Bluesman Lucky Peterson — whose given name is Judge Kenneth Peterson — has been Lucky for as long as he can remember.
“The only people who call me Judge is the police,” he says with a laugh from his home in Dallas, Texas.
He caught his first lucky break during his difficult birth 48 years ago, in which the doctor said either his mother wasn’t going to live, or he wouldn’t live. They both survived. The next break came shortly thereafter, when they survived an accident en route to introduce the baby to his eager grandfather in Alabama.
“When we got down there, my father’s uncle said, ‘That boy’s lucky.’ ”
The nickname stuck. So did the luck.
Little Lucky made his way to the drums at age 3, then to the keyboard, then organ, then bass, and at age 9, to guitar.
“I must have sounded really awful,” he says, because his father told him “don’t ever play that guitar again.”
Luckily, Lucky didn’t listen.
Today, he’s a preeminent blues guitarist, who also plays a mean Hammond B-3 organ and sings with the hint of a growl and an exuberance that mesmerizes his audiences.
I saw him play for about 200 people outside F.B. & Co. in Waubeek in September 1994. In my review, I raved:
“His performance on guitar and keyboards is virtually flawless. …
“He plays with his whole being and a non-stop smile of youthful exuberance. His pacing is totally unexpected, seamlessly flowing from slow and gritty to jazzy and funky. His solos tease with a syncopation that leaves you hanging on his every note, wondering how the next one will move the music forward.”
Fast-forward 19 years. The Lucky Peterson Band, featuring his wife, Tamara Peterson, will be headlining the 20th annual Bluesmore at 8 p.m. Saturday (8/3). Several thousand people typically flock to the outdoor event at Brucemore mansion.
- 20th annual Bluesmore
- Presenters: The Linn County Blues Society and Brucemore
- Saturday (8/3); gates open at 3 p.m., music plays from 4 to 10 p.m.
- Brucemore estate, 2160 Linden Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids
- Mainstage: LCBS All Stars, 4 to 5:30 p.m.; The Scott Holt Band, 6 to 7:30 p.m.; Lucky Peterson Band featuring Tamara Peterson, 8 to 9:45 p.m.
- Back Porch: Tommy Bruner and the Back Porch Band, 5:30 to 6 p.m. and 7:30 to 8 p.m.
- Tickets: $20 gate, $15 advance at Brucemore.org
- Extras: Food vendors on-site; no pets, coolers or outside food; no parking on-site
- More info: Brucemore, (319) 362-7375 or Brucemore.org; Linn County Blues Society, lcbs.org
The lineup also includes the Linn County Blues Society All Stars – featuring local musicians Ron DeWitte, Eric Douglas, Craig Erickson, Tommy “T-Bone” Giblin, BillyLee Janey, Bryce Janey, Dan Johnson, Denny Ketelsen, Skeeter Louis and Dennis McMurrin — from 4 to 5:30 p.m. and Nashville’s Scott Holt Band from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
“Oh wow, we’re going to have a wonderful time,” Peterson says of this big gig.
On a late July break between tours, Peterson was in the studio, recording tracks for “The Son of a Bluesman.” The album doesn’t have a release date yet, but the Bluesmore crowd may hear a tune or two from that work in progress.
Peterson, who is the son of a bluesman, says his music hasn’t really changed much as he’s aged. It’s still upbeat and lively.
“The older I get, the younger my music gets,” he says.
His childhood was one lucky streak after another. He grew up around the greats who played in his father’s nightclub, The Governor’s Inn, in Buffalo, N.Y. The late great musician and producer Willie Dixon saw little Lucky play there at age 5, and next thing you knew, he was performing on “The Tonight Show” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
He doesn’t really remember any of that, but even as a child, he knew music was his life’s calling. Even though he clearly was a prodigy, he still got to play in the dirt, play football, basketball and run track.
“I got a chance to do kid stuff,” he says, but his father also made him practice his music.
His life hasn’t been all sunshine and happiness, however. He did a stint in rehab early in the early 2000s.
“I picked up the behavior,” he says of alcohol and drug use. “I wanted to keep on and one wasn’t enough.”
He gained some valuable insight while getting clean and sober.
“I learned that there’s certain things I can’t do and certain places I can’t go,” he says. “But I did learn this: You have to allow people to be their self and not try to control people, because that’s when the problem comes in. You have to allow every human being to be their own man or woman. You have to know what you can do and what you can’t do.”
He channeled that chapter of his life into his 2010 album, “You Can Always Turn Around,” a collection that speaks of personal demons, hope, atonement and salvation, recorded in the Catskills with top Woodstock-area musicians.
Over the years, he’s played with a who’s who of gospel, blues and jazz musicians, from Wynton Marsalis, Stanley Clarke and Bobby “Blue” Bland to Mavis Staples and session work with Etta James.
He met his wife when she came on-board as his backup singer. They’ve been together 19 years and married for 16 years. Peterson has four children, ages 33 to 14. Tamara turned her focus to raising the children, and has been back in the spotlight for three years.
The band just finished a European tour and will be roaming North America in August, then continuing onward. In all, Peterson says he spends about eight or nine months on the road.
“I love it,” he says. “You get a chance to say what you mean through your instruments. You play the same song every night, but every night that you play it, it’s different. I like that type of stuff.”
He hopes his audience likes it, too.
“I want them to get love and happiness out of my music,” he says. “I want them to enjoy it, because that’s what I’m playing it for … playing music that’s beautiful.”