When it comes to blues, Chicago's strictly a guitar and harmonica town. Saxophonists who make a living leading a blues band in the Windy City are scarce as hen's teeth. But Eddie Shaw has done precisely that ever since his longtime boss, Howlin' Wolf, died in 1976.
The powerfully constructed tenor saxist has rubbed elbows with an amazing array of luminaries over his 50-plus years in the business. By the time he was age 14, Shaw was jamming with Ike Turner's combo around Greenville, MS. At a gig in Itta Bena where Shaw sat in, Muddy Waters extended the young saxman an invitation he couldn't refuse: a steady job with Waters's unparalleled band in Chicago. After a few years, Shaw switched his onstage allegiance to Waters's chief rival, the ferocious Howlin' Wolf, staying with him until the very end and eventually graduating to a featured role as Wolf's bandleader.
Eddie Shaw also shared a West side bandstand or two along the way with Freddy King, Otis Rush, and Magic Sam. The saxist did a 1966 session with Sam that produced his first single, the down-in-the-alley instrumental "Blues for the West Side" (available on Delmark's Sweet Home Chicago anthology). Shaw also blew his heart out on Sam's 1968 Delmark encore LP, Black Magic.
Shaw's own recording career finally took off during the late '70s, with a standout appearance on Alligator's Living Chicago Blues anthologies in 1978, his own LPs for Simmons and Rooster Blues, and fine recent discs for Rooster Blues (In the Land of the Crossroads) and Austrian Wolf (Home Alone). Eddie Shaw, who once operated the hallowed 1815 Club on West Roosevelt Road (one of Wolf's favorite haunts), has sired a couple of high-profile sons: diminutive Eddie Jr., known as Vaan, plays lead guitar with Eddie's Wolf Gang and has cut a pair of his own albums for Wolf, while husky Stan Shaw is a prolific character actor in Hollywood.