A relatively unknown and underrated figure in Chicago Blues, “Professor” Eddie Lusk was a session piano and keyboard player who was particularly active in the late 1970s and 1980s. His playing can be heard on records by Buddy Guy, Phil Guy, Koko Taylor, Jimmy Dawkins, and many others. Like many blues and R&B piano players, Lusk started out playing piano and organ in the church tradition; growing up in Chicago, however, he could not resist the influence of the blues music that was played all around him. The ‘professor’ epithet was in fact given to him by none other than Professor Longhair, a piano player and blues artist you may have already heard (of)!
Lusk’s roots in gospel music are clearly audible in his playing; a good example of this is in the dramatic intro to “Ice Around My Heart” from Buddy Guy’s 1980 album Breaking Out. He made extensive use of the full range of the keyboard, as well as chords and rhythm in his playing, making his sound driving, dynamic, and recognizable. Unusual for a blues pianist, Lusk also embraced keyboard and synthesizer sounds in the 1980s; while this has dated some of his session work and polarized blues listeners, it does add a unique flavor to his performances. Besides working as a sideman, Lusk also led his own band, the Professor’s Revue, which recorded one album with Karen Carroll on the Delmark record label in the late 1980s.
Sadly, due to the deterioration of his health, Lusk took his own life on August 26, 1992.
On the July 3rd edition of Señor Blues, we listened to three tracks that feature “Professor” Eddie Lusk’s formidable talents as a pianist. These are:
- “Professor’s Boogie” by Phil Guy (co-written by Lusk and featuring Lusk on both piano and organ)
- “I Don’t Care No More” by Koko Taylor
- “Beetin Knockin Ringin” by Jimmy Dawkins