Michael Caskey and Johnny Iguana are the Claudettes.
Updated: October 15, 2013 6:02AM
Since departing Philadelphia for Chicago in the mid-’90s, piano man Johnny Iguana has maintained steady demand for session and stage work. Notable gigs include stints supporting Chicago blues legends Junior Wells and Otis Rush.
But that’s hardly all. Iguana’s theatrical post-punk band oh my god retains a small but dedicated national following. The floor-shaking grooves of Them Vs. Them came next, a collaborative effort with local hip-hop/Shakespeare artist Jeffrey Qaiyum. Iguana divides time now between New Wave modernists Software Giant and Chicago Blues: A Living History. The lizard gets around.
Atop Iguana’s to-do list teeters The Claudettes, touring the best rooms and worst dives in town. The story goes like this: Namesake barkeep Claudette placed Iguana and expert drumming foil Michael Caskey on salary as house band for her Downstate bar, and subsequently lost her lease. Now, she drags the pair around Chicago playing anywhere she can peddle her dubious drink specials. Perhaps you saw The Claudettes at a Blockbuster Video or a Kentucky Fried Chicken parking lot. Friday finds them at Buddy Guy’s Legends.
The backstory and accompanying theatrics bring visual excitement and humor to The Claudettes’ instrumental act. Even so, the chemistry between Iguana and Caskey provides ample thrills.
This is Iguana’s first project fusing his blues and punk sides, and all points between. Teenage heroes Mike Watt, Joe Strummer and Junior Wells all inhabit his barrelhouse piano, revealing themselves in surprising ways. Caskey’s sticks have served Koko Taylor and Chuck Mangione. He’d probably have anchored Raymond Scott’s madcap jazz, had their careers overlapped.
Try to find another pianist who’ll admit lifting a Minutemen outro for his swinging ballroom blitz, as Iguana did for “Hammer and Tickle.” Then check “Deep Soul for High Society,” which owes audible debts both to Ray Charles and the Meat Puppets.
NOTE: Since The Claudettes’ debut album “Infernal Piano Plot … Hatched!” doesn’t arrive until October, Iguana assembled a Spotify play-
list of influential songs.
♦♦The Claudettes, 9 p.m. Sept. 13, Buddy Guy’s Legends, 700 S. Wabash, (312) 427-1190, $20; buddyguy.com. SPOTIFY playlist: http://spoti.fi/15sc7Ge
Jeff Elbel is a Sun-Times free-lance writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org