Joe Zaklan was there. Smack dab in the middle of the Chicago blues scene. At twenty he hit the road with J.B. Hutto, gigging with the slide master in the blues haunts of Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Madison. At the venerable Peppers Lounge in Chicago, Joe played in the house band alongside Lonnie Brooks and Little Mac Simmons, and later hit the road with Simmons, as well as Chicago blues circuit pioneer Bob Riedy. If you listen to George “Wild Child” Butler’s 1976 Rooster Blues release “Lickin’ Gravy,” you’ll hear Joe’s rhythm guitar in the mix. Along the way he’s played with members of Canned Heat and brushed up against Rick Estrin, Mississippi Heat and many other names you’d recognize from the exciting days of the Chicago blues scene from the 70’s and 80's.
It’s an impressive musical resume. But there’s more to Joe Zaklan than “talented sideman.” There’s a strength and perseverance in this man who as a child would lock himself in his bedroom and listen to his big brothers record collection to escape playground taunts about his severe eye problems. And as he struggled with that pain as a “talented sideman” in his adulthood, there was always something churning inside Joe. His music. His sound. His voice.
When asked why it’s taken this long to record his own music, you can almost see Joe flash back to his Chicago years as he takes a deep breath and pauses to carefully organize his thoughts “For years I’ve always wanted to make a recording …. I guess I just never started and frankly lacked some confidence after playing behind some great vocalists over the years. When I moved to Bloomington from Chicago, I wanted to start something … and finish it. You know, I spent most of my life wishing I had done something different. This recording is one of the examples where I had the opportunity and support from a lot of people to actually finish something.”
“There Ain’t No Better Time” is an album full of catchy & tasty blues and R&B that harken back to Zaklan’s Chicago days, without sounding dated. His choice of covers, the compactness of his originals and his decision to avoid histrionic guitar solos and vocal gymnastics suggests a man who knows what he’s doing. And his warm & confident voice is a pleasant surprise coming from a man who says he can feel intimidated by the voices he’s played behind in years gone by. It’s taken a long time, but Joe Zaklan’s debut CD is finished, and it’s an impressive debut. Here’s hoping that “There Ain’t No Better Time” is just the appetizer, the beginning, of our getting to know, Joe Zaklan. The Front Man.