak to many different emotions and situations in life
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Piano C. Red talks about "New York and Chicago", "Miss Annie Lou", and his songwriting process
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Piano C. Red talks about Willie Dixon's impact on blues music
  • Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Piano C. Red talks about his love for performing
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Piano C. Red talks about performances which received standing ovations
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Piano C. Red talks about his CD "Cab Driving Man" and his musical aspirations
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Piano C. Red describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Piano C. Red reflects upon his legacy
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Piano C. Red talks about how he would like to be remembered
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Piano C. Red shares anecdotes about Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Hound Dog Taylor, Elmore James, and Lefty Dizz
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Piano C. Red talks about Buddy Guy, Sam Lay, and B.B. King and about Chicago's place in blues history
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Piano C. Red talks about his parents' view of his success
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Piano C. Red narrates his photographs